Young innovators reimagine the future at TEDxLilongwe

Jamie Stuart is using technology to address Malawi’s educational challenges.

Jamie Stuart is using technology to address Malawi’s educational challenges.

Lilongwe. 21 November 2014 – Some of Malawi’s most inspiring speakers gathered last weekend for the second edition of TEDxLilongwe, with support from UNICEF Malawi, as part of the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. For the people who could not make it to Lilongwe, the talks were livestreamed at the Mzuzu University Auditorium and in the UNICEF Innovation Hub in Blantyre Polytechnic.

As this year marks the 50th anniversary of Malawi Independence, the speakers came up with ideas to help shape the next 50 years. On Saturday, “50/50 Vision” was the theme around which discussions and talks were triggered.

Malawi is a young country. Over half its population is aged under 18 years, and the young people aged 19 – 24 years swell the numbers to 60% of the total population. In recognition of this youth bulge, a special TEDyouth event was held on Sunday. In Lilongwe and other cities across the world, remarkable young people had their say under the worldwide theme ‘Worlds imagined’.

Children and young people are often the ones who are most acutely aware and deeply concerned about the challenges facing their communities. They have increasingly been participating in these communities, helping to re-imagine the future. They have their own views and have the right to express them. And they definitely did at TEDyouth, where taboos were broken and innovations were spread.

UNICEF Representative Mahimbo Mdoe said at the event:

This weekend’s series of TEDx Talks in Malawi is highlighting our own home-grown talent in innovation and showing how even in a low-resource setting we can develop ways of overcoming the challenges of underdevelopment and poverty.

One of the innovators at the event was Jamie Stuart. He is using technology to address Malawi’s educational challenges. The number of students in the country is growing, and this places an increased demand on educational resources such as qualified teachers, classrooms and teaching and learning materials. Shortage of such resources has led to a declining quality of the education provided, resulting in low levels of academic achievement across the country. With Jamie’s “oneclass”, personalised learning is delivered to each child in their own language inside a simple, solar-powered classroom. Groups of children from Standard 1 and 2 can practice on tablets without adult supervision, and the progress is monitored individually for every child. With the applications on these tablets, young children in Malawi can acquire the fundamental skills of literacy and numeracy, which give them a good foundation for their further education.

Another impressive speaker was Alinafe Botha, who shared the touching story of her life. A story of abuse and neglect, of the repercussions of HIV and destitute poverty, of being pressured to marry and making brave choices. When Alinafe refused to marry at the age of twelve, she lost the financial support and love of her family. In Malawi, at least half of all girls younger than 18 is married, and 55% experience some form of violence while growing up. Alinafe carried through, despite the hardship she experienced. She joined the Jacaranda School for Orphans, where she is in Form 4 now, and was even chosen to represent the girls of Malawi at the United Nations General Assembly in New York. “I believed in myself and I believed I can do it and become somebody in future,” Alinafe said on Sunday. This strong girl can become a voice for the many girls who have been silenced on gender based violence, child marriage and education. She is a beacon of hope to Malawian girls, and a source of inspiration to every one of us.

The young speakers demonstrated new ways of achieving a future in which all children can exercise their rights. This is a future we all strive for, which was highlighted on November 20, the 25th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. On this day, UNICEF launched the report The State of the World’s Children, which points out the work of remarkable young innovators who are already reimagining the future.

To mark the 25th anniversary of the CRC, UNICEF Malawi has collected 25 photos which tell the story of child rights in Malawi. Children under five, for instance, have 70% more chance to reach their 5th birthday than in 1990, but 42.4% of them are affected by stunting, which can slow down physical growth and development. The photos highlight the country’s challenges and successes in realizing children’s rights, and they might have inspired even more young innovators to join this rising movement to advance the rights of every child.