Tag Archives: curriculum

Curriculum Development Progress Report

By Linden Parker

Brainstorming about farming

Brainstorming about farming

Last week we completed the advance work, began to brainstorm teachable themes and concepts, and established a process for organizing our ideas into comprehensive curriculum units. This felt like a solid foundation for the first stages of curriculum development for the alternative experimental school being introduced to the local community. These steps were necessary for us to ensure that the curriculum we establish is well developed and made culturally relevant. While we intend to use the competencies of the QEP to direct the features and outcomes of our units, we need to ensure that the topics are specific to the community and the local environment. While we continue to have many questions for our local co-learners, after the interviews and field trips from last week, we feel better suited to proceed with the next phase of our curriculum work.

This week Dr. Stonebanks has joined us to shed light on both the current status of the school construction and the big picture of the curriculum development process. The school construction is intended to be a collaborative community effort and yet the process of establishing this sustainable ideal appears to be challenging. This is interesting to hear considering the verbal support voiced by the villagers for this development project during our interviews with them. It is not unduly surprising; however, it is still disappointing to discover that while they support the idea of a new education initiative in the area they do not fully grasp the role they could play in its development. Where does dependency end and initiative and accountability begin for this community? Dr. Stonebanks made the very interesting and relevant connection between this dilemma and the curriculum development work that we are conducting. He emphasized the significant need for a curriculum designed according to pedagogy of empowerment and pedagogy of hope. Having these concepts drive our vision for the school will hopefully help to stimulate a new and more actively sustainable culture in the community.

Curriculum progress

Curriculum progress

Spurred on by this vision, we dove straight into our curriculum development work. With renewed commitment after the weekend at Lake Malawi, we once again broke into small groups to develop units. However, now that we felt that we had a solid grasp of the process and the local culture, we decided to officially begin constructing unit ideas from the beginning to the end of the school year. This is an exciting progression of work because it provides a solid sense of achievement as we complete the framework for each unit and move further and further into the year. At the end of day two of this process, I can proudly say that we have strong ideas for the first six months of school in this grade one class (see the progress picture). On a side note about cultural relevancy, we constantly have to remember that in the Malawian school system, many students enter grade one with no previous schooling or organized social experiences. This means that we need to ensure that we address a combination of competencies from the QEP for kindergarten and grade one.

I honestly cannot wait to see a whole year worth of ideas displayed on the wall and am so optimistic that this can be accomplished before I leave on June 24th. Because of our final trip to Zambia, next Tuesday will be my final day of curriculum work here in Malawi, so we have a lot of work to do to meet this goal. Fortunately, I am working with some very talented people who all share this same dedication. Now that we have some concrete ideas to present to the LEARN community, I also look forward to receiving input and ideas from even more knowledgeable minds. Let the hard work begin and, as my husband tells me, don’t sweat the small stuff.

June 6th – Handbags and Gladrags

By Naomi Crisp

Amy and I at Kasungu Primary School

Amy and I at Kasungu Primary School

I was up early again this morning as it was blog day. I have set two days per week that I send everyone’s blogs to Mel. This took me a long time to do as the internet connection is not very good (the politest way to say it). We set off on the bus to Kasungu to go to the primary school there. Half of us observed a Standard 1 class and the other half a Standard 2 class. We watched an English lesson again and saw that the lesson was almost exactly the same as a previous lesson we observed on body parts. This made it clear that everyone truly follows the syllabus provided by the government. In a weird way this excited me due to the fact that we are bringing something new and creative to the table. We then moved on to the Teachers’ Development Center and talked to one of the directors there. This was a new experience and he had a lot of great suggestions and information for us. Once we had finished talking, we went to the market to pick up some material and drop them off at the tailor to be made into bags and skirts. The market was busy again today and the sun was beating down on us as we walked. A lunch break and tea down, we were back to unit planning ideas. This meeting went A LOT better and we managed to get the base of 4 more units done. To do this we had split into 3 groups and then go over the ideas as a whole group, which is what Dr. Stonebanks is planning on doing when he works with us on Monday. I think everyone came away feeling accomplished after that session and I hope it continues.

Tomorrow we are off to Lake Malawi. I am so excited for this but at the same time my mind is buzzing with unit ideas, thoughts of home, questions of Malawi and questions about myself. These are all things that take time and may not be answered this evening but are important to contemplate either way.

