Category Archives: Curriculum

The Issues With the Banking Concept of Education

By Kimberly Gregory (McGill)

issues with bankingPaulo Freire (1970) proposes that liberation requires critical consciousness and creative thought (p.73). Unfortunately, this is something that is lacking in the Malawian education system and this was extremely apparent yesterday when working with some children in the After-school program. After having a long discussion about the six food groups included in the Malawian food guide and explaining the nutritional values of each, the students were asked to invent a fruit or vegetable that they had never seen before. They were also asked to draw it, name it and explain its nutritional values. When I saw that many of them were drawing fruits and vegetables that we had discussed, I reinforced the fact that I wanted them to use their imagination, however only 2 students actually invented and named items that did not already exist. Today, they also demonstrated that they struggle with using their imagination. For instance, when the students were asked to act out what a plant needs to grow, they all imitated the same thing that the first group did.

I discussed this phenomenon with my co-learner and he helped to elucidate what I had just observed. He explained to me that in the Malawian education system, most of the time, the students do not use their imagination to come up with things on their own because they are used to listening to the teacher and doing what they are told. Hence, the educational system in Malawi involves what Paulo Freire would call the “banking concept of education” (p.72). This system is based on the idea that the teacher is the source of knowledge and that they must deposit the “knowledge” in the student (p.72). The reason I write the word knowledge in quotation marks is because, in fact, as Freire has stated, I do not believe that authentic teaching and learning can take place in an “ivory tower of isolation but only in communication” (Freire, 1970, p.77). Thus, mutual activity and mutual exchange of knowledge is needed.

The banking concept of education makes students passive and it limits creativity. It is based on the idea of learning facts and memorizing them. However, to prepare students for today and tomorrow, “curriculum and instruction must change from traditional models based on coverage and rote memorization because this does not develop conceptual, creative and critical thinking which are essential for complex problem solving” (Erickson, 2008, p.7). The passivity that stems from the banking concept of education does not provide the students with the critical tools that are necessary to engage with the world.

Paulo Freire (1970) states that this type of education system suits the oppressors’ interests as it “adapts people to the role as dominated and passive” (p.74). In other words, it does not provide them with the tools they need for their liberation. The teacher-student relationship in the banking concept places students in an inferior position; it requires them to turn to the teacher to acquire knowledge. As a result, they have been conditioned to distrust themselves (Freire, 1970, p.64). They lack the confidence to try and figure things out on their own and this was evident in the After-school program. Freire (1970) goes as far as to say that “ any situation in which some individuals prevent others from engaging in the process of inquiry is one of violence” (p.85). This is evident when exploring the way in which it keeps the local people in the oppressive situation that they are in today.

During my time here, I was to implement and construct a curriculum that continuously engages students in critical thinking. I do not want “content to be an end product, but merely a tool to lead students to deeper thought” (p.12). The more they engage in critical thinking, the better prepared they will to struggle for freedom and self-affirmation (Freire, 1970, p.64). Furthermore, I do not want the students to be subservient to the teacher, but rather create a teacher-student partnership in which both contribute knowledge to the classroom. This type of education has the power to change the current state of violent poverty in Malawi.

Friere, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. NY, New York: Bloomsbury Academic.

Gender Roles and Inequities in the Kuwumba Region of Malawi

By Kimberly Gregory (McGill)

Gender Roles and Inequalities in the Kuwumba region of MalawiThere is not inherent truth to what gender is. Gender is a socially constructed identity and its meaning, which is constantly in flux, is determined by the context in which it arises. Gender inequality in Africa was reinforced by colonialism. Marc Epprecht (1998) explains the way in which colonial rule reinforced the customary imperative to reproduce, as it became a necessity for upward social mobility. Having many wives was also helpful for economic gain, as it provided them with access to more fields. Thus, in this historical context, in order to flourish, it was almost necessary to be a heterosexual. Individuals internalized the social expectations of gender norms and they behaved accordingly; the men dominated and married several women for increased capital. This also helps to shed light in one of the reasons why homosexuality was denied in many parts of Africa, it stood outside these gender norms.

Amina Mama, (2001) states that, “gender in all of its diverse manifestations, has long been a central organizing principle of African societies, past and present” (p.69). The colonial era shaped African masculinity, which in turn shaped femininity. The colonizers emasculated African men by undermining their “ability to attain signifiers of social manhood” (Epprecht, 1998, p.641). Grown men were oppressed and treated like children. The objective for most was to become a “real man” by acquiring a submissive and fertile wife, getting land and supporting a growing family (Epprecht, 1998, p.641). Hence, directly shaping desired gender roles in African society. As a result, African men felt the need to overtly assert their masculinity. One way that they did this was by exercising power over women which was reflected in the increased number of rapes (Mismang, 2015).

