During our first week in Malawi, we took 2 Chichewa lessons. Our teacher was a local man who had just finished Teachers College and works with TPM to help run the Learning Lab on campus. We had a session amongst our student group about intercultural communication prior to these classes where we discussed differences from individualist and collectivist cultures. One of the points of variance raised concerned how learners and teachers operate in the classroom in terms of asking questions. In collectivist societies, students may tend to refrain from asking questions in the classroom setting to avoid making the teacher look as if they did not do their job competently. With the new awareness of this cultural norm, I found myself feeling hyper sensitive to my natural dispositions. I was second-guessing my own instincts to question the presentation of course content in order to gain a deeper understanding; something I would habitually do in Canada.
Our first lesson together started off with the introduction of a greeting. “How are you” was translated on the board from English to Chichewa and we repeated the phrase after the teacher aloud several times. We were then asked one by one to say the phrase aloud. Kate, a student returning to Malawi for a second time, asked the teacher then what the very first thing you should say upon meeting someone is. We learnt that “how are you” is in fact what Malawians say when meeting for the very first time. I thought about the encounters we had had so far with locals and how they often replied “fine” when we would say “hello” or “nice to meet you”. This would explain the error. It also would be an early glimpse at how teaching with this very rehearsed “I say, we say, you say” structure that prepares students to reply with standard memorized responses in the language class really hinders their ability to communicate in authentic situations outside of the constructed classroom context.
Our teacher then jumped into teaching us numbers and days of the week using the similar threefold repetitive method. It was quickly being affirmed that repetition and memorization were patterns of teaching here without much explanation or deeper thinking of the content presented. We were asked to repeat the sayings aloud and then to close our books and practice in front of our peers. When questioned by the teacher, he often followed by asking if we were “confident” in our responses several times. He would also ask the class, “does she have the right answer?” Instead of encouraging us by praising our efforts, it became very intimidating to participate. I imagined that learners may be discouraged from contributing if the possibility to be ridiculed by peers was so high. On several occasions he also asked that we guess the next word to come without any prior knowledge to work off of. I found that this unfamiliar teaching style was slightly frustrating but we were able to chuckle off the majority of the awkwardness for now.
Chichewa is also an alphabetical language, like English or French, and so our second lesson started with a Chichewa song to help us remember the unique pronunciation of vowels. The song was short and fairly easy to perform. We sang it nearly 10 times in a row. We were all getting anxious about the chunk of time spent on singing from our short class together. We realized we were entering the schools and communities soon with next to no practical language knowledge. The teacher planned to move into parts of the body next but several of us collectively began to feel more comfortable to verbalize our learning expectations. As we grew more at ease with raising questions and steering our own learning, we learnt more subtle cultural features of the language. For example, adding ‘please’ to a request is a sign of begging rather than simple politeness. I always knew that language classrooms were spaces rich with cultural influences but as someone who had not personally been in the position as language learner for quite some time, I was reminded of how much one can learn of another culture while learning the language spoken.
I was perceiving the new language standards that we were learning and the teaching style carried out as being very much so a reflection of the country in which it took place. Through reading Pennycook, I’ve come to understand that the parallels I drew from my observations of the class (which were causing me to question what I previously learned about effective learning) and what I knew of the socio-political-cultural state in Malawi was more so “part of the outside world, and play[s] a role in how that outside world operates.” This awareness would come to help me comprehend the structures in the Malawian classrooms as results of the nation’s narrative. Considering Malawi’s history as a colonized nation which had only gained independence a mere 60 years ago, its education system and teaching practices are still young. How they develop their own institutions will be a big factor in how the country progresses and gains resilience as an independent state. When frustrations arise surrounding methods that are different from ones we are used to applying in our own classrooms, it is imperative that this context is kept in mind.
Schools are spaces that mold young students on a fundamental level. As learners and teachers who are constantly trying to improve our systems, we must try to push the confines of the four walls of our familiar classrooms if we hope to avoid having them become spaces that “serve to maintain the status quo” (Pennycook, 2000.)
