Volunteer Teachers in Malawi
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Volunteer Teachers: An Introduction
Qualified volunteer teachers or volunteer trainee teachers of any subject at any level, although we will also consider applicants who have been educated to degree level. However, we do recommend that those volunteers who are not qualified teachers or trainee teachers study for a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) or TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) qualification if at all possible (see Why Should I Consider Taking a TEFL Course? section below). It is important to have a genuine interest in making a worthwhile contribution and the ability to live in a rural environment while establishing a solid relationship with the local community. Enthusiasm for working with young people is also essential.
Alie, a volunteer teacher, teaching maths at Mwaya Primary School
Matt, a volunteer teacher, holding an afternoon tutorial at Mwaya Beach
RIPPLE Africa would prefer its teaching volunteers to make a commitment of a minimum of three months to coincide with the school term times (see Term Dates below), although shorter stays can be arranged (see note about Short Stays on the Introduction to Volunteering webpage). It is important to recognise that, although the volunteers will benefit enormously from their experience volunteering with RIPPLE Africa at Mwaya, our main responsibility is to provide consistent and effective assistance to the community.
It is very important to maintain consistency and continuity in relationships, projects and work already underway and, to this end, RIPPLE Africa has an Education Coordinator (who is also a teacher at Mwaya Primary School), a Pre-schools Coordinator, and a Volunteer Projects Manager at Mwaya Beach who is responsible for volunteers. The Education Coordinator will introduce arriving volunteers to the primary school(s) and the teachers, the Pre-schools Coordinator will show them around the pre-schools that RIPPLE Africa supports in the area, and the Volunteer Projects Manager will make sure new volunteers visit the secondary school at Kapanda and the community library and that they know about the various projects, clubs and groups that are running.
Kirsten painted a large map of Africa on the wall of one of the classrooms at Mwaya Primary School when she was a volunteer teacher
Cheryl thoroughly enjoyed her volunteer teaching experience with RIPPLE Africa
There are three school terms during the year for both primary and secondary schools. The academic year starts in September which is similar to the academic year in Europe. Term dates are roughly:
- Term 1: September to December
- Term 2: January to March/April (depending on when Easter falls)
- Term 3: April to July
Unfortunately, it is difficult to get exact term dates in advance as the government does not release them until a few weeks before each term begins.
If your placement period includes one or more of the term breaks, please be aware that there will be less or no work to do at the schools, although volunteers can and do organise additional clubs and classes for the holiday periods. However, the term breaks are the best time to arrange any trips or safaris you might want to take whilst you are in Malawi.
At the primary schools, only Standards 1 to 7 attend school in Term 3 as Standard 8 pupils finish their primary education after taking their Primary School Leaving Certificate exams in late June/early July. However, all Standard 8 students have lessons throughout the term breaks after Terms 1 and 2.
At secondary schools, Form 2 students take their Junior Certificate of Education (JCE) exams in Term 3 and do not return to school until the beginning of the following academic year. Form 4 students take their Malawi Secondary Certificate of Education (MSCE) exams in Term 3 and have officially finished their secondary education once their exams are over.
Why Should I Consider Taking a TEFL Course?
It can be very challenging to assist with lessons as a volunteer teacher in any of the schools if you have limited or no teaching experience, especially as the class sizes are very large. A TEFL course will give you basic skills and ideas which will help to make your volunteering experience more enjoyable. A simple search on the internet will give you lots of links to websites offering TEFL courses, although one website — tefl.net — has a database which is searchable by country and/or town. Also, there’s a YouTube video called What’s a TEFL Course Like? which is great fun to watch and informative.
Volunteer teachers can be very helpful in the pre-schools
RIPPLE Africa works with eight local pre-schools, and is looking for overseas volunteers who want to get involved at the pre-school level. Each of RIPPLE Africa’s pre-schools is based in a different neighbouring village, and conditions are very basic. Each school is a single classroom structure, has three Malawian teachers, and caters for an average of 50-100 children, aged two to five or six years. Lessons are basic, but provide the critical foundation which young children need before attending primary school. Lessons include English (i.e. greetings, self-introduction, colours, numbers, shapes, prayer, calendar), maths skills (i.e. counting shapes), literacy (i.e. alphabet, stories), health/hygiene, and moral development/religion. Teachers take turns delivering short lessons on the above topics. Songs, dancing, games, outdoor play, free use of play materials (i.e. the toy box containing a variety of wooden toys, blocks, stuffed animals), and tea and sweet potatoes to eat are also part of the day.
