Over seven thousand and three hundred Malawians, with more getting added to the figure, have joined forces in signing a petition whose sole aim is to let the UK government exempt them from undergoing the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) before they can be accepted for studies by their former colonial master arguing it is a no-brainer.
The International English Language Testing System, or IELTS, is an international standardized test of English language proficiency for non-native English language speakers. It is jointly managed by the British Council, IDP: IELTS Australia and Cambridge Assessment English, and was established in 1989.
Each year, Malawians leave for the UK for further studies. And by 2016, over 300 have received full Commonwealth Scholarships since the 1970s.
But as a prerequisite, the would-be awardees need to pass the IET – which costs about US$200 (about K160 000) – or their scholarships get forfeited. More than half of Malawians live on less than a dollar a day.
Further, once one passes, the certificate is only valid for two years – after which it expires. One has to re-sit if they have not been successful with their applications for UK scholarships in the last two years.
Media practitioner, Rogers Bekisa Siula, who launched the petition that the UK should consider adding Malawi to the list of countries that are exempted from the tests told Nyasa Times in an interview on Friday that the petition was not only because English was the official language in Malawi but also because the country was a former British Protectorate.
“In addition, Malawi is the 19th country to join The Commonwealth. Suffice to say, a fail in English automatically deprives one of any certificate in a national examination in as far as The Malawi National Examinations Board-MANEB is concerned.
“Without a pass in English, neither a primary nor secondary school certificate can be attained. And this has always been non-negotiable, hundreds of thousands of Malawians have already been victimized as failures, denying them further opportunities, using English as a core yardstick for their success in education despite scoring distinctions in all other examinable subjects,” writes Siula in the petition.
Apparently, as the petition reads, English is actually a first language in most middle- and high-income Malawian families.
“Now, one passes English to leave primary school, secondary school and finally tertiary school then boom, another exclusive paid up English test awaits as a requirement to pursue further studies in the UK. This is over burdening an already English dominated system. Please Ministry of Foreign Affairs Malawi and Malawi’s High Commission to the United Kingdom amplify the lobbying by Malawians to have the current situation revised accordingly,” pleads Siula in the petition.
Supporting the petition, Zione Dembo said: “Malawian students do their studies in English from elementary to tertiary education. In addition, Malawian students study English from elementary to tertiary school. Therefore, Malawians who have studied up to tertiary studies are very competent and fluent in the English language and requesting IELTS from them is ridiculous and a waste of their hard-earned money.”
And, Hodges Zacharia, who recently returned from the UK under a Chevening Scholarship argued that if one did a snapshot survey, they would realize that Malawians’ English is far much better as compared to other countries.
“I think exempting Malawi would be good. Apart from the financial burden it exposes Malawians to, our education system especially on English language prepares us enough for learning or communication in the English language. Actually, our English is much better,” said Zacharia.