On August 9 and 10, Lakeland University and USAID hosted an Early Grade Reading Workshop at Ufulu Gardens in Lilongwe, Malawi. Lakeland faculty members Professors Jeff Elzinga and Joshua Kutney led the proceedings. This gathering was similar to an event held in August 2015 at the same location. I was able to travel to Lilongwe this year and observe some of the discussions. I also connected with all my Malawian friends and was inspired to hear about the current status of their efforts to improve early grade reading instruction in their country.
The first day of the workshop provided a chance for the members of Cohorts 1 and 2 to reconnect with one another, since they live and work across the country. Cohort 1 members reported on their involvement in the roll-out of the new National Reading Plan, MERIT. Each of them has contributed to this effort during the past several months in some way: advising on the national curriculum, supervising training teams, training the trainers, and writing a new first grade textbook that supports the initiative. Their achievements gave the Cohort 2 students a boost of added confidence, seeing how valuable the skills of the Lakeland-trained educators are. As Mavuto Chiwale said, "If Cohort 1 is doing it, why not me?"
Cohort 1 members also spoke of areas they have found to be challenging, for example, finding ways to provide differentiated instruction to special needs students, and keeping in touch with one another. The workshop gathering certainly was one way to remedy the latter. As Ndamyo Mwanyongo said, "This gathering makes me feel confident we are a family. We are able to stay united and do something great."
The members of Cohort 2 had the opportunity that first day to ask their predecessors for advice as they begin their action research this coming fall. They also asked for tips on how to best prepare for their thesis defense meetings in early December, just prior to graduation. This much-anticipated graduation event will mark the official completion of the LU/USAID partnership.
On Day 2, the audience for the workshop expanded to include individuals invited from different organizations (USAID, MoEST, GIZ, and DTED), one children's librarian from Mzuzu University, and principals from Teacher Training Colleges in Lilongwe, Machinga, and Phalombe.
Presentations were made by four members of Cohort 1, Elias Lyson, Margret Mulaga, Michael Simawo, and Elymas Tembwe. Earlier this year, these four had their thesis research accepted for presentation at the International Conference on Learning, held from July 13-16 at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada. Dr. Kutney had encouraged and guided them in their efforts. He was pleased that all four of them had been accepted to this conference that historically only accepts 30-40% of all submissions. He felt this was clear recognition of the quality of their scholarship.
Also presenting at the workshop was Gift Dube, the head children's librarian at Mzuzu University who received his undergraduate degree from Lakeland in 2003. He spoke on the successes and challenges of getting children to make better and more frequent use of the library. Gift also updated participants on the rebuilding of the main library at Mzuzu University, since a fire completely destroyed it in December 2015.
The Lakeland students and graduates enjoyed two full days of conversation and discussion, and everyone was in agreement with Mike Kumkwamba, who said, "This meeting is so inspiring. It shows our efforts have moved from local exposure to national to international." Benjamin David added, "We are an asset to the nation."
On Tuesday afternoon, Aleme Chitanje and Yowasi Nkhambala delivered a moving tribute to program leaders, Professors Jeff Elzinga and Mehraban Khodavandi by presenting them with carved wood plaques to thank them for all they have done over the years to support literacy in Malawi. (Dr. Khodavandi was not able to make this trip to Malawi). As Bertha Singini said, "We are very grateful to Lakeland for organizing this degree program. Thank you, Lakeland University, for empowering us."
This post is written by Lisa Vihos on behalf of Lakeland University. 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 University and do not necessarily reflect the views of the USAID or the United States Government.