For the past three years, tutors and students have been helping to train teachers in one of the poorest parts of Africa – and it’s proving to be as good for Bedford’s trainee teachers as it is for the Malawians – Rose Taylor reports

When physical education student Michelle Rowe returned from a gap year in Malawi five years ago she wondered if she could continue to help schools there to build latrines and spruce up dilapidated buildings.

But thanks to the help of her tutors, schools in Malawi have gained a lot more.

In the three years since the University’s link with the African country was set up, staff and BEd and PE students from the Bedford campus have funded a £7,000 science block at Lizulu School and provided training for hundreds of primary teachers in science, English, maths and PE.

Professor Kate Jacques was Pro-Vice Chancellor at the Bedford campus when she took up the cause alongside Chris Rix, visiting Senior Research Fellow.

“My first visit was to open the science block in 2007, which was funded using money bequeathed by a tutor to help a special cause,” says Professor Jacques, who has since retired but continues to lead the Malawi project on behalf of the University. “Michelle made the case for science in Malawi and was successful. At that point I asked what would be the most useful thing we could do for teachers there. Their response was ‘we need more training’.”

On her return Professor Jacques applied for funding from the British Council’s Developing Learning Partnerships in Higher Education (DelPHE) programme. The bid was successful and the University received £60,000 to be spent over three years on developing teaching skills in partnership with St Joseph’s Teacher Training College in Malawi.

The money has been used for the Continuing Professional Development (CPD) of more than 100 primary teachers. A course takes place every Easter in the Dedza/Lizulu region of Malawi, focusing on practical learning in English, taught by Paul Gardner; maths, led by Irene Wooldridge; science, taught by Chris Rix; and physical education, led by Mark Bowler.

“Each year we select eight trainee student teachers to assist in teaching the courses,” says Professor Jacques. “The area is a rural, very poor part of Malawi and the schools have few resources. Many have no desks, furniture or even books. The environment presents a serious challenge for our students.”

Malawi - Abbie Brown teaching English to a primary class

Abbie Brown teaching English to a primary class in Malawi

Every year a team of teachers from Malawi visit the University to learn about how teachers are trained in the UK and to plan the Easter course. Four lecturers from St Joseph’s Teacher Training College in Dedza will be in Bedford from 10 to 19 March.

This Easter is the final year of the programme. The Malawi Project team from Bedford will fly out to deliver the CPD course in collaboration with St Joseph’s College from 4 to 17 April.

“What we are trying to do now is enable lecturers to deliver the CPD themselves,” says Professor Jacques. “Just as in this country teachers need refreshment and additional training. Teaching tends to be traditional, so we are demonstrating that group work can enhance learning, and that talk, discussion, sharing ideas and practical activities helps understanding.”

Chris Rix, who has been on three visits and will be going again in April, says: “Numbers in Malawi primary classes can be as high as 200 to 300 and the learning tends to be passive. We are showing them how to engage children using interactive teaching and learning approaches and to make the best use of simple, locally available resources.”

The team raises funds for educational equipment but equally attention is drawn to using easily accessible resources like beans and pebbles for counters, newspapers for making shapes, and reeds and sticks for measuring. Story telling and poetry writing is popular and can be done without books, while PE shows how team work and collaboration works to everyone’s advantage.

For the University’s student teachers the experience has been invaluable.

Andrew Haslegrave, 21, described his trip to Malawi last year as life-changing. “Just seeing the presentation about the place, before going out, made me think it was amazing,” says the fourth-year BEd student. “But nothing compares to being there. It’s such a beautiful place with beautiful people. It was amazing. I felt very lucky to be able to make a difference.”

Andrew, from Benwick, near Peterborough, climbed Snowden to raise money for his trip. “I had not had any thoughts about going to Africa in the past,” he says. “Now I’d go back in a heartbeat. You learn so much from it and you get a new respect for the opportunities we have here.”

Annie Smith, a Primary Education student, helped to teach science to teachers during her visit last year.“It was amazing to see the impact it had on people,” she says. “It was very humbling.”

Annie Smith teaching mirror reflections to students in Malawi

Annie Smith teaching mirror reflections to students in Malawi

Annie, whose home is in Oxford, plans to get a couple of years’ teaching experience in the UK, then go to Malawi and set up an agency to help give teachers more training.

Last year a comparative study carried out by Chris Rix and Paul Gardner was featured in the Journal of Social Sciences and presented at the International Conference on Education in Samos, in Greece. Professor Jacques and Chris Rix also presented a paper on Education in Malawi at Birmingham University at the annual Teacher Education Conference in May 2012.

The DelPHE funding comes to an end this year but the British Council has given positive feedback to the University about the success of this project and hopes that it may be possible to find funds from elsewhere so that the work continues in some form.

To find out more, visit

  • The University is hosting a Barn Dance at the Bedford campus on Saturday, 16 March, 7.30-10.30pm, to raise funds for the University of Bedfordshire and St. Joseph’s College Malawi Partnership Project. Tickets cost £10 each and includes a ‘Ploughmans’ and salad. For more details and to purchase tickets contact the Faculty Office at Bedford campus on 01234 793355.

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