Learning to read and write in northern Malawi

On the 14th November 2015, our Education Project Officer, Dyana, hosted a spectacular Literacy Fair in Bula, where four schools came together to demonstrate the reading and writing skills of their pupils.

A group of us from Temwa made our way from Mzuzu to Bula Primary School on Saturday morning, where the event was being held. As we approached the school, we realised that the noise and haze in the distance was in fact the children running to greet us! Within seconds the vehicle was surrounded by grinning, singing faces, giving us the warmest welcome we could have asked for.

The event itself was to showcase the work of Temwa’s Early Grade Literacy project, a project that aims to improve the reading and writing skills of primary school children in Nkhata Bay North.

Teaching the ABC

DSC01590First of all, we were shown the resources that teachers use DSC01630to teach reading and writing. Although much simpler than a lot of the state of the art, technology based materials used in UK schools today, the premise is the same; colourful, creative, varied, interactive tools that engage pupils. However, they are clearly in need of a little TLC; the items are paper-based, handwritten and extremely well-used – the teachers could well benefit from materials that are more robust and long-lasting.

Nonetheless, they do the job. We saw demonstrations from pupils from all four participating schools between the ages of six and thirteen, who showed they could recite the alphabet, read from books and write their own poetry. In three different languages no less – Chichewa, the national language of Malawi, Chitumbuka, the main language in the north of the country, and Chizungu, otherwise known as English.

There were also some wonderful performances from traditional dancers, a school choir, a drama group and of course our very own Peer Educators. Watch this video of children singing while dressed up as Ngoni tribes people:

Achieving your dreams

A young nurse who works at Bula Health Centre gave an impassioned and heartfelt speech to the children, imploring them to work hard in school as a good education paves the way for a good career and the means to escape poverty.

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Linda Chingamba explained how she had not always been the brightest at school but she had a goal, a goal to become a nurse and she knew that as long as she worked hard, she could achieve her dream. Which she did. Now she wears her uniform with pride. These are the sorts of role models that children in rural Malawi need, especially young girls, as so often education takes second place to helping on the farm or being married at an early age.

The Early Grade Literacy Fair was a really special day and showed the great achievements Temwa has made in this area in the year the project has been running. However there is still a way to go. Teachers suffer from a lack of resources – not enough books or shelves for classrooms and libraries, books that are falling apart, and students dropping out or not able to attend regularly. Although they do the best they can, it’s undoubtedly a challenge.

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Learning to read and write at a young age opens up opportunities to children and helps to give them the best possible start to breaking the poverty cycle, which is why our Early Grade Literacy project is so important. We hope to turn the Literacy Fair into an annual event so do check back next year and see how the schools are getting on.

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