Until June 2022, Aliness Nkhata, a Form 3 student at Likuni Boys Open Secondary School in Lilongwe, used to spend K5,000 to go to the National Library at City Centre whenever she wanted to study in readiness for examinations.
The school library is under-resourced; hence, there is a scramble for books among the students.
“I almost dropped out of school because my parents couldn’t sustain their support for my travel to the City Centre,” narrated Aliness.
But this is no longer the case today because Marist Brothers in Malawi, a religious congregation in the Catholic Church, has distributed electronic library devices in seven schools as part of efforts to promote access to and quality education in under-resourced schools.
The e-library devices have allowed the students to access books they need at their fingertips.
Globally, digital libraries are becoming an integral part of the education system and have proven critical in providing adequately broad library services to students in local and remote locations.
Digital libraries were created to improve the quality, quantity and efficiency of teaching and learning by developing, managing and providing access to high-quality educational resources and supporting services through a community-based, distributed digital library.
Over the years, digital libraries have emerged to support the specific educational needs of the geoscience community within the larger network.
In community libraries, digital libraries can fundamentally change how students learn, instructors teach and researchers interact, by providing new ways of sharing information, tools and services.
And as Unesco states, applying digital libraries in education has the potential to drastically change fundamental aspects of the classroom in ways that could have an enormous impact on teaching and learning.
“Digital libraries can be seen as an information space in which students are moving around intellectually, encountering new information, and working with the teacher and other students to make sense of what they encounter.
“A traditional library for education, a school library for example, typically includes textbooks, curriculum materials, artefacts – such as charts, physical samples, and equipment – enrichment books, and the teacher’s own personal collection of teaching tools as well as resources shared by other educators and learners,” Unesco says.
National Provincial Councillor for the Marist Brothers in Malawi, Brother Francis Jumbe, said it is against this background that the religious congregation sourced funding from Marist Foundation for International Solidarity for the implementation of two projects whose major goal is to address barriers hindering underprivileged and non-boarding students, particularly girls, from accessing education in Malawi.
Jumbe stated that one of the components of the two projects, Girls Empowerment and New Horizons Projects, is the provision of tablets and internet routers to beneficiary schools.
Speaking after receiving the devices at Likuni Boys Secondary School recently, Desk Officer for Central West Education Division, Victor Sibale, commended Marist Brothers in Malawi for the initiatives they are undertaking to complement government efforts in addressing gaps in the education sector.
Sibale said they are particularly pleased that Marist Brothers are introducing digital libraries in under-resourced schools.
“E-libraries have proven to be the most effective too in addressing the huge gap that exists in our schools’ libraries.
“Apart from ensuring that all learners have access to educational materials, e-libraries ensure that there is no interruption in education as was the case during the period countries were hit by Covid pandemic,” he said.
District Commissioner for Lilongwe Lawford Palani saluted Marist Brothers of the Catholic Church for initiating various interventions aimed at improving the quality of education in Malawi.
Palani, who was the Guest of Honour at the event, cited poverty as one of the challenges hindering many children to access education in Malawi.
He said the interventions by the Marist Brothers in Malawi would therefore play a critical role in addressing gaps in the education sector.
“These interventions are very important not only to the beneficiary districts, but the nation as well because Marist Brothers are trying as much as possible to bring quality education to every child irrespective of their financial background. When one is educated, there are many doors of opportunities for them in life,” Palani said.