By Kimberly Gregory
Paulo Freire (1970) proposes that liberation requires critical consciousness and creative thought (p.73). Unfortunately, this is something that is lacking in the Malawian education system and this was extremely apparent yesterday when working with some children in the After-school program. After having a long discussion about the six food groups included in the Malawian food guide and explaining the nutritional values of each, the students were asked to invent a fruit or vegetable that they had never seen before. They were also asked to draw it, name it and explain its nutritional values. When I saw that many of them were drawing fruits and vegetables that we had discussed, I reinforced the fact that I wanted them to use their imagination, however only 2 students actually invented and named items that did not already exist. Today, they also demonstrated that they struggle with using their imagination. For instance, when the students were asked to act out what a plant needs to grow, they all imitated the same thing that the first group did.
I discussed this phenomenon with my co-learner and he helped to elucidate what I had just observed. He explained to me that in the Malawian education system, most of the time, the students do not use their imagination to come up with things on their own because they are used to listening to the teacher and doing what they are told. Hence, the educational system in Malawi involves what Paulo Freire would call the “banking concept of education” (p.72). This system is based on the idea that the teacher is the source of knowledge and that they must deposit the “knowledge” in the student (p.72). The reason I write the word knowledge in quotation marks is because, in fact, as Freire has stated, I do not believe that authentic teaching and learning can take place in an “ivory tower of isolation but only in communication” (Freire, 1970, p.77). Thus, mutual activity and mutual exchange of knowledge is needed.
The banking concept of education makes students passive and it limits creativity. It is based on the idea of learning facts and memorizing them. However, to prepare students for today and tomorrow, “curriculum and instruction must change from traditional models based on coverage and rote memorization because this does not develop conceptual, creative and critical thinking which are essential for complex problem solving” (Erickson, 2008, p.7). The passivity that stems from the banking concept of education does not provide the students with the critical tools that are necessary to engage with the world.
Paulo Freire (1970) states that this type of education system suits the oppressors’ interests as it “adapts people to the role as dominated and passive” (p.74). In other words, it does not provide them with the tools they need for their liberation. The teacher-student relationship in the banking concept places students in an inferior position; it requires them to turn to the teacher to acquire knowledge. As a result, they have been conditioned to distrust themselves (Freire, 1970, p.64). They lack the confidence to try and figure things out on their own and this was evident in the After-school program. Freire (1970) goes as far as to say that “ any situation in which some individuals prevent others from engaging in the process of inquiry is one of violence” (p.85). This is evident when exploring the way in which it keeps the local people in the oppressive situation that they are in today.
During my time here, I was to implement and construct a curriculum that continuously engages students in critical thinking. I do not want “content to be an end product, but merely a tool to lead students to deeper thought” (p.12). The more they engage in critical thinking, the better prepared they will to struggle for freedom and self-affirmation (Freire, 1970, p.64). Furthermore, I do not want the students to be subservient to the teacher, but rather create a teacher-student partnership in which both contribute knowledge to the classroom. This type of education has the power to change the current state of violent poverty in Malawi.
Friere, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. NY, New York: Bloomsbury Academic.
By Karen Jeffery
Everyday at 14:30 Malawian time, the Community Centre on our Campus is full of lively children eager to learn. The Education students are putting together an excellent curriculum for the Praxis Malawi Charter School and the After-school program is a chance for them to give it a trial run. Today, for the first time, three children with intellectual disabilities were included.
My friend and I had previously met with the children’s mothers and they agreed unanimously that Education was the biggest concern they had for each of their children. Some of the children had begun in local schools, but failed to stay there long due to bullying and exclusion. The children’s response to their new classmates today was natural and as expected. There was a level of discomfort, a quiet giggle, and curiosity; all feelings that can be altered by promoting inclusion, exposure and education about disability. These together lead to a richer society where all are valued and everyone is given the same chances.
In the class today, the children learned about their national flag and the meaning of their national anthem. The Malawian sun shone through the windows and the children stood together, all with different abilities, all with their hands over their heart singing the beautiful melody of the Malawian anthem. The anthem is a prayer to God, and I hope a glimpse of the future here;
Join together all our hearts as one that should be free from fear.
By Jessica Fobert
As the second week continues, I find myself more interested in learning as much as I can about Malawian culture and their traditional ways of doing things. I learned that Malawians have a unique handshake when they meet new people, their favourite meal is Nsima, a type of maize flower and water that is usually served with either rice, potatoes and/or pumpkin leaves. We have had lessons on their language of Chechewa and each day I try to learn new phrases that will be useful while working with the people here. It is imperative that we engage in dialogue with the locals in order to fully understand their wants and needs. Especially when working with the After-school program.
Before coming to Malawi, the Transformative Praxis: Malawi group read a chapter by Easterly called Planners versus Searchers. In the chapter, Easterly states that, “let’s call the advocate of the traditional approach the Planners, while we call the agents for change in the alternative approach the Searchers” (Easterly, 5). The Transformative Praxis: Malawi (TPM) group planned and discussed our objectives for our projects so that when we arrived in Malawi we would be prepared. Before coming to Malawi, I engaged in research based on curriculum development, gardening in Malawi and how to compost efficiently. Now that we are in Malawi it is time for us to expand on our research and try the alternative approach suggested by Easterly by searching for our answers. “Searchers know if something works only if the people at the bottom can give them feedback” (Easterly, 15).
The second week’s goal was to engage in more dialogue with locals to distinguish what Malawians wanted out of the after-school program, and to inform others about the benefits of composting. I shared with my co-learner some traditional and nutritious crops that I had researched and was planning on trying to grow here. I soon found out after being here that what I had researched had to be adjusted. Because I have started a compost pit, my co-learner suggested that we try and grow vegetables so that we could educate the women that our vegetable scraps can be used as compost.