Band-Aids are Not Enough

By Dr. Christopher Darius Stonebanks

Children not in school

Children not in school

How many school visits does it take in Malawi to be able to finally say, something is wrong? The pre-service teachers made their way to multiple schools last week to get a better understanding of the reality of the public school system and I am pretty confident there is a realization that the education system in Malawi is in a desperate situation. There are certain harsh realities connected to economics that can’t be underestimated; outrageously high class sizes, low pay (often no pay), zero resources, poor (if any) support for teacher housing, hungry students, and the list goes on.  Not to discount these financial realities, it is hard to not then turn to the curriculum and ask if it’s meeting the needs to promote a future of hope to smash the seemingly endless circle of poverty. I’ve talked with a number of teachers and administrators, good people and diligent professionals, and many have a strong understanding that the colonial system of education that they have inherited by force is faulty. A “top-down approach” does not do descriptive justice to what is predominantly being enacted in schools, but with a ratio of one teacher to one hundred plus students, are there other options available? If so, no one to their knowledge has come to their school community to demonstrate how it can be done. At what point do we admit that the circumstances presented to teachers are setting all educational stakeholders for failure? Although teaching still falls within the category of “quasi profession” (in Canada for example), I often challenge my pre-service teachers to consider their field of study in comparison to other professional fields. At what point would a surgeon working in an emergency room declare that, if you are going to send me one hundred urgent cases a day, I am going to lose patients. Perhaps twenty-five percent? Thirty percent? Forty? Fifty? At what point would the medical profession demand radical change? What about lawyers? How many cases could they take on before failure to serve their client, the courts, society and their profession would take a critical moment to force change?

What do we know about education in Malawi? We know that the drop off from elementary to secondary is very high. We know that the literacy rate hovers at 60%. We know that a conservative estimate is that of an overall population of 14 million, over 315,000 children are out of school. We know that 55% of children complete primary school. Do we know yet if the system is broken? Given the effort we see from children, teachers and administrators in the ministry of education, to say that something is broken is heartbreaking. At the very least, if we are not going to admit something is terribly wrong, can we at least admit that some retooling is required beyond bricks and mortar?

With this information, we are at the point where we have had to make some fundamental choices when developing curriculum for our experimental school. The first is that, although bricks and mortar are important, without a pedagogy that offers the real possibility of hope, it would just be repeating what we have concluded (perhaps know) does not work. The Malawi government itself has admitted as such with bold appeals to their teachers that they need to make use of local resources to teach concepts. The TALULAR (Teaching and Learning Using Local Resources) guidelines handed out to teachers pretty much admits an economic reality that needs to be addressed by teacher creativity. In brief, there is an admission that if teachers are going to be teaching about the concept of “force”, for instance, they can be assured that there will be no possibility that boxes of magnets or vials filled with chemicals needed for combustible experiments will be made available. Instead, it’s up to the teacher to use local resources to teach the concepts creatively and that sounds like good pedagogical practice to me. The problem, however, appears to me that the inclusion of effective teaching practices appears to be Band-Aid solutions to a bigger problem.

The curriculum itself requires a major change, allowing the teacher to be more autonomous, more creative, more accountable and more professional … yet it’s hard to observe how successfully the machine built on the British model can adapt to such shifts. Let me be clear when I refer to the British model, I am NOT writing about UK curriculum implemented in 2013, rather, it seems to be shockingly familiar to a scene one would see in a film set in the 1940s, England where children fear corporeal punishment for talking out of turn.  Repetition and memorization are the rule and as a British colleague remarked as he reviewed the Malawi educational system, “they are using a pedagogical practice we abandoned decades ago.” We are not going to simply build a school and then replicate a curriculum that has not fostered much needed change. After years of dialoguing with community, it’s clear that local educational stakeholders don’t want this either. Critical thinking, creativity and entrepreneurship (a word that frightens many academics who are oddly secure with their university salaries) are the key global outcomes that they expect their schools to foster in children. A swing from the passive to the active citizen is called for, recognizing (of course) that no teacher ever says, “My teaching is designed to create a passive citizen that will await orders from those who are in power”.

In a nutshell, there’s our challenge and we have turned to the Quebec Education Program to connect with the Malawian curriculum and direction for change from local community. At some point, rest assured that I will tackle our use of the QEP. The kneejerk reaction for those who have not read the QEP is that it is once again another imposition of a foreign curriculum on the Malawian people. Contrary to popular belief, it is not a standardized curriculum and, quite the opposite, empowers teachers to develop their teaching and learning strategies to their students’ particular needs.

