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MEET VERONICA MNDALA, TEACHER WHO HAS HARNESSED PRINT RICH
The uniqueness of Mndala’s story is founded on how she decorated her classroom with learning materials using her artistic skills.
When the Ministry of Education (MoE) introduced the Assess the Learner project under the National Reading Programme (NRP) as one way of identifying learner’s reading competencies and gaps, Veronica Mndala, a teacher in the government schools, was teaching at Mitawa 1 Primary School under Limbuli zone in Mulanje.
The school is located near Limbuli Trading Centre, along the road to Muloza boarder with Mozambique. She has been teaching standard 2 at this school for 5 years now, but overall, she boasts a 21year experience as a primary school teacher.
She attributes her success to the coming in of the National Reading Program especially on the Continuous Assessment & Remediation (CA&R) methodologies she acquired during the teacher training she has been attending since 2016 when the program was introduced.
The National Reading Programme was introduced across the country by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MoEST) targeting standard 1-4 classes whereby teachers were trained on effective teaching of English and Chichewa subjects with funding from USAID.
“I have acquired desired assessing reading skills which I was not aware of before the National Reading Programme. I feel very comfortable conducting CA&R as compared to other assessments because CA&R gives me an opportunity to identify learner gaps. This then gives me a clue as to which local learning materials to come up with in order to appropriately assist that learner,” says Veronica.
Veronica further says her most interesting classroom experience was when she was administering a reading assessment session in term two of the 2020/2021 school session. She called a certain learner who could not read anything in the past but to her surprise, she read correctly all the items: letters, sounds, syllables, and words.
“Gosh! I was shocked,” recalls Mndala who hails from T/A Malengachanzi in Nkhotakota.
She says this learner was very much interested in the print on the walls such that he was practicing with friends during their own time.
The uniqueness of Mndala’s story is founded on how she decorated her classroom with learning materials using her artistic skills such that other schools within Mulanje visit her classroom as part of an education tour.
Unlike other teachers who grumble that lack of resources is the reason for not having print-rich classes, the Standard 2 teacher sacrifices her time by assembling recycled materials such as cartons, wood, cloths, among others; to come up with a method commonly known as Teaching and Learning Using Locally Available Resources (Talular).
She uses her tailoring skills to design interesting materials such as small bags, and other remediation playing materials. For materials she cannot produce on her own, Veronica engages local artisans to design for her drawings, paintings, bookshelves, and storage boxes.
Asked how she manages such an eye-catching classroom environment, the 41-year-old smiles and says, “It depends on one’s passion for the children’s reading as I feel that this is my calling from God. At first, my neighbours at home and fellow teachers used to taunt me when I collected used materials by saying I am mad, but as soon as they realized that it was improving learners’ reading performance in my class, they started encouraging me. The good thing is that even my family supports me through designing such resources. I believe that a new concept is well understood by the learner if it is in form of an object which can be seen or manipulated, that’s why I emphasize my teaching skills on the use of resources”.
The class has a reading corner, a book bank, used during remediation groups, among others.
Another fascinating thing is that every weekend, Veronica goes back to her workplace with cleaning utensils to do a clean-up exercise in her classroom, water flowers around her class, paint some dirty walls, and replenish some worn-out resources in order to maintain its splendor.
The headteacher for the school, Mr. Fyson Chawinga, describes Veronica Mndala as one of the dedicated teachers the school has ever had.
He describes the teacher who graduated from Karonga Teacher Training College in 2004 as very passionate about her work and learners at large such that every learner wants to enroll in her class and is a darling to most parents as she is fond of children.
“As a school, we are proud because we have a model teacher who others come from different schools within the zone just to learn from her on how Talular can be used to administer a remediation lesson,” explains Chawinga.
Observing her remediation lesson, one would be fascinated with how learners interact with the remediation materials which are strategically posted and kept within the classroom such that group leaders know where to fetch them.
It is also interesting looking at how learners facilitate the games during the sessions and it can be observed from the skills chart that all learners are grouped according to their skill levels, and she conducts assessments at every review unit and it is of little wonder that Veronica is one of the teachers implementing CA&R with fidelity within the Shire Highlands Education Division.
At the end of the 2020/2021 academic year, her records indicate that out of 66 learners, 46 of them (representing 80%) are able to read words, 12 are at a sound-syllable level while 8 are at letter name, a thing which is the highest foot to attain for a Standard 2 class.
However, the soft-spoken teacher decries that there is a lack of parental support from the community such that whenever learners are given homework to do, only a few are assisted by their parents or guardians.
She also cites learner absenteeism as another challenge that occurs mostly due to parental negligence as most learners flock to Limbuli trading centre to patronize video shows and sell various merchandise.
She calls for concerted efforts among school governing structures such as Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) and School Management Committee (SMC) together with local chiefs to sensitize parents on the same so that more learners can attend classes.