Lakeland College

Malawi Blog

Follow the Malawians in the
Lakeland College M.Ed. Program

September 2, 2014 In Malawi Blog

 

Part of the fun of being in Wisconsin is trying new things. During the recent break from classes, the graduate students had the opportunity to visit the home of Rev. Brian De Jong in Sheboygan Falls. Pastor De Jong serves at Grace Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Sheboygan. He hosted a backyard party for the students, and the festivities included a special twist. The Malawians got the opportunity to ride a horse. Phillip Nachonie, like most of the others, had never done this before. His reaction: “It was an experience, I tell you.” I sat with Phillip outside the Campus Center on a beautiful summer day and heard about his first horseback ride, as well as his determination to work with his colleagues to help young learners back home in Malawi.

Meet Phillip Nachonie ‘06

Phillip resized2

Phillip Nachonie’s first experience at Lakeland began over ten years ago, when he arrived as an undergraduate student. During his three years here, Phillip attended Grace Presbyterian and as Pastor De Jong describes him, "Phillip was a faithful attendee and got quite involved in activities of the church." When Phillip graduated with his bachelor’s degree in general education in 2006, he returned home and went to work immediately at the Teacher Training College (TTC) in Lilongwe. Then in 2010, he was hired to work at a new TTC that opened in Machinga, about 160 miles southwest of the capital. He lives there with his wife and their four children: three girls, ages 17, 15 and 7, and one boy, age 11.

Recently, Phillip was invited to be a researcher for a project that was undertaken by USAID to collect data on the reading progress of young learners in Malawi. The assessment study found that learners in Grade 2 were failing to read, for the most part, at the most basic level. To Phillip and his colleagues, this finding was both distressing and alarming. When he saw that there was an opportunity to come back to Lakeland to obtain his master’s degree with a focus on early grade reading instruction, he felt it imperative that he apply. He hopes to do everything in his power to help young Malawians become better educated. “I am fully aware,” he said, “that reading forms the basis of all other learning.”

For Phillip, like the other graduate students in the Malawi program, the short break between classes has combined a mixture of relaxation, shopping, and fun, with formulating a topic for his master’s thesis. He told me how he had narrowed his thoughts down to two possible projects, and will now pursue the second of the two.

The first topic he was pondering had to do with how new teachers are monitored and assessed and what could be done to ensure that they are truly reaching their students. The challenge for Phillip in pursing this topic would be logistical: “This project would involve a lot of movement around the country to collect the data.” He soon realized that it would be more than he could cover.

The second project has to do with time allocation and management. “There is not enough time allocated strictly to reading in the early grades,” Phillip observed. He would like to study the impact of devoting more time on reading instruction in an early grade classroom. Phillip envisions that there would be great value in “shedding off” some topics from the curriculum in the early years, and giving more focus to reading. “I will be happy if we are successful in this. I think we will be.”

Phillip has been very pleased with the coursework at Lakeland, and describes the experience here as “eye-opening.” He said that the idea about the amount of time spent on reading came to him from the discussions that took place a couple weeks back in the course, Second Language Acquisition. “In this place, I am getting many new ideas. I’m sure that what I have learned and what I will learn this semester will help to shape my project.”

He also spoke very highly of his nine colleagues. Echoing a theme we have heard before on this blog, Phillip said of them, “They are open to discussion. It is not a one-man show. We cannot succeed on an individual basis.”

 Phillip at Pastors home Grace De Jong by the horse

Phillip on horseback, with Grace De Jong assisting.

This post is written by Lisa Vihos, the Director of Sponsored Programs and Research at Lakeland College. The program is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents of this blog are the responsibility of Lakeland College and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.

