The General Teaching Council for Scotland

The warm heart of Africa

Schools in Scotland have formed long-lasting links with schools in Malawi, providing mutual benefits.

Scotland has a “long, lovely history” of links with Malawi, said Maureen McKenna, Executive Director of Education at Glasgow City Council.

Dr David Livingstone’s legacy has lived on through Scottish projects to improve healthcare, water and agricultural access, and education in the country.

The Scotland Malawi Partnership (SMP), a national network coordinating links between Malawi and Scotland, has more than 250 Scottish school members with active links with schools in Malawi or which learn about the country as part of their global citizenship curriculum and work with Classrooms for Malawi and Mary’s Meals.

In the Scottish Borders, the local Rotary and church groups are working with St Ronan’s Primary School in Innerleithen and Biggar High School to develop partnerships that reach across all levels of the community in both Scotland and Thondwe in Malawi. In place of the usual Valentine’s Day activities in St Ronan’s, the school’s Malawi committee decided to have a ‘Warm Heart of Africa’ day. In Biggar High School, pupils have been exploring the issue of period poverty at home and in Malawi, working with Days for Girls to learn more about how to increase girls’ participation in education.

SMP Youth and Schools Officer Gemma Burnside said: “Teachers hope to make their partnerships as sustainable as possible with an emphasis on educational sharing and learning. Our links in schools talk about the need for partnerships to be approached by the whole school, not just one keen group of pupils and teachers. Reciprocal visits from partners in Malawi are often the hardest part of a partnership to achieve, so it’s extremely helpful to have the Connecting Classrooms through Global Learning programme now on offer with specific funding available for supporting reciprocal staff visits between the two countries, as well as supporting a whole-setting approach to Learning for Sustainability through international partnerships.”

The programme in Scotland, co-ordinated by the IDEAS network, the SMP, Learning for Sustainability Scotland and the University of Edinburgh, offers professional learning, classroom resources to support pupil projects themed around the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and funding to facilitate international visits, events and training.

SMP hosted its fourth annual Members Awards programme in September, when Honorary Patron, HRH The Princess Royal, presented an award to charity STEKAskills for its work in Malawi.

28 Malawi_2Improving education

Another member of the SMP is Malawi Leaders of Learning, founded by Maureen McKenna, which has just one principal objective: “To improve education in Malawi and Glasgow.”

Through partnerships between schools in Glasgow and Blantyre, pupils in Glasgow explore global issues as well as poverty in both their own context and in Africa. However, Maureen explained, the focus of Malawi Leaders of Learning is less about the practical education of young people and more about quality of education through “improving learning and teaching; upskilling teachers to help them build sustainability. Education is a big priority for Malawi and primary education is universally available and free.

“They have their own curriculum (as well as National Education Standards developed in 2015 by Link Community Development), they don’t need us to interfere in that, but we can provide professional learning to help headteachers and the Primary Education Advisers – who are like quality improvement officers – to help themselves for the future.”

Since 2012, Malawi Leaders of Learning has been taking out groups of teachers to work in schools in Malawi for four weeks as well as partnering schools together. Five Malawian staff came to Glasgow for two and a half weeks in September 2018, working in our schools, sharing their experiences with children, observing learning and teaching and undertaking training in literacy and numeracy.

“Around 80 staff have been out to Malawi and have all had a life-changing experience,” said Maureen. “We talk about teaching and learning using locally available resources –TALULAR – which means it is the craft of the teacher that is important, not textbooks or gizmos. They might have a ropey blackboard, they might be teaching outside, they might have 200 learners, so it is the skills of the teacher that make the difference. It doesn’t matter where you are, whether that is Malawi or Glasgow, we are aiming to reduce the impacts of poverty on the lives of these children.”

This year, Malawi Leaders of Learning lost its Scottish Government grant funding after three years, and so is determined to continue to raise funds as a charity, as well as linking up with Education Scotland to support its international engagement strategy via leadership training over the next five years.

In February, a small team of teachers who have previously been involved in professional learning and teaching in Malawi, as well as representatives from Education Scotland, will deliver training to headteachers and the Primary Education Advisers in Blantyre.

The teachers will be armed with graphics for a lesson structure used in Glasgow called ‘the Good Lesson’, which spans demonstrating understanding, connecting learning, setting out learning intentions and success criteria, active learning, and review and recall.

Malawi Leaders of Learning has also funded books going to primary schools across the Blantyre Urban and Rural districts, supported with library guides written in both English and Chichewa. Maureen explained that Malawi Leaders of Learning has encouraged teachers to share a love of books and a passion to drive the use of the library forward in the school, as well as facilitating training for pupils to become Reading Leaders for younger children. “There might be two shelves of books, or a shopping basket full, but they can take the children together to read and to encourage questions and stimulate ideas.”

The charity has so far provided more than 9,000 locally sourced books for primary schools in Malawi and delivered leadership training to over 50 headteachers and nearly 100 primary education advisers. Maureen says that improvements in partner schools have included a 50% rise in the percentage of girls staying on to the later years of primary school (there are eight years of primary).

However, there remain significant challenges in Malawi. In a population of 18.3 million people, nearly 40% of people are between the ages of five and 19. HIV prevalence remains high, at around 10% of the population. Only 10% of pupils go to secondary school. “There is quite a high drop off rate from primary due to carer commitments or early pregnancy,” said Maureen. “There are not enough secondary school placements though. There are more classrooms being built but there isn’t enough funding to build multiple schools.”

A life-changing 28 Malawi_Jasmin Bauerexperience

Erin McCluskey is one of 11 S6 pupils from St Roch’s Secondary School who are preparing to travel to CI Secondary School in Malawi next summer for a two-week learning programme. She said she expects it to be a “life-changing experience”. As a profoundly deaf pupil she also hopes to “make a difference in the lives of young deaf children who do not have access to the support that I have had”.

Terry Strain, formerly a community worker with Bridging the Gap in the Gorbals, brought his passions for working with young people and Malawi to his role as a modern studies teacher at St Roch’s. He said: “Together with the Malawian teachers and pupils, we have been participating in group work about children’s rights and shared values, as well as discussing the global goals of no poverty, zero hunger and quality education. Our trip there last June encouraged real debate over how we perceive gender in our different cultures, which meant the pupils were hearing a mix of views and learning to value other peoples’ opinions.”

St Roch's Secondary School recently held a Malawi Day featuring guest speakers from a range of organisations along with Malawian music, dancing and language learning. The school has also committed to working with local primary schools and youth groups to raise over £5k to feed nearly 400 children in partnership with Mary’s Meals over the next year.

Providing meals to vulnerable children

Mary’s Meals works with more than a million children in 859 Primary schools in Malawi and 12,097 in 125 pre-schools for children under six. The vast majority of schools receiving Mary’s Meals in Malawi are in the Southern region. As well as feeding children, 200 schools in Scotland have been involved in the charity’s Backpack Project, through which pupils recycle old school bags and fill them with clothing, stationery and toiletries. By taking part in this campaign, schools can teach their pupils about children living in one of the poorest countries in the world.

St Roch’s pupils have also helped to renovate Mary’s Meals under-six centres, which provide vulnerable children aged two to five with meals each day.

Terry said: “Our school motto is ‘Help Others’. Small acts can make a huge difference but it is often not about fundraising, it is about learning and reciprocity. We are in discussions with other organisations, including the Responsible Safari Company, to continue to develop relationships and encourage the development of our young people as global citizens improving the world around them.”