This week, we meet Mary Florence Mzama, Henderson Ngwira, and Margret Mandala.
Mary Florence Mzama
Mary Florence is from Blantyre but now works at the Teacher Training College (TTC) in Lilongwe. She has five children; two girls, ages 16 and 17 and three boys ages 14, 5, and 13 months. Mary Florence began her career in teaching at Lilongwe Girls Secondary School in 1997, and from there went on to the Montfort TTC where she worked for four years. From Montfort in 2002, she moved to the TTC in Lilongwe.
Mary Florence first heard about the Lakeland Program, "a long time ago," she said. "After finishing my degree in secondary education, when I went to Montfort, people were [already] talking to me about Lakeland College." In fact, when the opportunity arose to apply for the first graduate cohort in early 2014, Mary Florence applied. "But, I was about to give birth to my fifth child, so it was not a very good time to leave for America!"
Now that she is in Wisconsin, she is excited about her studies and eager to learn new ways to keep teachers motivated and engaged in improving learning outcomes for their students. "Sometimes, things fail because of the curriculum," she said. "And a lot of times, things fail because of lack of materials. But there are teaching methods and strategies that can help teachers when they are up against so many challenges, and I have come here because I want to be trained in these strategies. I am glad to be in the pioneer group."
When Henderson began his work as an elementary teacher in 1994, he actually had been preparing for a different career, one in the military. He expected that his time teaching was going to be temporary. But, the military option did not pan out, and in 1997 he sought additional training at the TTC in Kasungu. By 2001 he had moved to teaching at the high school level. Eventually, he received a scholarship to complete his BA at Domasi College. In 2009, he was posted to work at the TTC in Karonga, where he lives and works still. He and his wife have six children, two boys and four girls.
Like Mary Florence, Henderson applied for the first Lakeland M.Ed. cohort in early 2014, but he realized that his computer skills were not up to par. Instead of being discouraged, he used that first application process to guide his efforts to improve himself so he could apply again for Cohort 2 and be successful. His efforts paid off. "Lakeland is a good place to get an education," he said. "It is quiet, there are no city distractions. I like this place and I know I will learn a great deal while I'm here."
Like his colleagues, Henderson notes that in order to improve early grade reading instruction in Malawi, much needs to happen in terms of the curriculum, the reading pedagogies used, and the training of teachers. "Another thing is that there must be involvement of parents, teachers, and community leaders to support reading. There has to be a kind of civic education, to bring the community together."
He also was clear that there is much to learn this year. "You have to know what you don't know," he said. For example, the research skills he will learn at Lakeland, he believes, are going to be a huge help to him and to the greater community.
Margret began teaching in primary school in Dowa, the place where she was born. She moved to Salima with her husband and four children and taught there until 2001. In 2002, she began her training to become a secondary school teacher, completing that diploma in 2006. She was first posted to Zingwangwa Secondary School and taught there until 2008. When offered the opportunity to get her bachelor's degree, she jumped at the chance. She graduated in 2010 and was posted to the TTC in Blantyre in 2011, where she has worked ever since.
Margret knew about Lakeland College because many of her colleagues talked so favorably about it. "It is a place where people [who want to learn about teaching] go," she said. "Bertha Singini [from M.Ed. Cohort 1] kept encouraging me to apply. 'Don't give up,' were her words. I'm very grateful to Bertha."
As far as what needs to happen in Malawi to improve early grade reading instruction, Margret said, "We need to introduce strategies that are effective. Teachers know about the strategies, but don't always know how to use them. We need to promote a culture of creativity in teachers. The moment we graduate and become qualified, we [tend to] relax. We have reached our goal. But, that is the very time to push our creativity, to do even better."
Margret looks forward to completing her studies at Lakeland and then to go home with new energy to implement creative new strategies that will lead to positive outcomes. "When I go back, I hope to be an effective agent of change. At times," she added, "a person dreams of change. One must learn to be effective in that dream."
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.