In June 2008, the 6-year Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA, now named Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development, DFATD) Malawi TEVET Reform Project began the work of building the capacity of the Technical, Entrepreneurial, Vocational Education and Training (TEVET) system, specifically the Malawi Polytechnic. Capacity building was accomplished by designing, delivering, and renewing programs, and by developing and training managers and teachers to meet the challenges of poverty reduction and socio-economic growth in Malawi, which is located in southeast Africa. Capacity building in this context was defined as the ability of individuals and institutions to perform functions, solve problems, and set and accomplish goals and objectives. President Vianne Timmons believes this capacity-building goal held the greatest impacts: “Helping build capacity at the University of Malawi Polytechnic was what I would consider the most significant impact of this project because that will have an important educational and socio-economic impact on the entire country of Malawi for years to come.” In August 2014, the project came to completion and though many impacts are yet to develop, the project team at this time is able to report many significant impacts, both planned and unanticipated, resulting from and through this project.
Planned Project Impacts: The TEVET system’s capacity to plan, manage, renew programs, offer technical teacher training, and engage in applied research has been strengthened. A new strategic plan for the Malawi Polytechnic has been developed and implemented. Sustainability is assured because the Malawi Polytechnic team has already assisted other institutions in developing strategic plans. Programs have been redesigned to ensure relevance, to address issues of access and success, and to prepare technical teachers to train students for employment and self-employment. Also, two new Bachelor’s programs were developed. Further, Malawi Polytechnic faculty who received training in outcomes-based curriculum methodology are now assisting other faculties to renew their programs. TEVET managers completed seminars in effective management. Faculty were trained in distance education program development and delivery and a new distance delivery option for the Malawi Certificate in Education was developed. In addition, a graduate degree in technical and vocational education was developed and a second cohort has been recruited. Regarding these impacts, Doris Mtemang’omba from Malawi Polytechnic says, “The project has been an eye-opener to the value of our programs at the Poly and to what more we need to consider in addressing the needs of Malawi. This has been a success through the curriculum review process and the development of a master’s program in technical and vocational education. Through the project, we have been able to rethink our teaching practices…and learn from how our friends in Canada are utilizing current philosophies in teaching and learning.”
Early in the project, gender equity was perceived as critical to socio-economic development, and thus, was included in the project as a cross-cutting theme. With the Forum for African Women Educationalists in Malawi (FAWEMA)’s support, the project designed strategies, such as the establishment of Mother Groups, which supported and fostered education for young girls by encouraging them to stay in school and to excel in subjects that provided the basis for scientific and technical training in later years. In addition, the project developed and implemented a Bridging Program for female students who were entering the Polytechnic and provided gender-sensitivity training for faculty and staff. Hyder Kazmi, Senior Marketing Advisor, U of R, was glad for the opportunity to participate in reducing the gender gap with his marketing and branding expertise. He says, “The Malawi project gave me an opportunity to offer my knowledge and expertise in marketing and branding and to help change preconceived notions that parents and students in Malawi have regarding technical education. These notions directly impact enrollment. Through marketing and branding, female students can consider technical education as an option for them.” Doris Mtemang’ombe notes, “The project has influenced girls’ interests in technical and vocational programs. In the Technical Education department, we have achieved a 50-50 gender balance in-take and retention into our programs and we hope that the marketing skills we acquired through the project will help us to attract more females into the engineering programs.” President Vianne Timmons’s and U of R Board of Governors’ Chair, Dr. Susan Barber’s participation in the workshop in Malawi relating to access, retention, and success of female students and faculty in higher education institutions contributed to important gender results.
Further impacts include minimizing the significant effect of HIV/AIDS through awareness training for faculty, staff, and students. As well, environmental protection through safe disposal of pollutants common in technical training institutions was highlighted through appropriate program and course design, and new environmental policy was developed at the Malawi Polytechnic.
Unanticipated Project Impacts: Beyond these planned outcomes, several unanticipated outcomes developed. Memorandums of Understanding for continued cooperation in areas of mutual interest were signed between the U of R and Malawian institutions; faculty and staff utilized new knowledge, skills, and abilities to train colleagues in other faculties, departments, and TEVET-based agencies; a mobility fund available to the Polytechnic beyond the timeframe of the project was established at the U of R to allow visiting scholars to visit and study a variety of topics; the Teaching and Learning Unit at the Polytechnic was revitalized; and the Malawi Polytechnic experienced increased influence within the TEVET system. In addition, the twinning of an elementary school in Regina with a primary school in Malawi, along with a book drive have increased awareness about Malawi’s development challenges. Partly as a result of the increased awareness created by the project, faculty members in the Department of Technical Education have decided to pursue graduate and doctoral studies, with funding support from the African Development Bank and the World Bank. Another unanticipated outcome is that Canadian Project Manager Elaine McNeil was selected by the European Union Delegation in Malawi to conduct a feasibility study on TEVET in Malawi in preparation for the development of a Euro 160 million TEVET project. These significant achievements show, as Dr. Kathy Nolan says, “the importance of international development work—it counts and is valued by individuals on many levels.”