Overseas volunteers play a critical role in RIPPLE Africa’s pre-school project. These volunteers are fun and enthusiastic, and enrich the schools with new songs, games, and dances for the children to learn. Their knowledge of the English language and basic maths mean they are a fantastic resource for the children to practice with, where something as simple as learning a new song may teach the children a host of new English words. Our volunteers are also wonderful helpers where they can work in training our existing Malawian teachers, many of whom used to be community volunteers with little training. Many volunteers love working with the pre-schools because the children are so happy, love attending school, and simply make it a delight to volunteer!
If you are interested in becoming a teaching volunteer at any of the pre-schools, please read the section about Pre-schools in the document called Information for Teaching Volunteers for more details.
Mwaya Primary School and Other Local Primary Schools
Class sizes at primary school can reach up to 150 pupils
Primary schools in Malawi are free and open to all. As secondary education is highly competitive and relatively expensive, this is often the only education rural Malawians receive. It is not uncommon for students in Standard 8 to be as old as 15 or 16 while studying to re-sit their Primary School Leaving Certificate exams.
Mwaya Primary School has about 850-900 pupils from the local community and is a 10 minute walk from Mwaya Beach, home of RIPPLE Africa. While there should be one teacher for each Standard (1-8), there is currently a shortage in Malawi and there are only seven fully trained Government paid teachers at the school. In addition, RIPPLE Africa is paying five Malawian trainee teachers to assist them. Class sizes can be as large as 70-100 although official enrolment can be as high as 150 per class. Teachers, especially in the higher levels, are under enormous pressure to cover a wide-ranging curriculum with very limited resources and time. Despite this, pupils are generally motivated and enthusiastic.
There are also opportunities to help at four other local primary schools, namely, Mazembe, Matete, Chiomba, Kachere, and Kasando. These schools are further from Mwaya Beach than Mwaya Primary School, but they can be reached on a bicycle quite easily. As with Mwaya Primary School, there are a high number of students and only a few government teachers. RIPPLE Africa pays for Malawian trainee teachers at these schools as well.
This volunteer opportunity is a cooperative initiative that involves evaluating the needs of the school with the current volunteers, our Education Coordinator, the headmaster, classroom teachers, and trainee teachers in tailoring your responsibilities to best meet these, taking into account your special skills and interests. This might mean helping the class teacher with marking the pupils’ work, which may not sound very inspiring but will give you a good insight into the children’s abilities (or lack of them) and will help the teacher tremendously as marking upwards of 50 pupils’ work each day takes a lot of their time. You might also help with teaching English and science to Standards 5, 6, and 7, or maths, English and geography to Standards 7 and 8 each day. Working hours and days off are arranged with the Education Coordinator and the headmaster.
During the holidays and in the afternoons in term time, it is possible to organise special tutorials or holiday classes at the primary school. These can follow the main curriculum or be as diverse and varied as your own imagination. As the school operates on an absolute bare-bones budget, however, teaching volunteers should plan to provide any materials or equipment required for these courses or extra-curricular activities.
If you are interested in becoming a teaching volunteer at any of the primary schools, please read the section about Primary Schools in the document called Information for Teaching Volunteers for more details.
The exam results achieved by the students at Kapanda Secondary School have been above the national average for community day secondary schools
RIPPLE Africa has built and supports Kapanda Community Day Secondary School, and is looking for overseas volunteers to get involved at secondary level. The school is about a 30 minute bicycle ride from Mwaya Beach, and is the only secondary school in the immediate area. There are four years in secondary school, referred to as Forms 1 to 4. Each Form has its own class of about 50 students, and each Form has its own classroom including desks. The subjects taught include English, maths, agriculture, physics, biology, geography, history, bible knowledge, social studies, and ChiChewa. Everything with the exception of ChiChewa is taught in English, and students follow a national syllabus and work towards their JCE exams in Form 2 (Junior Certificate of Education), and MSCE exams in Form 4 (Malawi Secondary Certificate of Education).
Overseas volunteers working at the secondary level make a big difference to the students. Because secondary education is geared towards subject specific exams, volunteers have a real scope to use their skills and expertise in a particular subject to make a difference. Many volunteers find it satisfying to be working to more specific targets, working with more advanced material, and working with students whose English is significantly better. Many volunteers who teach at pre-school or primary level also hold special tutorials for secondary school students in the afternoons for the enjoyment of one-to-one contact with a slightly older student.
If you are interested in becoming a teaching volunteer at the secondary school, please read the section about Kapanda Secondary School in the document called Information for Teaching Volunteers for more details.
How to Apply
To find out how to apply to become a teaching volunteer with RIPPLE Africa, please go to the Application Process page.
Links to Documents