August 26, 2014 In Malawi Blog

 

The graduate students are on a short break right now. Classes ended last week and will begin again right after Labor Day. When I informally polled the group about what they are doing during their time off, I learned that they have been relaxing, making trips into Sheboygan to look for winter clothes (yes, it will be winter again one day), watching soccer on television, listening to music, and also reading the education literature on literacy to look for “gaps in the knowledge” that might lead to fruitful thesis topics. Even when on break, these graduate students are never far from their studies, are they? In fact, in an eighteen-month graduate program, there really are few breaks. One of the teachers, a self-described “strong and determined woman,” is a 2008 graduate of Lakeland. She spoke with me about out how happy she is to be back.

Ndamyo no red

Meet Ndamyo Mwanyongo ‘08

Ndamyo Mwanyongo graduated with her bachelor’s degree from Lakeland in 2008, but her connection to the school goes back earlier than that. Her husband, Andy Blessings Mwanyongo ’02 was in the first cohort of five students who came to Lakeland from Malawi in 1999 to earn bachelor's degrees. She fondly remembers visiting the campus when he was a student here, to hear him sing in the choir. “Lakeland is like family to me,” she said.

Several years later, Andy encouraged Ndamyo to apply to Lakeland herself. She still feels deep appreciation for the support her husband gave her. He took care of their home and family during her three-year absence. Their two sons were 16 and 11 when she first left. She said the youngest one, especially, missed his mom.

Now she is back for a second degree and couldn’t be happier to be here. Ndamyo said her youngest son, now 19, assured her, “It’s only one year this time. We’ll manage.”

Ndamyo told me she is pleased to know that her example of being selected to leave Malawi twice to study has inspired many of the younger teachers back home. “It’s an opportunity that I don’t take for granted. I feel like I can make a difference. I think the student teachers respect me and look up to me.”

I have no doubt that Ndamyo is right about this.

Ndaymo teaches at the Teacher Training College in Kasunga, a town 60 miles north of the capital city of Lilongwe. She would like to see reading taught in a broad manner. “I do not want to see it narrowed,” she said. “I teach very widely, using all the expressive arts.” Ndamyo, like her husband Andy, is very interested in music. “We play music as a family a lot.” She has used music, drama, and drawing as a tool in teaching not only young learners, but student-teachers, too.

“In Malawi, we must start with better training for teachers. We need to incorporate other subject areas. And, we need a means for engaging parents. In Malawi, parents are not so involved with children’s education. We need to help them see their role.”

Ndamyo knows first-hand the value of parents’ involvement in a child’s education. She was the fifth of nine children. Her dad was a secondary school teacher and her mom was a primary school teacher. There were books at home and she watched her parents read and her siblings study. She had models for reading at an early age and in-home tutors to help her when she needed help. In sixth grade, she went off to a boarding school that encouraged library use and then, in secondary school, her teacher was a Peace Corps volunteer who strengthened Ndamyo’s developing English with phonetic reading skills.

On a different note, I asked Ndamyo about the interesting middle names that people have in Malawi. Remember, last week, we learned that Elias gave himself the middle name, Ambitious. The parents of her husband, Andy, gave him the middle name Blessings. Ndamyo has a middle name, Kettie, which is the name of her mother’s sister. I asked her the meaning of Ndamyo. Her name means “troubles, challenges.” She said her mom had some troubles when she was pregnant with Ndamyo, hence the given name.

The way I see it, Ndamyo may have been born in challenge, but being strong and determined, as well as open-minded, she has been the recipient of many blessings. She is here now to put all that to good use for the children of Malawi.

Ndamyo with students

Ndamyo (left) with students at the Viyere Primary School in Mzuzu, Malawi,
where she did her student teaching after graduating from Lakeland in 2008.

This post is written by Lisa Vihos, the Director of Sponsored Programs and Research at Lakeland College. The program is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents of this blog are the responsibility of Lakeland College and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.

 

August 19, 2014 In Malawi Blog

 

Last week the Malawi graduate students were struggling in class with the question, “what do we need to do in Malawi to improve the acquisition of reading skills for our youngest learners?” In a vigorous class discussion, they talked about how teaching has changed in the many years since they were student teachers themselves. For one thing, when they were learning to be teachers, tests involved essay questions that required written answers. Now, too much testing is left to multiple choice questioning, which as one person said, “is not really a test of true knowledge.” In an effort to move more people more quickly into the profession of teaching, according to the M.Ed. students, standards in Malawi have been lowered. But, as recent reading assessments reveal, less-skilled teachers don’t do children much good. And so, we come back to the question: what can be done?

