CPD WITH A WARM HEART – Experiences as a Global Teacher in Malawi

Link Community Development and the Global Teachers Programme

During 2008, and continuing into 2009, with support from SSTA, I am participating in the Global Teachers Programme organised by the international development charity Link Community Development (LCD), which receives support from LTS. LCD works in South Africa, Ghana, Ethiopia, Uganda and Malawi on long-term educational development projects, providing ongoing training and support to over 1000 schools, and includes Archbishop Desmond Tutu amongst its patrons. It aims to improve the quality of education in Africa by working in partnership with local departments of education and also to raise awareness of international development issues in UK schools.

For the past three years, as part of the wider Global Teachers Programme, LCD Scotland has been sending Scottish teachers to Malawi to work alongside colleagues in primary schools in Dedza District to help develop teaching practice and leadership and management skills. Dedza District is one of 27 administrative districts in Malawi, lying southeast of the capital, Lilongwe, in the central region of the country. There are 208 primary schools in the district, divided into 19 zones, with each zone having its own Primary Education Advisor (PEA). LCD Malawi works with the District Education Office to improve primary education in a variety of ways and one of these is the Global Teachers Programme. Their wider work in the Malawi School Improvement Project is supported by the Scottish Government’s Malawi Development Programme.

As a teacher, the highlight of the Global Teachers Programme is, undoubtedly, the 5 week placement in Malawi, most of which is spent in a rural school and living with a local family. It is such a huge privilege. Prior to the placement, LCD held two training weekends in Scotland to provide background information about Malawi and its education system, to prepare us for what to expect in village life and in our schools, and to begin to think about how we might follow up our experiences in our own and other schools. Afterwards, we reflect on our experiences and write placement reports before a third weekend together to discuss our follow-up modules. During the session after our placement, we carry out work on follow-up modules of our own choosing to raise awareness in Scotland. There will be a final meeting in May/June 2009 to display and share the work we have done as Global Teachers.

At School in Malawi

Sixteen Global Teachers went from Scotland this year, arriving in Malawi on Saturday 28th June. We were welcomed by a huge banner hanging from the balcony at the airport and all six of the staff from the Dedza office – there was no doubting that they were pleased to see us, a feeling that was to be regularly reinforced throughout our stay. On Monday 30th June there was an official welcome ceremony in the morning and then departure to our host schools. I think that this was the point at which most of us began to realise just how significant the Global Teachers Programme is, both to the country and to the individual schools. The welcome ceremony was attended by an official from the Ministry of Education in Lilongwe as well as all the district officials, and it became clear that almost everyone in the town, if not the district, knew who we were and why we were there. This year the Global Teachers were placed in 3 different zones: Kanyenda, Makota and Tchetsa. My school, Mlozi Full Primary School, is in Tchetsa zone. This is the furthest zone from the town, in the mountains (home from home), and has seven primary schools in total, five of which had a Global Teacher this year. In the afternoon, we left for our schools: 70 bone-shaking kilometres up dirt roads in the back of a landrover, with our heads making painful contact with the roof at intervals. As we had to stop at several schools, it was 5 p.m. before I finally arrived at my school, yet the headteacher, some of the other teachers and some of the pupils were still waiting for me, as they had been since school ended at lunchtime.

Schools in rural Malawi vary a lot in facilities and state of repair but can only be described as very different to Scotland! There is no electricity or plumbed water supply in the villages. In Mlozi School, none of the classrooms have doors or windows and few have desks, so children sit on the concrete floor. The oldest classroom block is in danger of losing its roof as termites have destroyed the main joists. There are only seven classrooms, but eight classes, so one class has its lessons outside – the problems with heat in summer and the rainy season can be imagined. Most classes have a reasonable number of textbooks, which are supplied by the government, but other books were rare – the school had one dictionary and one atlas. Jotters and pens are also supplied and the school has a (very) small budget to purchase further items, but this does not go far – there was one set of colouring pencils and just 2 balls for PE in the whole school.

Mlozi School is described as a Full Primary School – this means that it has all the primary classes from Standard 1 to Standard 8, unlike some schools. Children may enrol in school from age 6, although there is quite a lot of variation around this. Progression to the next Standard is dependent on passing exams at the end of the year. As many children miss a lot of school for many reasons, including illness and maintaining their family’s livelihood, repeating years is common. Thus, there is a lot of variation in age in each Standard and by the time they reach Standard 8, most children were around 15 to17 years. There are about 840 pupils in the school in total, class sizes varying from about 250 in Standard 1 to about 40 in Standard 8. These children are educated by just 7 teachers, 5 of whom were qualified and 2 of whom were “volunteers”. Their dedication is truly amazing, particularly as rates of pay are low, even by Malawian standards, especially for volunteers – a teacher earns around £40 a month and a volunteer around £10 a month.

