The Practical realities of a successful partnership.

Chris Parkes: Ross Jennings piping at Dr Livingstone’s 205th birthday celebrations in Blantyre.
Chris Parkes: Ross Jennings piping at Dr Livingstone’s 205th birthday celebrations in Blantyre.


[Picture: Namadzi CDSS, partnered with Penicuik High School].

It is important to be aware of the realities of life in Malawi. Only 10% of Malawians have access to grid electricity and most of those who do have electricity still suffer regular blackouts through ‘load shedding’ (when there is greater demand on the grid than power available).

Namadzi Penicuik Reciprocal 2
  • Only 0.06% of Malawians have a broadband connection themselves
  • Only 0.07% a landline
  • 52% have a mobile phone and
  • 16% have access to the internet


While electricity, connectivity and bandwidth are real challenges for many in Malawi, it is as often the Malawian school telling us that communication is an issue, as the Scottish side.

MaSP’s visits to 17 partnership schools in Malawi in January 2022 found,


“In schools in the rural, access to communication remains a challenge” but that some have benefitted from “solar panels, laptops and internet boxes” from their partners to help with this."

The Malawi Scotland Partnership.


WhatsApp is hugely popular in Malawi. Most youth or school partnership we have spoken to uses this. Why? It is a relatively cheap and accessible way for people to communicate and can be a great tool in a school partnership as it allows the two-way flow of information, updates, photos and videos.



Facebook is also widely used in Malawi and many school partnerships use this as a way of keeping in touch.

It is important to be aware that mobile phone use, and pricing, is very different in Malawi. Most people buy credit on a ‘pay as you go’ basis, using scratch card credits bought from street vendors. We recommend you discuss the cost of communication with your partners and include in your Partnership Agreement.

Time difference

Think about when you will communicate. Consider the time difference, Malawi is:

  • two hours ahead of the UK November -March
  • one hour ahead April – September

Also, consider that the working day typically starts early and finishes earlier in Malawi. So make sure both of these are factored in when you’re choosing when to speak. And don’t forget to consider public holidays in Malawi and in Scotland, which are often not the same.

However you choose to communicate within your partnership, it’s good to reach a clear agreement at the outset so each side knows what sort of communication, when and how often, they can expect. Sometimes the simple act of agreeing a regular time to catch up (for example, first Tuesday of the month) can be the most significant determinant of whether a partnership will succeed.

MaSP’s visits to 17 partnership schools in Malawi in January 2022 found a challenge for some partnerships was, “Lack of frequent communication - in some cases because Malawian schools often wait to be contacted first and cannot initiate communication”.

Irma Arts report cover

Irma Arts (2020) emphasises: “Ensure that teachers keep in touch and develop an understanding of the information channels teachers use and need.”

Irma Arts.
Ian Mitchell logo

Beath High School partnered with Mapanga and Njale Primary Schools, also said: “The greatest challenge is the ability to communicate with each other in an effective manner. Mapanga PS has no electricity and Njale PS has only one computer in the whole school. Email etc is not possible. WhatsApp is the method of choice but data in Malawi is expensive and this adds to the problems.”

Beath High School.
St Ronans

St Ronan’s Primary School partnered with Thondwe Primary School add: “Our biggest challenge when our partnership started was communication, but once we had the provision of smartphones and we got onto Whatsapp, what a huge difference it made.”

St Ronan’s Primary School

Curriculum Focus

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We really recommend schools work to embed their partnership into their curriculum rather than seeing it as something entirely distinct from the day-to-day. This helps ensure it’s an integral part of the school day, it maximises the educational outcomes and it helps make the link far more sustainable by engaging teachers and learners across the school.


ScotDEC highlight: “[Partnerships] open opportunities to decolonise our curriculum and programmes, by enabling diverse perspectives to be explored and valued. This approach builds core skills of creative and critical thinking, builds empathy and develops communication skills, in young people and practitioners.”

The possibilities are endless, particularly given the importance attributed to global citizenship, active learning and the flexibility factor in the Scottish “Curriculum for Excellence” for Scottish schools in particular. By focussing on the educational benefits of your partnership, the relationship between schools is more egalitarian and therefore more likely to endure. The same is true for youth organisations sharing activity plans.

Sharing your curriculums or activity plans is one of the easiest ways to move a partnership forward by finding common areas to work on. This could be in the form of a joint projects or as simple as sharing different approaches to the same topic. Think about using your link to creatively enrich the work you’re already doing in class.
Take a look at Connecting Classrooms Global Learning resources to support your partnership: https://connecting-classrooms....

Beath HS Visit2

Beath High School partnered with Mapanga and Njale Primary Schools mentioned: “Our Malawian link is used regularly in classes as a teaching point/strategy.

If looking to share curriculums, firstly be aware that Malawian primary curriculum is very regimented and different to Scotland. Also consider only sending over educational materials that can be used with the materials your partner has – find your common ground here.

