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The Effect of English-only Instruction on Skill Formation and Labour Market Readiness of Young Malawians:

First wave of evidence gathering and dialogue between experts and stakeholders

About The Project

The project will gather and commission evidence on the complex interactions of language, schooling, labour market outcomes and economic development.

We focus on the case of Malawi, which is typical for many Commonwealth countries where there is tension between the practicalities of English as a common language, and the cultural and educational benefits of diverse native languages.

Importantly, the impact on skill formation and employability of an English-only schooling policy are not clear.

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Our Aim


To promote an informed and effective discussion between academics and stakeholders in Malawi in order to strengthen the evidence base for policy making.


To identify remaining gaps in the evidence base in order to inform an application for a large collaborative research project.

Why The Initiative

There are 12 native languages in Malawi, but the Ministry of Education recently adopted an English-only language of instruction policy in the school system. English is favoured in the labour market and there are practical challenges involved in cultivating so many mother tongues in an under-resourced school system.

However, there is substantial academic evidence to show the detrimental impact which non-mother tongue instruction has on children's development. Therefore, the overall effect of this policy on skill-formation and labour market readiness of Malawians is not clear.

A priori, it is quite conceivable that the emphasis on English at the expense of mother tongues may undermine children's education and ultimately be detrimental to the formation of the desired English language skills and labour market readiness.

This is an inherently interdisciplinary problem, which straddles linguistics, education, public policy, labour markets and economics. To gain traction we have assembled an interdisciplinary network of academics in Glasgow, Malawi and South Africa.

The network consists of

Dr. Jean Chavula

Centre for Language Studies, Chancellor College, University of Malawi

Prof. Rajendra Chetty

Faculty of Education, University of the Western Cape, South Africa.

Dr. Symon Chiziwa

School of Education, Chancellor College, University of Malawi.

Prof. Lewis B. Dzimbiri

Deputy Vice Chancellor, Lilongwe University of Agriculture & Natural Resources.

Dr. Kristinn Hermannsson

School of Education, Glasgow

Mrs. Vera Kamtukule

Malawi-Scotland Partnership, Lilongwe, Malawi.

Prof. Winford Masanjala

Department of Economics, Chancellor College, University of Malawi

Dr. Colin Reilly

School of Education, Glasgow.

Prof. Melanie Simms

Adam Smith Business School, Glasgow.

Policies on language of instruction affect today's school children, who will subsequently become tomorrow's working age population. Successful skill formation is vital to support decent livelihoods, which ultimately impacts the entire Malawian economy.

Prior research suggests abandoning mother tongue instruction has particularly detrimental impacts on the more economically vulnerable populations (low income, rural) and serves to acerbate educational attainment gaps, which ultimately can lead to further divergence of labour market outcomes.

This project contributes to several of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals. In particular, by supporting quality education (SDG4) and by promoting skills formation, which better enables people to access decent work, which in turn benefits economic growth (SDG8). Moreover, as language of instruction policies may disproportionately affects the most vulnerable populations, improving policies can reduce inequality (SDG11).

What We Set To Achieve

This project will produce


Evidence-based, policy-relevant reports.


Review of international academic and grey literatures


Journal article


Face-to-face consortium meetings


Engagement event with stakeholders

A website

For disseminating findings.

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