Travelling halfway around the world to take classes in the University of Lethbridge’s Faculty of Education has opened Wyson Ndhlovu’s eyes to the possibilities. Now, he looks to bring this new world of potential to his homeland and create opportunities for the young Malawi girls he teaches at the Atsikana Pa Ulendo Girls Education Project.
Through a collaborative agreement between the Rotary Club of Lethbridge, the U of L and the Malawi school, Ndhlovu has spent the past seven months in Lethbridge taking a full load of classes designed to give the deputy headmaster a new perspective on teaching and education.
“The purpose of the whole thing is for me to have an educational and cultural experience and to take back home what I feel is appropriate and applicable at our school,” says Ndhlovu, who has ventured away from Malawi for the first time in his life. “I didn’t know what I’d learn but now that I’m here, there’s so much.”
“Having Wyson in our education classes has provided our students with an alternative perspective on teaching and learning across the world,” says Dr. Richelle Marynowski, an education professor. “The students really took him in as one of their own and coordinated book donations and a fundraiser event to support the students at his school."
His trip is sponsored by the Rotary Club of Lethbridge, while the U of L has given Ndhlovu free tuition for the eight courses he was enrolled in over the spring and summer sessions. Rotary and the University have also previously combined to outfit a computer lab at Ndhlovu’s school, an all-girls academy for 400 rural students.
“With so many issues in the world, the fundamental way to improve these is through education,” says Pat Killoran, past president of the Rotary Club of Lethbridge.
He says the club initially considered bringing one or two students from Malawi to Canada to assist in their education but instead decided a greater impact might be achieved by helping the school’s teachers help themselves.
“We saw the Canadian experience, both culturally and educationally, as being something that could add a dimension to the teaching staff and, in turn, impact the students,” says Killoran.
Malawi is a landlocked nation in southeastern Africa that is home to more than 16 million people in an area roughly 20 per cent the size of Alberta. Largely agricultural, its citizens struggle with poverty and educational opportunities are severely lacking, especially for young girls. In 2006, Canadian teacher Christie Johnson joined with Malawi educator Memory Mdyetseni to form Atsikana Pa Ulendo (Girls On The Move), and the school has blossomed ever since. It currently operates thanks to a collaboration between the Atsikana Pa Ulendo Malawi Education Foundation (located in Canada) and the APU Malawi Trust (located in Malawi).
Ndhlovu says a lack of resources is the greatest problem he and his teachers face, but with the help of donors, they are slowly bringing technology into the classroom. While that may not allow his students to participate in scientific experiments, for example, at least now they will be able to watch them on video to gain a greater appreciation for the lesson that cannot be achieved through a textbook.
“When I came here I was exposed to different technologies through the lessons I had,” says Ndhlovu. “My professors would often use video presentations and I also taught practicum at Victoria Park High School and we used these resources and I found I was very motivated by it. This is something we need to adopt in our school back in Malawi.”
He’s also learned some valuable teaching techniques that he looks to incorporate back home.
“The difference I’ve noticed is that in Malawi, I used to plan a lesson that was one-size-fits all. With my experience here, I see that’s not the way,” he says. “You have to plan and teach bearing in mind that the students have different abilities. So, as you plan a lesson, you must think about every student in the class.”
Killoran says the success of Ndhlovu’s school in the 10 years that it has been open is remarkable, and slowly, communities are being changed, along with the future of young girls in Malawi.
“The girls who have graduated are now going back into their communities with education and doing things that weren’t being done before and certainly weren’t being done by girls,” he says. “We’re seeing a number of girls going to university, a number of girls getting jobs, a number of girls taking control of their lives.”
More information can be found on the history of Atsikana Pa Ulendo at the school’s website: http://malawigirlsonthemove.com/.