When the village is involved, education works out
If parents can neither read nor write, their children have a particularly hard time succeeding in school. By setting up preschools, Kindernothilfe's partner FPC in Malawi is succeeding in getting children interested in education and preparing them well for elementary school.
Text: Katharina Nickoleit, Photos: Christian Nusch
"Welcome sir! Welcome ma'am!" the little ones shout in chorus to greet the foreign guests and then shyly sit down on the mud floor of the small hut. It is the preschool of Mwangwera, a small village near the town of Karonga in northern Malawi. Theirteacher, Mariana Msaku, calls out one by one of a group of two- to five-year-olds. They recite in English the alphabet, the numbers to 20, days of the week and months. Each time the children have completed their task, the group erupts in applause, singing "Well done, well done, keep it up and thumbs up," while the little ones return to their seats visibly proud.
- Pupils in the preschool (Source: Christian Nusch)
An exceptional school in Malawi
The fact that a small village in one of the poorest countries in the world has a preschool for the children of destitute small farmers, where they also learn English, is an absolute exception for Malawi. At best, such a thing exists in the country's three major cities. "Here in the village, we've been making sure that every child goes to school for a long time," says Mayor Kennedy Mwangwela. "Because education is the only thing that helps people lift themselves out of poverty. But many children drop out of education in elementary school. They simply can't cope with the lessons because they are not supported at home." No wonder. Attending elementary school in Malawi has only been free since 1995, so many adults are illiterate. Far too often, children only come into contact with letters or numbers for the first time at school.
The young mayor and the local council looked for a solution and found an ally in Kindernothilfe partner Future Planning for the Child (FPC), which helped them implement an ambitious plan: Every child should attend preschool. This small project was born out of this. The preschool was not simply put up ready-made somewhere on a meadow, but is a community project. The village community provided a piece of land for the buildings and the construction materials. The Kindernohtilfe partner takes care of the organization and the curriculum, finances the teachers and the school meals.
- Everything is taught in a playful manner (Source: Christian Nusch)
Preschool attendance is compulsory
Most importantly, the board passed a resolution to make attendance at preschool compulsory. Parents who do not send their children will have to pay a fine equivalent to nearly ten euros. For subsistence farmers who live on what their small fields yield, this is a small fortune. "There was no other way, because many parents simply don't realize the importance of education," Kennedy says. He has actually managed to get every child in his village to attend preschool. "This gives them a big head start when they start school, and we see that their learning has improved significantly." Kennedy isn't the only one who has made early childhood education a priority in the villages around Karonga. Now, with the help of FPC, 17 preschools have been established in the district, attended by 1,500 girls and boys. In these communities, it has been possible to reduce Malawi's high rate of 50 percent dropouts from elementary school to almost zero.
For the children of the Mwangwera preschool, the strenuous part of the day is over. Now they are off to play on the village sports field. Although there is only a dirt road to cross on the way there, on which at best a bicycle travels, the children stop and look right and left before crossing over. "That's part of early childhood education, too," the teacher says with a smile. "After all, they have to be able to do that when they go to school later."
- The pupils learn how to cross a road (Source: Christian Nusch)
- Katharina Nickoleit and her son by a meeting of the Child Rights Council in Malawi (Source: Christian Nusch)
About the author
Katharina Nickoleit is a freelance journalist and has been reporting from our projects for many years with her husband Christian Nusch.