Last week, the students of Cohort 2 completed their first two graduate courses, and as described below, the material has them thinking deeply about reading instruction in Malawi . This week, they have a break from regular classes, but are in sessions with Dr. Bidemi Carrol, a consultant from Washington D.C. who will talk with them about early grade reading instruction in developing countries. The week also holds off-campus opportunities. The students will visit the Early Bird Rotary Club of Sheboygan, the service organization that provided them with welcome baskets of bedding, toiletries, and other personal items when they arrived. They will also explore Bookworm Gardens, the interactive reading park for young children in Sheboygan. I look forward to sharing their impressions of this unique place for young readers in a future post. Today, let me introduce Edson Dzimwe and Mavuto Chiwale.
Edson lives and works in Machinga. He and his wife, an elementary school teacher, have four children, a 15-year-old girl, 8-year-old twins (a boy and a girl), and a 3-year old boy.
At the Teacher Training College where he works, Edson teaches two subject areas: English and Chichewa. Before becoming a trainer of teachers, he worked for five years as an elementary teacher at Chigodi Primary School in Lilongwe. It was through working directly with young children that he gained a deep understanding of the many struggles with reading that children in Malawi face, and the challenges teachers have in assisting them .
“In Malawi, we have some successes and some challenges. We need to better train our teachers,” he said, “and also work on providing them with more resources.” Edson is eager to address the needs that learners have—to be taught to read fluently and to read with better comprehension. “We also need to empower parents. Some parents are illiterate in remote areas. It’s a big challenge.”
Edson said that he learned of the opportunity to come to Lakeland from an advertisement in the local newspaper. In addition, he told me that he is good friends with Michael Simawo and Elymas Tembwe, two of the students in Cohort 1 and colleagues of Edson’s at the TTC in Machinga. In mentioning them, he said, “They triggered my passion to find a way to be here.”
Edson looks forward to successfully completing his studies. He plans to “attend classes, study hard, and go to church.” Like all of his companions in the program, he is eager to return home and do what he can to improve early grade reading instruction in Malawi. “That is why I am here.”
Mavuto lives in Blantyre with his wife, an elementary school teacher, and their two boys, one 7 years old and the other just 18 months.
Mavuto began his work as a primary school teacher in 2000 in his birthplace, Chikwawa, at Tomali Elementary School. While there, he had the experience of attempting to manage 130 students in one classroom. He went on to obtain his bachelor’s degree at Domasi College of Education in Malawi, graduating in 2011. He was assigned to work at the TTC in Blantyre, beginning in 2013. “The experience of being a teacher and then getting further training really helped me understand what teachers need.”
When I expressed how impossible it must be to work with 130 students at once, he said, “It is possible, but very difficult. The infrastructure is not enough. There are too many learners.” He echoed what Edson Dzimwe had said, that teachers need better training and more resources. Mavuto’s goal is “to train teachers to suit the environment in our country.”
I asked him what comments he had heard about the Lakeland program before coming here. He said, “I heard it’s a good program to teach teachers and teach learners. We heard from our colleagues [in Cohort 1] that we will learn good things.”
After having experienced the first two graduate courses at Lakeland, Mavuto said confidently,” I see that we will go deeper into teaching in the content area. Our students are failing, not because they are not smart, but because they are not instructed well.” He noted that if better training of primary school teachers can be accomplished within the structures that exist, the teachers will flourish and so will their learners. “If you assist [the teachers], they will start loving the job.”
Mavuto said that part of what made him want to study here is that he has a desire to experience Western education, and to bring new ideas home. He also wants to learn how to interact with different people from different cultures. “There are a lot of resources [in the U.S. and at Lakeland],” he said. “Life is much easier. For example, Internet is accessible. In Malawi, in a graduate class, you might have one text book that the entire class must share.”
I asked him if he had felt nervous to come here. He said, “a little.” Then he added that it is the people at Lakeland who have encouraged him that have made him feel differently. “You need a team. You need support from others to envision solutions to big problems. People here are so willing to help.”
This post is written by Lisa Vihos on behalf of 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 the USAID or the United States Government.