Why I'm heading off to Malawi this spring

Hello. I’m Laura Smith, I work in our Leeds team. This May, I’ll be taking part in an expedition to Malawi to volunteer at Rainbow Hope Secondary School. I'll be joining a group of other women engineers, project managers, designers and medical professionals to design and build a STEM classroom alongside the existing school. We'll also be carrying out a variety of workshops with the students to help with problem solving and team building, as well as health and wellbeing issues faced by those living in the area.

STEM – What and Why?

STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Four subjects that impact on our daily lives, whether we are aware of it or not. From an early age I showed an interest in STEM subjects, particularly science, and I was lucky enough to be offered opportunities early in my education to build on my interests and follow the path that led me to fire engineering.

The education system in the UK may struggle with funds, resourcing talented teachers, or with bad press when schools are seen to be under-performing. But every child born in the UK has access to free education up until the age of 18, with core subjects being taught to help prepare them for working life. Compare this to Malawi - one of the most underdeveloped countries in the world - and the contrast is stark.

Education in Malawi

Primary education (for 6-14 year olds) is free in Malawi, however it is not compulsory, and very few children attend pre-school. In order to progress to a government-funded secondary school, children must pass a final year exam and be selected to continue their education. For this reason only 58% of adult males in Malawi have a secondary level education; this drops to just 39% for females.

Those children who progress to secondary school learn core subjects such as English, maths and physics, as well as bible knowledge, social studies and ChiChewa (official language of Malawi). They study for a minimum of 4 years; however they cannot progress to 3rd or 4th year without passing the standard exams. This means the students’ ages vary greatly between classes, and some may remain in education until they are 25.

Schooling Challenges

The main challenges faced in secondary education is the lack of resources and trained teachers. The number of secondary schools is very low, meaning students are forced to walk great distances every day. The majority of these schools do not have the suitable facilities available to teach subjects such as physics and biology; however students are still expected to sit the exams. The percentage of untrained secondary school teachers is around 42% which further hinders a student’s learning and reduces their chances of passing their exams and progressing to higher education.

The many challenges faced throughout primary and secondary education is reflected in the fraction of students progressing to university. As of 2016, Malawi’s university enrolment was a mere 0.4%, making it one of the lowest in the world.

Our Goal…

To this end, our team of enthusiastic and talented women are aiming to improve the facilities at Rainbow Hope Secondary School, a school situated in Mangochi, on the shore of Lake Malawi.

This work will be carried out as part of Orbis Expeditions, who have already achieved a huge amount working with Rainbow Hope Secondary School. We hope to continue their hard work and give students the opportunities all children should have.

In order to achieve this goal, we’re raising funds towards the cost of the expedition, construction materials and workshop supplies. So far, the group has managed to raise an impressive £7,554 of a £10,000 target. This has been raised through cake sales, pub quizzes, and raffles, as well as very generous donations from companies and individuals.

Want to help?

If you'd like to donate to the construction costs, our team fundraising page can be found here.

If you’d like to donate a physical gift to the school, our team Amazon wish list can be found here.

If you'd like to help with the personal costs of the trip, or for more information on Rainbow Hope Secondary School, please visit my fundraising page here.

Thank you for reading, and please check back for updates as we get closer to our target.