Andrews Nchessie is a teacher at both Kasungu Demonstration School, and Kasungu Teacher Training College in Malawi. Beyond that, he is a pioneer within the Malawian educational system, developing new and improved ways for young Malawian children to learn, and also for Malawian teachers to improve how they teach their young students.
By Kwesi Brako
Nchessie aims to encourage student involvement, increasing the engagement levels of over-sized, under resourced classes by using community-based teaching aids and developing alternative ways for students to see the results of their learning – for example by setting up a weather station to learn about meteorology. Nchessie has also created methods to help teach children with disabilities, and has contributed material to 150 science educational television programmes.
These efforts are receiving the recognition they deserve on a global scale, with Nchessie being named one of 50 nominees for The Global Teacher Prize, a one million dollar award which aims to celebrate “the best teachers around the world,” and highlight “those who inspire their students and the communities around them.” Regardless of the results when the winner is announced on March 16, Nchessie is a force for change and progress whose work shall hopefully be spoken of for years to come.
This is an exciting time in Nchessie’s life and career, and he was generous enough to take time to share his story – his successes, challenges and what direction he wants his journey to take going forward.
What inspired you to pioneer new teaching methods?
When learning how to teach, firstly we are taught in college the theory and practice of teaching. However, there is always a mismatch between theory and practice, especially when it comes to ‘what works’ in the Malawian context. For instance, most of the theories we learn do not consider classes of up to 180 that have inadequate resources. Identifying what works for these classes has always been my way of doing things; in other words, my way of teaching. I have therefore not looked at large and under resourced classes as a problem but rather as an opportunity where I can do something to ensure that my students learn at the end of the day. I have to that effect pioneered new pedagogies for handling large classes of 180 students to one teacher.
Secondly, in college they don’t teach you how to work with children with disabilities. But I came across a student born without hands. In that situation, I devised pedagogies that have ensured such a child is able to read, write words and numbers. I taught the student to write using either their mouth or the finger. This has worked and it is still working. The dilemma is that when faced with that reality, there is no way you can send back a child. Ways and means must be found to ensure that the child learns and in the course of doing this the results have been excellent.
What successes and challenges have you encountered in response to your methods?
There are many recoded successes. Firstly, it has to be understood that large and under resourced classes is the norm. It’s the reality. This is what teachers in Malawi are faced with. In light of that, supervisors of primary schools year in and year out have reported that teachers are using these new methods. In addition, the teachers themselves, through feedback sessions, have reported the success of these methods in that in many instances they have promoted class discipline and control. The use of such approaches has also triggered the need for research by the University of Aberdeen and University of Strathclyde, and they have also been taken on-board in the current primary syllabus being implemented in Malawi.
But there have also been a number of challenges. For instance, some teachers stick to traditional methods of teaching without due change in large and under resourced contexts. There is a demand for teachers to be exposed to new teaching methods; however, resources to communicate and travel to reach these teachers are lacking.
Are you using ICT to develop your new Curricula?
Yes I am using ICT to develop the new curricula. The current curriculum has topics on basic ICT and use, which are examinable and compulsory; meaning that all students must learn.
What are some of your hopes and expectations you have for this advent in education?
My hopes and expectations are that these methods for engagement will hopefully improve teaching and learning. They [the government] are also focusing on improving education quality, and in the long run Malawian children’s desire for lifelong learning will be enhanced, and girls are likely to remain in school because of the methods for equal participation in class.
The Global Teacher Prize has highlighted other examples of Nchessie’s work, saying he has “developed his pupils’ awareness of global issues through large-scale tree-planting projects and community development activities such as clearing the footpaths to school. In addition he has contributed to his community by procuring a maize mill and setting up HIV/AIDS outreach groups.”
Nchessie says if he wins the award he will use the prize money to increase efforts to train Malawian teachers. I hope you will join me in wishing him the very best of luck, not only in the award but also with carrying out his plans and his revolutionising of the Malawian educational system into the future.