A few of the most memorable things about BAGSS could be listed as: the friendliness and hospitality shown by both pupils and staff, the girls’ musical talent, their energy and their calm. Although the BAGSS pupils definitely know how to relax, they have certainly worked hard for their education.
Children in Malawi start their education at the age of 6 and study at primary school for at least 8 years.
In Malawi, primary education is both free and universal, as opposed to secondary, which is always fee-paying and is only attended by pupils who pass their primary school leaving certificate exams. Some pupils spend far longer than 8 years at primary school before they are able to pass their exams and move onto secondary education.
Although free primary education means that large numbers of children now attend school, primaries are often very crowded and often don’t have enough teachers. In Bandawe’s local primary school some teachers would teach over 100 young children in one class.
Not every child can afford to pay for secondary education and the Mamie Martin fund allows girls such as these to further their education.
Secondary school consists of 4 years of education and two sets of exams. The Junior certificate examination is sat in form 2 and the Malawi school certificate examination is sat in form 4. To achieve their MSCE a pupil must study 8 subjects and pass 6 of them.
For the girls at BAGSS passing exams is incredibly important. Better exam results mean a brighter future and a better job. Unlike some Scottish pupils, the girls recognise that education is an important privilege that is to be appreciated.
Most lessons at BAGSS are taught in English, as a lot of emphasis is placed on learning it as a very useful second language. The mixed secondary school close by BAGSS runs an English literature class and there is talk of BAGSS doing the same thing in a few years time. Chichewa lessons are, of course, taught in Chichewa. Classes in BAGSS last an hour and consist of more practical subjects than their Scottish counterparts: Art, Media and Drama are not taught. (although a thriving drama group is present at the school and even put on a play during our stay)
As well as English and Chichewa, pupils learn subjects such as mathematics, agriculture, history, Bible knowledge, geography, physical science, biology and home economics. All the girls we met had definite and practical career plans; to become a nurse, a minister, an accountant, a teacher, a lawyer. The girls were completely focused on achieving the goals which their education made possible.
It certainly wasn’t all work at the school though, sports such as volleyball and netball were very popular as well as dancing on Saturday night and games such as skipping and a very enjoyable Malawian version of hopscotch. Both Saturdays that we spent in Malawi ended with a disco beneath the mango tree.
The teachers at BAGSS encouraged the girls both to have fun and work hard. Not once did any of the FHS party see a disciplinary problem. Although there were rules, (such as no mobile phones) it was obvious that the teachers trusted the pupils to behave. Pupils treated their teachers with respect but would often laugh and joke with them in class.
Things were different at the mixed secondary school. We visited a form 4 English literature class of 20 boys and 5 girls, a ratio that is an almost perfect representation of the gender imbalance in secondary schools as a whole.
The girls in that class were very quiet, never answering the teacher’s questions and generally keeping themselves to themselves. In mixed schools girls are vastly outnumbered by boys and Mr Kamanga told us that many girls feel intimidated by boys at their school. The rate of girls dropping out of school is much higher than that of boys. Perhaps this is why schools like BAGSS and organisations like the Mamie Martin fund are so important: they give hard working, ambitious girls a better chance of doing well.
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