The weather is turning much colder here, and it appears we’ll be having an early winter in this part of the world. So far, we've escaped the snow that has hit other parts of the region, but we know it is coming soon. When I run into the Malawians on campus these days, most are wearing their winter coats and wool hats, and when I ask the students how they’re faring, they tell me they are doing well. “Reading and writing,” they say, “more reading, more writing.” The students of Cohort 1 are just about halfway through their time at Lakeland.
Recently, one of our Malawian graduate students, Bertha Singini, shared with me some photographs showing one of her former students teaching a class.
Miriam Nyasulu was a student at Lilongwe Teacher Training College and is now a teacher at Tsabango Primary School in Lilongwe. In Miriam’s Standard One class (the equivalent of the first grade in the U.S.) she has 137 students. There are twelve other teachers in Standard One at Tsabango Primary School, and each teacher has over 100 children to teach. Bertha reports that in the entire school (grades 1-8) there are 11,000 children and 160 teachers.
The school’s population is enormous and space is limited, so 48 of the classes at Tsabango have to meet outside, as in Miriam’s case. For many classes, students learn while sitting under a tree or beside the wall of one of the classroom buildings. When it rains (which happens frequently from December to March), those students taking their classes outdoors have no choice but to go home.
Bertha tells me that most learners in Malawi are in the earlier grades, and the number of students per grade decreases as the children get older.
Going to school must be a rather frustrating experience for most learners, so I wonder if children end up “dropping out” at an early age because it is so difficult to make progress in such a trying learning environment. Already, there are few books per class and virtually no supplementary educational materials, so overcrowding in their classes only makes the students less able to learn and therefore less interested in learning.
The photos Miriam shared with us tell a great deal about the current state of affairs for teachers and students in Malawi. They also remind us of the enormous challenges that the Lakeland graduate students will face and are preparing to address when they return home.