Context during the period
Schools have remained open since our last report in August and were able to finish the compressed third term on 19th November. Unfortunately the predicted fourth wave of Covid arrived in early December however, the new academic year has now begun, with schools opening on 4th January.
Vaccination uptake and availability in Malawi remains very low with about 3.5% of the population estimated to be fully vaccinated. Fortunately Malawi Government has recently received a consignment of modified (to cope with the lack of refrigeration facilities) Pfizer vaccine and a National Public Awareness campaign is now under way.
For the period July 2021 to 19 November 2021, several districts were affected by storms with heavy rain including Lilongwe, Mulanje, Mangochi, Chikwawa, Ntcheu, Machinga, Balaka, Zomba, Chiradzulu, Phalombe, Salima, Mzuzu and Blantyre affecting a total of 11,100 households across the districts with 13 registered deaths (seven due to lightning strikes and six due to collapsed walls) and 51 injuries. Some affected households are being hosted by neighbours within the communities.
In the current period of November 2021 to December 2021, about 1.4 million people (7% of the population) are estimated to be experiencing crisis levels of acute food insecurity requiring urgent humanitarian action to reduce food gaps, protect and restore livelihoods and prevent acute malnutrition. Around 4.4 million people are stressed (27%) and the balance of 13.1 million (56%) people are food secure. Out of the 1.4 million people in crisis, around 186,000 are from urban areas (Mzuzu, Lilongwe, Zomba and Blantyre cities), representing 8% of the urban population, whilst the remaining 1.2 million people are from the rural areas and rural towns.
COVID-19 has impacted remittances, petty trading and self-employment activities. The annual rains have got off to a worrying start as Malawi only has one growing season from December to April. January -March is typically the peak of the lean season when rural households depend more on wild harvested foods; spinach/leaves, mangoes and pumpkins/pumpkin leaves. When hunger is severe people will also collect the seeds from wild grasses and wild roots. Seedlings germinated in the fields in December then the rains ceased for a period and seedlings withered. This means the affected farmers have lost their seeds for this year and this will very likely bring a serious hunger period from harvest times in the affected areas. We don’t yet know the extent.
You may recall from our last report that we have been able to rethink our strategy so that your precious donations make the greatest impacts. It is imperative that the successful and contextually appropriate teaching practices demonstrated by our original pilot programme reach a greater number of schools in Malawi (there are just over 6,000 in the country). Now more than ever Malawi needs to accelerate learning in primary schools.
With accelerated learning for primary school children as a priority, we have continued to focus our efforts on teacher training. Working closely with the lead teacher training institution in Malawi, Emmanuel University (EmUni), over the past year we have cemented this important partnership with EmUni and documented appropriate ways of supporting improved literacy teaching within the teacher training curriculum. Maintaining regular weekly Zoom and continuous professional development sessions with key lecturers at the university and documenting learning and challenges is crucial to not only the future success of our programme but also importantly, to enabling the Ministry of Education to benefit from our experience as Malawi Government moves towards degree programmes for all teachers.
- Developing Teacher Training
Once again your donation has enabled us to continue work with our partner, Emmanuel University who began to train a second cohort of student-teachers from August this year. These student teachers are just the second cohort who no longer study for a two-year Certification, and who now study a three-year Diploma course.
The Technical Working Group comprising EmUni Heads of Departments for English, Chichewa and mathematics and CharChar volunteers who are qualified and experienced teachers, an adult specialist trainer, and programme staff based in Malawi and the UK continued to work remotely. This is a slow process requiring commitment to the long term, an understanding for and sensitivity to the context and culture we are working in, plus regular technical challenges with intermittent internet on both sides and extremely expensive data in Malawi, with data costs in the top five most expensive data in the world (https://www.cable.co.uk/mobiles/worldwide-data-pricing/). We remain united in our aim to provide children with the best start in literacy and numeracy despite the challenges and have been rewarded with positive feedback from EmUni. Lecturers are developing their talents and beginning to use new practices in the classroom.
As a team we are able to extract internationally researched and evidenced best teaching practices and pathways, introduce new concepts around teaching based on our experience of what works in a Malawi government primary school setting. EmUni staff are able to select what they feel is most useful for their student teachers given the often challenging Ministry of Education curriculum and school timetable requirements.
Lecturers are excited by the introduction of new methodologies, particularly as they have experienced the positive impacts for themselves and on their students. The Head of English has appreciated the creative aspect of phonics teaching using a wide variety of resources including simple, low-cost ideas from the local environment, and making learning fun for the learners.We The Head of Mathematics at Emmanuel University summarises recent work saying that we discussed the assessment of learners in large classes and that he has been able to share the approaches with his students particularly, the use of symbols to record observations - as this works with very large classes of children between 70 to over 200 children in some cases. The student-teachers will apply this next semester at the demonstration schools and he added that he is looking forward to learning more from CharChar in 2022.
We have found the work very rewarding and we look forward to our next step which is to place and mentor CharChar trained graduate teachers in two government primary schools, which serve as demonstration schools accessible to the University’s students where concepts are translated into visible classroom practices. The demonstration schools will be accessible by Malawi Government and its stakeholders.
- Supporting previously trained literacy specialists
The 40 qualified teachers who were retrained with CharChar’s literacy specialism have continued to practice methodologies learned with CharChar, benefitting their pupils enormously. Children in these classes are making excellent progress due to the effective teaching practices of their teachers, despite the compressed school year which finished in November. The teachers have had a well earned break during December which also coincides, purposely, with the planting season - enabling all rural households to work together to plant their food crops. We continue to provide tailored assistance for their classroom challenges and psycho-social support for the teachers themselves - theirs is a very complex environment to work in even without a pandemic.
- Working with the Ministry of Education and the sector more broadly
We have had meetings with the Director of Teacher Education and Development (DTED). It has been a pleasure to be able to share our learning journey so far, and honour our commitment to keep the Ministry informed of our plans and activities.
With the Directorate of ICT we have understood the development of district internet hubs and the implication of these on teachers access to continuous professional development which is important for us in our working with government as our partnership would like to make available the materials we use for teachers, student-teachers and lecturers at all teacher training institutions in Malawi.
- VITAL Next Steps: £50,000 for two demonstration schools
In order for lecturers and student teachers to see the new practices and the motivating positive impacts of different teaching methods, we urgently need to develop two demonstration schools close to the University.
These two schools are also planned to serve as a live demonstration to the wider primary education sector in Malawi - since the practices are not on view elsewhere. We remain a small organisation with big ambitions but thanks to your continuing support we are making significant impacts!
Our ask to you
Can you help us by fundraising in your community for £500 with a coffee morning, cake sale at your book club or a sponsored hike/swim/cycle etc. to help us reach our target of £50,000? Please contact us for a fundraising kit and support at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Finally, from all of us at CharChar a huge THANK YOU for your generosity! Please continue to support our work in these difficult times: we value every penny and remain committed to spending 100% of donations in-country.