Graduation celebrations may have abated locally, but on July 13, 24 master's degrees in education from Virginia Tech will be conferred upon Malawi natives.

Jerry Niles, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, will confer the "Curriculum and Instruction" degrees in the presence of various dignitaries, professors, and local teachers. Malawi will be represented by its minister of education, secretary of education, and its director for planning in the Ministry of Education. The U.S. ambassador to Malawi and the USAID mission director also are expected to help celebrate this important occasion in Malawi's teacher development program.

Supported by a $2.2 million grant from USAID, the goal of this international outreach venture by Virginia Tech, in collaboration with Domasi College of Education and the Malawi Institute of Education, was to develop a cadre of Malawians who can prepare primary teacher educators. These graduates will form the core of the new department of primary education at Domasi College, which will offer a bachelor's of education degree. In addition, next year, six other Malawians will earn their doctorates from Virginia Tech.

"This cascading model was designed to encourage the active participation of Malawi educators in their own education," said Patricia Proudfoot Kelly, professor emeritus of Teaching and Learning and former director of the Center for Teacher Education at Virginia Tech. She and Josiah Tlou, professor in Virginia Tech's School of Education, and Niles were principal investigators on this project.

"The programs of study for these graduate students are grounded in their practice and educational issues in Malawi," said Niles. "These students have literally been living their dissertations and projects through their everyday work."

In a visit to Virginia Tech last week, Simeon Hau, director of Malawi Institute of Education, praised the program. "We are extremely delighted. In Malawi, for the first time, our tutors are becoming real professionals in issues regarding teacher development."

Nelson Kaperemera, principal of Domasi College of Education, echoed Hau's sentiments and would like to see the project extended. "Another cohort of master's degree candidates would help us attain a critical mass for education for some time to come."

Tlou, who has been at Virginia Tech since 1978, laid the groundwork for the USAID grants when he worked to develop a social studies curriculum in Malawi from 1996-98. "Now that we have field-tested this program for sustainability," Tlou said, "we need to train primary teachers on new methods of teaching so that they can implement the curriculum."

A democracy for only the last decade, Malawi introduced free primary education in 1994. Prior to its democracy, formal education could be traced to the Missionary era with a strong British influence that encouraged the private education of boys. In 1999, the literacy rate was estimated to be 58 percent (72.8 percent male, 43.4 percent female). In today's society of free public education, primary enrollment has catapulted, but the rapid increase exacerbated problems of overcrowding, poor teacher training, and inadequate teaching materials. Virginia Tech was selected by USAID to develop a teacher education program.

Virginia Tech's School of Education is in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. The College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences embraces the arts, humanities, social and human sciences, and education. The College nurtures intellect and spirit, enlightens decision-making, inspires positive change, and improves the quality of life for people of all ages. It is home to the departments of Apparel, Housing & Resource Management; Communication; Educational Leadership & Policy Studies; English; Foreign Languages & Literatures; History; Human Development; Interdisciplinary Studies; Music; Philosophy; Political Science; ROTC; Science and Technology in Society; Sociology; Teaching & Learning; and Theatre Arts.