Can you imagine a primary school with more than 7,000 pupils? No? We couldn’t either – until this morning. As soon as we left the cars at Kapeni Demonstration School in Blantyre, about 200 kids came running towards us. There was no distance and hesitation – everyone wanted to shake our hands and welcome us. When we raised our cameras, all the kids raced around us, wanting to be in the picture.
The headmaster, Douglas Nkuliwa, led us to the staffroom and explained to us the daily business at his school. The concept was impressive yet not easy to imagine: 7,066 pupils between six and 18 years are taught by 69 instructors. There are only 34 rooms for 61 classes. Because of the number of pupils, the school terms are organised in two daily shifts: one starts at 7:30 am the other at 11 am. One teacher cares for about 100 pupils. However this school is a role model and very modern since the curriculum reflects the latest up-to-date teaching methods.
What does a school lesson look like?
We visited some of the classes to get first-hand impressions: a huge classroom with “talking walls”, covered with the alphabet, vocabularies, etc. Pretty much like western classrooms – but are there 100 kids? The female teacher got along with it, the children were quiet and alert. The teacher can’t possibly know all their names so the kids show papers with their names on when they raise their hand. Or they have their names attached to their shirts.
How can teachers appreciate every single student?
Everyone who gives an answer stands up and the others watch her or him. If the answer is right, the class applaud and repeats the answer. So they will easily remember the solution. UNICEF developed the child-friendly concept and promotes, together with its partner organisation, a positive and sustainable learning environment. It was incredible how motivated all the kids were – although their surroundings were humming like a beehive.
While we very visiting the classes the headmaster surprised us with a fire alarm to show us how well the kids have learned the life-saving escape plan. Indeed, all buildings were evacuated within less of four minutes, all pupils gathered completely together under the nearby trees. There is organisation in the chaos.
Without this school there would be no school
Just opposite is the Teacher Training Centre (TTC), where future teachers are trained. They learn what it means to teach their lessons by using child-friendly methods. A choir welcomed us and invited us to dance with them.
The training takes two years, one year of theory and one practical year. Training is organised by the latest up-to-date teaching methods which include all senses and sustainable learning – even for students who are blind or non-hearing. UNICEF trains the student teachers and supports the school organisation. All materials used in lessons are made by the students themselves, using materials which can be found in every village.
We were impressed by their commitment for teaching and their love for the children. We could feel that in every interview and demonstration. This training centre is an important milestone to secure the future of Malawi.