It is important to note that many countries in Africa have been striving for gender equality since the colonial era. Today, there is an increased role of women in African politics. Ngoni Okonjo-Iweala became the first female finance minister in Nigeria; Liberia’s president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is one of a handful of elected female heads of state in the world; the former president of Malawi, Joyce Banda was also a female. Pipits Nyong’o’s Oscar win and Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche’s literary successes have brought attentions to the artistic triumphs of a younger generation of women (Mismang, 2015). Thus, when women use their agency they can defy gender norms and stereotypes.

Nonetheless, “the distance between this development and the reality of the overwhelming number of girls and women everywhere is vast and seemingly unbridgeable” (Kaplan, 2008, p.41). Still today, life for many women in African countries is extremely brutal (Kaplan, 2008, p.41).  In many places, “women still have no rights at all, they are legally considered to be minors, their lives in the hands of their husbands” (Kaplan, 2008, p.41).

Specifically, I have noticed that gender inequality still prevails in the Kuwumba region of Malawi. For instance, when I went to the Praxis Malawi Community Centre yesterday I ended up reading to a group of young children. When I asked them questions about the stories, the women would always put their heads down and let the men answer for them. Even when I specifically pointed to a young girl, said her name and asked her to answer, she did not (even though I knew that she had the ability to). This was reminiscent of the behavior that I had witnessed with certain adults from the surrounding communities during my last visit here.

During our visit at the Chilanga Elementary School, some of my colleagues witnessed something that confirmed the phenomena that I had observed. The students were asked to work in groups and they naturally divided themselves based on gender. The boys worked with the boys and the girls with the girls. When the professor was asked why they were divided this way, he explained that if they do not divide them this way, the girls will not participate. Systematically separating them in school makes it challenging to strive for equality. Another moment that I noticed that boys and girls were separated based on gender was when the children were playing soccer and the girls did not want to play soccer with the boys because they insisted that it was a “boys sport”. This was also the case when the boys were asked to play netball; they explained that it was a “girls sport”. The children are in the habit of separating themselves based on gender, thus it occurs naturally even outside of the classroom, which once again, makes it challenging to develop equal relationships amongst genders.

One of the local community members that I am working with on this project discussed the issue of gender inequality with me, she explained to me that women in this region tend to hold traditional gender roles; they stay at home, cook, clean, take care of the children, etc. She also explained that women are much more likely to drop out of school early because they must take on these various responsibilities at home. Another reason that they sometimes drop out of school early is because of early marriages. Men and women, young or old seem to take on dichotomized gender roles in the Kuwumba region of Malawi.

The curriculum that my colleagues and I are constructing during our time here is for a charter school, therefore it is my objective to empower women and break the gender norms that prevent them from full participation in society. We started working on the grade 3 curriculum today. In the first unit, we have included many conversations about democracy within the classroom. Specifically, how both boys and girls have an equal right to voice their opinions. Hopefully, the ideologies that children will develop in the classroom concerning this matter will later be transposed onto society as whole.



Mismang (2015). The backlash against African women.

Mama, Amina. Challenging subject: Gender and power in Africa contexts. Africa sociological review, 5. (2) 2001.

Epprecht, Marc. The unsaying of indigenous homosexualities in Zimbabwe: Mapping African masculinity. 1998.

Caplan, Kaplan. (2008). The betrayal of Africa.

Starting to Build

By Kate Newhouse (Bishop’s)

Hard at work

Hard at work

How does Malawi’s past affect our present identity?

This was the title of our first unit that we completed today. The unit theme was “Malawi” and focused on past/present, and identity as our concepts. We found this was a great way to be introduced to our co-learners. We were able to ask them questions about Malawi and they had some great ideas of lessons and subjects we should add.

We had an Education Boot camp back in April and we chose the final two units for the grade 2 curriculum that were started on last year’s Praxis Malawi trip. We decided the two units should be water and discussing how important water is and then finish the grade 2 year with a unit called Malawi.

We thought Malawi would be a great way to end the year as some of the activities would be based on prior knowledge from previous units that year. The final project would allow students to answer the question of: “What does being a Malawian mean to you?”  Students would then be able to answer this in a multitude of different ways.

I am enjoying working with everyone here and I am really using what we have learned at Bishop’s in real life situations. Getting to use Lynn Erikson’s curriculum building model for creating units using themes and concepts and then trying to put them into practice here in Malawi is exciting!  What a unique experience.

Zambia’s Nice, but Home is Nicer

By Lia Grant (McGill)

June 20th, 2014

Two of the many reasons I love Makupo

Two of the many reasons I love Makupo

We arrived back in Makupo today after a luxurious three days in Zambia at Zikomo Lodge and Safari. It was a beautiful stay; full of adventure on safari tours, laughter during evenings all together, and relaxation by the pool and in our suites. The safaris themselves were more than anything what made it worth our time. Seeing so many animals in their natural habitat while here in Africa was something I had not previously thought of as important, but it was absolutely exhilarating (the laughter-fit we all shared together on our dusk safari didn’t hurt either).

