Dr Fred Mednick was one of the Keynote speakers at the EARCOS Conference. He is the Founder of Teachers without Borders; an organisation that connects teachers to information and each other to create local change on a global scale.
I started my international teaching career one wet Sunday afternoon back in 2001 when I was surfing the net and came across a website for VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas.) I decided to apply there and then and a few weeks later I spent the day in London being interviewed. Six months later I began work at Dedza Teacher Training College in Malawi.
Dr Mednick talked about there being no barriers in education. He wants all teachers to have access to resources, lesson ideas, professional development and other teachers. With VSO my job was to try and help teachers in Malawi have access to different methods and strategies in teaching, learn about different resources and give them the opportunity to reflect and improve on their practise. All the ladies I taught were already working as teachers in schools. After Malawi brought in free ‘primary education for all’ there was a population explosion in the primary schools and so they had to recruit bodies for the classroom. We were part of a programme trying to give these teachers training so that they could qualify as teachers. The colleges were staffed by Malawian lecturers but VSO was supporting the programme by placing professional teachers from Europe and Canada in the colleges to share practise and professional development and work alongside the Malawians.
I spent three wonderful years working in Malawi. I spent time in Malawian schools observing the teachers on their practicums and so was able to see for myself the problems they faced. There were no computers because most schools do not have doors, windows or electricity. There is very little money for books and resources are generally home made and original. Bottle tops make great counters and banana bark is fantastic for creating signs and flash cards. Most of the student teachers had not received a full education themselves; many of them having finished school at 16. But they were keen to learn, both for themselves and for their students. We shared good practise with them. We also learned new ideas from them, particularly when it came to being inventive with resources and how to cope with large classes.
I was interested to hear of Dr Mednick’s experiences and was delighted to hear of an organisation that has teachers sharing their resources, ideas and professional opinions with one another. VSO is committed to the Millennium goal of universal primary education and I believe that it is through organisations like VSO and TWB that there is hope for the future and that all 59 million teachers in the world have the opportunity to develop and improve their own practise for the sake of their students. Technology will play an important part in this and we have to continue to look for alternative ways to support technology in places like much of Malawi where the infrastructure is lacking.