I was woken up with a startle at the airport upon landing in Malawi. I hurried to catch the rest of the group on our way to fill out VISA applications. The tiny space we entered that was the immigration area could be comparable to a large living room back home. There was a big sense of urgency as people came flooding in off of their flights and tried to find a surface to write on. Lines were identified by sheets of white paper with marker reading “cash/debit” and so on. While waiting in line, there were attendants wearing yellow “VIP” vests who ushered an older white lady to the front of the line. Was the man trying to help her because of her age? Soon a pattern developed however that found many people similarly butting ahead of us. I later learned that these guards were payed to help travelers jump the line which in turn caused the entire operation to slow to practically a halt every time. There was no order as 6 guards would huddle around one counter at a time or the man behind the desk would talk on his cell phone as he signed the VISA forms. About a ten foot line from the table to pay, our group waited approximately 45 minutes to get through.
As we collected our bags and made our way to our bus van, we were warned not to allow men outside to help us with our baggage. However, 8 to 10 men soon surrounded us and started loading our suitcases onto the truck. The men were hard to keep track of. Differentiating who was with our group and who were strangers was virtually impossible. Suffice it to say the men ended up getting paid to load the truck. On previous trips taken in the past, I’ve experienced similar scenarios of men trying to help with baggage for tips but these situations have normally been accompanied by close relatives. I noted that maybe one reason for the difference in outcomes this time could have been a result of our group of students not yet being very familiar with each other and our multicultural backgrounds which may have some effect on a varied range of instinctive responses to the situation.
On our drive from the airport to our campus, I was surprised to see so many people. This might sound funny, but for some reason I was taken aback by the practically constant stream of people by the side of the road on the nearly 2 hour drive. There were just so many people. Children, babies, mothers, fathers, friends were seen working, carrying water, playing or selling food. Most of them walked without shoes among the red soil ground cluttered with rocks and litter. Piles of unrecognizable fresh fruit, hanging raw meat under small straw huts and dead mice on a stick were common sights. Men approached our van during a gas stop trying to sell us eggs and used jackets. I wasn’t sure whether to smile, respond or do nothing. I wanted to follow the pace of the group, especially returners among us – keep in mind we were also all delirious from the long set of flights at this point – and they seemed to keep to themselves, so I did the same. Stop signs were clearly more like suggestions and there was no speed limit to speak of so the frequent horn honks kept me conscious despite my heavy eyes.
Kate announced from the front of the bus that we were getting close and I took a breath to try and remain open to whatever we were about to witness. The road veered off to a bumpy, I mean really bumpy, dirt narrow path between tall stalks of foliage on either side of the vehicle. Children’s yelling could be heard from the overgrown field around us but I couldn’t spot them. We pulled past a few decaying houses, I wasn’t sure if they were a part of the campus or not, before we came to a cleared opening where 30 to 50 unknown faces all stood staring and smiling at us. As soon as we got out of the van, strong hugs came from all directions with ecstatic exclamations and laughs. We kept receiving handshakes that had an extra squeeze or movement in it, a unique cultural custom I had yet to learn, as the faces seemed to blend together in the rapidity of it all. I spotted a large group children waiting excitedly to get their look at us foreigners. I waved to them and some waved back, others giggled and some looked away shyly. A young guy who must have been about 8 years old came running towards me to get a high five before we were pulled away and asked to get our belongings into the hostel.
