BAGSS is run by the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian, CCAP, and is in the Synod of Livingstonia. Compared to our schools in Scotland, it is poorly funded, with only small grants from the Malawian Government. Even though the school has very little, everyone is happy to be there, and the motivation from teachers and pupils alike was inspiring to our group.
· The school was set up by the Mamie Martin Fund to promote sexual equality in schools and to allow the girls of Malawi to be taught to secondary level. Something which was rare before the MMF’s initiative.
· The school has been open since 1995, and the school role has increased exponentially since then.
· The majority of girls are chosen to go to BAGSS after doing an exam, provided by the Malawian government, but a small proportion are chosen by the Synod, and are usually more local.
· Currently, there are around 300 girls at the school. In forms 1-3 there is up to 80 girls in one class, with one teacher. In form 4 however, the year in which pupils in Malawi sit their most important national exams, the year is split into two classes of around 40 pupils. This decreased class size, although still much higher than a class in Britain, enables the teacher to focus more on pupils which may have been struggling in the larger classes.
· At BAGSS, about 12% of girls have their school fees paid by the MMF.
· BAGSS is a boarding school, and some of the girls come from as far north as the Tanzania border, and as far south as Blantyre. It is difficult for them to be away from their families for such long periods of time, but their commitment to education and their ambition to create a better life for their selves and their families was astounding. It was humbling talking to some of the girls who have lost parents to HIV/AIDS and other common African diseases. Even through all of the pain that they have gone through; they are still happy, and striving to create a good life for themselves.
· As the teachers salaries are so poor, the school must provide accommodation for their teachers, or they will be unable to maintain a staff. The staff are accommodated around the school campus in small houses, with their families.
· The girls live in hostels in the school. There can be up to five girls in a room barely bigger than a cupboard, all with their personalised area of wall space. Due to the large number of girls in the school, one of the home economics labs has had to become a temporary hostel, with girls sleeping on the floor until their new accommodation is completed. As the school is dramatically under funded, there are barely enough showers for all the girls, and they therefore have a slot in which they can take a shower. This slot could be any time of the night or morning, with girls having to have showers at two o’clock in the morning!
· The school is spread out around a large mango tree. This tree acts as a communal point for everyone in the school. Assembly takes place every Monday and Friday under the mango tree, and the girls have entertainment under this tree as well.
· There are five classrooms, one each for forms 1-3, one for form 4A and one for form 4B, a library, a staffroom, a laboratory and store, a home economics Lab, offices and a few other rooms, all in separate, single story blocks. The buildings are in fairly good states of repair, and although there is almost no equipment for the teachers to work with, classes are still well taught and enjoyable. There is no computer network within the school, however most teachers have access to a computer in the staff room. The laboratory is basic, but the equipment they have is well kept, and the chemicals are quite well stocked. The pupil dining room, however, is accommodated under two gazebo tents that were donated by a British charity. The food is prepared by dinner ladies in large pots, outdoors, aided by the lunch-time prefects.
· When we visited the school, we took part in some of the lessons. A lot of the subjects the pupils learn are very similar to what we learn, however they have to be delivered in a different way, as the teachers do not have technology to hand. The desks and chairs which the girls sit on and work on are very uncomfortable, and we were beginning to get numb after only 3 periods. Sitting in a Malawian class was a very enjoyable and different experience to anything in a Scottish school. The pupils treat every elder with respect, bowing their head when addressing a teacher, or receiving anything with their head bowed and both hands out. When the teacher asks a question, an excitement erupts in the room, as every girl clicks their fingers and tongues to try and get the attention of the teacher. For the Malawian girls, it is a privilege to learn, and the girls treat education with respect. When a girl gets an answer correct, every other pupil in the class will clap for her. Not snigger, as would probably be the case with some of the immature Scottish pupils that are in our schools.
· When the hand bell is rung to signal the end of the period, the girls will thank the teacher and bid him a good day. This was an unexpected uproar, and we were taken aback at the volume of the girls thanking their teacher. When the next period teacher comes into the class, a while after the bell usually, he is greeted by the same volume and asked how he is. The teacher does the same to the pupils. There is a mutual respect (or love…) between teachers and pupils.
· The teachers at the school usually teach more than one subject, often up to 3, and also take part in after school activities with the girls. Some of the subjects that are taught at the school, subject to resources are; Mathematics, Physical Science (physics & chemistry), Biology, Agriculture (like biology and geography), English, Chichewa, Home Economics, Social Studies (modern studies) and Religious Studies.
· The pupils stay in the same class all day, unless they have a practical session in a lab, therefore the pupil’s attention span may be slightly less than if they were more stimulated by moving to different rooms.
· School starts very early in the morning, at about 7, and ends fairly late in the afternoon, at around 5 (although there is a lengthy lunch break during the heat of the day). Before and after school, and at the weekends, the girls at the school have prep, for homework and revision, and they must also catch up on their chores.
· The school is managed by the head teacher, Mrs Msowoya and the depute head teacher, Mr Nyasuru. As well as carrying out their managerial duties, they also teach. They are also assisted by a finance person, Mr Amphande.
· As Mrs Msowoya was ill when we arrived, Mr Nyasuru became our tour guide and protector. He had a steely aye, and watched over us on our many expeditions. He clearly enjoyed, and was committed to his job, like all of the staff at BAGSS, and I very much enjoyed meeting him.
· The girls are helped in their day to day lives by their house matron, who cares for their health and well-being. These ladies always have the girls’ best interests at heart, and they were in charge of presenting us with our gifts at the end of the trip.
· The school also has a volleyball and netball pitch so that the girls can easily take part in their favourite pastime.
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