Meet Elias Ambitious Jonas Lyson

Elias resized

Elias was born in Zomba in the southern part of Malawi, and he lives now in the capital, Lilongwe, where he is in his fifth year of employ at the Teaching Training College (TTC) there. His wife teaches primary school and they have four children: three girls ages eighteen, fourteen, and twelve and a boy, nine.

In his first weeks in the graduate program at Lakeland, what Elias has found most surprising is the emphasis on time management. He shared, “Teachers here are serious with time. That is the first thing I want to emulate when I go home. If class starts at eight, it starts at eight.” He was also delighted to see classrooms at Valders elementary school that were rich with print materials everywhere he looked. “The environment is very conducive to learning,” he said. “Classroom set-up, desk set-up...all these things are so important.” He also found it amazing that even kindergarten-age children are able to use technology as part of a normal school day.

Like his colleagues in the Lakeland Master’s program, when Elias saw the advertisement to come to Wisconsin, it was the focus on “early grade reading instruction” that particularly caught his eye. His first thought at the time was, “If I can go for this opportunity at Lakeland, I can assist the learners in Malawi.”

Elias wanted to make clear to me that the strategies being discussed in class are often known to teachers in Malawi, but sometimes it is a matter of resources or the teacher’s individual creative energy that impacts the ability to follow through on them. The best strategies do nothing if they are not implemented. With 100 students in an average classroom, there are many challenges a teacher faces.

Lilongwe TTCWhen I spoke to Elias and Margaret Mulaga (his colleague at the TTC in Lilongwe) together one afternoon recently, they echoed something that Elias had first shared with me on his own: Classrooms need to be made secure and lockable so that teachers can put up educational materials—making a “print-rich” learning environment—and leave the materials there, knowing the resources will be safe until the next class. As it is right now, teachers have to carry their materials to class, put them up and take them down each time they teach. This is inconvenient and exhausting in a situation that is already stressful with so many children to teach at one time.

Elias also taught me the acronym, TALULAR, which stands for “Teaching and Learning Using Locally Available Resources.” So, if the teacher doesn’t even have a classroom, what can the teacher do to put up print resources? Can they be hung on a rope? Can they be tacked to a tree? Yes and yes. But, all these things require ingenuity, creativity and physical energy. Elias hopes to instill these qualities in his student teachers when he goes home.

You will notice that Elias has two middle names. One is Jonas, the name of his grandfather. The other is Ambitious. This is a name that Elias gave himself after high school, because he felt it represented his desire to be a better teacher. It strikes me that by making the commitment to gain his M.Ed. degree from Lakeland College, Elias is on the path to fulfilling his destiny.

This post is written by Lisa Vihos, the Director of Sponsored Programs and Research at Lakeland College. The program is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents of this blog are the responsibility of Lakeland College and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.

August 13, 2014 In Malawi Blog

Earlier this week I got to be a student again when I visited the “Second Language Acquisition” class and listened to several presentations by the Malawi students. I learned different strategies for teaching English as a second language, for this is essentially what the teachers must do in Malawi. In the early grades English is a subject but by fifth grade, all classes are in English. The native tongue, Chichewa, must make room for this. The challenge is that many teachers back home are not proficient in English themselves, which causes a downward spiral in learning. The Malawian graduate students here at Lakeland are determined to find ways to turn things around. They would like to see the standards raised for teachers. They would like to see teacher training be more intensive, and longer. They would like to see reading taught across the curriculum, not just in the language classes. And they said over and over that the best teachers need to stay focused on the early grades, not moved up to high school. I left class this morning so impressed by their knowledge and dedication. They have many challenges ahead.