We entered our rooms quickly and then took a rushed walk around the area. We peaked at the shower, washroom, tuck shop, community center, kitchen and security house. Everything moved so fast. It felt like the sun was beginning to set and we had only arrived 15 minutes ago. One young child called out sternly to me “come here” as he sat on a porch with a group of his pals which temporarily broke the fast pace of the tour. I replied that I’d “come back later” because I wanted to catch up to the rest of the group. As we continued, the sea of children following us grew. All of them had big grins or looks of awe on their small faces. Many of them asked my name. The boy who had called out to me earlier grabbed my hand and tried starting a game of thumb war. Or so I thought. I played along. He wasn’t really trying though as I beat him in a couple of rounds before I began to realize that perhaps he was unfamiliar with the game I grew up playing. I wondered if he was shocked that I was playing with him at all or if he was trying to be nice or if his game had a different set of rules. He kept pointing to his eye and my eye and saying “wila”. I wasn’t sure what he was trying to say but later when I noticed the children pointing at someone else’s glasses, I assumed that maybe they were talking about eye glasses. I never previously thought of these accessories I wear every day that help me see to be such an exceptional privilege.
Howdy! I am a graduate student at McGill University. My research interests include narratives of marginalized identities, Islamic seminaries in Canada, the meanings embedded within our clothing and Participatory Action Research (PAR, YPAR, CBPAR). I am currently a research assistant (RA) in a few projects that have allowed me to participate in numerous stages of the research process. I work at the Social Equity and Diversity Education (SEDE) office at McGill, where we are currently organizing our inaugural research symposium on equity and diversity research, which we hope will enhance and strengthen interdisciplinary collaboration on equity, diversity and community research at McGill University. On my limited downtime, I am an avid gamer indulging in video games and table top games. I read and write about fashion, especially about our perceptions of what is considered a good outfit and what is not. I also am addicted to the NFL.
The month of June usually means anticipating and watching the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), however this June I will be a graduate student with Transformative Praxis: Malawi participating in conversations about development with local Malawians. A team of us, including Dr. Stonebanks will be working with TPM’s development committee in constructing a charter of values, mission statement and brainstorming sustainable project ideas that will contribute to the community and other TPM projects in education and health. We have an enriching month of collaboration ahead of us.
PS The boy has no name. (GoT reference???)
Hi, my name is Ashwini. I’m going to be honest – I don’t like writing introductions about myself because I’m never sure what to say, and the dry, mundane details about my life are too…well, dry and mundane to share. Since this blog is a (much dreaded, but essential) part of the course, because it forces us to critically reflect on our experiences in Malawi, here is my awesome life, in three short paragraphs.
I study Economics at Simon Fraser University at the undergraduate level. I’m interested in development economics, although I have yet to take a course on the topic at SFU. This is my second time in Malawi; I came last year as well, where I worked with the women’s cooperative on their projects, and local stakeholders on creating a Development Committee.
This year, I’ll be working with Aamir, Dr. Stonebanks and Jenny, our Malawian Field Director, on the Development Committee again, as the attempt to create one last year was frankly too rushed and ill-thought out and the group eventually fell apart as the year progressed after we’d left. I had expected it to, given how it was founded, so I wasn’t too surprised when news came from Malawi that only one or two members of the committee were regularly contributing to the campus, and it was, for all intents and purposes, defunct.
Being in Malawi for the second time will be interesting – it will be far easier to get my bearings and get to work; I’m more aware of what is expected of me and what I can expect from the local community. I’m looking forward to all the work that is to come, and to strengthen my relationships with people I met last year. If there is anything I learned from my last trip, it’s that relationships take a long time to build, especially across distance and cultures, and especially if you’re looking for equal partnership.
My name is Kate Newhouse. I am 22 years old and from Oakville, Ontario. It’s a waspy town on Lake Ontario about 45 minutes west of Toronto depending on traffic. My family is extremely supportive of me and has made it easy for me to do what I want and make choices about experiences I know many people miss out on. Their support and encouragement both financially and emotionally is very valuable to be. My life is very different from life in Chilanga.
I am a very observant person and I love to learn about different cultures. I find it fascinating. I also love children. I like to be around them all the time and hear the things their little bodies think and feel. I have been working in different summer camps since the age of 13 and completed university placements that really promoted my love of learning and growing with my students.
