In the Spring of 2019, a group of 3rd year primary education students, accompanied by two lecturers from the University of Strathclyde, travelled to Malawi to experience teaching and learning in a drastically different culture than can be expected in a Scottish classroom. Based in Blantyre, Malawi, the group of students engaged with a range of educational figures from primary schools, infant homes and teacher training colleges.
Over an intensive 3 weeks in late May 2019 the student teachers sought to develop their own professional practice, further develop relationships from previous years, share current teaching strategies from Scotland and embrace Malawian culture. The young group experienced the challenge of teaching in schools with very limited resources to over 100 children per class and for whom English is a second language.
The students main link was with Makokezi Primary School, a small, privately funded school near Chigamula in Blantyre. They were challenged with the task of teaching classes with children from ages 5 to 16. As the school is not government funded, and many students can’t afford tuition fees, the school struggles financially and lacks basic resources. As a result of this, the student teachers had to be innovative and flexible with their teaching tactics whilst making maximum use of locally available resources to support learning.
As well as working with Makokezi, the students also spent time working with the Open Arms Infant Home and government funded Blantyre Girls’ School, where they played games and sung songs with the children, and developed relationships. They also built new relationships with Machinga Teacher Training College, where they shared current teaching practices and experiences with Malawian student teachers.
During free time the group immersed themselves in Malawian culture. They explored the former colonial capital, Zomba, where they hiked 2085 meters to the peak of Zomba Plateau; learned the local language, Chichewa; and put their language and negotiating skills to the test in the local markets. They also visited Mvuu National Park where they witnessed the breath-taking sights of African wildlife. To end their trip, they journeyed to Lake Malawi, where they snorkelled with the native fish – cichlids – and took a boat trip around Thumbi View.
The trip was largely self-funded, and benefited greatly from generous donations from Strathclyde Alumni Fund and the School of Education. The students raised over £2000 through a bake sale and sponsored walk from the University to Blantyre, Scotland. Whilst in Malawi, they donated sustainable teaching and learning resources, sanitary products to combat period poverty, as well as financial support for teacher salaries. Following the return of the trip, a decision was made to allocate all remaining funds to Makokezi Primary School for exam standard desks and are continuing to fundraise.
Upon reflection the students feel they have left with a better appreciation of the value and purpose of Malawian education and culture. Teaching with minimal resources has helped them appreciate the value in themselves and the children they work with as the most important resource. Working together has built friendships, confidence and competence in their teaching, all of which will inform their future practice.
Reflecting on the experience, one of the group Susan Ireland, said: “The Malawi trip was a once in a lifetime opportunity and I’m so grateful to have experienced it. Teaching in a completely different culture and environment allowed me to develop a more innovative approach to my teaching and this will stick with me in future practice. The trip made me appreciate how lucky we are in Scotland with the education system we have, and how we can utilise it to create a better future for many of our kids.”
Benson Thungula, head teacher of Makokezi Primary School said, “First of all, let me thank the management of the University of Strathclyde for letting students come to Malawi, especially to Makokezi Primary School (…). I once again thank you for the kind donation you have gave to Makokezi School. We really appreciate it. We hope, next year, another team will come here or if you wish to return, you are most welcome. We really appreciate the services you have gave us both financially and materially. Thank you very much!”
Written by Alix Heath, Catriona Maybury and Emma Templeton.
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