The Basics

What is a school partnership? Why should you start one? How can this guide help you?

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Foreword: Hon. Agnes Nyalonje, Minister of Education, Malawi

I am delighted to endorse this fully updated Scotland-Malawi School Partnerships Guide, co-produced by the Scotland Malawi Partnership network (SMP) in Scotland and the Malawi Scotland Partnership network (MaSP) in Malawi.

Education has been at the heart of the friendship between our two nations for more than 150 years. This updated Guide takes these educational links into their next chapter, with a strong focus on digitalised cooperation, equality and solidarity.

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought many challenges to all of us. It has undoubtedly disrupted many longstanding educational partnerships, as schools, teachers and youth groups have been unable to travel between our two nations.

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Ours is a people-to-people friendship, so in-person engagements will always have a vital role as we constantly seek to deepen our knowledge and understanding of each other. However, I recognise that with travel suspended, a great many schools and youth groups used this time to think innovatively and to harness the many opportunities in digital communications.

As we hopefully move out of this pandemic, I am keen that we do not forget what we have learned in the last two years, namely: the value of digital communications, especially where in-person visits are not possible. Both Malawi and Scotland are already feeling the impact of climate change and we must all look to how we can reduce our carbon footprint and think differently about how we work. This is why I welcome this updated Guide, which offers advice and practical support, helping connect classrooms digitally as we look for scalable and environmentally sustainable ways of working.

Having previously lived and worked in Edinburgh with my family, I have long been involved in the bilateral relationship and actively engaged in both MaSP and the SMP. I know from this experience that these are values-driven networks: their work is about celebrating, supporting and developing civic partnerships which are underpinned by mutual respect, human solidarity and dignified partnership. Although Scotland is a donor to Malawi, it views Malawi primarily as a friend and a partner. This approach, and these values, are clear throughout this updated Guide.

I am especially pleased that this latest update to the Practical Guide began with MaSP visiting 17 Malawian schools, the length and breadth of the country, and really listening to their experiences, reflections and learning. This is in keeping with our shared values: that representatives in both nations, at every level, are able to feed in their views to help direct the future of our partnership.

I also recognise and value the strong focus in this updated Guide on critical learning, depth of relationships, empathy, inclusivity and mutual understanding. It is clear how committed the SMP and MaSP are to further developing the relationship between Malawi and Scotland by challenging negative stereotypes and actively addressing power imbalances where they appear.

I am keen to thank not only MaSP and the SMP but also the Scottish Government as, without their core funding of both networks, none of this work would have been possible. The intergovernmental links between our two nations are important and highly valued but they are just one component of the diverse and varied bilateral relationship. Our contemporary governmental and parliamentary links sit on a rich history of civic cooperation between churches, universities, colleges, hospitals, communities and, of course, schools and youth groups. With over 200 civic-led educational partnerships between our two nations, this is perhaps the lifeblood of our nation-to-nation friendship. MaSP and SMP play a crucial role in supporting all these wider links.

The SMP and MaSP are two sides of the same coin: each is set up to coordinate, represent and support the bilateral relationship in their own nation; each brings their own cultural knowledge and understanding; and each holds the other to account. This is an innovative and inspiring model which I hope continues to grow and develop for many years to come.

Supported by this Guide, I look forward to continuing to meet new generations of young Malawians and Scots who have had the opportunity to learn about each other, building friendships and exploring how dignified partnerships such as these really can shape our world.

Hon. Agnes Nyalonje,
Minister of Education,
Government of Malawi.


Keynote address: Malawi Minister of Education - Minister of Education, Hon. Agnes Nyalonje.

Click here to read Minister Nyalonje's speech.

Introduction to 5th Edition (2022)

This Practical Guide to School Partnerships is a collaboration between the Scotland Malawi Partnership (SMP) in Scotland and the Malawi Scotland Partnership (MaSP) in Malawi. It aims to provide helpful information, advice and support for schools that are looking to be involved in a Scotland-Malawi school partnership. The guide is full of inspiration from real schools and youth clubs who have developed such partnerships, with guidance on how to avoid common pitfalls, signposting to resources, plus advice on partnerships in the digital era.

Beath High School, partnered with Mapanga and Njale Primary Schools.
Beath High School, partnered with Mapanga and Njale Primary Schools.

We don’t profess to ourselves be the “experts” but rather we look to collate and share the information, experience and learning from across our two networks. To many of the most important questions in developing a school partnership, there isn’t one, single ‘right’ answer for everyone. Recognising this, we look to share a range of views, approaches and experiences, and hopefully signpost to other useful sources of information. We use quotes, videos and stories from across our membership through the guide to hopefully show the many different, and equally valid, approaches. The Scotland-Malawi landscape is a rich and diverse tapestry: we celebrate this and don’t look to try and engineer a one-size fits all approach.


Inverkip Primary School share learning from their ‘Malawi Day’.

This 5th edition (2022) of the Practical Guide has been informed by many recent developments, including:

It is also informed by feedback from members and partners and, of course, the lived experience of schools and school partnerships through almost two years of the Covid-19 pandemic. While we recognise the great many challenges and setbacks of the COVID-19 pandemic, we value the reflection and learning that has come from a period of sustained digital working. We also welcome the opportunities to challenge norms and dig deeper into our values which have come from the Black Lives Matter movement and Scotland hosting COP26.

Launch of the SMP’s ‘Buy Malawian’ campaign at Kirklandneuk Primary School.
Launch of the SMP’s ‘Buy Malawian’ campaign at Kirklandneuk Primary School.

