An abridged version of this interview appeared in the Weekend Nation of Saturday, July 21st, 2010, Career of the Week. It was conducted by Paida Mpaso. It is reproduced here in full.
1. Who is an educationist?
An educationist is someone who works within an educational system in various roles and responsibilities that facilitate teaching, learning, assessment, research, curriculum development, and policy among others. An educationist may teach in an educational institution, work in the administration of an educational institution or system, research educational issues, or make educational policy at national and international levels.
2. What is the job all about i.e. what does the job involve?
Being an educationist involves teaching or facilitating teaching and learning at various levels of the educational system, starting at the pre-school and nursery levels, including primary and secondary school, and going up to tertiary and higher education. Other educationists might include school librarians, educational social workers, school psychologists, just to mention a few. Educationists also carry out educational research, administration of educational institutions and systems, and policy making in government departments, educational NGOs, and legislative bodies.
3. How long have you been in this profession?
I have been an educationist since 1990, when I became a student-teacher and started teaching in primary school. That makes it twenty years. In those twenty years I have played other roles within the education profession: an editor of educational materials, a university teaching assistant, an educational consultant, an educational researcher, an academic adviser, an assistant professor, a peace educator, and a teacher educator.
4. How do you look at the career in Malawi ?
Being an educationist is one of the most important careers one can embark on, in Malawi or anywhere. When I was growing up teachers were highly respected members of society, and they were well trained. Somewhere along the way that respect has dwindled, as has the education of teachers. That has affected the various types of educationists across the system. It is cyclical, systemic problem. If Malawi can solve the crisis in education, improving both the numbers and the quality of teachers, we will be well on our way to developing the nation beyond where it is today.
5. What kind of jobs can one do under this profession and where are the services needed?
One can teach, or facilitate teaching and learning, at various levels: pre-school (yamkaka), primary school, secondary school, tertiary, vocational and higher education. The services of educationists are needed in the entire educational system, in the various educational institutions in Malawi, as well as in the research, administration and policy-making aspects of education.
6. When you were growing up, is this the career you wanted to pursue?
Not really. I don’t remember if I had a meaningful desire for a specific career when I was little. But as an adolescent I wanted to become a writer, which I did, in some ways. Only I don’t write for a living, in a strict career-sense. I wish I could!
7. Who inspired you to join this profession?
My parents. My mother was a primary school teacher until her retirement in 2003. And my father, who was a police officer until his retirement also in 2003, used to say teaching was the most important profession there was.
8. Briefly explain where you have worked for you to be where you are now and the professional qualifications that you possess? ( don’t forget to mention the years as well)
I started out as a student-teacher under the World Bank-funded Malawi Special Teacher Education Program (MASTEP) between 1990 and 1993. During those years I taught at Chikande Primary School in Ntcheu. After obtaining my teachers’ certificate in 1993 I taught at Gunde Primary School, also in Ntcheu, in 1994. That same year I joined the Malawi Institute of Education (MIE) as an editorial assistant of educational materials. During my time at MIE I also studied for a journalism certificate in the University of Malawi’s The Polytechnic, which I finished in December 1996. In 1998 I went to study for a Master of Arts Degree in English Education, at the University of Iowa in the United States of America. I finished the degree in 2000. In August of that year I embarked upon a Ph.D. program in Teacher Education at Michigan State University, also in the United States. I completed that program in December 2006 and got my Ph.D. degree in January 2007. In August 2007 I was hired as a Visiting Assistant Professor of Peace and Justice Studies in the Department of Philosophy at Michigan State University. I left that position in May of 2010. Now I work as a teacher training specialist in the newly-started Malawi Teacher Professional Development Support (MTPDS) project.
9. What makes you happy about your job?
As an educationist I am interested in how knowledge becomes school curriculum content, and in how school curriculum content is applied to the understanding and addressing of human problems. Human beings create knowledge on a daily basis, and that knowledge is sometimes used to empower some, and disempower others. I am happy when I see educationists making school knowledge relevant for problems of structural violence, structural inequality and social injustice. I believe that all education should be peace education, and should promote what I term global uMunthu; this means teaching for peace and social justice. For teachers in Africa, this entails promoting ideals of the African rebirth through knowledge production. I am most happy when I see teachers inspiring young people to create and acquire new knowledge and transform lives, theirs’ and others’. It confirms what my father used to tell me that teaching is the most important profession there is. Not that other careers are not as important; they are equally important, but teaching is special in that it influences us from our earliest stages of life.
10. In your opinion what makes a good educationist?
My opinion is that a good educationist should view the ultimate goal of the school curriculum as teaching for and promoting peace and social justice locally, nationally and globally. A good educationist keeps abreast with the processes of knowledge construction, regardless of the discipline. A good educationist inspires others, especially young people, to construct and acquire new knowledge, and make that knowledge useful for the solving of problems and the advancing of human life. A good educationist not only reads widely, but also shares knowledge through researching, writing, publishing, speaking and teaching. A good educationist asks difficult questions, and is never satisfied with shallow answers about causes of phenomena. A good educationist is always on the lookout for big, new ideas.
11.What advice would you give to someone who wants to be an educationist?
Start whilst you are still in primary school. It’s not too late if you are already in secondary school or in a college. Take an interest in how your teachers teach. Take an interest in what you learn in school, and think of ways to make school knowledge useful in your home, in your community, in your country and in the world. Read as widely as you can, especially books. Make use of new sources of information, especially the Internet but not forgetting educational programming on radio and TV. Write about what you learn. It’s when you share with others knowledge and processes of knowledge production that you become an educationist. And as my father argues, and my mother confirmed, being an educationist is one of the most important careers there is.