So, how many visits to schools does it take to admit there’s something wrong? I have no idea, but I am convinced the situation needs more than a Band-Aid solution.

June 4th – Pang’ono pang’ono: Little by little

By Naomi Crisp

The happiest roomies around

The happiest roomies around

We began the day by going to meet the headmaster of the Chilanga School for the Blind. He was very welcoming and informative about the school system and the curriculum covered. We spent a fair amount of time in his office writing down his suggestions and comments on schooling, an informative start to our day. We then went straight to the Chilanga Primary School where we met the headmaster there also. We asked him the same questions and he confirmed the answers given previously. I definitely feel as though I understand the system a lot better through these conversations. We moved on to observe a standard 1 class. There were about 70 students in a room that used to be a bathroom, a grounding reminder of the situation here in Malawi. The teacher stayed at the front of the room while the mass of children sat on the ground. We watched an Expressive Arts class where they all went out and got corn stalks and were to make whatever they wanted. The kid’s natural creativity shone through and there was everything from a person, gun, chair, and window. The reasoning behind the lesson was to make something from nothing. This was a great concept using local resources and the kids seemed to enjoy it also.

Something that this lesson forced me to think about was the emphasis on silence/quiet time in Canadian schools. This is a huge contrast to what is in place here, as there seems to be no such thing. It made me wonder about how the majority of teachers in North America teach and how much we do for our own convenience rather than educational purposes. How much quiet time do students really need? Does it hinder their creativity and excitement of learning? This is a thought I know I will continue to question as time goes on.

After lunch we decided to go back to our room and work on our first unit plan brainstorm. It took us a long time to come up with our unit as there was confusion as to the process. We ended up forming a good start to a unit but need to work on collaborating together and clarifying ideas and questions to use our time productively. I am looking forward to hearing from the LEARN community and their suggestions to our units.

After completing our first attempt of the unit, we were a bit brain fried so when we got back we played volleyball and netball to let go of some stress that had been building. I had so much with that group of girls that was so pure and childish it removed the weight I have felt upon my shoulders. We were dancing when we got a net and laughing at each other when we missed. I felt just like a child, celebrating my glory and hiding my shame as if I never missed the hoop. We played and did the Egyptian dance until it was too dark to see and the hunger for dinner began to settle in. It was another quiet evening in the hostel but it allowed me to think of how lucky I am to have Corinne as my roommate. We connected instantly and continue to get closer each and every day. Her bubbly and excited personality compliments my own and we have so much fun together as well as meaningful discussions. We have some pretty great people in this group; it shows even through the struggles.

June 3rd: It Takes a Village

By Naomi Crisp

Today was the first day of project development which I was unbelievably excited for. We again walked to the land where the school will be built but this time interviewed 4 villagers around the area. The first man was an older farmer who couldn’t get past the point of what will happen to the land, this of course was a natural concern for him but one the chief can easily answer. Even though this was a worry for the farmer, he was still for the school to be built which was encouraging. The second man was the founder of a village and was quite wealthy in comparison to those around him. He had a lot to say about education and how it needs to change. This was a common theme alongside the welcoming of such a project. He believed in going back to the old system and the importance of English in the curriculum was stressed; this was something we needed to consider when building the curriculum. The next interview consisted of a group of women in the village. They were great fun laughing and dekerneling corn while speaking of the important aspects of education. They were a lot of help and invited us back any time, along with giving us a massive amount of peanuts. The final interview was a woman in another village closer to home. She had very similar views to the other women and expressed the need for a school closer to her for the children, again very welcoming of the new school.

After lunch we went to the Chilanga Secondary School to look at our work space, where we will be creating the Standard 1 curriculum! It was a nice big classroom with electricity and I think we are going to work really well there! We started organizing our week and it filled up very quickly. Even though I understand the reasons behind our advance work, I didn’t expect it to be a week long endeavor… maybe I am just too antsy to get cracking on the curriculum. I went to talk to Dr. Stonebanks, Arshad and Barbara about the day later in the evening. I feel it is important to change my environment and talk to different people as culture shock is rising amongst the group. I remind myself, these are awesome people who are struggling just like I am and their intensions are good.

The air is getting cooler at night now and sleeping should become easier, so I will go now so I can get up with the rooster and once again start my day with an email to Mel and a visit to LEARN.