Keith Murphy: Flourishing school partnership enriches lives from both communities

Penicuik High School staff and pupils with their Namadzi hosts during a visit to Zomba Plateau on this year's reciprocal visit.
Penicuik High School staff and pupils with their Namadzi hosts during a visit to Zomba Plateau on this year's reciprocal visit.
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‘Enriching’, ‘engaging’, ‘friendship’, ‘respect’ and ‘empowerment’. Just some of the words that come to mind when I think about Penicuik High School’s partnership with our sister school in the southern Malawian town of Namadzi.

Our most recent partnership with Namadzi Community Day Secondary School was set in motion in early 2016, leading to a visit by two students and two members of staff in June 2017. From here our partnership has continued to grow in strength and has seen additional teacher and pupil reciprocal visits.

Keith Murphy is Principal Teacher of Music at Penicuik High School

Keith Murphy is Principal Teacher of Music at Penicuik High School

Our partnership is very important to the communities both here at home and in Malawi. It enriches the lives of the young people in both schools, allowing them to connect with people their own age but from a different cultural background and see both the similarities and differences of being a young person growing up in a different country.

There have also been opportunities to meet with the wider communities through the visits and to participate in whole school events. While only part of the story, the reciprocal visits do provide a level of whole school engagement with the partnership which would be difficult to replicate in any other way.

Staff are able to have honest conversations and gain much better insights into the issues affecting the lives and education in each other’s country. We are then able to reflect this in our mutually designed and reviewed partnership agreement.

Face-to-face contact supports the building of friendships across continents which develop quickly through our visits and other channels of communication. While it is recognised in both schools that issues around equity exist, a respectful partnership can go some way to addressing these. Mutual respect and understanding, however, is the cornerstone of a dignified partnership.

It has been important to recognise across both schools that the partnership belongs to the pupils. It can support their learning both locally and globally providing an opportunity to view life through the lens of their partner and empowers them to lead on projects to support the partnership.

Pupils have been at the forefront of organising whole school events, sharing culture, and working together though the visits to design shared learning experiences such as sports, classroom-based activities, song writing and recording, and joint assemblies to promote the partnership to the school community.

We were fortunate this year to have received a reciprocal visit grant from the British Council through the ‘Connecting Classrooms,’ programme, which contributed significantly towards the travel and associated costs for one teacher from each school to undertake the visits. It allowed us to design a whole school project based around the Sustainable Development Goals which we explored when we visited each other’s school.

The British Council also provided opportunities to undertake 
professional learning and supported our partners through the visa application process and we met with representatives from both the British Council here and when we visited Malawi.

We are extremely fortunate to be active beneficiaries from the Co-operation Agreement signed by both the Malawian and Scottish governments in 2005 and updated in 2018. This opened up opportunities for partnerships to be established and developed between our two countries.

The Scotland Malawi Partnership and their sister organisation the Malawi Scotland Partnership have supported us on our journey. They continue to provide invaluable advice and guidance, and the future of our partnership looks set to continue blossoming – we are already in the early stages of planning the next set of reciprocal visits scheduled for 2021.

Through this, both schools continue to demonstrate their commitment to growing our friendship and learning from one another and we are connecting subject staff in each school, building relationships and ensuring that our partnership is something enjoyed by the whole school.

We are sharing different aspects of our school life through a joint blog, but most of all we are enjoying the experience of learning together as friends.

Keith Murphy is Principal Teacher of Music at Penicuik High School