Lilongwe, Malawi Report of what it's like to live there - 01/22/22
Personal Experiences from Lilongwe, Malawi
1. Are you the parent of a child(ren) attending this school? A teacher at the school? Or both?
Parent of a child attending the school.
2. What grade or grades do/did your children attend at the school? During what year(s) did they attend the school?
3. What years did you live here?
4. What was your reason for living in the city where the school is located (e.g., government, military, corporate, NGO, retired)?
5. Are other schools available to expatriates in this city? Why did you choose this particular school?
no. There is only one other school, ABC, that teaches Christianity.
Admissions & Welcome:
1. Are the admissions and placement procedures clearly stated to prospective families, either on the school website or through other means of communication?
2. How would you rate the school's support and welcome/integration of new students and their families, and why?
We arrived amidst COVID. The school is welcoming to new students -- our daughter felt welcome from her first day. However, we were not able to visit in advance and parents have to drop their kids starting on Day 1. Due to COVID, there are no parents allowed on campus, and there haven't been but 1-2 meetings that engage families in-person and a couple online; the school doesn't have other means of welcoming new parents or bringing parent community together.
Administration & School Procedures:
1. How is the overall communication between teachers and parents, and the administration and parents? How is communication facilitated?
Communication is usually a weekly email that goes out from Head of Primary School (similar for Secondary). Most teachers, I think, email parents once a week with a general summary of the week. However, there is no way to communicate directly with teachers, or vice versa - like short updates regarding your specific child. In my experience, the administration is not very responsive to issues or concerns, even if they are community-wide (e.g. lack of after school activities, no buses - there is no forum for raising these issues and individual emails don't seem to achieve anything).
2. Aside from school fees, are there required expenses such as uniforms, laptops/tablets, musical instruments, or field trips that parents are expected to cover? What are the approximate costs?
Uniforms for primary. During covid there haven't been any activities.
Academics & Resources:
1. Is there before and/or after-school daycare available? What are the costs?
The school day is very short, only 7:30 - 12:30pm for kindergarten and 1st grade (year 1 and year 2 at BMIS), inclusive of two snack times, recess, and specialized courses (art, music, PE, French, Library). So the core teaching hours are probably only about 3 hours; they don't provide after-school care or after-school activities and Fridays is a short day ending at 11:40am for everyone.
Starting in 2nd grade (year 3 at BMIS) the kids get out an hour later at 1:30pm. Due to COVID they have not offered anything after school/extracurricular such as team sports. They have at times allowed early primary to stay an extra hour and provided after school care until 1:30pm when 'upper primary' lets out, but at other times, they have not done so, so parents with kids in both lower and upper primary have to pick up their children at two different times.
2. Does the school have a library? How large is it? How updated are the books? Can students borrow books to read at home?
Yes, for primary. They recently upgraded it; it is medium size but has a decent selection (as a parent at the school I haven't visited, due to covid). Students can borrow two books per week to read at home.
3. What are the technology requirements for students? Do they need their own laptops/ipads? How is technology integrated into the classroom and homework?
No, not for lower primary. Technology was incorporated only during the year in which it was mostly virtual learning due to covid (even for kindergarten) which was disastrous.
4. Describe the physical education resources at the school. Is there a gym? A swimming pool? Are there playing fields or tennis courts available?
A gym, swimming pool, fields, not sure about tennis. They don't provide any after-school sports. During our first year, they had no swim during class and during our second year, they incorporated one day a week of swim for PE during warm weather.
5. What is the approximate teacher-to-student ratio in the grades that your child attended?
Not sure, but I believe 1 teacher to about 17 students, with a student assistant.
6. Are Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) courses available in upper grades? If this is an IB school, is the full diploma required of all students?
IB for secondary. The secondary is VERY small and they lost many kids who left during covid. We were going to send our daughter because she loves arts and their IB art program is strong, but due to covid, we had to send her to boarding school.
7. Are students generally challenged appropriately by the curriculum? Please describe any particular strengths or weaknesses in this area. Do you have any thoughts how the curriculum is applied and implemented at this school?
School day is very short, only 7:30 - 12:30 for kindergarten and 1st grade (which is year 1 and year 2 at BMIS), inclusive of two snack times, recess, and specialized courses (art, music, PE, French, Library)- Fridays is a short day ending at 11:40am for everyone. While teachers are very kind and I know many are dedicated and try hard, my daughter has not been challenged, and to date has not learned to read. She and her peers are behind international levels for core topics like math, reading, etc. It seems to me that the school does not meet the 180 days of required teaching days. However, they are working to increase the teaching days to almost 180, and working to strengthen standardization within math and after that other topics.
8. Is the amount and type of homework generally appropriate for the age and grade of the students?
They don't have homework during kindergarten or 1st grade.
9. What fine arts electives are available (music, drama, visual arts)?
In primary, one day a week for art, music, library, french, PE. No after-school options.
10. What services are available for gifted/advanced students at the school? Please describe your experience with these services, if applicable.
None that I know of.
11. What services are available for students with learning disabilities at this school? Please describe your experience with these services, if applicable.
Few; however the school is actively working on improving this area, having done an assessment recently.
12. What extra-curricular activities (including sports) are available at this school? Have your children participated in these activities? What activities do you feel are missing at the school?
None. I found this to be a significant weakness of BMIS and it's possibly all due to COVID. In addition, Lilongwe doesn't offer, outside of BMIS, organized team sports. My understanding is that there used to be a swim team and some other organized/team sports. Right now they don't provide any organized team sports or other creative options (theatre, art, music, etc.) or volunteer work for students beyond core hours. Despite COVID, many other schools have managed to bring back a selection and offer after-school extra curricular activities; this is badly needed at BMIS.
Social & Emotional Well-Being:
1. What is the climate for LGBT+ kids at this school? Are there resources they can draw upon? Does there appear to be any exclusionary behavior?
The administration and teachers appear to be supportive. Not sure about exclusionary practice at the school.
2. Do expatriate students socialize with local students at the school? Are both groups successfully integrated into the school culture?
At lower primary and primary levels, yes, mostly -- at recess. But outside of school hours, less so.
1. What letter grade (ranging from A, excellent, to F, fail) would you assign to this school based on your overall experience? Would you choose it again?
C- or F
I would definitely not choose it again. I had heard good things about bringing K-8 kids to Malawi and that while BMIS might not be among the strongest, it was an okay school, in general, and that Malawi was a family-friendly post. However, my experience has not been that and it's been hard to see our child not have basic international schooling opportunities and standards. It has been disappointing that the school has fallen even further behind due to COVID even in comparison to neighboring countries in southern and eastern Africa. I find it very disappointing that the school day is so short (I believe primary school students should attend school at least until 2 or even 3 p.m. and every school I've researched in the region has longer days than BMIS for Primary school) and that the school does not offer any extra-curricular activities or organized team sports.
2. Please describe some of your child's/children's highlights and challenges during their time at this school.
Highlights - lots of green space, very kind teachers who seem committed and animated, lots of time for play, my daughter has been very happy here.
Challenges - nothing to do every afternoon as she gets out by 12:30 and has to spend the rest of the day without any educational options. Not yet learning to read is also a source of frustration for her and she feels increasingly like it's very difficult and gets discouraged.