Tag Archives: school

#Dear Madonna

By Kassandra Norrie (Acadia)

Dear MadonnaDear Madonna,

A few weeks ago as I was preparing to leave for Malawi and excitedly telling my friends about Transformative Praxis: Malawi I heard your name over and over again. The only time that most of my friends had heard of Malawi was in relation to your adopted children and the charitable work done by your organization Raising Malawi. When I told people I was coming to Malawi I was often cut off with, “that’s where Madonna’s kids are from” or “Madonna built a school there”. I had heard about both of these statements before but never really thought about either or done any research of my own. People at home in Canada make a happy connection when thinking of Malawi and Madonna, so I thank you for making little Malawi known to the world but that is where my thanks stop.

I landed in Lilongwe two weeks ago and have since been living in the Kasungu region of Malawi. When speaking with other educators in Malawi your name does not provoke the same reaction here as it does at home. I was in disbelief when I was told that you have never actually built a school here. Really Madonna? If I was home I would have just Googled this on my phone. But today I had to get a ride to Kasungu Town to the closest internet café. I waited for what seemed like forever as the dialup connection was made because I wanted to know the truth. I opened webpage after webpage and they all said the same two things 1) despite millions being spent the Raising Malawi Academy For Girls project never broke ground 2) you claim to have built ten schools when really you have only renovated and built classrooms on existing government schools. Madonna, it really seems like you are overstating your contributions here in Malawi. I heard about land that was given to you to build your school for girls, I read every word written on the Raising Malawi website, and I even saw the promotional pictures of you laying the first brick, but is that all it was? Promotional? And what were you promoting exactly? Yourself being a philanthropist or the fact that schools are desperately needed right now in Malawi. The tiny eight room school block near our campus site hosts 1434 primary students, so I really hope those promotional pictures were about the desperate need for schools in Malawi and not all about your image.

During my rushed research in the tiny internet café today I found lots of numbers about your budget so I’m going to use the smallest figures I saw to not overstate any contributions (as some of us are here). Your project had a budget of $15 million to work with and you spent $2.4 million before even breaking ground, so now I have some questions for you, because maybe I am confused.

  1. How could you have possibly spent $2.4 million before even breaking ground?
  2. You clearly were not putting the children of Malawi first, so who were you thinking of?
  3. You had $15 million to work with, why were you only planning to build one school?
  4. How do you feel ethically about telling the whole world you’ve built nonexistent schools??
  5. I still don’t get it, how did you waste $2.4 million?
  6. And where is the rest of the $15 million now? Did it all go into renovating classrooms in those ten schools that were already there and you did not build?

Finally, and most importantly…

7.  Do you have any idea what I could do if I had a budget of $15 million to put towards      education in Malawi?

Madonna, we have one thing in common, we don’t like to hear the word “no” from anyone. For very different reasons I believe. You are the pop star who thinks it’s okay to ask a third world country to roll out the red carpet for you when you wave around money in the name of education. I on the other hand, won’t allow people to say “no” to me when I am doing what I know is right and good.

Again, correct me if I am wrong: You may have come to Malawi with great and honourable intentions, but you got lost and gave up. You promised education to some of the neediest girls in the world and then you took it away. You made a promise of elite education, but then renovated some classrooms instead. You claimed to be dedicated to helping the extreme poor and orphaned children of Malawi, but then spent $2.4 million that cannot be accounted for. You heard the word “no” and then you gave up. This is where we are different. I have been told “no” many times in the field of education, and every time I do it makes me fight harder. I was told “no” when I thought I could not come to Malawi this year, but with the support of amazing people I am here. I was told “no” when lack of funding jeopardized student projects and experiential learning, but I raised money with only a few weeks left before our departure (and I can’t throw concerts for my rich celebrity friends on the North Lawn of the United Nations in New York). I was told “no” when my team was hit with issue after issue after arriving on site in Chilanga, but we found solutions together every time. You may hate to hear the word “no”, but at least it does not take the fight out of me.

I am not making accusations; these are real questions that I am posing to you. Madonna, I have to ask you again: Do you have any idea what I could do if I had a budget of $15 million to put towards education in Malawi? I’m not quite sure either. But I am imagining it now, and it’s a heck of a lot more than one school for girls that never broke ground.