I have to admit, though, that I found it difficult at times to allow myself to feel content in Zambia. Even right upon arrival I felt myself very uneasy. We were greeted by the full staff of the lodge with cold drinks and moist hand towels, the owner insisting on her staff bringing our bags for us over to our rooms. It was incredibly jarring to suddenly be the epitome of a tourist, treated so very lavishly, completely separated from most all ‘real life’ either in Zambia or in Malawi. I have been trying to make sure I never allow myself to feel that way otherwise while here in Sub-Saharan Africa, wanting to (as much as is possible) understand the way that most people live their daily lives. Nonetheless, I pushed myself to enjoy the pause from my work and life in the community. I must note, however, that through that experience I was able to reflect upon the fact that we are not living as most people do even while in Makupo: we have a nice big space to work and eat in, cozy beds with bug nets to sleep in at night, meals cooked for us, laundry done for us, water brought to us, and more. These perks are not things that most people even in Makupo experience in their lives (and Makupo is a wealthier village than most, thanks to the money that comes in through Praxis Malawi). The truth is I will not be experiencing first-hand what it’s like to not have white-privilege while on this journey.

Overall, Zambia turned out to be an immensely introspective time; away from Makupo I was able to continue my planning for the play, and just generally contemplate and discuss my progress here. While I certainly went through culture shock upon arrival – going right away into disintegration phase (Stonebanks, 2013) – I feel that my emotional reaction turned out to be a facilitator in allowing me to rid myself of hidden oversights by bringing them to the surface.

It feels nice to be back in Makupo; it really has become a home away from home. As per usual, we were greeted by at least a dozen excited children. For the next several hours I played with them. As a teacher-in-training whenever I spend time with any children here in Malawi it occurs to me how difficult it is to communicate with them without a common language. Even simple things like, “gentler” are nearly impossible to convey to them (I got quite a few very intense high-fives today). Of course, to counter this, it is also incredible how easy it is to get by without much speech in other instances.

The debate between English and Chichewa is quite complex here, generally. English is the official language of the country, as it was colonized by Britain; however, the majority of the people in the villages speak very little English themselves. This is also in consideration amongst us in the Education team, as we want the children to get as much as they can in their learning, though there is a balance at play. If the children do not understand English well, or are not taught by an expert, they will struggle both in English Language Arts and in the other subjects that are taught in their second language. To counter this, the children should be provided with the opportunity to learn English well if it is seen as important in keeping up with the development of the rest of the world. It’s quite the debate, and a difficult issue to consider as we continue to work on curriculum. As it is right now, we have left it up to the discretion of the teacher. Hopefully more light will be shed on this issue in future years through other Praxis Malawi members.

For now, I am off to another busy day of work. We have Standard Two education units to complete, and I have a play to script. Tionana bwino.


Stonebanks, C. D. (2013). Cultural competence, culture shock and the praxis of experiential learning. In Lyle, E. & Knowles, G. (Ed.). Bridging the Theory-Practice Divide: Pedagogical Enactment for Socially Just Education. Nova Scotia: Backalong Books.


Whether We See it or Not

By Clare Radford (Bishop’s)

A work in progress

A work in progress

We have now been in Africa for over three weeks. So much has happened and I have found it hard to stay on top of everything because of the stream of emotions that are constantly pouring out of everyone. We were extremely fortunate to have a meeting where we sat down with all of the Chiefs from the surrounding villages. There were 31 chiefs in total. This means that there are 31 villages that will hopefully be involved in the workings of the campus. Here we discussed our projects that are happening within Praxis Malawi and how we as students from Canada will be putting everything we have into creating a site where everyone will be included and able to benefit from; whether it is the school, health clinic, experimental farming, chicken co-op or the sports field. The main conversation was about the importance of us working together in order to be successful. The Chiefs were very open and willing to discuss their feelings towards the projects as well as the contributions they are willing to give to help with the building of the campus. As the meeting was coming to an end, we set a meeting for every Monday at one o’clock. At this time, the members of the community can come and chat with us and ask any questions they may have about the campus. As we were walking back to Makupo village, the conversations were strong and hopeful with regards to the attendance for the following meeting.

After a very successful meeting, our education group has gotten together over the last couple of days. We have created an outline of how we will be dividing the units. We have gotten to know our co-learners, Francis and Maxwell. They have both been extremely helpful with the organization of the units. We have done our best to make sure that they will work with the different seasons in Malawi. So far we have almost completed five unit outlines. Although we are making great progress on the curriculum development, we have run into a few difficulties. I find myself up at night thinking about how we are supposed to come up with a curriculum for a school where we have seen that even though there was a Standard One curriculum developed, it was not possible to put it into action yet.  After talking to the other members of Praxis Malawi I am slowly starting to recognize the importance of our work here, whether we see it or not. It all comes down to the bigger picture of making sure that the communities get involved in the project  and helping them understand what the future has to offer, like this curriculum.