School was supposed to start at 7.30a.m., with teachers expected to be there by 7.15a.m. However, for lots of reasons this didn’t quite happen on most days. Before school, it was the duty of the pupils to sweep out their classrooms – I was pleased to see that this was a chore shared by boys and girls. The school day always started with assembly, and that usually involved some physical exercises to warm them up – although I found it hot, for them it was quite chilly being the middle of their winter, and in the last week even I found the wind cold in the mornings. There were also prayers, Muslim one week, Christian the next in this mixed-faith community, followed by notices and other words of encouragement. Finally we all sang the national anthem and then the children went to their classes.

Maths, Chichewa and English were usually the first lessons of the day, being regarded as the most important. Other subjects included Social Studies, Science, Creative Arts, PE, Agriculture, Life Skills and RE. Much of what was taught was reassuringly familiar, and very similar to what we teach in Scotland. Lessons for the youngest children, in Standards 1 and 2, ended at about 11 a.m., for Standards 3 and 4 at about 12 noon, and for Standards 5 to 8 at about 1 p.m. However, the Standard 8 pupils, who had their leaving exams in September, returned to class in the afternoons from 2 to 4 p.m. for extra revision lessons. On some days, all lessons stopped about 11 a.m. for whole school activities. The first week I was there, this was mainly for sports practice, as they had football and netball matches against other schools in the zone that week. On another occasion, it was for “activities” which seemed to include things like choir practice. Sometimes it was for “manual work” – helping to keep the school maintained and repaired: groups of pupils were given tasks such as mopping the classroom floors, helping to repair the borehole, and re-building the boys latrines (sadly mostly washed away last rainy season). On Fridays, the pattern changed again: as many of the pupils were Muslim, school ended at 10.30 a.m. in order to allow pupils time to prepare for mosque at 12 noon. However, once again Standard 8 pupils were back in their classroom for revision in the afternoon.

My role in the school, during the 3 weeks I was there, was not to teach but to support and advise the teachers. I spent a lot of time observing lessons and in discussion with teachers. We held meetings after school to discuss strategies for things like group work, interactive methods, questioning and peer assessment. I was pleased that my Malawian colleagues were happy to debate these issues with me and discuss their appropriateness in different situations – they had many good ideas of their own. I was really impressed with the teaching skills of some of my Malawian colleagues – I could learn lots from them – and their ingenuity in using what was available to enliven their lessons. Of course, being a teacher, I did end up teaching at times – team-teaching with colleagues or demonstrating new ideas – and it was great! The children were very enthusiastic and loved having “Madam Clare” in their class, although sometimes I did find the noise level much higher than I am used to – 150 Standard 2 pupils all keen that I should look at their piece of work takes some beating.

My other main area of work was assisting the Head Teacher, Mr Chimtali, with leadership and administrative issues. Although he has only been at the school since February, he is very enthusiastic, dedicated, in the face of significant challenges that would defeat most of us, and was clearly having a positive impact on the school. For the first time in many years, there is the possibility of a number of Standard 8 pupils passing the Primary School Leaving Certificate well enough to be selected for secondary school. This has been noted by community leaders who are more supportive of the school as a result. Administration in the school was a complete nightmare from my perspective – with no computers, photocopiers, or similar aids, it was a world away from what I am used to. Everything was written out by hand and there seemed to be an awful lot of it, some of which seemed quite unnecessary – but we always think that about paperwork! I watched the Head copy out monthly returns for the District Education Office in quadruplicate in some disbelief, but the real eye-opener was a letter to community leaders and parents, inviting them to the end-of-term ceremony, each of which was hand-written. Fortunately the older pupils helped! I got my own taste of this when the PEA asked me to write a report on the school, which I had to copy out three times. Despite these challenges, the records in the school were generally in good order, so all credit to them. I also met with many of the community leaders to encourage their continued support for the school and also to support the education of girls, which tends to be regarded as less important in some rural families.

In-service Training

A novel feature of the Global Teachers Programme this year was the provision of four days of in-service training to all the teachers in the zones where we had been working, which took place in the first week of their school holidays. This arose because the end of term in Malawi was earlier this year than it has been in previous years, and Link Community Development was keen to widen the impact of Global Teachers’ work. For this part of our work, we were all based back in Dedza town where we worked together in groups to prepare the courses. That was definitely hard work – we had just two days preparation and there were many late nights as we tried to get it all sorted out. The topics covered were Leadership and Management, Participatory Methods and Continuous Assessment, Literacy and Numeracy and finally Special Educational Needs. In Tchetsa zone, we were also joined by teachers from neighbouring Chitundu zone, giving us about 45 participants on the first day (Leadership and Management) and 80 on the other days. It was somewhat daunting to say the least, but the sheer enthusiasm of our Malawian colleagues was an inspiration and a huge encouragement to us. We discovered during that week that this was the first time there had ever been any in-service training actually in Tchetsa zone and for many of the teachers, it was the first time in their careers that they had any further training.

