Building Perspective – #Detroit High #School #Students in #Malawi

Building Perspective – By Leah Ouellet

Image from Hour Detroit
copyright/Image from Hour Detroit

Detroit high-schoolers get a lesson in community development, gender equality, and education abroad through international nonprofit buildOn

n a red-eye flight in mid-July, I’m seated with a group of 17 Detroit high school students. Robert Nettles, a student from Osborn College Preparatory Academy, looks nervous. “Are we in the air yet?” he asks. We’re still on the tarmac. I tell him he’ll know it when we take off.

This is the first time in an airplane for most of the students, and they have a 28-hour journey ahead of them. Our final stop is Lilongwe, Malawi, the capital of the southeastern African country.

The students have spent four months preparing for the trip as participants of buildOn, an international nonprofit organization that engages youth in service learning. We work in six U.S. cities, including Detroit. As part of a mission to break the cycle of poverty, illiteracy, and low expectations, buildOn also constructs schools in underdeveloped countries as part of its “Trek for Knowledge” program.

During this Trek, the students and I, along with other buildOn staff, spend 10 days living with host families in Mpeni, a small village in the Malawian countryside with no electricity or plumbing. The students sleep on thin mats beneath straw-thatched roofs, play soccer and games like Jenga with village children, and eat nsima (a corn-based local staple) with their host families.

Most importantly, however, they work side by side with community members to help construct a new primary school for the village.

More here at hourdetroit.com

Why I’m not excited about Roger Federer’s investment into Education in Malawi

Early this week, many people in Malawi were excited by the news that Roger Federer (ranked world number 2 best tennis player by the Association of Tennis Professionals), had launched a childcare centre at Lundu village, about 10 Kilometres outside Lilongwe, the Capital of Malawi.

While there is good reason to be happy about such news, whereby a big sports star has decided to use his time and resources to help Malawi in this area, a part of me thinks otherwise.

A part of me thinks that Malawi not only needs help in terms of pre-schools and child development centres, but also over the whole educational system – which is archaic, and needs to be revamped.

And here’s why:

Firstly, whats the point of giving children a great pre-school start only to disappoint them later on in primary and secondary education? How so? Well, according to Ripple Africa, a charity with a base in Nkhata Bay district:

… The government of Malawi recognises the importance of pre-school education, and encourages communities to set up their own pre-schools, but does not support pre-schools financially. With no funds to support pre-schools, most of them are run on a voluntary basis and are unregistered. Most teachers work for free, and have no resources to help them teach, lacking the very basics including blackboards and chalk, let alone books and toys which might commonly be associated with pre-school education in the West. It is rare that pre-schools have their own school buildings, and many pre-schools share facilities with local churches or other buildings built for a different purpose

It goes on to say

Although primary education in Malawi is free, students are required to purchase their own school uniform, pens, and notebooks, which many families find difficult. Rates for drop-outs are high, and, according to UNESCO, only 58% of children will complete a full course of primary school, and 20% of children repeat one or more school years, often several times, if they have had to take significant time out of school and have fallen behind. It is very common for children in Malawi to come in and out of school depending on their family situation, employment responsibilities, pregnancy and marriage at a young age, sickness, and more. By the time students leave primary school, many of them are far older than primary age, having repeated several years, and many lose interest and drop out all together.

If you read further, you’ll find the usual problems across the whole education board: poor infrastructure, lack of materials, unpaid untrained teachers even at pre-school level…  the usual.

How can you help children learn if schools have little or no study materials, and teachers are not properly trained? Before you do anything for the children shouldn’t you first make sure that their teachers have the right qualifications, and there are suitable facilities available for them to use in teaching.

So, in addition to improving pre-school education, I think the initiative should go hand in hand with improving the standard of education across the board, and not just in pre-school education.

In any case, we know from reports from employers that many people who come out of form four (or even Universities) in Malawi lack the basic skills needed by most employers. A scenario that probably is a result of dysfunction within Universities themselves. This dysfunction was summarised by The Nation News paper a few years ago:

In some public universities, for example, there is acute shortage of books or even chairs in classrooms, leading to students standing throughout lectures. Some of the faculty members also need to upgrade their qualifications; so, too, do catering and accommodation need improvement, among other facilities.

The above article by Ripple Africa also mentions the lack of buildings.

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image from typicalmalawian.wordpress.com

 

Malawi needs more school buildings, more resources such as desks, black boards and stationery in both primary and secondary education (including properly resourced dormitories in boarding schools). This will cost money, but the government needs to upgrade these facilities across the whole country. It cannot be piecemeal or random, because then it will not be effective. It has to be planned and transformative and must be made a top priority.

