Tuesday, February 25, 2014

#TeacherTuesday - Malawi: The struggle for literacy

This is my first blog post for what will be a 10-week series - each week focusing on a different country and a different teacher who will share with us first hand conditions and stories. My educational focus normally is on educational technology - digital citizenship, global collaboration, mobile and ubiquitous learning, therefore my posts will refer to this in relation to each country and situation, but not with the intention of diverting the story, but wanting to broaden the picture.

This is an initiative by UNESCO, see my previous post, and many bloggers across the global are writing madly and posting each Tuesday. Follow the action on Twitter - #TeacherTuesday.

Week 1 - Focus on Malawi
 Oh Africa....dear to my heart....
In Malawi the pace of progress is too slow, especially for the disadvantaged. This relates to universal primary education, lower secondary education and youth literacy. From 2000-2010 literacy rates among those aged 15-24 increased from 72-77% only.
Malawi has one of the worst teacher shortages in the world.

What are conditions like in schools in Malawi?
The World Inequality Database on Education helps inform policy design and public debate. Recent surveys highlighted that not all children reach a grade 6 level, particularly the poor, therefore on average only 40% of primary school age children achieve this minimum learning standard. Of interest also is the interaction between gender, geography and poverty. It appears that 75% of rich boys living in urban areas achieved the minimum standard compared to 24% of poor girls living in rural areas.

What can the government do?
  1. Recruit good teachers
    • The current shortage of teachers means less qualified have been recruited
    • Need to recruit from ethnic minorities to work in their own communities
  2. Improve teacher education
    • Development of a distance education program doubled the government's capacity to supply teachers
    • Distance education for teacher training has reduced costs significantly
  3. Put teachers where they are most needed - particularly in rural areas 
    • Rural hardship allowance offered to try and get better educated teachers out of urban areas where there is a surplus of teachers
  4. Provide incentives to retain good teachers
    •  Pay salaries that elevate teacher families out of poverty
    • Offer a career path for teachers
Use of ICT
Malawi is at the very early adoption of computers stage in a few schools.  Teacher training and understanding of the relevance of computers beyond being a replacement for pen and paper is needed. Using ICT as a real educational resource means having carefully constructed digital curriculum artifacts as well as providing some or ongoing connectivity to the Internet and therefore the world. In schools where classes are up to 200 in size, the ability to integrate technology using devices provided by the government is many years away, or in fact impossible. Or is it? My question is, how can we mobilze the developed world to support digital implementation in the less-developed world?

Through the eyes of Esnart Chapomba
Esnart is an experienced primary, secondary teacher and is now a teacher trainer.
She shares with us some facts about the current education situation in Malawi.
  • The physical structure of schools is inadequate - lack of desks, broken buildings
  • Class sizes are too large - up to 200 students in the one class
  • Textbook shortage means students share - not satisfactory
In a personal interview Esnart talks about the struggle to provide basic literacy to students when teachers are overwhelmed by so many in a class coupled with a lack of resources.
More incentives are being given to encourage female teachers (she has 60% male students in the teacher training course right now). Females teachers are role models for girl students, particularly in rural areas.
Education for girls generally is not always supported by parents. Pregnancy after puberty has an impact, but now better education around AIDS and protection is helping to change this.
Some new teachers are electing the profession because of a lack of other opportunities and Esnart comments unfavourably about this - if they do not like their job how can they be productive?

Rural areas lack adequate health care and facilities, therefore not attracting urban teachers and their families. Large class sizes mean a compromised teaching approach - singing, some reading. Esnart reports that student behaviour is not always good in these very large classes, putting even more stress on the teacher. The school day finishes before lunch so students can go home and eat. Afternoons are for teacher planning, and at times the more studious are encouraged to come back for extra help.

My comments
I lived in Zambia for nearly 3 years, 1998-2000, when that country was at one of it's lowest socioeconomic levels. I have seen schools and situations where students are not supported, and teachers are not supported, and literacy is very low.  The impact of AIDS in countries like Zambia and of course Malawi can not be underestimated - thousands of children with no real parents. Schools requiring a uniform to participate, although a simple entry point is usually beyond the means of rural and less financial families.
For many years now my focus has been on developing digital literacy, and I also have full appreciation and understanding of the need to develop basic literacy and uphold minimum standards across the world - these two objectives MUST go hand-in-hand. I am really thinking however that through digital means education can be improved at a far greater rate in a country like Malawi. The cost of technology is decreasing. Developing countries have the opportunity to leap-frog over what other countries have been through in the past 10 years.

Meanwhile, my thoughts are with Esnart and her colleagues in Malawi as they struggle to improve conditions in a profession they love. What can we do to help in a more meaningful way?

No comments: