Understanding and Comparing the Effects of Education for All on Vulnerable Children in Malawi and Mozambique
Nancy Kendall

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship

Award Year



University of Wisconsin, Madison

Primary Discipline

Comparative Education
Children made vulnerable by HIV/AIDS are positioned at the center of two of the world’s greatest development and humanitarian efforts: Education for all (EFA) and the global effort to fight AIDS. This project examines international efforts to improve the lives of vulnerable children through the provision of free primary education (FPE). Specifically, it examines how FPE, the cornerstone of Education for All and purported “social vaccine” against HIV (Vandermoortele and Delamonica 2000), has affected the lives and primary schooling opportunities and experiences of vulnerable children in Malawi and Mozambique. Malawi and Mozambique are two of the world’s poorest and most AIDS-affected countries, and are estimated to have between 760,000 and 1, 240,000 children orphaned by AIDS (UNAIDS 2008). The number of vulnerable children is estimated to be five times greater. Both countries implemented FPE initiatives and actively encourage international programming and funding aimed at getting and keeping vulnerable children in school. The widespread international faith that FPE will transform the lives of vulnerable children is largely based on a correlation between higher levels of schooling and decreased HIV rates. This link is, however, a complex one (Glynn et al 2004, Kelly 2000, Vavrus 2006), and little systematic research exists on when and how vulnerable children interact with primary schools and what practical and symbolic roles, if any, schooling plays in improving their lives.This research aims to: better understand the strengths, weaknesses, and outcomes of centering FPE in international and state approaches to supporting vulnerable children and communities; explore the similarities and differences in vulnerable children’s, communities’, and states’ experiences with FPE; examine how schooling and other labor demands interact in practice; and generate information that influences debates about how primary schools in resource-poor states might better meet vulnerable children’s needs. It conceptualizes FPE as an increasingly important organizing force among communities, states, and international bodies (Shore and Wright 1997) and examines FPE as a political technology for categorizing people (for example “vulnerable children”), as a cultural agent (for example, in its labeling of schooling as appropriate and work as inappropriate spheres for children), and as power (for example, in the resources generated and distributed in its name). This approach challenges formulations of policy as a uniform, top-down technology (Ferguson 2006) and provides opportunities for examining education policy as practice (Sutton and Levinson 2000), in which official policies are one aspect of multivalent, non-linear processes shaped by differing constellations of forces (Hart 2002). The research will compare the effects of FPE on vulnerable children’s and schools’ daily practices in two rural and two urban schools and the communities they serve in Malawi and Mozambique. I will utilize multi-sited, or vertical (Bartlett and Vavrus 2006) ethnographic methods (participant observation, semi- and unstructured interviews, focus group discussions, classroom observations, participatory rural appraisal, document analysis) designed to examine the flows, relations, and linkages among community, district, state, regional, and international organizations, actors, and resources, to map and compare the effects of FPE on vulnerable children within and across communities, districts, provinces/regions, and states; and through flows of people, ideas, money, curricula, and other resources.
About Nancy Kendall

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