Despite the long journey to get from Ottawa to Lilongwe, it is jarring to arrive in Malawi. Travelling through the central part of the country from Lilongwe to Blantyre, I am conscious of the contrast between Ottawa’s autumn landscape and Malawi’s dry season of parched earth. The land is almost completely deforested except for fruit trees and every inch seems to be taken up by human activity, especially the growing of maize, Malawi’s staple crop. Villages are on every hilltop and in every valley; mangos are in season and vendors’ stands with mangoes neatly piled on chairs dot the highway.
The National Librarian, Gray Nyali, and I are on our way to southern Malawi to Chikwawa, an area in the lowlands of the Shire River, to attend the launch of PAMET's education program in the district. The program, which CODE has supported since 2004, is directed at the improvement of learning outcomes in schools through the development of teachers' skills in the production and use of teaching and learning aids made from materials found in the local environment.
To initiate the program in a new district, PAMET must go through the various authorities to sensitize them of the program and gain their support as well as organize a launch ceremony that brings together teachers, students and the wider community for displays, teaching demonstrations and performances. It's a lively ceremony with traditional dances, a band, choirs, poetry recitals and speeches revolving around the importance of educating children and it serves to foster community ownership of the project.
The day after the ceremony, teachers from 16 schools, including headteachers and the local Primary Education Advisor begin a 5-day workshop organized by PAMET and facilitated by seasoned education advisors who have honed their skills in TALULAR, the acronym for the production of teaching and learning using locally available resources. The facilitators have a clear understanding of teachers' needs in the context of primary schools in both the urban and rural areas.
The notion of TALULAR is known to teachers in Malawi, particularly those who have recently gone to teachers' college as the concept and philosophy was developed by the Malawi Institute of Education in response to the acute shortage of teaching and learning aids in the country. While TALULAR is presented in teachers' colleges, it is only in passing and teachers are not provided with skills to equip them to implement TALULAR once they move to their schools. Understanding the potential of TALULAR, PAMET’s program aims to develop teachers' skills in depth, not only in the production of these materials, but more importantly on their use in the classroom. To do so, it requires the institutionalizing of TALULAR in schools through the partnership and support of education officials and on-going support and monitoring.
As teachers move through the 5-day training learning how to produce materials that they will use to teach, it's clear that a spark has been ignited in the teachers. Their motivation and innovation is inspiring as they see the potential of applying TALULAR with its participatory and interactive approach to their own teaching as a way to enhance their pupils' learning. Responding to the workshop, teachers reflected that they felt empowered, and they were excited to bring back their resources they developed (counters, charts, diagrams, etc) to brighten their classes and interest their students. During the closing of the workshop, one teacher exclaimed that, “A teacher teaching without TALULAR is like a farmer without a hoe”.
On a drive back to Blantyre from Chiradzulu, there was a short rain signifying the coming of the rainy season. A time for new growth.
CODE Program Manager