This is important because a child who undertakes their pre-school in a well-furnished nursery (complete with chairs and tables) is not going to be assisted if they then have to be downgraded and sit on the floor during primary school.

Never mind early education, primary and secondary school, what about tertiary education? Should the government be doing more to invest in tertiary education?

Recently in June 2015, Grant Shapps, UK International Development Minister, at the announcement that the UK would pump £11.6 million into Malawi education sector said:

“Malawi’s future doctors, nurses, IT experts, teachers and entrepreneurs will help build a nation eventually independent of foreign aid and with our own historic links to Malawi, particularly those of Scotland, this is also in the UK’s interest, because creating a more prosperous world will benefit us all in the long run”

The question is where will they be trained, and who will foot the bill? Is £11.6 million enough to train doctors, nurses, IT experts, teachers and entrepreneurs for a country with a population of 13 million people? Adequate training that will help Malawi compete on the global stage…? And not only provide Doctors and Nurses for Europe…?

There are other factors other than pre-school education that must be addressed if the education sector in Malawi is to be improved.

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Factors such as the effect H.I.V has on teachers. These need to be looked at, in collaboration with charities such as Theatre for a Change. It’s important that resources are dedicated to address them.

Aside from the education front, the other question politicians and stakeholders should be asking is after these children become young adults who have been ‘educated’, where will they work? No point training them when at the end of it all, you have no jobs to give them. A youth unemployment crisis which many western countries including the UK, Spain, Portugal and Greece are currently facing. Does Malawi have enough jobs and an economy that can support its young people of working age? How can the country create more jobs and assist its citizens to be resourceful?

Looking at the statistics of youth unemployment across Malawi, I can tell you that the country definitely doesn’t have enough good jobs, and this is a situation which could become a crisis if not addressed urgently.

Furthermore, Malawians must not rely solely on donors or foreign companies who have their own interests to come into Malawi and create jobs. This also extends to our educational system.

We must stop relying on foreigners to come in and sort out our problems.

When for example will Malawian corporations emerge that are owned by Malawian nationals, and employ thousands of Malawians?

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I’ll end with a personal story. A few months ago, a cousin-nephew who lives in the city of Blantyre in Malawi told me he wanted to study IT, in particular he wanted to work in Software or web related technologies. I told him to learn programming, and referred him to the City Library in Blantyre to find a book on the ‘C programming language’ which he could use as a starting point, since being trained as an Electronic and communications engineer I know that my education in programming began with C programming (as has been for many other people working in software and IT). So I was keen to get him down a similar path in this sense.

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A few days later he told me he had gone to the library but was told that they didn’t have any book on C programming. Further, he doesn’t have a computer, so even if he did have a book, there’s no where to practice how to code. Also he wasn’t sure whether he could install educational software on some of the public computers he has used in Internet Cafe’s. I wondered how it was possible for a library of a major city of a country to not even have a single book on C Programming, let alone computers for the public to use…In this digital era.

If things are like this outside the classroom, in a city, in 2015, I could see how easy it was for teachers to be frustrated.
Today, my thoughts are punctuated by an article I remembered, written by Steve Sharra titled Malawi at fifty One: the education legacies of Malawi’s presidents hitherto in which he argues that the failure to utilise the higher educational system to improve the quality of teaching and the teaching professions has negatively affected the country’s developmental process. In the article, Sharra writes :

However at primary and secondary school levels the problem of teacher morale, the most significant of the problems afflicting Malawi’s education system is getting worse. Today, anger amongst Malawian teachers has become so pervasive it severely corrodes the education system. In the first of 2015, salary delays took a turn for the worse. With communication from the ministry not forthcoming, teachers resorted to asking fellow teachers on Facebook groups for updates. It is frightening to imagine how these angry, bitter, frustrated and demoralised teachers are treating children under their care.

So here I am seated in a central city library in Nottingham (East Midlands), which has recent issues of magazines published in India, several copies of Der Spiegel, (including a May 2015 copy), and even an East Midlands Polish publication, let alone books on computer coding;

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I’m surrounded by both young and older people – all oblivious of my observations, getting on with their lives ; and I’m thinking how I can send a netbook with a compiler pre-installed on it, and a book on C programming to Malawi. I’m also thinking about all those young people who want to study IT related subjects across Africa(some of whom are being taught under trees), who greatly desire to tap into similar knowledge as is scripted in the pages of these books on the shelves next to me, but who can’t find a book anywhere to help them … who don’t have anyone to send a computer to them.