Teacher CPD is also a really good one to share as Malawians have less access to this”

Beath High School.

The Watson’s Malawi Partnership inputted that: “We believe that our relationship with Malawi offers our partner schools useful connections and access to essential material and teacher training, while providing Watson’s students with an interest that could enrich the rest of their lives.”

The Watson’s Malawi Partnership
Namadzi Penicuik Assembly

Penicuik High School partnered with Namadzi CDSS share: “In Scotland we aim for young people to gain the knowledge, skills and attributes needed for life in the 21st century.  A partnership positively contributes towards this alongside contribution to both the 4 capacities and also the 4 contexts for learning. ”

Penicuik High School.

Whole school involvement

Penicuik High School, partnered with Namadzi CDSS.
Penicuik High School, partnered with Namadzi CDSS.

Involving everyone needn’t be daunting. Simple WhatsApp exchanges can translate to entire school events or initiatives on both sides which bring every young person, teacher or youth leader into the partnership.

Namadzi Penicuik 2

Penicuik High School partnered with Namadzi CDSS said that: “Small things can enable the partnership to become whole school.  This could be, sharing resources, understanding challenges in each country, learning for and with friends.

The Malawi Day in Penicuik High School proved to be a very successful way of promoting and sharing a range of cultural and societal aspects of life in Malawi… ensuring that the whole school is involved in a meaningful way. While steered by a committee, it is important that the partnership is viewed as a whole school collaboration and not just the preserve of a few. ”

Penicuik High School.
Ian Mitchell logo

Beath High School partnered with Mapanga and Njale Primary Schools share: “The individual events which raised a smile and brought a tear are too numerous to mention but I would draw attention to our distribution of girls underwear at both schools. The smiles on the faces of the girls at both schools show how a small gesture can mean so much!”

Beath High School.


Penicuik High School share their experience of hosting a ‘Malawi Day’.

Community involvement

[Picture: Penicuik High School, partnered with Namadzi CDSS].

You may also want to reach out beyond the school to engage the wider community. Some of our members have done this very successfully. They have found that this helps grow greater awareness and support for their partnership as well as recruits potential working group members and volunteers to help with events.

We’ve seen great examples of school links branching out to include the local church, local businesses and the wider community.

Namadzi Penicuik Games


Ninewells launch their Malawi Community Garden.

A note of caution: The crucial thing is ensuring that both sides of the partnership are aware of any changes which might affect them and are consulted and engaged throughout.

There have been instances where the original educational, two-way school-to-school link has been lost as the partnership evolved over time to involve wider churches, shifting to more of a one-way charitable model, to the frustration of those in Malawi. This is something we heard from MaSP’s consultation of 17 Malawi schools with Scottish links.

Going Digital

Covid-19 travel restrictions have brought significant disruption to travel between Scotland and Malawi. We recognise this has brought real challenges to school partnerships built around regular reciprocal visits but we also feel it has provided a real opportunity for us all to experiment with different, digital, ways of working.

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If we are committed to fighting the climate crisis we must all think about how, post-Covid, we fly less and emit less carbon. So it’s really important we don’t forget all we have learnt about digital working once travel returns.

New ways of working:

Digital and hybrid meetings have been a revolution for MaSP and the SMP. Gone are the days of Scots sitting round a table in Scotland talking about Malawi, and Malawians in Malawi talking about Scotland. Through Zoom, Teams and Skype we’re able to have regular interactions between Scots and Malawians in all
our events and meetings.

We really encourage school partnerships to embrace digital and actively look at ways of using digital to facilitate regular, sustained conversations between both teachers and learners.


Max, SMP Youth Committee Member, suggests: “Encourage teachers to use their creative power with digital, and keep the young people and Headteacher equally invested to keep a partnership alive”

Max, SMP Youth Committee Member.

Connection and cost:

There are obvious inequalities in terms of digital access, both within Malawi and Scotland, and between
Malawi and Scotland. 4G internet has rolled out with speed across much of Malawi but it is costly and does not cover all parts of the country. Malawi has some of the most costly internet access in the world, so it’s important to know both what technology is available and whether it is affordable.

As highlighted in the Communications section, Whatsapp is often the best medium for communicating as it is very accessible on most smartphones and uses less internet data than email.

It’s now possible to easily and cheaply transfer phone credit from Scotland to the two major networks in Malawi (TNM and Airtel), using services like ‘Ding’.

Live linking:

Where technology allows, school partnerships have found it hugely beneficial to set up live links for young people to engage and interact directly. We recommend that technology is tested in advance and you have a plan ‘B’ and ‘C’ ready if plan ‘A’ doesn’t work. For example, if the SMP is hosting a Zoom we would always have the mobile phone numbers of those joining from Malawi so if the connection fails we can fall back to a WhatsApp voice call, or if that fails to a regular telephone call.