Kassandra Norrie

P.S. Why don’t you take a chance on us and see what Transformative Praxis: Malawi can do with the rest of your $15 million?

Skin Colour: Defining or Not?

By Kimberly Gregory (McGill)

Visiting schools in Malawi

Visiting schools in Malawi

Today I woke up very early to the sound of roosters, goats, and barking dogs, which is something that has essentially become a normality. The first time I woke up to this, I thought it was one of those alarm clocks that makes weird animal noises. Now, the noises just make me feel at home. I had a lot of energy this morning, so I decided that I would go outside and work out a little bit. One of the Malawian children was looking at me while I was working out. I was unsure how to ask him to join along so instead I smiled awkwardly. Afterwards, a few more children came along and they started imitating me. My individual workout turned into a gymnastics lesson as more and more children started joining me. I showed them how to do cartwheels and handstands. Seeing them laughing and enjoying themselves brought me so much joy. It was a wonderful way to start the day.

After this, we all went to visit some schools. The first one was an elementary school. As our bus pulled into the school’s driveway the children started running after it. There must have been over 700 students outside, waiting impatiently for us to get off the bus. To be honest, it was quite intimidating. I wanted to say hello to all of them but there were too many. I started giving them high fives but there were too many hands. Instead, I high fived as many children as I could. It was similar to what a pop star would do at a concert when their fans are reaching out, hoping to have some sort of physical contact with this person who in their eyes they consider to be so special. A deep feeling of confusion invaded me as this was going on. I questioned, “all this because of my skin colour?” In Canada, it is very multicultural thus, differences in nationalities is not something that infatuates people. In Malawi, there are not a lot of white people, therefore they are truly amazed when they see a white person. Nonetheless, it makes me uncomfortable to think that I am being treated this way because of something as superficial as skin colour. Perhaps this is just because in Canada we are taught that skin colour doesn’t define you and by this, I do not mean to say that discrimination does not exist. Discrimination does exist in Canada, even though most people don’t like to admit it.

On another note, the visits to the schools were a little bit deceiving for the education students. Many of the teachers did not seem to agree with our ideas for constructing the grade 2 curriculum. They said that many components were missing in the grade 1 curriculum, which is essentially the foundation for the grade 2 curriculum. It was quite discouraging. Perhaps, we did not explain our project properly and it was simply a misunderstanding. Nonetheless, we felt as though many of them didn’t want the help that we were willing to provide. They kept saying, over and over again, “we need some desks” as if they just wanted us to give them money. I guess this is just because when white people usually visit schools, they simply give them money and leave. However, the Praxis Malawi mission is not to give people desks. Desks can be useful in the short term however, after a period of time they become very used and/or broken and they need to be replaced. Praxis Malawi wants to create long-term benefits. For instance, by teaching people how to make desks.

Nonetheless, the visits to these schools were very educational and I’m thrilled to have had the opportunity to visit them. I learned a lot about the Malawian education system. For example, I learned that elementary students usually start school at 6 years of age. I also learned that the community is in charge of supplying the porridge for the students to eat. Unfortunately, it happens quite often that they do not supply it, therefore students do not eat all day until they go back home for supper. I was really astonished and saddened by this fact. It is essential for students to eat in order for them to be able to concentrate and learn. I think that before we spend more time working on the curriculum we need to ensure that the students at the school that we are constructing are going to have porridge supplied to them everyday without exceptions.

A few more interesting facts about the Malawian education system: boys and girls have separate classes at the elementary level. A standard is a grade. There are approximately 80 students per class. In Canada, the classes are much smaller and they generally do not have more than 30 students per class. Moreover, at the schools we visited there were often equal amounts of male teachers as women teachers. Despite this fact, it is apparent that it is a very patriarchal society. During the meetings with the school staff, the men were the only ones talking. If a woman did try to talk, she was most likely interrupted by a man. I must admit that when something like this occurred, I was boiling inside as it is not something that I’m used to seeing in Canada. Furthermore, many schools have uniforms, however they are not reinforced so if a child cannot afford to buy a uniform he or she can go to school without it.

All in all, I was pleased to have visited these schools as they have given me insight that will surely help me in developing a curriculum that is appropriate for the Malawian people. It was really interesting to see how the Malawian education system differs from our education system in Canada. I continue to realize how fortunate I am to live in such a wealthy part of the world. Meeting the children at these schools and seeing the environment in which they learn has definitely given me even more motivation to create a curriculum that will better the lives of the Malawian people.

