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Using technology to improve education in Malawi

By Nick Adie


Education volunteer, Fred van den Brug, is supporting a project that uses technology to tackle some of Malawi's biggest education problems. We're looking for more teaching and education volunteers to join Fred. We might be looking for you.

Alex Kachigamba shows off his certificate on his tablet after he successfully completed a lesson during the Unlocking Talent Through Technology class session at Biwi Primary School in Lilongwe © Amos Gumulira

Alex Kachigamba shows off his certificate on his tablet after he successfully completed a lesson during the Unlocking Talent Through Technology class session at Biwi Primary School in Lilongwe.

Teaching in Malawi

In Malawi, more than half of the population is aged under 20. The government provides free primary education. But there are simply not enough schools, classrooms or teachers. Lots of these classrooms can exceed 100 students per class. With some classes with up to 250 pupils. This makes teaching an extremely difficult job.

Education volunteer Fred van den Brug, who is currently working in Malawi, explains:

“Take teaching Mathematics. Lots of teaching is done ‘outside under a tree’, since there are not sufficient classrooms. It is quite common for the teacher to write an exercise on the chalkboard and children try to work out the solution and write it down in their exercise book...And then the waiting starts.

“The children line up to show their results to the teacher, which takes an incredibly long time. The teacher checks all results one by one, which means it might take up to half an hour just to check if each child has written down the right answer.

“If children come up with the wrong answer, the teacher will tell them that the answer is wrong, but there’s almost no time to look into how the child can do better next time. If the child happens to be a slow learner, they fall behind even more.”

Technological solutions

Tackling the under-resourcing issues in Malawi's education system requires innovation. This is coming in the form of a project called 'Unlocking Talent Through Technology,' in which iPads are being used to give children direct feedback on their learning. The ‘digital teacher’ immediately responds on any result that the child has found for his/her exercise.

The project is currently running in 70 schools across eight districts, reaching almost 25,000 children. The project now has funding to roll out further - to 128 schools in 15 districts, reaching of 55,000 children. Furthermore, the project is now being extended to all Malawi's teacher training colleges, so future teachers will be trained in the use of tablet technology before they qualify.

Education volunteer Fred van den Brug supporting children with Unlocking Talent resources

Education volunteer Fred van den Brug supporting children with Unlocking Talent resources

Improving education with technology

Fred explains: “The Unlocking Talent project makes it possible for a lot of children in Malawi to be able to read, write and do mathematics in their first two years of education. Which will change the education system in Malawi completely.

“Currently a lot of children drop out of school. They just can’t keep up with their lessons - only a very small percentage can actually read what is written by the teacher on the chalkboard at the end of Standard Four (around nine years old).

“It will also bring great improvements for the education of children with special educational needs. In some of my schools, teachers thought that some of these children are not capable of learning anything at all; I personally enjoy proving to these teachers that they are wrong.

"Teachers tell me that their children are more motivated to come to school. Test results are improving and absenteeism is down. Even students who have dropped out of school are coming back.”  

But for more children to benefit from this exciting project, we need more volunteers with education experience.

Find out more about volunteering

Life as a volunteer in Malawi

Standard-two pupils, Juliet Chisi, left, Lezina Gamaliel, Jessie Mbewe and Gloria Mphalo smile during the Unlocking Talent Through Technology class session at Ngwenya Primary School in Lilongwe © Amos Gumulira

Standard-two pupils, Juliet Chisi, left, Lezina Gamaliel, Jessie Mbewe and Gloria Mphalo smile during the Unlocking Talent Through Technology class session at Ngwenya Primary School in Lilongwe

Fred, a Dutch volunteer with 10 year's experience in teaching and teacher training explains what volunteering on this project is like:

“I have been asked a lot of times to describe a ‘routine day’ to people who are interested in becoming an education volunteer, but I can’t, there are no daily routine’" says Fred.

“The only guarantee is that work starts at 7.30 AM and finishes about 18.00 PM, but the things that happen in between are always different.

"From training teachers to sorting out technical issues and from meeting parents to supporting children with learning disabilities. No day is the same.

"Occasionally I also travel to meetings and conduct training in Lilongwe and other parts of the country.”

Use your skills to volunteer

If you're interested in volunteer opportunities for educational professionals see our current vacancies.

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