On August 10 and 11, Lakeland College hosted a pair of workshops at Ufulu Gardens, a new conference center in Lilongwe, the capital city of Malawi. Two Lakeland faculty members were in Malawi to facilitate the workshops, Dr. Joshua Kutney and Dr. Brian Frink. While Dr. Frink had been to Malawi twice before, it was Dr. Kutney's first trip to the country. He offered these observations of the experience through an email interview.
Standing left to right: Elymas Tembwe, Benjamin David, Elias Lyson, Michael Simawo, Joshua Kutney, Bertha Singini, Margaret Mulaga, Ndamyo Mwanyongo. Kneeling left to right: Patrick Tembwe, Phillip Nachonie
LV: What was the purpose of the workshops?
JK: The primary goal was to provide the first cohort of Lakeland graduate students with information about current efforts to improve early-grade reading instruction in Malawi. In turn, we hoped that the students would learn about some of the ways that their newly developed expertise might be used to improve literacy among Malawi’s youngest school children.
LV: What transpired during the workshops?
JK: On the first day, students met with Mr. Douglass Arbuckle, Mission Director of USAID in Malawi. Afterward, they enjoyed a thoughtful session on Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA) with Dr. Paula Green and her colleagues at RTI International, a non-profit institute that provides research, development, and technical services to government and commercial clients worldwide. On the second day, the students heard presentations from an important cross section of stakeholders in literacy development, including NGOs, educational institutions, donor governments, and the government of Malawi. At the end of the second day, the students had an opportunity to discuss their graduate work, with the aforementioned attendees commenting on avenues for integrating this work into the existing framework of approaches and initiatives.
LV: What do you think was the biggest take-away for the Lakeland students?
JK: The students learned a great deal about the different types of literacy initiatives that are operating in Malawi, including instructional approaches and resources, efforts to improve community involvement, and changes to teacher training materials and procedures. As a result, the students are better informed about the ways that different stakeholders are attempting to address the early-grade reading problem. The students have a better understanding now of the challenges confronting stakeholders as they navigate issues of assessment, school attendance, and resource availability.
LV: What lies ahead for the students of Cohort 1?
JK: The next step for Cohort 1 is to run their research studies and to complete and defend their theses. That is their primary goal at this point. From there, the students will need to continue to work closely with their respective TTCs to improve the way teachers are trained in reading instruction. I think our students will be able to provide valuable input in suggesting ways to evaluate the impact of that training.
LV: What did you take away that might impact your work with the students in Cohort 2?
JK: I think it is very important for Cohort 2 to be aware of the various initiatives to improve early-grade reading. We plan to communicate our findings from the workshop to the cohort and, as much as possible, any materials that attendees were willing to share with us we will pass along. There is an exciting landscape of work happening in Malawi that our students need to become familiar with as they begin to strategize how to improve literacy rates.
LV: In what ways were the workshops successful in meeting their goals?
JK: The workshops introduced our students to many of the stakeholders in the early-grade reading movement. The students also had an opportunity to share the details of their training with these stakeholders. The dialogue was rich, leaving our students with a much clearer sense of how they might help to improve reading instruction in Malawi.
LV: What did you take away overall from your first visit to Malawi?
JK: As this was my first trip to Malawi—and to Africa—I learned a lot simply by undertaking the journey. It’s a long way to Lilongwe. I am extremely grateful to Dr. Brian Frink and Mr. Patrick Tembwe for their guidance throughout the trip. I know much more about the culture and customs of the country as a result. In fact, by the end of the trip, I had perfected the Malawian handshake and was slightly more practiced in the etiquette for eating nsima, a maize-based porridge traditionally eaten with the hands. I still remember the surprise on the students’ faces when I first tried to eat nsima with a knife and fork.
Left to right: Patrick Tembwe, Dr. Brian Frink, and Phillip Nachonie
I also experienced the kindness, generosity, and sincerity of our colleagues in Malawi. It is clear how invested they are in improving literacy in the country. There is a great deal of work to be done, but based on the workshop sessions and our visits to the TTCs and Mzuzu University, I am optimistic about the future. I was impressed and proud to see what a superb reputation Lakeland College has developed in Malawi.
This post was prepared 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.