Malawi wasn't in my thinking this time last year either. Events can sometimes overtake you, and so it happened on this occasion. An e-mail from Link Community Development (LCD) circulated by the regional education office, a decision NOT to bin it for a change, and before you know it you've had an interview and are trying to get your head round exactly why you had agreed to spend your Summer holiday working with fellow teachers in rural Malawi.

It was particularly interesting, since the LCD Global Teachers Programme (GTP) had, up to this point, dealt mainly with the Primary sector in Malawi. However, as a subject specialist, it was felt that a placement at a Secondary school would be more suited to me, as well as to my placement school. The overall briefing was helpful in terms of preparing for the experience of living without all of the “mod-cons”, but as the Secondary sector is different in many respects, (not least in that the students have had to pass their Standard eight exam and been selected to attend Secondary school) many of the workshops and suggested activities for dealing with issues such as really large class sizes, numeracy and literacy, and teaching techniques were less relevant to a placement in the Secondary sector. However, going into the “less-known” does give a certain edge and increases the challenge offered by the 5 week placement phase of the programme.

Working with Malawian colleagues was more than recompense for committing a summer holiday. The opportunity to do peer mentoring and find out how colleagues educate when they have virtually no resources certainly made me appreciate the first class facilities I have in my own school. Some of the students showed exceptional learning and reasoning skills, and it was a pleasure to teach, albeit for only a handful of lessons, students who could ask you challenging questions about radioactive decay only a matter of a few hours after the lesson. In that kind of environment you just want to do as much as you can while you are there. This Western mentality did perplex some of my Malawian colleagues a bit. They mentioned at the end of the placement that it would have been nice to have spent a bit more time “just chatting”.

The opportunity to live with a host family was also an excellent way to get a feel for what life in Malawi is like. Although I didn't have an “authentic mud hut” experience (my shed had some electricity supply and we could talk in the living room in the evening , courtesy of the single light bulb), it made me realise that a lot of the stereotypical ideas about Africa are really getting out of date.

Malawians made me feel really welcome and I very much felt part of the team by the time I had to leave. A lot of the adverse publicity since, regarding a particular situation in the Sudan, should not alarm you with regard to getting into difficulties if you decided to go on the LCD programme yourself. LCD has a well established infrastructure in Malawi, working towards self-sustaining staffing from indigenous teaching professionals. Anyway, any country where your host takes you to a Roman Catholic church service one Sunday, and a Presbyterian church service the next time has a lot to teach us about living in a global world.

More details on the SSTA website. Go on; you can do it!

Dr Archie Marshall

The Community School of Auchterearder

A more detailed report of Dr Marshall's summer at Linthipe Secondary School can be viewed here. Further information on the Link Global Teacher Programme can be found here.

Applications for placements for 2008 can be made now. the deadline is 31 January 2008.