By Ning Ma
Continue getting shocked. On these two days, I have visited three local primary schools: Chilanga, Mponda and Kapiri. They are very different through instruction, teacher resources and learning environment. I believe Kapiri has the best classrooms of the three schools. It is pretty big and has large windows to let the sunshine in, considering they have no electricity at the school. They also have iron doors and news locks to keep the classrooms safe. Although teachers are still on strike for their unpaid salary, we had a nice conversation with the teachers. They are very honest with us. One thing that really made me upset is that a teacher told me the reason why he has become a teacher. When he chose his university, because his family cannot afford his tuition fee for learning business, he could only choose to become a teacher as this major is free from tuition. The reality is cruel. Thinking about myself as an independent human being, I have a chance to choose my future, and I even have a chance to change my future by changing my major. But I can feel that he has set his mind on his dream. And now, he also tries his best to be a better teacher.
Going back to the other two schools I have visited in these days, Chilanga appears to be a key school in this area. Children here are not so curious about us and they are organized. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, the head teacher will organize a brief meeting with the whole school in the court yard. Although their classrooms are not as big and bright as Kapiri’s, they have desks and chairs in the Grade 7 classroom. When I observed two of their classes, I can feel the enthusiasm and energy those students and student teachers have. Teachers also use objects as examples to help students learn and remember what they have learned.
The third school, Mponda, is the poorest one. They have no windows for the classroom, and it is very dark inside. Different from the other two head teachers’ offices, there is only one shabby desk for him as an office desk. The head teacher told me because of lacking of funding they cannot finish building the classrooms. The Grade 5 class is held in a small church now.
This is a world that I have never seen before. People go to bed at sunset and get up when the sun rises every day because they have no electricity. They cannot do anything during the night time. I hope we can help them more. Instead of money for support, they also need support inwardly. That is also the reason why we are here. We hope to help them realize they are full of potential and fantastic and they can use the local resources to develop themselves not only in education but also in their lives. From now on, I will talk with them more and get to know them more to see if I can work with them at least to help a little. I hope in time their lives will be better so they have a more equal life compared with us.
By Yuyin Ning
Disintegration Stage: As the euphoria of the “newness” wears off, the perceive negative reality of the host culture begins to affect the student in an uncontrollable way. Confusion, tension and frustration are then mixed with a student’s desire to attempt to “fix” problems in the host culture. An overwhelming feeling of despair and hoplessness is often described, with thoughts of self-blame and hopelessness. (Pedersen, 1995; Stonebanks, 2013, p264)
As planned, we had the chance to observe some classes at Chilanga Sighted Elementary School. The First class was a Standard Five Class. The moment we showed up in the classroom, all the students stood up and said: ” Good morning Sir.” We smiled and answered back:” Good morning, students.” The headmaster said something in Chichewa (local language) and arranged for us to sit at the back of the classroom. Class started. Not surprisingly, many of students kept staring at us now and then. I ignored them, and there was a kind of similarity rising up. I was pretty sure the same thing would happen if some “asungu” (foreigners) showed up in my elementary school.
The feeling of similarity showed up in my mind a couple times when I was eating “Nsima” (a local food made by corn flour and water); when I saw the chicken or goats running around; and when I was watching the beautiful starry sky. I grew up in a small village in China. I didn’t think of my early childhood experience often until I got here.
I looked around the classroom. There were about 50 students sitting on the ground sharing seven English books. They sat in circles with the English book in the middle. Each group had about 6-12 students. The teacher was talking in front. I couldn’t hear clearly. A lot of people were gathering outside of classroom, waiting for the procedure of getting national IDs. Their voices came into the classroom directly from the window without glass. I couldn’t see clearly. The black board was in really poor condition. It was very hard for students to concentrate on the class. Not to mention too that some classes were given outside of the classroom since there was not enough classrooms in the school.
The English class session lasted for about 30 minutes. The students were reading the paragraph in the textbooks. The teacher was very encouraging them to read and answer questions by saying: “Try it!” “Thank you for trying.” Therefore, the students were all willing to answer questions by raising up their hands and clipping their fingers to show their eagerness. Despite the very poor environment, the teacher was trying her best to create a safe and secure English learning environment for children.
After class, we had a very short talk with the teacher. She mentioned that for the students learning English, it was very difficult for them to comprehend some concepts that are not familiar to them, such as the word “pub”. There is no electricity in the school. The only way is to draw on the paper. The study resources are too limited here. I totally understand what she means. When I was learning English, a similar thing happened to me. I understood what the word “bus stop” meant literally, but I couldn’t comprehend it. Because there is no bus in my village, and the bus in the town stopped whenever we waved our hands to it.
The fact of the limited resource here makes me really upset. Everything about us is new to them, who we are, where we from, what kind of food we eat, what kind of life we have. The simplest life back in Canada is something far beyond their imagination. I thought about their situation and the reason behind of it, the government system, the education criteria, the teachers development. Is there anything we can do here? In every school, you can see “The future is in education” on the wall. The rest of the schools are on strike because of the absence of holiday pay from the government. Obviously, it is complicated with what it said on the wall and what is reality.