That is why I’m not excited about Roger Federer’s investment into pre-school Education in Malawi

Malawi school authority chosen as finalist for Zayed Future Energy Prize

Authority aims to establish a centre to train rural inhabitants in installing and using solar power

In one of the regions of the world where only a handful of residents have access to electricity, a proposal has been put forward to train students and community members about solar lighting use and development.

The initiative will establish a centre to train rural inhabitants in installing and using solar power, and has been initiated by the School Authority in the Nkhata Bay district in Malawi.

Because of its innovation and potential for promoting global sustainability through this project, the Authority has been selected as one of the finalists under the global high school category for the Zayed Future Energy Prize….

More at Malawi school authority chosen as finalist for Zayed Future Energy Prize

Home Economics class helps change destiny for Malawi girls

[Original Story here: Home Ec class helps change destiny for Malawi girls  via The Star Phoenix ]

Tucked away in a classroom at Mount Royal Collegiate, where sewing patterns line the walls, is a small group of industrious students. Laughter frequently punctuates the air and the sound of whirring sewing machines is almost constant.

They were working overtime in Anna Niessen’s Home Economics class at Mount Royal Collegiate to get a few hundred sanitary napkins finished before Christmas holidays.

Called Destiny Pads, they’ll be sent to a village district in Malawi, Africa through a local non-profit called Hope for Malawi.

Last September, Niessen’s students did an interior design and decorating project for a shipping container bound for Malawi. Niessen wanted to contribute to the 2014 shipment, but was unsure how to help.

Then, Hope for Malawi co-founder Elaine Zakreski, came to speak at the school. She posed a question to Niessen: “What would you do if you thought that you could help girls in Africa stay in school?”

Zakreski then explained the need for sanitary napkins — girls are not allowed to attend school in Malawi while menstruating.

“I had never thought about it. It had just never crossed my mind,” says Niessen.

“It bothered me to think of something we take for granted is not something a lot of people have access to.”

After researching materials and patterns, she got her students on board, many of whom are refugees or new immigrants to Canada, and the project began in earnest.

“They understand the ‘going without’ (concept). They were all over it.”

Most of the fabric has been donated — Zakreski purchased whatever else was needed.

Niessen estimated each girl would need five pads per month. In a matter of days, her nine students made 220 pads, enough to keep about 30 girls in school.

Destiny Pads are made from several layers of flannelette and terry cloth; the class did tests to determine which fabrics had the best absorbency. The pads are fastened to underwear with safety pins.

A few of the young women aren’t technically in Niessen’s class. One, Victoria Lafontaine, 17, has permission from her teachers to help out during her break. She says she’s happy to be a part of it.

“It makes me feel so good that I can use my sewing skills to help other people. It’s pretty easy and it’s my passion so if I can do that and other people will benefit from it, I’ll definitely help.

“I just want to help make a change and help people. It’s so easy, you just have to be passionate about it and speak up and ask questions.”

Niessen has been overwhelmed by her students’ devotion to the project.

“I don’t even need to tell them what to do. I can’t cut fabric as quickly as they can sew sometimes.”

Another person overwhelmed was Zakreski. At a Hope for Malawi fundraiser brunch in December, Niessen and Grade 12 student Yulanda Rockthunder made a surprise presentation of an additional 60 Destiny Pads. Zakreski accepted the pads with tears in her eyes, explaining to the crowd how a small group of students in Saskatoon will help change the destiny of girls half a world away.

“There’s a saying in our village (in Malawi),” she said. “I see you with my heart.”

While Niessen knows she’s helping girls in Malawi stay in school, she’s also changing lives right here in Saskatoon. Her classroom is a safe place, a place where she serves as teacher, friend and confidante to many at the west side high school. Students come and go, all stopping to chat with Niessen, the woman many call “mom.” It’s that kind of classroom. Everyone feels comfortable.

Niessen’s class has set a goal for the 2014 school year. They’ll be making an additional 500 Destiny Pads by May. That’s when Zakreski and her husband Peter will make their annual visit to Malawi, taking the pads along with them.

“They told us they … can take lots of luggage. They might be sorry they told us that,” says Niessen with a laugh.

Tommy Douglas will also be making Destiny Pads; Niessen is hoping other schools come on board, too.

(c) The Star Phoenix