Three University of Ulster students, who won scholarships to teach children in one of the world’s poorest countries, graduate today.
Chris Parker from Moira, Laura Topley from Portadown and Suzanne Campbell from Londonderry, travelled to Malawi while studying for their Postgraduate Certificate in Teacher Education.
The trio taught Citizenship Education in two post-primary schools in the southern city of Zomba during a visit which was jointly organised by the University of Ulster School of Education and the Faculty of Education at Chancellor College, University of Malawi.
“All three of us student teachers learnt a lot both professionally and about ourselves too, it was a very rewarding experience,” said Chris. “We taught 10 classes in 10 days across two schools both of which were very different – one school building had windows, each child had a desk and there was computer room.
“But the other school had very little - there were 60 or 70 pupils to a class and about three to a desk, some pupils had to sit on the floor, it was a culture shock. All you had to teach with was a board and chalk.”
Laura explained that despite the lack of facilities, “the discipline and behaviour in both schools was superb. The pupils were quite shy about speaking out in class but they had stacks of enthusiasm.
“Back at home going to school is seen as a chore but children in Malawi appreciate that a good education gives them a better chance of getting a job and change their lives.”
The student teachers also raised £850 to buy school equipment and books before they went out to Africa.
Suzanne added: “The great thing was, we were able to ask the schools in person what they needed and that was mostly books and to cover furniture repairs. So we bought books and paid for 45 desks to be repaired in the school where the pupils had to share.”
Dr Linda Clarke, Head of the School of Education, who accompanied the students for part of their visit, said: “The student teachers clearly enjoyed this challenging experience - teaching with just a blackboard and chalk in the most basic classrooms.
“However, the pupils were enthusiastic and knowledgeable and challenged our conceptions of schooling. We will always remember asking one girl if she liked school. She looked at us with complete incredulity and asked, ‘Who doesn’t like school?’ How could we begin to explain to those pupils in the opulent schools of Northern Ireland who don’t like school at all!”