In the five stage of culture shock: honey moon, disintegration, reintegration, autonomy and interdependence. I am in the second stage: “disintegration”.
By Mark Freedman
–“O my body, make of me a man who always questions” –Frantz Fanon
I found the above quote to be quite fitting to the theme of the past couple days. After visiting a couple schools, we seem to be getting the ‘go around’, as in there are no direct answers or we are not being given direct answers after asking a question for the first time and as such we have to continuously question. For example, the teachers here are standing in solidarity together on strike because they are missing payments from the government, totally understandable, but we only found out they were on strike a couple days before going to the schools when we asked them if they were ready for us to visit, and as we continue to visit the schools and ask the teachers questions, the story keeps getting more and more complex and the answers vary across the table. It’s good experience if I ever wanted to become a detective. Sadly, however, I’m not on path to be a detective. I joined the teaching profession to be able to work in great teams and collaborate. Although, another side of the profession is to engage in tough conversations, as I believe is the case here. These constant questions are getting us the real answers to our questions, but it is not without hard work. Dialogue is tough and exhausting, mentally and physically, but it is an essential tool to the alleviation of the colonized mindset. The ideas of Paulo Freire on dialogue and collaboration look like the starting point to the fundamentals of decolonizing the minds of the historically colonized; after all, Malawi has only been an independent nation for about 70 years. It is based on these ideals, of great educational writers like Freire, that I can remain grounded in this endeavor of collaboration and knowledge transfer, because some of the conversations and realizations of being in a country with so much poverty and historically colonized is indeed, tough.
One such tough realization came to me upon visiting the primary school in Chilanga yesterday, where last year the wall in the main courtyard was painted with all the planets (as you can see in the picture). However this year, the same wall is now covered in blue paint with a small advertisement for tablets in the corner. A little backstory: a number of tablets were donated to the school for interactive learning
for the children and they are being used for standard one and two. The extent to which they are used and for what skills has yet to be determined…a little more detective work to go! Anyway, the point is that a beautiful wall with all the planets painted on it had been replaced with an advertisement this past year…. at a primary school…one can make inferences of where priorities lie.
At the same school, I saw their library in construction last year and it was really great seeing that it had since been finished. They just need to put the chairs around the room so learners can sit at the desks to read, and put computers in the spots sectioned off for them, though there is no telling when they will get said computers. Currently, while the teachers are on strike, I was told that learners aren’t using the library…hopefully this strike ends soon.
Every school that we have visited so far, which is all three of the partner schools working with TPM, have had children there because this week all of them are getting vaccinated for measles, which means one less illness that causes so much death. Just like our work here with TPM, the vaccine is anther drop in the bucket that will one day add up to a full bucket of drinking water for everyone to rejoice in, metaphorically speaking.
By Katie-Alana Schouten
Today we ran an After-school program collaborating with the Education students based on hygiene and hydration. We showed the children the technique of hand washing to the song of the Macarena. We were then challenged with the option of providing an education outlet for children with disability. Instead of focusing on the school system of education it was proposed to start a temporary program where we can act as aids for the children during the lessons.
I felt unsure at first because a temporary program can end very quickly in Malawi. I thought it wasn’t sustainable as in this area there may be no teachers or no teachers to care to follow up the education that has started for people with disabilities. I also deeply felt that I didn’t have the skills to support these children, to meet their ever- changing needs. I felt and feel inadequate in doing something from my own mind that I couldn’t witness and criticize. Becoming the do-er instead of the audience was really a threat in this instance.
The role of the nurse became so much clearer in such a short time. This outlet of education wasn’t only for these children, but for us too. I hope it allows us to be holistic and focus on all the person’s needs. From a quick visit to the community we had during the week I could already see the need for the children with disabilities to be happy and fulfilled in experiences. Instead here, they are forced to stay at home due to the discrimination they face in the schools and in the villages.
I had an experience as a student nurse in practice where I found it difficult to participate in real communication with clients. I was always better at writing and doing physical work than communicating properly. A senior nurse told me that I could get anyone to participate in anything if I did it with love and kindness. Likewise, if I communicated with kindness I could achieve anything. This means meeting peoples individual needs in their current situation.
I liked her advice.
For someone with intellectual disability it can be difficult for some children to interact and communicate as directly as we would and that’s where my love for this role comes from. Individuals with a disability teach us to listen, to care and have patience, which is so difficult for me to do. I remember in school always being taught and talked at. We never had a conversation with our educators and our opinion wasn’t allowed because of being incorrect to the textbook. This created tension in me as a person because I didn’t feel like I was being listened to or understood.
Having the opportunity to create a space where individuals can reach their own achievable potential in Chilanga is amazing. Being able to focus on ability rather than what the individual may not be able to do is life changing. In an ideal world it should be an aspect of all education and not just for our children with individual differences.
‘Education recognizes energy and potential within each person and each community, and tries to empower them to make their full contribution to the process of building a new society in which it is possible for all people to meet their fundamental human needs.’ (Hope,Timmel &Hodzi, 1984).
Hope, A., Timmel, S., & Hodzi, C. (1984) Training for transformation : A handbook for community workers. Gweru, Zimbabwe: Mambo Press.