I Cannot Find Anything To Blog About…

By Emily Parker (Bishop’s)

Where the magic happens

Where the magic happens

Or can I? Here goes! Since our road trip (for those driving from Montreal to Toronto) to our arrival in Malawi, many ridiculously funny, weird, sweet, awkward, and unforgettable memories have been made.

However, this blog will not discuss those memories specifically, it will be more focused on the thought that came to me while I was sitting in the out-house this afternoon… (too much information?) The thought that struck me was: “It’s easier not to be educated”. This thought was inspired by the visits we had in two near-by schools this morning. Initially, we were supposed to simply be visiting the schools and learning more about them individually, although they ended up being to some extent, tense conversations and questioning of our project; mainly the development of the grade 2 curriculum. I do not think many of us felt 100 percent comfortable answering some of the questions. This was most likely due to the fact most of the queries were making us question last year’s progress as well as our current pre-determined research focus (even though both Dr. Stonebanks and Melanie Stonebanks have made it clear nothing is set in stone).

That being said, if I take you back to the thought that came to me in the out-house which was that: “It’s easier not to be educated”, it was my direct reaction to what we went through during the discussions in the schools and how it made me question ourselves and the work we were about to embark on, but it made me question myself even more. Considering how the principals and teachers were bringing up many points that I hadn’t considered, I wondered if I was prepared enough to contribute to this project. It made me realize that the more I know, the bigger my responsibilities become because I am aware of more “bad things” and I am unable to live in “denial” or disconsciousness.

A personal example of this has been my choice to turn to vegetarianism. I could not bare to harm the animals, our planet or my health any longer and I feel like this example applies well here too. The more I know about the education system in Malawi, the more I want to help and hopefully make positive changes. The problem with the school visits were the questions brought up that really affected me, and my confidence in being a valuable asset to the team. It made me feel that if I was not educated (and made aware of all this new information) life would be easier. In reality though, this is exactly where I want to be and I might just be scared.

This challenge is one of the biggest, most significant and dearest to me. I know my time here is very limited, but I hope to be a part of a valuable change while emerging myself completely in the experience. These are my thoughts for now, I am certain they will change over and over again during the next 4 weeks.

Finally, to end with a quote from the book, The Betrayal of Africa, “while a conspiracy indeed exists, it’s not a secret to those who want to see”, which refers to the relationship between the government and Western policies. I found it relevant seeing how virtually all Westerners know what is going on in Africa, but for a multitude of reasons close their eyes or choose not to do anything about it and go about their regular lives.

Visiting Schools: Another Look at Making Learning Accessible and Relevant to All Students

By Lia Grant (McGill University)

June 2nd, 2014

Classroom visit

Classroom visit

Today was a very eye-opening day. We visited two schools: a primary school which was separated into boys-only and girls-only sections, and a secondary school. As a future educator, I had a great desire to actually visit a classroom to observe the teaching and learning that was going on. Unfortunately, this was not really an option; especially as us all coming to the schools caused so much excitement for the students. We did, however, have the chance to speak with the headmaster of each school, along with many of the teachers. While a number of the educators seemed very interested in the project, an equal portion of them seemed hesitant to the change we were discussing. Despite this, we did receive a great deal of useful input and important ideas that we hope to implement in the schools on the Praxis Malawi campus.

More specifically, when we were at the girls’ school, we had a conversation with the headmaster and several of the teachers about what problems they noticed in their school, and what things they would like to see implemented in the new curriculum that we are developing for the new school in the campus. One thing that interested me immensely that came out of this conversation is that one of the teachers asked me, “What are your ideas in regards to students who drop out of school?” I responded in return with my own question: “Do you notice more girls or more boys dropping out in your school?” All the teachers unanimously responded to me that it was primarily young girls, and that the reason for dropping out was often due to pregnancy (either in or out of “wedlock”). The questions that I asked in turn were, “Are these young girls/women allowed to continue school while they are pregnant?” and “Can they continue once they have delivered their baby?” What one teacher explained to me was that girls who become pregnant without getting married are shunned from the community, and are too embarrassed to attend school until after they give birth.