Meet Margaret Mulaga

Margaret

Upon arriving at Lakeland, Margaret Mulaga was surprised to find that the college is in a farming area. She was also surprised by the ubiquity of cheese. “I don’t like cheese,” she admitted. Also, she was very surprised by how much the weather can change in a day. And, to that I said, “Margaret, so are we!”

She was greatly inspired by the visit about a month ago now to the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. She was especially struck by the displays and demonstrations that talked about how the earth moves (earthquakes, tornadoes, tsunamis). She mentioned that these were things she had recently been teaching about back home and it was very interesting to see how the museum explained these things.

Last spring, when Margaret’s husband showed her an advertisement in the newspaper announcing the opportunity to come to Lakeland for a Master’s degree in early grade reading instruction, her first thought was, “Let me be one of those people who can teach our children to read, so the country can develop.”

Margaret and her family (three girls ages seventeen, fifteen and thirteen, and one boy age four and a half) live in Malawi’s capital city, Lilongwe, where she teaches at the Teacher Training College (TTC) there. She began her teaching career at age 21 working in the primary grades and later taught secondary school. She received her BA four years ago at Domasi College of Education (part of the University of Malawi) and began to work at the TTC as a teacher trainer. She is now thinking long and hard about what can be done in order to improve early grade reading instruction back home.

She explained to me that in Malawi, you are very lucky to have only eighty students in your classroom. More consistently, a typical class size is 200 children. For us here in the U.S., who find it untenable to have forty, these numbers give us pause. How can anything at all be accomplished with that many children at once?

Margaret feels that strategies can be developed to work with these large groups and that teachers must help each other to be creative and innovative. One thing that is needed is the “print-rich” classroom. Students need to come into their classroom and see words and letters everywhere. And, if school happens to be under a tree, the teacher needs to be creative and still provide visuals of words and letters to inspire young minds.

Perhaps it is a tall order, but when I talk to Margaret, I feel that if anyone can help create a change, she can. 

This post is written by Lisa Vihos, the Director of Sponsored Programs and Research at Lakeland College. The program is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents of this blog are the responsibility of Lakeland College and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.

August 7, 2014 In Malawi Blog

 

My conversations with the teachers from Malawi have been very enlightening. Themes recur when I ask them: “what needs to be done to improve early grade reading instruction in Malawi?” Multiple times, I have heard answers such as: “we should teach reading across the curriculum,” and “we need to develop teaching strategies for diverse learners” and “we must create print-rich learning environments.” In upcoming posts, I will share more of what the teachers are telling me, and what ideas are brewing as they continue their studies. Today, let’s meet another dedicated teacher:

Meet Benjamin David

Benjamin head shot

Benjamin David works at the Teacher Training College (TTC) in Blantyre, in the southern region of Malawi. It was here that Benjamin was first trained to be a teacher, graduating eighteen years ago. From there, he went to an elementary school in the middle of the country in Machinga where he worked with young people for twelve years, teaching not just reading, but eight other subjects as well.

In 2009, the TTC in Blantyre called him back and hired him to train young teachers. Like his fellow Malawians in the Lakeland M.Ed. program, Benjamin takes his job very seriously. He says, “In Malawi, learners want to learn, but the teachers do not always have a good approach, or good materials….They don’t know the right techniques to help the students.” 

When I asked him what kinds of things he was learning here that will help him with the situation back home, he was quick to reply, “We need to form a group back at home, a task force that can plan projects and workshops. We should begin in an individual TTC, and go from there.” He indicated that discussions about forming teams like this had come up in the Curriculum and Classroom Dynamics class, and had clearly planted a seed. 

Strength in numbers, with like-minded colleagues. Teamwork. Always a good thing.

Benjamin pointed out to me that there are only ten Malawian teachers here at Lakeland, learning new things. They are just ten among hundreds of teacher trainers and curriculm planners in Malawi. Benjamin sees that part of his job is to discover which of all the things he is learning can be successfully customized to the context of Malawi and to bring that back to his colleagues at home. He stated, "This is not just a mere change, rather it's a change to be directed towards meaningful input to a Malawian learner."