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 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
Time is both slow and fast here. A general routine fills the day allowing for time to pass, yet the tranquility of just “being” and “doing” seems to stop time in its place. The work feels easy, fun and creative.
I’ve come to realize that when you are confident in what you are doing it is easy to feel comfortable; when tasks fall within your realm of understanding it is easy to feel competent and it is easy to be yourself. This comfort is a feeling I am very weary of. Wasn’t I on this adventure to get away from my comforts? Wasn’t this the time to step into something a little more unknown?
I have been told that learning comes when you are outside your comfort zone- that box that you draw just around the perimeter of what you know and of what you are used to. This theory is known to Education students through the Education Psychologist, Lev Vygotsky, who called this your Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD), the zone of what you can achieve when you receive scaffolding to step just outside of what you can already do on your own.
So following this theory, I must move past that work which I feel most comfortable doing and into an area which I feel more uncomfortable. Once I reflected on this I realized that what scares me most right now is my comfort in this project and the notion that soon I should probably step out of it.
If I could peel apart the layers of this comfort, I might find that what give me the most shelter is the interactions I choose to surround myself with. If I wish to fully immerse myself in this experience I think I need to gain some confidence in engaging in dialogue- not with my young adult peers, not with the English speaking cooks, or our Malawian teacher friends- but in dialogue that is not convenient; dialogue that must be worked towards, and translated; some dialogue that requires me to sit in discomfort.
From my readings on Freire, he speaks dialogues praise, and in fact dismantles any development (Pedagogy) work that does not include dialogue at its core. This is what I realized I needed help doing. My father likes to say, ” You are only a stranger until you say hello”. I hoped to get a little further than this.
I decided to bring my concerns to the attention of the group. We decided to set up meetings with four of the nearby villages to talk about Education and their ideas on its future place here. One person expressed some apprehension, “how about if we don’t like what we hear? Aren’t we trying to bring a different perspective to Education? Don’t we want to be different?” I thought about this for a second but questioned that without dialogue how would we even know where to start and develop if we don’t know the current ideas, attitudes and realities? How can this school’s curriculum (the work we are here to help construct) serve the community if we don’t even bother to ask?
Dr. Stonebanks suggested we have discussion groups with just the woman as they would be the only ones to give us an honest opinion, and not just what they thought we “wanted to hear.” Meetings were arranged then changed, then rescheduled due to funerals…then etcetera, etcetera… but they finally took place. Debriefing afterwards illuminated a lot, confirmed other things and also changed some of our original lesson focuses. I will not go into detail here about the conversations as I have already done a lot of reflection and as I am sure others are blogging about these conversations so I wish not to saturate the topic.
What I do want to express however, is the amount of joy I felt when I recognized a familiar butterfly in my stomach just prior to our meeting with these women. I also really reveled in the awkward moments during the actual conversations, such as when I was offered cooked corn from a toddler and when the women asked us for a water well. This was the feeling I was searching for, the evidence that I was stepping out of the comfort and into the unknown.
By Vicki Miller
A little girl, about eight-years old, walked into The Community Center to participate in our After School program. The very first thing I noticed was the curiosity in her eyes. She didn’t say anything as the children got into two circles. She simply looked on and stood with everyone else. I also noticed a small child, no more than two-years-old, tied to her back wrapped in her chitenje. The young two year old girl had the same look of curiosity in her eyes as her older sister. The older sister sat down next to me as we started a ball-name-game. She untied her sister and placed her down next to her. She continued to pay extremely close attention to her sister and helped her participate in the game. After the program, the little girl retied her sister on her back and crossed the road and out of sight.
She is such a young girl with such a different life than I lived when I was eight years old. I would go straight to daycare after school, have a snack, go home, eat dinner, listen to my dad read me a story, then go to bed. I never had more responsibilities than making sure I ate my lunch or that I got on the right bus home. I cannot imagine the great responsibilities this little girl had, like taking care of her sister as well as herself. I am simply awed by this little girl and I am very glad that she continues to be herself and keep a slightly toothless smile on her face.
Things to be grateful for: sisters, chitenjes
By Kate Newhouse
How does Malawi’s past affect our present identity?
This was the title of our first unit that we completed today. The unit theme was “Malawi” and focused on past/present, and identity as our concepts. We found this was a great way to be introduced to our co-learners. We were able to ask them questions about Malawi and they had some great ideas of lessons and subjects we should add.
We had an Education Boot camp back in April and we chose the final two units for the grade 2 curriculum that were started on last year’s Praxis Malawi trip. We decided the two units should be water and discussinghow important water is and then finish the grade 2 year with a unit called Malawi.
We thought Malawi would be a great way to end the year as some of the activities would be based on prior knowledge from previous units that year. The final project would allow students to answer the question of: “What does being a Malawian mean to you?” Students would then be able to answer this in a multitude of different ways.
I am enjoying working with everyone here and I am really using what we have learned at Bishop’s in real life situations. Getting to use Lynn Erikson’s curriculum building model for creating units using themes and concepts and then trying to put them into practice here in Malawi is exciting! What a unique experience.
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