Curriculum conversation

Curriculum conversation

With this in mind, I think that implementing a school/classroom in the Praxis Malawi campus for young girls and women who had to drop out of secondary or even primary school would be imperative. Moreover, if the school welcomed girls who are pregnant, it would possibly even help in taking the stigma away from these women, showing the people that they have nothing to be ashamed of and still have the right to their education and their life.

I left the school visits with so many questions to think over, and so many ideas. I am really looking forward to getting started in the next few days on the curriculum and possibly on the continued planning for the schools on the campus in general.

Not the ‘Teacher as Carpenter’ Analogy, Please

By  Dr. Christopher Darius Stonebanks



We have been walking to the school site at the end of the work day lately, checking on the progress of the construction, and I am uneasy about how good that feels. Many years ago, a professor told me that he was envious that I knew how to do basic renovation and construction work. His reason was that as an academic, he always saw just pieces of the “big picture” through his own work, and never got to really see if his ideas actually contributed to any concrete change. To build a deck, put in a floor, stairs, or even simply paint a room, he thought, must give someone a great sense of accomplishment. A sense of finality; “That’s it, it’s done, now someone can actually make use of what I have done. Up the stairs with you.  Go!”  Being a part of building the school and the soon-to-come teachers’ houses has reminded me of that professor’s comments. For many years I have worked with a number of education students that feel a great sense of frustration as they examine, let’s say, creativity in the grade four classroom, because their thoughts turn to (understandably) immediate concerns about the poor conditions of the students’ outdoor bathroom. What good is formulating a strategy for better artistic expression if the child risks dysentery? There are a multitude of voluntourism projects that bring Canadians and Americans to developing nations and give them a tour of the exotic beauty and then at some point put a hammer in their hands and ask them to help put up a wall in a classroom or a clinic. Photos are taken of these voluntourists with the locals, while they (I imagine) feel quite proud of the dirt on their hands, face, and clothes and their own kindness as they are arm and arm with locals … for a day or two. My thoughts always turn to the skills the voluntourist actually brings to the table. I am not referring to a carpenter’s union who flies to Haiti to build schools, applying their trade to a good cause. I am talking about the very well-meaning individuals who want to “do good”, and recognize that the ethics of travelling to such places as, for example, Mexico and staying in a gated resort while poverty exists right outside of the walls is questionable. For me, the problem with many of these voluntourists is that I wouldn’t trust them to hang a picture in my house, let alone trust their ability to put in a supporting wall in a school structure. But, I am beginning to understand that there certainly is something attractive about the immediacy of the act.

Pre-service teachers and teachers are now in a space where the curriculum they are developing has the potential to make a significant difference to the lives of children in the Chilanga region. But there are so many variables that there are no guarantees of immediate reward. The teacher who will be implementing the curriculum has a tremendous professional responsibility on his shoulders to enact the curriculum he has helped to develop; so much rides on his shoulders. The community had to give up farming land for the school’s construction, and I am sure their expectations will be high as they rightfully will await some dividends for their temporary loss as the Senior Chief allocates new land for farming. Will they support the school? What about the curriculum designs itself? Will an unstandardized curriculum be met with resistance?  Will it stand up? The classroom certainly looks like it’s standing up without any problems. Built almost entirely of brick and mortar, it seems like overkill in a region that does not normally (and thankfully) suffer from natural disasters. Foundation of concrete, doubled brick upon brick the walls go higher and higher each day we see it, with its surface picture of “real development”.

Before it appears as though I am slipping into an argument against building schools, I am not. Classroom spaces and teachers’ housing is in desperate need. But, so is a curriculum that will actually begin to address the needs of the community. Banking of information has failed to make positive change to the human condition in Malawi and buildings alone are not the answer. The work that the pre-service teachers and teachers are currently undertaking is as exhausting and important as the construction of the school. Although finding funding for schools in Malawi is a daunting task, it is nonetheless doable. Trying to get funding for students and teachers to come to Malawi, work with local stakeholders, and develop curriculum seems almost impossible to me. The sacrifices that all of the students (education, biology and our CEGEP students) have made to come to Malawi should be applauded and the work they are completing should be admired. I hope, as Amy, Annabelle, Corinne, Elise, Farah Roxanne, Frank, Jae, Linden, Louisa, Naomi, and Rebecca look at the school going up, they see it as a parallel to their own amazing accomplishments.