The Bloomers Learning Initiative, a brainchild of a Yali Alumni, has breathed a second life of education into senior secondary school students of Karonga, in the northern part of Malawi, after it launched a free-online learning project in response to the indefinite shut down of schools in the country in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Since Malawi’s state president Professor Peter Mutharika declared a State of Emergency on 20th March 2020, children’s rights to education are hanging in balance due to the indefinite closure of schools.

Bloomers Club before Covid-19

Through a project called Bloomers Learning Initiative which is being implemented in the border district with Tanzania and along Lake Malawi, both girls and boys are being taught online English Writing Skills, which is the core and compulsory subject in Malawi.

So far, 650 learners have enrolled and the project intends to reach out to 1,000 students before July.

In an interview during an Online Facilitators planning session at Maghemo secondary school in the district, Bloomers Learning Initiative Project Director Jane Chekecheke, a seasoned English teacher and a Yali RLC Cohort 11 and Yali Tech Camp (Zambia) alumni, said she was excited with how the learners and parents have responded to the initiative.

Bloomers will ensure that children’s right to education is not compromised

“We have been exploring ways of ensuring that children’s right to education is not compromised following the schools’ closure. This technology initiative is such a great opportunity for the learners since most parents in the area have smartphones,” said Chekecheke.

She added that the Bloomers initiative is a teacher-centered model that is more interactive, and gives a chance to learners to ask questions and get immediate feedback, extra reading materials, and homework.

So far, the initiative has conducted 46 online English lessons since its inception through WhatsApp Groups and a Facebook Page to break the physical barriers between learners and their teachers.

Guest role models are also invited to present career talks. Chekecheke says she is looking forward to extending the project to junior secondary and primary school students.

The Initiative is getting international attention as Chekecheke was recently invited to Cape to Cairo Virtual Stories, a Zoom Live session involving elementary school kids from seven African countries who wrote and shared their creative stories as part of the commemoration of the Day of the African Child which falls on 6th May.

One female student participant Mtisunge Nyirenda expressed excitement and appreciation for the initiative.

“We are given individual attention by the facilitators unlike in normal classes which are usually congested. My school mood is now reactivated,” she said.

My school mood is now reactivated

Her excitement was complemented by Chairperson of the District’s Education Committee Alice Kalimphale who said the Bloomers model of learning has provided an alternative solution to the normal schooling program which has been disrupted by Covid-19.

He said the pandemic poses a big threat to Malawi’s efforts towards achieving Sustainable Development Goal 4 which strives to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.

“Our survey showed that the majority of students, especially girls are at risk of dropping out of school and getting pregnancies. This is because the schools were shut down with no measures to address educational needs,” he said.

Vera Kamtukule, a renowned Malawian female author and a partner in the project, encouraged parents to support their kids and allow them to use their phones to participate in the project as this may increase their chances of passing national exams.

She highlighted that Tuesdays are dedicated to creative writing where learners write creative stories on causes and prevention of Covid-19 pandemic which they share on various Social Media platforms.

Coincidentally, the Malawi government, through the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, has partnered with two network providers, TNM Malawi and Airtel Malawi in launching a Free Learning Website for secondary school students as a response to the schools’ shut down.