New classrooms transform learning in Malawi
By Victor Chinyama
Chrisy Mzumara has been teaching for 40 years. A Standard One teacher at Mfera Primary School in Chikwawa, south of Malawi, Mrs. Mzumara was recalled from retirement by the government in 2004 to plug a teacher shortage that had been exacerbated by the decision to abolish school fees.
Mfera Primary School was built in 1925. It’s old, weather-beaten structures stand in sharp contrast to Mrs. Mzumara’s classroom, a modern, spacious block recently constructed by UNICEF with funds from the Schools for Africa Initiative. UNICEF has built two classrooms, in addition to two others built by the British Government.
Mrs. Mzumara’s classroom accommodates 325 pupils. She knows this is an unusually big number, even by the overcrowded standards of most schools in Malawi, but at least she is grateful that the children are learning inside a classroom. Before the block was built, classes were held in the open air.
“Children are happy because the classroom is bigger and has better ventilation and lighting,” she says. “The black boards around the room also make it possible for the learners to interact in small groups and to write what they discuss for all to see.”
Mrs. Mzumara also uses locally available materials such as stones, maize cobs, and empty tins to teach enumeration. She says children are able to grasp concepts more easily because of their familiarity with the materials. She also uses drums to express different types of sounds.
“It is possible for me to do this because the new classroom is equipped with a store room,” she says. “Previously, I had to bring the teaching aids from home, use them in class, and carry them back. It was cumbersome.”
The school head Mr. Moses Mangwaya says the new blocks have enabled many more children to attend school.
“Enrolments have gone up and absenteeism has dropped,” he says. “Some children, especially girls who had dropped out in favour of vending, have also come back.”
UNICEF has also provided the school with textbooks and notebooks for the pupils.