This article first appeared on the 'My Turn' page of The Nation, on Friday January 28th, 2011
As a country we need to know who great Malawian teachers are, what they do, and what motivates them. We also need to find ways of making their work more visible so as to inspire their fellow teachers, learners, and other Malawians. There are Malawian teachers who have conducted research into the one area that baffles nearly every Malawian educationist: what to do with the problem of large class sizes in the absence of radical recruiting targets. We have teachers who inspire their pupils with primary school research projects on problems in their communities. Several years ago Andrews Nchessie, a teacher at Kasungu Teachers College Demonstration Primary School, led his pupils in conducting research, using oral interviews followed by lab experiments. They found that goat urine, when properly treated, can cure scabies. It was the same Mr Nchessie who invented a flood-detecting device as part of a science experiment. His enthusiasm for science and technology has spread far and wide, locally and internationally. Nchessie’s most recent research has focused on how to handle extraordinarily large classrooms, Malawi’s most difficult educational problem.
There are teachers who have turned their classrooms into resource rooms for their zones, encouraging other teachers in neighbouring schools to visit and learn from them. We have teachers who have taught science in ways that have inspired pupils to go outside the classroom and use their hands to create village-level hydro power stations.
These are teachers who will redefine teaching for the coming decades. They will reshape the idea of a teacher from one who feels paralyzed and helpless in the face of the unfathomable condititions, to one who inspires pupils and communities into finding solutions to problems in their schools and in their communities.
A lot has been said about how science and technology are going to be drivers of a new Malawi and a new Africa. We cannot achieve this new Malawi without providing teachers with the support necessary for them to harness the power of science and technology. You can set yourself a goal of helping teachers in your community open email accounts and use the Internet. Schools would transform their ways of acquiring new knowledge and teaching pupils if each and every Malawian teacher in primary and secondary schools had an email address and access to the Internet. The example set by Airtel Malawi is worth emulating, and would go along way toward making teaching an attractive profession. Airtel Malawi have pledged to adopt three schools and support them by doubling teachers’ salaries and giving the schools an infrastructure and technology makeover.
According to Limbani Nsapato, Policy and Advocacy Manager at the Lusaka-based African Network Campaign on Education for All (ANCEFA), the World Bank is initiating a paradigm shift in the global stategy for education. From Education For All (EFA), which has been the guiding philosophy for the past few decades, the new paradigm will now be Learning for All (LFA). Nsapato explains the premise behind this strategy, saying “competencies and skills that make people live happier or more satisfactory [lives] are broader than just reading and writing.” The focus will therefore be on continuous learning for everyone as a lifelong process.
As serendipity would have it, Malawi is also moving in this direction with special regard to teachers’ professional development. The National Strategy for Teacher Education and Development (NSTED) provides for continuous professional development (CPD) for teachers. There are Malawian teachers who already espouse a life-long learning personal philosophy. They will be crucial in inspiring fellow teachers, and more importantly, pupils, to adopt a philosophy of continuous, lifelong learning both in and outside the classroom. Currently many Malawians think of learning as dealing with academic advancement only. But learning ought to be seen in a wider frame than just classroom knowledge, as Nsapato has explained.
Teachers who think in an imaginative, creative way will jump on the new paradigm and initiate local projects to promote life-long learning. In addition to searching for ways to make the Internet accessible to more teachers, the development of a reading culture amongst teachers will also be crucial. Innovative teachers will collaborate with their communities to find ways of bringing books, newspapers and magazines into their schools and communities. In other countries teachers have found book clubs, and month-long summer institutes when school is on break, to be excellent means of continuous learning both in and outside the classroom.
As I have suggested elsewhere before, Malawi needs to rethink the academic qualifications expected of primary school teachers. In the 21st century, in which knowledge has become advanced and a global outlook indispensable, does a two-year teacher induction programme, terminating at a certificate level, still make sense? Isn’t it time we became more ambitious in our expectations for teachers’ qualifications, affording them the best educational opportunities for the best foundation of Malawi’s future?