I recently graduated with my B.A and B. Ed from Bishop’s University in Sherbrooke, QC. Which means now I am tasked to find a job and become an adult, something I don’t know how to prepare for. Bishop’s introduced me to Dr. Stonebanks, his wife Melanie and Transformative Praxis: Malawi.
I became interested in going to Malawi after hearing Dr. Stonebanks talk about it in one of his lectures. From how he spoke about the culture and the different projects that were being supported, it was obvious this was his passion and is now his legacy. I didn’t know much about the project, but I knew I wanted to be involved. I came to Malawi first in 2015 as an undergraduate student .That year we started an after school program and made the campus come to life. This was the first year that TPM was staying on the permanent campus location. We were in the space and the after school program along with the soccer tournament, health initiatives, workshops and tuck shop made the campus come alive. It was truly amazing to see the progress that was made. I went home and began planning so that I could come back. I couldn’t wait. I really didn’t even unpack. For two year I had a box of Malawi stuff just waiting to be used again.
So after two years I am back. Excited, nervous, and ready. An Oakville girl ready to make a small difference. Working with the teachers this year in three local schools will be a challenge and disheartening at times, but I am excited to see what happens. There is a focus on English as a second language this year, which is new for me, so I will be learning alongside my Malawian colleagues. I have no real expectations, but the conversations we have and beginning to understand how they think and feel about education will hopefully empower them and motivate me to begin my teaching career.
If you’ve stumbled upon this page, thank you for taking the time to read a little bit about me. My name is Lara McTeigue. I just finished my third year at Bishop’s where I graduated from my first of two degrees. Convocation was not even one week before we boarded the plane for Malawi in fact. With a Bachelors of Arts in Education in Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL), I’ve had the chance in the last two years to begin student teaching in French elementary schools around Sherbrooke. Coming from Laval, a suburban area just outside of Montreal, Bishop’s has truly become the corny infamous home away from home it’s known to be for me. I’ve had the opportunity to participate in several different clubs including the Residence Events Committee and Educational Committee, the Bishop’s University Mentoring and Tutoring Club, the Language Teaching Club as well as the Jewish Students Association. I have mostly adopted a leadership role on the Bishop’s campus for the past couple of years while working in Residence Life. I’ve also volunteered in several different school initiatives including Sexual Assault Bystander Intervention Training and Mental Health and Wellness Week. I have worked with Dr. Sunny Lau as her research assistant and am excited that she is one of the professors who will be piloting this year’s course in Malawi.
Next year I will have my practicum placement in a high school while finishing my next undergraduate degree in Secondary Education. My experience working in the school environments so far have allowed me to begin shaping a professional identity as a teacher. My ultimate goal as a prospective teacher is to help make learning meaningful for my students. Working in a French environment while using the target language as the language of instruction has surely presented its challenges. I initially went into the TESL program with the hope to be able to spend some time teaching abroad. Working overseas would not only have me working with second language learners but may also very possibly have me working with foreign language learners with wide ranging cultural backgrounds. In classes at Bishop’s we’ve been taught theories that should allow us to become more culturally sensitive to diverse students in our ESL classrooms. These lessons stem from the desire to create more inclusive learning spaces. It is an entirely different experience to be working with these complex and unique individual learners in reality however. Transformative Praxis Malawi was an amazing opportunity to put these theories into practice while collaborating with a completely unfamiliar culture in a safe space.
I admired TPM’s goal to develop sustainable operations that would aid the community long after Bishop’s presence, much like I hope for my teaching to have sustainable impacts on my students. An area I really want to focus on exploring while I’m here is to help better understand the local sustainable learning systems called TALULAR (Teaching and Learning Using Locally Available Resources). TALULAR is a program adopted by the Malawi Institute of Education that has had some obstacles in its implementation. My hope is to observe its use or lack thereof, discuss and learn more of the teachers’ opinions of the program and experiment with it in developing and carrying out lessons in the classrooms. I believe that lessons should always be shaped entirely while having the students and their prior perspectives in mind. Perhaps using local resources can help me in learning how to make my lesson plans more relevant and impactful on students in a Quebec or even universal context. I expect to confront several obstacles myself while learning and collaborating in this foreign environment but I welcome these learning curves with arms wide open.