I am very grateful to have a co-learner by my side so that I am aware of what the communities would like to try and grow at the TPM campus. She has provided me with five women, each from different villages, to work on the garden so that they can return home and tell the other women in their villages about what is taking place here on Campus. I am planning with my co-learner now to travel to each village and inform the women on what we are doing on Campus so that they feel included and a part of the program. Later this week the Education students have arranged to meet with local villages to discuss what the parents would like out of the After-school program. Engaging in dialogue with locals is imperative for change and success so that we accomplish our project goals in Malawi. Tionana (see you later).
Easterly, W (2006) The white man’s burden: why the West’s efforts to aid the rest have done so much ill and so little good. London, England: The Penguin Press.
By Kirsten Dobler
June 9, 2015
We taught our first real lesson today! Alex and I designed a math lesson from the grade two curriculums that others before us had developed and it went really well. I was really happy to be working with Alex because she hasn’t really worked with curriculum before and it was really fun to watch things click in her mind. One of the things that I really like is when people get it. It’s happy because they’re happy and it is a nice reflection of the work that I am able to do. Although our lesson plan was designed for grade two students, we made it work with students aged 10-14. We had about 20 students by the end and we quickly discovered that these students are very smart. It seems kind of ridiculous and rude that we wouldn’t assume this, but we were more practicing the lessons from the curriculum that was developed. The students that we were working with were very engaged and got everything that we spoke about. At the end of the day we did the Macarena, which they love, and then they sang a song for us. The song was really nice because they used our names, but then they started to sing in English and I got a little bit uncomfortable. The song was saying that they were happy that we came and that they will remember us when and if we return. It was really quite sad because I began to reflect on how many people have come and gone from villages just like this. These children knew the song like the back of their hand and I wish that we were not such a novelty to them.
We talk a lot about glamourizing minorities in social justice education and I always try to keep this from happening in my mind and actions, but I have never thought that I would be glamourized. We come to third world countries and we are showered with love and happiness from children and it’s so easy to forget that we are soon going to leave these children until one day when the next group comes in. One of our main goals in this project is to avoid the Madonna complex where we come in and act as saviors, but I never critically thought about how we are thought of by the local people that we are working with. We know how we want to be viewed, but it can be really difficult to change the minds of the people that are around us and how they view us. As we attempt to act as catalysts in our new environment we are not always looked at as such. There are even some times when I’m with the children and they are all looking at me, waiting for me to do something like I’m a jester. It comes down to always having to act as a role model and to hold yourself as a person that acts as a leader; which is something that we have to practice as teachers in the real world. So, I guess that once you are a teacher you always have to act like a teacher.
By Taylor Lowery
Unprepared, but totally authentic. I had just finished writing a to-do list when I walked past the community center and was greeted by a group of adolescent boys. I asked one of their names, as one generally does upon first meeting, and thought to write down what I heard. Suddenly about 15 kids crowded around and I had them say their name and repeat it back to them to clarify. Then I wrote down what I heard phonetically. Mostly they just laughed because I have probably said something ridiculous, such as “I eat my fingers for lunch.”100’s of times I repeated and they laughed or they nodded, or the older ones even took the pencil from me and wrote their names properly. That chorus of laughter is ingrained in my mind now; their laughs and those smiles.
I think I have gained a companion on that day. She sat beside me the whole time and corrected my pronunciation, breaking it up into syllables for me. She was very patient and always cushioned her feedback with a smile, giving me permission to smile back. This game of “help Taylor remember your names” was played for an hour. Different kids coming in and out of the huddle, more laughs and smiles, and still that little teacher by my side. We played until my paper was full of names written in every different direction and all different handwriting.
I could tell that these were patient kids and so eager to be a part of the learning process. But mostly, I could tell that this pencil I had in my hand was a BIG deal. And of course, so was my skin colour.
Forward to the next day- this experience still in my mind and my overwhelming feelings of privilege standing strong. I had a conversation with a young mother, whose child I had met the day before. I asked her how receptive she would be to send her 10 year old to an after school program run through Praxis Malawi. When she seemed open to the idea I asked what she might like her daughter to learn at this program. She thought for a second and then responded, “I would like her to learn to be just like you.” I smiled, slowly said “we will see what we can do,” and she left. And I started to cry. Not knowing exactly what was meant by her request, I could only think to interpret it as, “I want you to give my child the same opportunities that you seem to have, to be here and to have all these great things happening to you.” Or maybe she just meant that she wants her daughter to speak English, or to be inquisitive, confident, educated or… maybe she meant to be white. Whatever her meaning, the task seemed impossible. I am the way I am because I was lucky enough to be born into a world where nothing was out of reach; a world where I always had access to a pencil.
It is possible I am extrapolating, as in the moment I didn’t have the emotional capacity to clarify what she meant by “be just like you” but for some reason, this beautiful compliment was wrapped in such sadness. I am told that this feeling is understandable and as prescribed in the steps of culture shock I am smack dab in the middle of the Disintegration phase (Pedersen, 1995). The excitement of our first day welcome over, and now the tag team of guilt and helplessness have moved in and will probably be tenants for awhile. Hopefully their lease will be up in a couple days and I can rent some more productive feelings.
Pederson, P. (1995). The five Stages of culture shock: critical incidents around the world. Westport, C.T: Greenwood Press.
About the Blog
Since 2013, students participating in Transformative Praxis: Malawi have been writing blog posts reflecting on their experiences of participating in action research in Malawi. The original blog with the full archive can be found here