The Bigger Picture
One of the most important ways that we help kids NOW is through efforts to improve educational opportunity. In a reality where only a small percentage of people are able to complete secondary school, a child’s educational success is paramount to their opportunity later in life. If we can increase the educational success of many children, we are giving them a chance to break the cycle of poverty and improve the lives of their families. This blog post examines the three levels at which help2kids works to achieve the bigger picture of an effective education for as many children as possible.
I recently sat down with the headmaster of Kazembe Primary School, Mr. Soko and Kazembe’s standard one instructor, Senior Teacher Mr. Chipala, to discuss the value of a pre-school education and whether or not they notice an impact of attending pre-school on their standard one students.
Even among the 179 students currently attending his standard one class at Kazembe Primary School, Mr. Chipala says, the ones who have attended pre-school stand out clearly.
Mr. Chipala told me that there is a large divide between students who have been accustomed to learning at pre-school and those who have not, “There is a big difference indeed…because they are not hindered by shyness or fear.” During his career, Mr. Chipala has witnessed many children who have struggled with the transition from “village life” to “school life”. He described students experiencing difficulty adapting to the constraints and expectations of the classroom as well as being terrified when called on to answer a question in front of their peers.
At Tiyanjane Pre-School, learners are able to more gradually get used to learning in a structured environment by dividing their time between songs, games, and activities as well as more demanding lessons. Of the 129 standard one students that Mr. Chipala estimates have attended pre-school, he says that they are used to school life and are much less shy when called on to participate in class. Mr. Chipala said that pre-school prepares students to succeed in standard one in three areas: understanding what the teacher is saying, having prior knowledge of the curriculum, and knowledge of classroom procedures.
Kazembe’s headmaster, Mr. Soko mentioned that the Malawi’s educational policy recommends that all students attend pre-school, but few government facilities exist, so private pre-schools such as Tiyanjane provide a vital service to the community. Mr. Soko feels that pre-school graduates arrive at his school with an advantage, “when they arrive from pre-school they can hold a pen, write their names, and recite the alphabet.” Even as children progress into the higher standards, Mr. Chipala and Mr. Soko believe that pre-school students retain an advantage since they have developed study habits early in life.
|When I asked if they had sent their own children to pre-school, both Mr. Chipala and Mr. Soko explained that they have. They also believe that pre-school education has greatly contributed to their children’s success in primary school. Mr. Soko’s eldest son, Jonathan is at the top of his Standard 8 class, and is very likely to do well on his Primary School Leaving Certificate of Education Exam (PSLCEE), which is the important test students in Malawi take to determine if and where they are able to attend secondary school.
|Beginning on May 4th and finishing on May 6th of this year, standard 8 students across Malawi wrote their PSLCEE’s. The exams were administered through twice daily sessions over the three days and cover all of the essential subjects that they learned during their primary education. The scores they receive on these exams determine their eligibility for secondary school. Furthermore, for the few students who pass, their scores determine which school they will attend. Higher scoring students are placed at better boarding schools, while lower scores attend day schools that they must travel to daily, often across long distances.
Considering the gravity of this exam, it is extremely important that every child have the chance to do their absolute best in order to have the brightest opportunity in the future. At help2kids, we strive to prepare as many students as possible through the pre-school, English lessons, volunteer teachers at Kazembe Primary School, and other activities in the community. Unfortunately, test takers are met with a non-academic challenge on the actual days of testing.
|Since many learners travel long distances to attend school, and meals inherently take a long time to prepare in the village, a large number of students who write the PLCEE do so without breakfast or lunch. Imagine carrying out your usual activities for a full three days while only eating a modest meal at night. Now imagine writing what is likely to be the most important exam of your life after walking ten kilometers, again without sufficient food. Most of us would agree that is a nightmarish scenario and is certainly not conducive to high achievement. Recognizing the problem, help2kids provided a snack each morning of the exam and a full lunch during the break between exam sessions.
This impacted the students’ test-taking experience primarily by eliminating the distraction that hunger imposes and providing energy to sustain them through the exam. Students were able to focus more on studying without the burden of worrying about meals. Additionally, students who otherwise may have not attempted the exam were given a strong incentive to come and try.
Overall, the simple act of providing meals sent a clear message to students that their education is valuable, and that the community cares that they do well.
help2kids volunteers were involved both in funding and implementing this project. Every day of the exams, volunteers assisted help2kids staff and local volunteers in collecting materials, preparing food, and distributing meals to the standard 8 students. We are very grateful for the hard work everyone involved in this project put forth to make it such a success. Now that the exam is finished, we join the standard 8 students in waiting on baited breath for the exam results to come in over the next few months.
|Emmanuel is one of the students who passed the PSLCEE in 2013 and was selected to attend Parachute Community Day Secondary School. After years of dedication, studying, and discipline, the next barrier to his education was the requirement to pay school fees. Primary education in Malawi is free of charge, and all children are encouraged to attend. Secondary education, however is provided at a cost which many families (including Emmanuel’s) are unable to afford. The majority of families in Lifuwu are subsistence farmers who depend the entire year on proceeds from a single harvest, or fishermen who’s livelihood is at the whim of the day’s catch. A student can perform flawlessly in primary school, pass the PSLCEE, and be selected for the best secondary school in Malawi, however if s/he cannot afford the associated costs, the opportunity is out of reach. This is where help2kids steps in with secondary school sponsorships for gifted students such as Emmanuel. His secondary education has been sponsored by help2kids since 2013, and he has now reached the end of form 2 where he must pass another critical exam, the Junior Certificate of Education Exam. We wish him luck and are confident in his continued success.
Our secondary sponsorship program is of course made possible through donations from our supporters, former volunteers, and other funders. Many heartfelt thanks to those who have contributed. In August, we will learn which students from this year’s standard 8 class have passed their PSCLEE’s and are in need of sponsorship. We are hoping to send many more students to secondary school this year, but we cannot do it without your help. It only costs USD 240 to sponsor a student for an entire year, providing school fees and all materials necessary to succeed in secondary school. With your help we can realize the bigger picture and make strides against poverty in Malawi.
If you are interested in sponsoring secondary education for students in Malawi, please visit: https://www.help2kids.org/en/donate/. Every donation we receive is used for our projects, but to ensure your donation is used for sponsorships in Malawi, make sure to either add a comment “for Malawi sponsorships” or send an e-mail specifying the purpose of your donation. If you have any questions or would like more information please feel free to e-mail Malawi’s field manager, Nicole Barren at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Many thanks and we wish you all the best from help2kids in Malawi!