I hope that if you decide to continue reading that you are able to try not to pass judgement but instead understand that my blogs are simply a reflection of my raw learning process while I vulnerably navigate uncharted territory.
Hello, everyone. My name is Lina Xu. I come from China. I started my Master of Education at Bishop’s University this January. Before being in international studies in Canada, I have been working for over 10 years in the field of administration in China. As a matter of fact, I always planned to continue my further education overseas. I failed to do it right after graduation due to the fact that my family found it difficult to support me further financially since there was something wrong with my father’s business at that time. As a result, I began to work in Shanghai instead of going for a Master’s degree. I am easy-going, hilarious and open-minded. I was first introduced to Transformative Praxis: Malawi when our professor, Dr. Stonebanks, who is also the director of this program was giving us lectures on Globalization of Education at the beginning of the last semester. Since he was so passionate when speaking of this program, I was interested on the spot that I would like to join them this year to experience the most impoverished area in the world in person if possible. After a brief introduction on Transformative Praxis: Malawi by Dr. Stonebanks and his team, I decided to come this year.
Before I came to study in Canada, I was indeed quite interested and got myself involved in some social charitable events in China with some Non-Government Organizations. I would love to try my best to help those in need and I care about their feelings. Together with other volunteers, we organized activities to help the children of immigrant workers from the countryside to identify themselves in a positive way as the citizens in the new surroundings in big cities like Shanghai. We experienced bitterness and tasted happiness together, which was quite meaningful. In addition, I have seen some programs from the media about the mysterious Africa: the beautiful scenery, the genuine smiles from the bottom of their hearts despite their struggling against poverty. Meanwhile, I also read some articles on the development work in Africa. I wanted to go and see in person what is really going on in this field. Furthermore, having lived in big cities in China and then studying in the most advanced country in the world, both with a flourishing economy and promising welfare, I forget to cherish what I possessed from time to time and I always took things for granted. I believe the Malawi trip will not only provide me a brand new window to get to know the world, but it is also a platform to know myself better in the global context. Most importantly, we are here to be “a drop in the bucket” for the changes that are going on and for more changes to be come in the future. Hopefully we can bring something positive to the local community by our development work. Moreover, there is a course that we are going to take with the local teachers: Pedagogy of English as Second Language Learning. We hope to bring some new concepts to the local English language teaching using their local resources.
Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude towards Dr. Stonebanks, Prof. Melanie Stonebanks and our fabulous team members for 2017 Malawi. I am looking forward to this coming adventure. Together Each Achieve More!
In case you forgot, or are new to reading the blogs, my name is Mark and this is my second time in Malawi on the Transformative Praxis: Malawi (TPM) campus. I’m a secondary education student at Bishop’s University, and I’m going into my final step B. Ed program this upcoming fall. Over my years studying at Bishop’s I’ve become passionate about the field of education, and I could not pass up this opportunity to return to Malawi and take part in a collaborative knowledge transfer project over the course of several weeks in a professional development setting, among fellow teachers from the local schools near the campus here. Among other reasons, which I will get into in subsequent blogs, is this passion for education and learning, as well as the opportunity to collaborate with colleagues from the same profession whose circumstances and access to resources are drastically different from mine in Canada.
For now, I’ll tell you a little more about myself. Outside my studies, I have a passion for sports, I’ll try any physical activity, but my favorite still remains soccer. When I first arrived at Bishop’s I was studying history, and later switched into Secondary Education and Social Studies. I only recently realized it, but most of my jobs as a youth have been in a teaching role to some capacity, whether it be coaching or ski instructing, this always felt like the natural role and path for me to pursue.
