Scottish Secretary, David Mundell, hailed education as the key to transforming Malawi yesterday when he launched the next stage of a project that brings schools around the world together.
The Tory Cabinet minister also saluted Scotland’s long-standing association with the south-east African country at the Connecting Classrooms event.
Managed by the British Council and supported by the UK Department for International Development (Dfid), it helps schools link up.
To date, it has reached 32,000 learners across Malawi, developing some 122 partnerships with schools in the UK, more than half of which are in Scotland.
These include Boddam primary in Aberdeenshire, Kingussie High School in the Highlands, Sanday community school on Orkney and Speyside High School in Aberlour, Banffshire.
Milne’s primary in Fochabers and Tullynessle primary in Aberdeenshire also participated in the 2012-2015 phase of the programme, the next stage of which will run until 2018.
Mr Mundell, who is being shadowed by the Press and Journal during his trip, described himself as “one of the many Scots who come to Malawi once, are captivated by it, and come back”.
He added: “There are very, very strong links between Scotland and Malawi, dating back to the time of Dr David Livingstone and other missionaries.
“The British Council, through its programme in Malawi, aims to create a basis of friendly knowledge and understanding of the UK and Scotland by making a major contribution to the people and institutions with whom we are working, creating opportunities, building connections and engaging trust.
“This support is part of our assistance to help Malawi become more self-sufficient, providing building blocks for an educated nation that will transform the country.”
He said the project had worked well in the past, pointing to the six digital hubs that have been set up around Malawi and the 25,000 schools involved worldwide.
Vincent Ghambi, deputy minister of education, science and technology, said the launch coincided with the introduction of the new curriculum in Malawian secondary schools.
He added: “I believe it will make a valuable contribution to two of our priority policy goals – improving quality and equity in secondary schooling and improving management of secondary schools.”
Teacher and British Council trainer, Boniface Chilongo, is head of humanities at a girls’ secondary school in central Malawi, which is partnered with St Maurice’s High in Glasgow.
He said Connecting Classrooms had brought many benefits, including the development of IT skills among staff and students, a rise in attainment levels and a fall in the drop-out rate to zero.
Reena Johl, British Council director in Malawi, added: “Our work with schools helps transform education systems, builds more inclusive and open societies, and increases young people’s opportunities.
“We work with schools across Malawi and the UK to help young people develop the knowledge, skills and values to live and work in a global economy. We bring the world into the classroom.”
After the launch, Mr Mundell – who spent two days in Mozambique earlier this week – chaired a video conference between aspiring Malawian politicians and members of the Scottish Youth Parliament in Edinburgh.
He also met members of the business community and later had talks with Vice President Saulos Chilima.
The two men discussed public sector reform in Malawi and the humanitarian response to the current food shortage crisis.
Mr Mundell ended the day with a visit to peanut processing and export business AfriNut, which is benefiting from Dfid support through its private sector development programme.
The minister tried his hand at a machine used to separate the peanuts from their shells, work which is predominantly carried out by women.