The SMP and MaSP can support you in making the most of digital. We can offer support, information and even practical assistance setting up live links with your partner school. Contact us with your requirements and we’ll do everything we can to help.

Here’s a few hints and tips on how best to use digital, from our members’ experience so far:

  • Update your Partnership Agreement to include this way of working and how you will use it.
  • Use the cheapest platforms especially for the Malawian school: WhatsApp, Facebook etc. Find out what works best for them even though there may not be an ideal solution.
  • Share as many pictures as possible of any activity done together, or just any activity in general. WhatsApp is great for sharing images.
  • If resources are available, set up channels which students can safely access as well.
  • Try one or two whole school collaborative events per year – perhaps with a digital element.
  • Class or whole school celebrations can be streamed live on Facebook etc. to be watched live or later.
  • Make sure you use a platform which the Scottish school is allowed to use (some Scottish local authorities ban the use of facebook, youtube, etc in schools).
  • SMP and MaSP can support schools in both countries on how to share live events online.
  • Create personal, individual connections through digital pen pal projects online.
  • Have a “Scotland/Malawi partnership updates” section in your school newsletter/mailer.
  • Invite and support partners to any digital staff trainings.

Watsons Malawi Partnership

The Watson’s Malawi Partnership reflect: “With the collapse of international travel brought on by the pandemic, we have had to find more creative, digital ways to raise awareness and resources for the partnership. These have included tours of Malawi, wine-tasting, horse-racing and auctions – all delivered online!”

The Watson’s Malawi Partnership.
Namadzi Penicuik 2

Penicuik High School partnered with Namadzi CDSS, share: “While face to face contact is a very powerful way of building relationships and taking forward joint projects, the [Covid-19 pandemic] has shown us that it is possible to work effectively in a range of different ways. Working towards a digital partnership will mitigate a number of challenges and uncertainties and provide a mechanism for building and maintaining regular connections between staff and students. 

For example our joint blog will be developed and regularly updated to share what is happening in each school community.

While there needs to be recognition of the challenges faced in effectively developing a digital partnership, there is great scope to enhance digital literacy skills across both schools. 

It is undeniable that meeting face to face may still contribute to our partnership moving forward, however it will no longer be the primary means for planning and developing the partnership”

Penicuik High School.

Sustaining and reflecting

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Beath HS

Beath High School partnered with Mapanga and Njale Primary Schools add: “The similarities between the two countries are more evident that one might expect and the differences are more in what we do to meet and overcome challenges.”

Beath High School.

Partnerships are never “finished”, the very act of reviewing progress, structures and principles, helps keep partnerships fresh, relevant, appropriate and impactful.

We recommend that you:

  • Review your Partnership Agreement annually

Penicuik High School partnered with Namadzi CDSS, and say: “Our partnership agreement has changed and developed since the initial signing in 2017”.

  • Review the extent to which you are working with the 11 Partnership Principles annually. Best to do this separately and then compare your reflections together, to agree priorities for the coming year.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask difficult questions and have them asked of you.
  • Keep a routine of sharing updates between each other once your partnership is established.

Measure your success by recording and monitoring:

  • Benefits for young people
  • Benefits for teachers and youth leaders
  • Benefits for the community

Should you come across any problems along the way, you can always get in touch with MaSP or SMP, and we can explore options with you.

Here are some thoughts on sustainability from our members:

St Ronans

St Ronan’s Primary School partnered with Thondwe Primary School, continues to think ahead: “What does the future hold? Hopefully we will have two way exchanges between teachers, and then hopefully the pupils too at secondary school”

St Ronan’s Primary School.
Namadzi Penicuik 2

Penicuik High School partnered with Namadzi CDSS focus on Malawi’s priorities: “The Malawi vision 2063 as set out by the government of Malawi specifically uses the phrase ‘self reliant nation,’ which I feel sets out the stall of both an ethical and equitable partnership model.  Both sides of the partnership would benefit greatly from acting as enablers for one another.”

Penicuik High School.
Boys Brigade

25th Stirling (Dunblane) Boy’s Brigade partnered with Likhubula province reflect on the momentum and impact: “We’ve been encouraged by the awards and recognition that our projects have been given by SMP and local politicians… When young people - young adults - still talk about their experience of the partnership five years later and the impact it had on them, that’s when you know it is all worth it, but then you see what difference it’s making in Malawi and it’s so much greater.”

25th Stirling (Dunblane) Boy’s Brigade.

The Watson’s Malawi Partnership share their incredible growth: “The programme has evolved from being a simple school visit to becoming a registered Scottish Charitable Organisation, espousing the values of the Scotland Malawi Partnership and with Sir Andrew Cubie as our patron... From an educational perspective, George Watson’s College has benefited enormously.”

The Watson’s Malawi Partnership.