Benjamin said that the most strange and surprising thing so far was his journey here: the plane ride. The word he used was “weird,” having never traveled anywhere by plane before. He was also greatly impressed by Bookworm Gardens, the children’s reading garden in Sheboygan. He liked how books are available to visitors right there in nature, in a rich, experiential, visual environment that enhances the story. He especially enjoyed hearing Valerie Elzinga, wife of Professor Jeff Elzinga and a teacher in Valders, tell the story of Jack and the Beanstalk during the visit. 

Benjamin is excited to be at Lakeland. He looks forward to returning home to his work and his family—a wife, three daughters (ages fifteen, seven and two), and a son, age ten—a year from now with new energy and new tools to teach reading. One key, he said, is “to model for learners how to read.”  He feels that this has not happened enough in Malawi.

He said, “When things are changing, it is a good thing.”

 drums at bookworm

Benjamin David (far right) at Bookworm Gardens with colleagues,
left to right: Overton Simbeye, Phillip Nachonie `06 and Elias Lyson. 

This post is written by Lisa Vihos, the Director of Sponsored Programs and Research at Lakeland College. The program is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents of this blog are the responsibility of Lakeland College and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.

July 30, 2014 In Malawi Blog

 

Yesterday afternoon, as we were preparing a summer lawn party to celebrate the presence of the Malawians at Lakeland, the sky went very dark in the east and we determined we should move the festivities inside. Good thing. By 5:15, we had a deluge on our hands. But thanks to the usual Lakeland teamwork, the party went on undisturbed. Nearly eighty guests braved the rain and joined us in the Wehr Center to welcome the Malawians. The invitees were members of Lakeland’s two leadership giving groups, the 1862 Society and the Founders Society. It was a time to make new connections and find old friends. (Three of the students graduated from Lakeland once already: Kapera Mlowoka `08, Ndamyo Mwanyongo `08, and Phillip Nachonie `06.) Today’s post begins a series in which I will introduce each student to you and his or her hopes and dreams for education in Malawi. As President Eck put it last night in his remarks to the gathered friends, "...We are all here to make the world a better place. The Malawians have traveled a long, long way. They have left their homes, jobs and families to dedicate themselves to becoming the best teachers they can be. Let us raise a toast to them tonight and in the coming year, let us support them on this journey.” And, let me add, remember to bring an umbrella. 


Meet Kapera Mlowoka `08


Kapera Mlowka

When Kapera Mlowoka graduated from Lakeland College in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in general education, he never would have imagined that one day, he would find himself back here.

Earlier this year, when one of his fellow teachers at the Teacher Training College (TTC) in Kasunga where he works shared the information that Lakeland was offering the opportunity to receive a masters of education degree with support from USAID, Kapera knew immediately that he must return, and as he put it, “grab this chance to acquire the best possible skills in reading instruction.”

Kapera explained to me that in Malawi, a person does not necessarily get the job that he or she wants or is best-suited for, but the job that is available. There is a great need for teachers in Malawi and people go into this line of work simply because there are so many openings.

He would like to see that those who become teachers truly have a passion for teaching. If not at first, then he hopes he can inspire this passion in them. He works hard to get his teachers-in-training to realize the importance of education and the value of what they are undertaking together. They must understand, he said, “that the development of any nation starts with education. Children must learn to read.”

Kapera with students resized

                                          Kapera is seated, surrounded by his students at Kasunga TTC, wearing a white shirt and black tie

Kapera is from Mzimba in the north of Malawi, and works at the TTC in Kasunga about 120 miles from his birth place. He and his wife and four boys live in special housing at the school.  The oldest son is nearly 18 and the youngest is 8. Kapera told me that when he was here the first time getting his undergraduate degree, his youngest child was born while he was away. He did not meet his son until he went home three years later.

