Merit, Inequality, and Opportunity: The Impact of Malawi's Selective Secondary Schools

Symon Winiko
Tsirizani M. Kaombe
December 14, 2023

This paper examines the effectiveness of Malawi's selective secondary schools in influencing student learning outcomes. Using data from Malawi’s National Examination Board, we employ value-added and regression discontinuity methods to gauge the impact of school types on high-stakes exam results. Findings reveal that National schools enhance student learning progress by an average of 0.57 standard deviations more than day schools, within two years. Regression discontinuity results corroborate National schools’ positive impact, with National school attendance yielding a 0.40 standard deviation increase in student exam outcomes. Importantly, students from districts with relatively low-performing primary schools benefit substantially from attending National schools, especially those with low-quality secondary education alternatives. Compared to global evidence, our study highlights the importance of evaluating the broader educational context when analysing school tracking effects on student outcomes. Our findings are relevant to policy discussions around secondary school expansion, performance reporting, and student selection in Malawi.

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