Collaboration was critical to the success of this project. Dr. Kathy Nolan says, “In my mind, the biggest impact of the project rests in the relationships and collaborations built between University of Regina faculty and the University of Malawi Polytechnic faculty. I don’t think CIDA has yet found a way to measure relationships on their impact scale, or else there would be more funding available for projects like these.” A number of collaborators were involved with this project. Beyond the two lead institutions, the Adult Education and Human Resource Development Program, Faculty of Education, U of R and the Technical Education Department, Faculty of Education, and Media Studies, University of Malawi Polytechnic, additional partner institutions included Saskatchewan Institute of Applied Science and Technology (SIAST, now named Saskatchewan Polytechnic); University of the Fraser Valley (UFV), Ranch Ehrlo Society; Malawi’s Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology (MoEST); Forum of African Women Educationalists of Malawi (FAWEMA); Malawi’s Technical, Entrepreneurial, Vocational Education and Training Authority (TEVETA); and Malawi Confederation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (MCCCI).
The project team found the support from the top administration of each lead institution was critical to the success of the project. Further, the close partnership between the project team members at the U of R and those in Malawi was essential to the enhancement of commitment to the project by the teams and management at the lead partner institutions in both countries, and to the quick resolution of issues which arose from time to time. Doris Mtemang’ombe says “I am delighted to acknowledge the partnerships that have developed out of the project. We have built an extended family and the links are ongoing; it is as if the Poly has another Faculty of Education at the U of R.” Understanding institutional cultures, including bureaucratic and administrative systems, helped to limit the frustrations caused by reporting delays. As Dr. Margaret Dagenais (SIAST) says, “Enhancing cross-cultural understanding and learning how some aspects of our lives are similar and how our experiences differ” was a major impact of this project. For example, she adds, “we may have similar aspirations (to live productive lives, maintain cultural integrity, and contribute to the growth and well-being of our country), but how we go about achieving them can be quite different. Often we as Canadians will focus on difference and miss the factors that unify us because the details of differences grab our total attention. When one of the participants was questioned about the challenges experienced with living and working as a Muslim, this educator responded ‘We are Malawians first and Muslim second.’” Doris Mtemang’ombe also says, “We worked together and shared experiences; we had problems but we never lost hope; the Canadian team encouraged us to fight on, and here we are.” Doctoral student and Malawi Project Manager, Rabson Mgawi says, “The project provided the Polytechnic with a chance to create better and lasting relationships with its partners.”
Flexibility was also seen as critical for the success of this project. Margaret Dagenais says, “Flexibility is critical. To enjoy an international assignment and to learn from the experience, I had to be flexible about my expectations with regard to almost everything.” Rabson Mgawi also notes, “I learnt that teaching and learning processes are complicated and as such required preparation, flexibility, and use of various methods to ensure effective and efficient delivery.” Margaret says, “Learning takes time and needs opportunities to use the concepts in multiple ways.” She learned to “listen to the participants and to respond to their needs. Paying attention often meant revising the strategies to achieve the project goals.” She further notes, “communication was critical to addressing the taken-for-granted assumptions that North American educators had about the instructional space and the educational leadership, which led to miscommunications and unmet expectations.”
What did this project mean for the U of R? President Vianne Timmons says, “The Malawi project was a significant learning experience for faculty, staff, and students at the U of R, in part because it demonstrated the global reach our work in Saskatchewan can have. Perhaps more importantly, members of our academic community learned that in circumstances where a shortage of monetary or material resources poses a serious challenge to education, innovation and creativity become the most important resources we have.” Hyder Kazmi also noted the impact of “seeing the contentment of faculty and staff despite the many challenges they face and how they make the most of limited resources.”
What this project meant to Malawi Polytechnic is summed up by Rabson Mgawi, who says that for him, every aspect of the project, “from the birth (collaboration) to the end (reporting of achievements) was a thrust; however, I look at the skills and knowledge gained and shared with the local communities, for example Masubi in Mulanje and Senga in Dowa. In Masubi, the project supported the bringing back of girls to school through training of Mother Groups. In Dowa, the project initiated the re-introduction of vocational in the primary schools through the development of curriculum, the training of teachers, and the purchase of equipment and materials for the model school. Other thrusts include the Management and Entrepreneurship training sessions and their impact to the Junior Managers in TECVOC institutions and students. Feedback indicated that it would be good to have a repeat, so that more people could benefit.”
The final report and participant reflective comments make evident the sheer magnitude of this project: the number of qualified researchers and participants involved, the numerous partners, and the extensive goals and achievements. The project was, in the words of Rabson Mgawi, “an unforgettable journey.”