Kapera is thrilled to be back at Lakeland. The biggest change, he said, is the new front entrance which has added “great beauty” to the campus. But, mostly, everything is just as he remembers it and just as he expected it to be. When he arrived on June 21, he said it felt like he had been here yesterday. With his warm, winning smile, he added, “I feel as if I never left.”

Group at reception resized
Left to right, standing: Overton Simbeye, Margaret Mulaga, Kapera Mlowoka `08, Elymas Tembwe, Phillip Nachonie ’06, Michael Simawo, Ndamyo Mwanyongo ’08, Bertha Singini; seated: Benjamin David, Elias Lyson

This post is written by Lisa Vihos, the Director of Sponsored Programs and Research at Lakeland College. The program is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents of this blog are the responsibility of Lakeland College and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.

 

 

July 23, 2014 In Malawi Blog

 

It was just a little over one month ago that ten teachers left their homes, jobs, and families in the African country of Malawi to make the long trek to Lakeland College. Their purpose?  To begin an eighteen-month course of study leading to a Masters of Education degree with a special emphasis on early grade reading instruction.

The Malawians will return home a little over a year from now to develop and complete their thesis or action research projects, explain and defend their work before a panel of educators, and then continue their jobs in the Teacher Training Colleges where they are already employed. They will bring with them a wealth of new knowledge and awareness gained during their time in America and at Lakeland. They will be prepared to “teach the teachers,” raising the bar on the methods and best practices of early grade reading instruction for the children of Malawi.

group at museum of science and industry resizedWhen I met with them over lunch in Bossard last Friday, they were finishing their second week of classes. They told me about their two foundation courses, “Reading in the Content Area,” taught by retired Sheboygan Area School District reading teacher, Nancy Buhr, and “Curriculum Dynamics” taught by Bill Klein, principal at Cleveland Elementary School. Since arriving, the Malawians have been to The Museum of Science and Industry and Millenium Park in Chicago, Bookworm Gardens in Sheboygan, and the Old Wade House in Greenbush. The consensus among them in regards to these visits was one word: “amazing.”

The Malawians are here under the auspices of an $880,000 federal grant provided by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The grant covers their travel, tuition and other instructional fees, health insurance, monthly stipend and a laptop computer for each person. When these ten students return to Malawi in June 2015, ten new students will arrive to begin their M.Ed. degree program. The college is responsible for the costs of room, board, some incidentals, and administrative support.

In a 2011 “Education Strategy Document” published by USAID, we read, “The global state of education is poor. More than 70 million school-age children do not have access to schooling. Of those who do attend, hundreds of millions more are not being taught the basic skills that they require to be competitive economic actors in a global world.”

The faculty and administration of Lakeland College recognize that improving the quality of education world-wide begins with building a culture of reading among children and their families. Because of the college’s long-standing relationship with Malawi, we were determined to work directly with the Ministry of Education in Malawi to train reading teachers. Teachers in Malawi teach bilingually, in the native language of Chichewa as well as in English. We are committed to helping them learn how to design and implement curricula and teaching strategies that will cultivate skilled, self-motivated young readers in their home context. We envision these children growing into adults who will lead dynamic and meaningful lives; they will be contributors to a more peaceful, just, and equitable society.

Three of the ten Malawian students are already graduates of Lakeland College, having received their B.A. degrees here, and you will learn more about them, as well as the novice Wisconsinites, in good time. When I asked the group what might be an appropriate name for the blog, it was Lakeland alumna Ndamyo Mwanyongo ’08 who suggested Takulandirani, the Chichewa word for “welcome.”

The Malawians have already worked as teachers at home for several years, but for the next year, they will be students at Lakeland, and the college welcomes them with open arms. This blog is dedicated to telling you the story of their educational journey. Please welcome them by following us as we go.

 group at front entrance resized

This post is written by Lisa Vihos, the Director of Sponsored Programs and Research at Lakeland College. The program is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents of this blog are the responsibility of Lakeland College and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.

 

 

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