Village Life

Mlozi School is in the village of Mitawa where I stayed with my host family, Mr & Mrs Sumani and their numerous children and grandchildren. Mitawa is very much a rural village, being about 7 km from the trading centre at Mayani and 70 km from Dedza town. Although in the towns and cities they have many of the amenities that we have – electricity, piped water, fridges, supermarkets, television, internet – the rural areas have none of these. My family have few material possessions by Scottish standards, but are relatively well off in the village.

Houses are built either of mud and thatch or, for wealthier people, of brick with a corrugated iron roof. There is a compound at the back with further buildings, including a kitchen, housing for animals, storerooms, latrine and a screened washing area. The compound is fenced to prevent hyenas taking animals at night. Most people get up around 5.30 a.m., as it is getting light. At weekends, I enjoyed observing and helping with the household routine: water was fetched daily from the borehole about 200m away; crops were harvested from the “garden” (a field some distance away); laundry was done by hand back at the borehole; cooking was over a wood fire in a hut in the compound which was very smoky.

“What is the food like?” is a question I have been asked many times since I got back – the honest answer is: remarkably varied, very healthy and LOTS of it. The staple food in Malawi is called nsima and it is like a thick porridge made from ground maize. It’s rather bland so it is served with some type of relish. I was expecting to be served nsima for every meal, but in fact on most days I only had it once. For breakfast, I was usually given bread, but occasionally potatoes or porridge or eggs, and on one occasion some samosas. Other meals were either nsima with relish or based on rice or potatoes or sweet potatoes. The relishes varied: I got fish quite often, beans cooked with tomatoes, and various types of greens – cabbage, rape, bean leaves and pumpkin leaves. It was the wrong time of year for most fruit but I did get bananas sometimes and also lemons. Meals were large and I had difficulty persuading my host family not to feed me so much. Most of the food consumed is home-grown – maize, groundnuts, beans, potatoes, cabbages, rape, sugar cane and other crops. Cultivation of the crops is all done manually, using a hoe to break up the ground. Near the village, Save the Children have an irrigation project which means that crops can be grown all the year round. My host father, whose garden is part of this project, had maize at various stages of development and will hopefully be harvesting at different times throughout the year in future. This is an amazing project and I hope that it is widely extended. Families also keep animals for food, chickens and goats being very common. Fish comes mainly from the local rivers.

Despite the large amount of physical work required just to keep daily life going, everyone is very sociable. Perhaps because the weather is so hot, they take frequent rests and always stop to chat when someone comes by. Taking time to stop and greet people and to enquire after their families and health is a big part of Malawian culture. So is going visiting – many people came to the house to meet me and I was also taken to many people’s houses. It was amazing to a European used to people rushing about and hardly having time to exchange two words. Then there were special events: in my 3 weeks in the village, I attended 2 weddings, a political rally, the church, the mosque, climbed a mountain and went to the trading centre at Mayani, always with a big entourage to keep me company.

It got dark between 5.30 and 6.00 p.m. and most people stayed at home after this. My family kept quite late hours compared to most people – we didn’t have our evening meal until about 7.30 p.m. and often didn’t go to bed until about 8.30 p.m. In contrast, most other people seemed to eat at about 6.00 p.m. and go to bed between 7.00 and 7.30 p.m. We spent the evenings listening to the radio and playing games. With an entourage of teenage boys in my family, evenings were pretty lively.

What Next?

In our community in the Gairloch area, as well as in our schools, there has been a lot of interest and curiosity about my visit to Malawi. I have been keen to build on and maintain this and a series of newspaper articles and a radio interview have been well received, with evening talks and slide shows planned. A group of pupils have also prepared an exhibition of photos, artefacts and gifts from Malawi, which is now on display in our public library.

It was always my intention that one part of my follow-up work would be to establish a formal link between the two schools. In both schools this would broaden pupils’ awareness of the world, encourage them to think about and discuss global issues and inequalities, help them understand the culture and beliefs of another country, allow them to communicate with and get to know their peers and to work with them on joint projects. With the evident enthusiasm of our pupils, I have started this process earlier than I originally anticipated and our pupils have already sent their first batch of letters out to Malawi. In the future, I hope that this link will be extended to include some of our associated primary schools. I also hope that we will do some fund-raising for the Malawian School to help address some of the deficiencies in their infrastructure. I envisage this as a partnership project between the schools, with the Scottish partner contributing the cost of materials and the Malawian partner contributing the labour. However, I consider that it is important that we build a relationship between the schools based on friendship first rather than start with one based on money.

