We recently went through a rigorous application process to become a field partner for a start-up. This provided us with a good opportunity to crystallize what BeeHive School provides for their students and the larger community. I hope you enjoy this thoughful discussion.
Mission: Through education, BeeHive School is nurturing future Malawian leaders and innovators who will one day tackle the most severe problems faced in Malawi. Through a holistic model towards education BeeHive has been able to deliver top-quality education at a nominal cost.
Key Features of BeeHive School:
- Continual Teacher Training and Mentorship Program: The cornerstone to Niall Dorey's success has been his teacher training program. Niall hand-picks individuals with a high potential for growth and learning to become teachers at BeeHive School. Through the program, teachers learn to implement a more holistic approach to education whereby the students are viewed as human beings and encouraged to participate actively in class through discussions, asking lots of questions, and fearlessly attacking new material. This is counter-cultural in Malawi where corporal punishment is still the norm and students in most traditional classroom settings are expected to be quiet and "seen, but not heard." Niall trains teachers in advanced conflict resolution and non-violent discipline striving to make student's infractions a learning opportunity. Niall meets regularly with teachers individually and as a group to discuss challenges as they arise and provide a forum through which teachers can continually reflect, learn, and grow. BeeHive's teachers are known to be the best in the area and are often approached by expensive private schools that are able to offer substantial salary increases. Niall takes this in stride, hoping that even though BeeHive is continually faced with the challenge of training new teachers, that in the end at least the entire region benefits from BeeHive's novel teacher training program.
- Holistic Education: Niall strives to help students grow and mature in areas beyond academics. Unlike most schools in the area, BeeHive provides sports, music, drama, field-trips, art classes, computer training, projects in entrepreneurship, and attracts volunteer teachers from around the world to share their skills with the students.
- Educating Girls: Unlike many private schools in the region, BeeHive strives to be gender-balanced and attract and educate girls. Expectations and aspirations for their female students are set equally high to those of boys. Female students at BeeHive school continue onto secondary school just like the boys - this is not the case at most other schools.
- Malawian Teachers for Malawian Students: - Niall strives to select and train teachers of local ethnicity, so that BeeHive students can fully identify with their teachers. Many other private schools import teachers from Europe and wealthier African countries making it difficult for students to fully connect and identify with their teachers. Teachers are highly respected in Malawi and are seen as being at the top of the social hierarchy, so having teachers of local ethnicity helps students develop a sense of pride and set high expectations for themselves because they see that their teachers are able to accomplish so much.
- Diversity: BeeHive School is ethnically, culturally, and religiously diverse - tolerance for all people and ways of thinking is integral to the philosophy at BeeHive. BeeHive School attracts many children from visiting professionals in the area including professionals working with NGOs, emerging businesses, manufacturing, health aid workers, and missions. This provides all the students with the opportunity to interact with other students and families with different beliefs and world views, this teaches the students about having understanding, respect, and curiosity for other opinions and cultures.
- International Volunteers: BeeHive encourages volunteers from all over the world to visit the school. This is not only a unique opportunity for the volunteer, but also for the student. Meeting high-achieving volunteers from American and European Universities inspires the children to dream big and opens their eyes to the world of opportunities available to them if they commit to their studies. It also opens them up to other world views and helps them feel comfortable interacting with people from different cultures.
- Affordability: BeeHive School's legal status in Malawi is that of a not-for-profit. BeeHive School strives to keep costs low in order to make the school accessible to as many students as possible. BeeHive charges $200 per term whereas other private schools charge $1000 per term on the high end and $500 per term on average. Most lower-cost private schools are in the $3-400 range and BeeHive is well below that. BeeHive used to be at $70 USD per term, but due to the need to build new classrooms, BeeHive had to raise costs to $200 per term. BeeHive hopes to lower the cost once the classrooms are complete. Currently about 50% of the school fees go towards operating expenses and the other 50% towards completing construction of the new school buildings.
- Computer Education: BeeHive is one of the few schools in Malawi that has a computer lab and computer training for their students thanks to the efforts of Justin Cannon - an MIT student that visited BeeHive School in 2008 and installed a computer lab. Students are taught basic computer skills like using a mouse, typing, basic programming, the concept behind searching for information, etc. This early interaction with computers will be invaluable in bridging the digital divide as the internet and effectively using technology becomes pervasive and instrumental in every workplace.
- Other: Teaching language in the national language - English. Children can speak their local dialects at recess, but they must speak English in the classroom. Since English is quickly becoming the standard for international business and scientific communication, this is very valuable for the students.
- Strengthens the middle class of Mzuzu because it provides a top-quality school where the middle class can send their children. A common problem in Malawi is small business owners and entrepreneurs exit the country in search of quality education for their children. This has a ripple affect by which the economy fails to grow and jobs are lost. BeeHive is providing a strong motivator for small business owners to stay in Malawi.
- By strengthening the middle class, BeeHive is also contributing to fostering civil society and strengthening democracy. It is also helping to build the local economy both directly by employing teachers and staff and indirectly by helping attract and keep high-value community and economic leaders.
- BeeHive School is becoming a feeder school for emerging secondary schools and Mzuzu University.
- Combating "brain drain" on Africa - a trend by which the most educated people, including teachers, business leaders, etc. leave the country in search for superior personal opportunities for themselves and their families.