Developing a model for successful trans-global participatory action research involving teachers in Malawi and university students from the United States: The Tikondwe teacher’s project
Paper presented at the International Conference of Education, Research, and Innovation, Seville Spain. ICERI2016 Conference Proceedings, p. 8257-8262.
Since 2004 university students and faculty from the United States and teachers in Domasi, Malawi, have worked together to carry out participatory action research projects (Lincoln, Lynham & Guba, 2011) to support education and save the lives of children and youth. Members of our group have previously authored a chapter in an edited book on how to set up and run a service learning study abroad project like ours (Barber, Jones & Kelly, 2010.) However the longer we collaborate in the Malawi site, the more we realize that our work is unusual in terms of its longevity and depth of collaboration. In this paper we examine aspects of our current ways of working together as a model for others who might want to initiate such a project.
Highlighted are our purpose, approach, findings, and social implications of those findings. Partners describe how they use participatory action research (PAR) to bring together U.S. university faculty and students, and teachers in Domasi to craft a high functioning trans-global community focused on ongoing grassroots development. Using PAR and indigenous research methods (Chilisa, 2012) we craft a multi-voiced narrative account rich with examples of how collaborators work together to create needed change. Authors share examples of how projects – from mother tongue literacy books written by teachers in the languages needed in their classrooms, to the sewing of washable, reusable, sustainable feminine pads for schoolgirls – have brought about life-saving outcomes, empowerment, and leadership development. PAR sets up conditions in which leadership can emerge from within groups of individuals striving together to educate and save the lives of children and youth. University students and faculty bring outsider skills, and Domasi teachers bring insider knowledge and wisdom, to bear on critical problems; within that crucible of striving side-by-side, freedom and power are generated. Our paper sets out an emerging model for trans-global work that stands in sharp contrast to how most non-governmental organizations approach development. Domasi teachers identify needs, and university students and faculty respond with project ideas that are vetted within the community. Resulting projects involve deep collaboration, documentation, and evaluation that are conducted across all members.
We outline our process of gathering information about needs from teachers each year while we are present in-country, and across email, phone calls and postal mail across each school year. We also set out how university students are recruited in fall term, and enrolled in a semester-long preparatory course in spring term prior to a month of on-the-ground work in Malawi. Covered in the course are aspects of Malawian culture, history, economics, politics, and history of the public education system, which began only in 1994. The most crucial purpose of the course,however, is to share with students the needs that teachers have selected as possible project foci. Students then begin the process of searching for information and brainstorming possible project ideas. Project ideas are then shared with teachers in Malawi; however because not everyone has email, a teacher leader with email is an absolute requirement. This person prints off idea drafts and seeks input and partners. We also examine collaborations with Ministry of Education leadership and the leaders of community organizations in the US that support our projects.
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