The main area of my follow-up work in Gairloch High School will be the development of a cross-curricular project with colleagues looking at different aspects of Malawian life, culture and environment, and linking this to some activities which already take place in the school such as the annual Malawi Backpack Appeal, in line with the requirements of a Curriculum for Excellence. This will initially be used with S1 pupils later this session and reviewed by staff and pupils. I hope we will be able to expand this work in subsequent years. In addition, some colleagues have expressed interest in using some of the resources I have brought back to further introduce a global dimension into normal lessons. The other area of my follow-up work will be working with the primary schools in our ASG using activity days to compare our lives in rural Scotland with those of children in rural Malawi.

Personal and Professional Development

Participation in the Global Teachers Programme has been described as “a life-changing experience” and as “the best cpd ever”. Having travelled in Africa several times before, I expected to really enjoy my experiences and to find them very rewarding, perhaps “the best cpd ever”, but I didn’t really expect to find them “life-changing”. I was wrong! It is very difficult for us to understand just how important it was for the school and community to receive a visitor from Scotland and how important having a link school will be to them. Equally, I don’t think they really understand what a profound effect they had on me. Malawi is described as “The warm heart of Africa” and I will never forget the warmth of the friendship, the generosity of the people and their genuine care for me.

At a personal level, I was very pleased that I formed strong relationships with the teachers in the school as these will provide a firm basis to maintain contact and develop a link between the schools. I really enjoyed the simplicity of village life, even though I recognise that it entailed a lot of hard work that I didn’t have to do. Actually living and working alongside local people is an incredibly valuable experience that one could never get as a tourist. It is such a huge honour and privilege. It has made me acutely aware of materialism and waste in our lifestyles in Scotland, and has also re-emphasised to me the value in taking time with people.

Applying my professional experience in a different culture and education system was very rewarding. I was anxious, as a secondary teacher, about how well I could contribute to a primary school in the classroom, but found many areas of commonality due to the age of the pupils and the demands of the curriculum. I was pleased to find many examples of excellent practice already in the school and I was able to use these to build on while I was there. They also made me reflect on my own practice in Scotland. As an unpromoted classroom teacher in Scotland, I gained experience in evaluating all the school’s needs at once, including working through the school development plan with the headteacher and prioritising actions for my visit and working together to prepare a priority list for infrastructure repairs. I also experienced working with the headteacher to encourage community involvement and support for the school. My school in Scotland enjoys excellent community support so meeting with community leaders and having to justify why the school deserved their support and why education of girls was important was a challenge. Planning and leading insets for teachers, in my school and the zone, was largely a new experience for me. It was great to see the teachers in my school trying out some of the ideas from an inset I led in the school. The zone insets were probably one of the best parts of the placement in terms of impact over many schools. Working in groups of Global Teachers improved the quality of what we delivered and the feedback, verbally and on the evaluation forms, was very positive.

Both personally and professionally, it was important to try to see issues from a Malawian perspective. One of the biggest differences in attitudes between Malawian and Scottish schools is surely the attitude to time keeping which could perhaps best be described as very relaxed in Malawi. Although I was aware of this tendency from previous visits, I did find it quite frustrating when people were late, or didn’t turn up, or disappeared. This was probably because I felt under pressure to achieve some sort of sustainable change in just a few short weeks, whereas in reality such changes are only likely to become evident over a much longer period of time, and I had to remind myself that LCD is working within the District and country for a number of years and that the Global Teachers Programme is only one element of the fuller project.

For me, being part of the Global Teachers Programme has been the start of something that is clearly going to have an impact on my life for years to come, both personally and professionally. It has provided an opening for something that could go a lot further, with huge benefits for both my Malawian and Scottish schools. In common with many previous Global Teachers, I plan to re-visit my school in Malawi and to continue to work with them, supporting the work of LCD, to help improve the education they offer to their pupils, at the same time learning from them and improving what I can offer my own pupils.

If anyone is considering applying for the Global Teachers Programme, I would say “go for it”! I was nervous about applying, not sure that I had the necessary skills or could apply them effectively in such a different situation, yet it has to be one of the best things I have ever done.

Clare Caley

Gairloch High School

 

For further information on the Global Teachers’ Program Click here

Published on 04 December 2008 - International
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