Well, enough about me, I look forward to delving deeper into my reasons for coming here again and having you follow my journey from start to finish in the blogs to come.
Hello everyone, my name is Ning Ma, coming from Nanjing in China. Now I am studying in Bishop’s University as a master student in the Education Department. Just to be clear, I am not a student teacher originally. But when I started to get touch with the education area, I felt totally falling in love. This is a very meaningful area that can really change people a lot from their lives, values, even social status. This is also the reason why I have chosen to come to Africa. This is my first time to come to an underdeveloped country and I am curious about their real daily life and educational situation. I am thinking if I can have a chance to help them even a little or give them some encouragement at least. This is such a fantastic program for me to grow and to learn a lot about the local culture. Thanks for Dr. Christopher Stonebanks, Professor Melanie Bennett-Stonebanks and Dr. Sunny Lau to give us this opportunity to see and to feel the real Africa.
I did some research when I was in Canada. Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world. People here even cannot have their daily life to be guaranteed. So, I was wondering if they can have equal chances as the students from other countries to get suitable education. In the next three weeks, I will observe and learn from the local teachers to see how they use their local resources to develop their education. I hope after these days I can have new thinking and know more about the underdeveloped country.
My name is Yue Yao. I am doing my Masters of Education degree at Bishop’s University, and this is my second year. I come from China. My hometown is called Harbin, which is very close to Russia. It is famous for its ice and snow. When it is winter, you can see colorful ice lanterns anywhere, just like in a fairy tale world. I love my hometown so much! My parents are both engineers. They are open-minded and created a very comfortable environment for me growing up. I am very lucky to have parents who always support my decision economically and spiritually. I like music and I am a Jazz buff. Swimming is my favorite sport, and I really like the feeling of floating in the water. I am a curious person and am very interested in learning new things. I think that is why I love traveling so much. I have almost traveled the whole of China and to many other countries. I met different people and different cultures while traveling, which made me very delighted and excited.
When hearing about this program directed by Dr. Stonebanks, I immediately showed huge interest. Because I finally would have the chance to go to Africa, not as a tourist but as a student! I was always curious about Africa because it was so mysterious in the books. I heard about many customs that are different and interesting that made me very curious. So going to Africa was always a dream for me. After hearing Dr. Stonebanks’ talk about Malawi, I really wanted to know how people there led their lives in a harsh situation. I was also curious about how their education was being implemented with limited resources. In this program, I will have the opportunity to go into three local schools to see what they think of education, how Malawian teachers interact with their students, and how they use limited resources to teach. I have a lot of questions and look forward to talking with the local teachers. It is a very precious chance for me to know the different culture but not as a tourist. I also really want to make a contribution to Malawi even if it might be small, and I think discussing with them ways to improve their quality of education would be one of the most effective ways to help the development. Because only they have enough knowledge to solve their own problems I do believe that some of the problems could really be solved while collaborating with them in this way.
Hi, my name is Yuyin Ning, an international student from China. I just finished my first year of studies in the Master of Education program at Bishop’s University. I am very glad that I can join the family-like group of Transformative Praxis: Malawi. Professors are extremely considerable and caring about us like parents; the rest of group members are very friendly and care about each other as well.
After my first year of study in Canada, it’s hard to not notice the big differences between Canada and China’s education systems. Both education systems have advantages and disadvantages. The differences caused by politics, economies, education policies and teachers’ responsibilities impact students in vary different ways. We have a saying in Chinese : “hai zi shi guo jia de dongliang” which means “children are the foundation of a country”. Therefore, the education system can influence a country’s development profoundly.
When I found out about Transformative Praxis: Malawi, I started to be curious about the place where this project was located in Africa. I wanted to know many things like how do they develop education when the food supplement is still a primary problem? What do they learn? How do they learn especially when the educational resources are very limited? How do they develop the study of English as a second language while being a colonial country? As all of these questions came out, I decided to find the answers myself. So, here I am.