This version of the Practical Guide is embedded on our website because it makes it easier to include videos, which we feel really help bring the material alive and allow a range of different voices to be heard. It also means we can more easily update the content in these fast-changing times: so let us know if you think there’s anything that needs updating.

We recognise, however, that a purely digital format isn’t right for everyone, so we also have a printer-friendly text only version of the guide to download here.

Lots of members and partners have fed into this work but we would specifically like to thank:

  • The Malawi Scotland Partnership
  • Keith Murphy – Penicuik High School partnered with Namadzi CDSS
  • Fraser Boyd, 25th Stirling (Dunblane) Boys’ Brigade, partnered through the Dunblane-Likhubula Partnership with Likhubula, Mulanje Province
  • Ian Mitchell - Beath High School partnered with Mapanga and Njale Primary Schools
  • Jennifer Flockhart – ESMS-Ekwendeni School Partnership
  • The Watson’s Malawi Partnership
  • ScotDEC
  • Orbis Expeditions and Diversity Travel
  • Max Conway – SMP Youth Committee
  • Ryan Ticcioni - SMP Youth Committee
  • Amy Blake – CEO of Classrooms for Malawi


Bruntsfield Primary School share their experience of setting up a partnership (filmed on World Book Day, hence the costumes!)

What is a School Partnership?

[Picture: SMP AGM at Stewart’s Melville College.]

There are a great many hugely successful school partnerships between Scotland and Malawi, with the Scotland Malawi Partnership (SMP) having over 250 school members – roughly equally divided between primary and secondary schools.

The important thing to emphasise is that there isn’t one ‘right’ way to structure a school partnership between Scotland and Malawi but rather lots of different, equally valid, approaches which have been designed or which have developed over time.

Some school links are between individual schools, others involve clusters. Some have never involved any international travel, others have regular one or two-way travel. Some are purely educational, others have more activism built-in from the outset.

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A Scotland-Malawi youth or school partnership can:

  • Be embedded in, and supportive to your curriculum/activity plan
  • Reframe and ignite learning
  • Inspire global outlook
  • Inspire urgency for positive change
  • Develop self-awareness and respect for others
  • Develop skills in enquiry and critical thinking on global issues
  • Instigate a sense of injustice and commitment to tackling it

Crucially, we see all school partnerships as being two-way educational links, embedded in ‘global citizenship’. Whilst there is no one definition for ‘global citizenship’, Oxfam offers a useful broad guide to the term:

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"Global citizenship is all about encouraging young people to develop the knowledge, skills and values they need to engage with the world. And it's about the belief that we can all make a difference.

Education for global citizenship is not an additional subject - it's a framework for learning, reaching beyond school to the wider community. It can be promoted in class through the existing curriculum or through new initiatives and activities.

The benefits are felt across the school and beyond. Global citizenship helps young people to:

  • Build their own understanding of world events.
  • Think about their values and what's important to them.
  • Take learning into the real world.
  • Challenge ignorance and intolerance.
  • Get involved in their local, national and global communities.
  • Develop an argument and voice their opinions.
  • See that they have power to act and influence the world around them.

What's more, global citizenship inspires and informs teachers and parents, too. But above all, it shows young people that they have a voice. The world may be changing fast, but they can make a positive difference - and help build a fairer, safer and more secure world for everyone.”


Our sister network, the Malawi Scotland Partnership (MaSP) see global citizenship as:

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"... having a commitment for people and to people unrestricted by borders and far beyond race or any physical differences."

The Malawi Scotland Partnership.

ScotDEC (Global Citizenship Education, Scotland) add,


"Global citizenship is a way of living that recognises our world as an increasingly complex web of connections and interdependencies.

When we use a Global Citizenship approach to establishing and sustaining partnerships, we begin from an understanding that relationships between countries are built on historical inequalities and injustices.  Challenging colonial structures and working towards a reciprocal partnership based on social justice values, equips young people and practitioners with values, knowledge, attitudes, and skills to enable them to contribute effectively to an interdependent world."


Why establish a youth or school partnership?

George Watson’s Malawi Partnership.
George Watson’s Malawi Partnership.

Youth and school partnerships can be a great way to inspire global citizenship in young people. They can be a really exciting way for young people to learn from and understand other cultures better and realise the role they play in our global society. Working in partnership between Scotland and Malawi allows schools to bring complex issues alive, with increased meaning and connection to those outside of their own communities and a real desire to learn.

Education Scotland (a Scottish Government executive agency) is clear about the many benefits of such international links, including:

  • improving knowledge and skills across curriculum areas
  • challenging stereotypes and prejudices
  • making learners aware of the possibilities that exist for learning and work outside Scotland.
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"International activity allows learners to understand Scotland and its place in the world. Partnerships allow those involved the opportunity to share ideas in pedagogy and the space to reflect on their own practice; and in so doing, improve the quality of learning and teaching. Partnerships can be developed digitally or can also involve face to face meetings between staff and/or learners.

There is a wealth of research that shows international experience develops learners, teachers and schools. In terms of Excellence and Equity and Transforming Learning."

Education Scotland.

Specifically, Education Scotland (which serves as both the support hub for, and inspectorate of, Scottish Schools) identifies the below benefits of school partnerships, for learners, teachers and schools:

Benefits for learners:Benefits for teachers:Benefits for schools:
• Contributes towards improved reading, writing, communication and language skills• An important method of professional development• Helps reduce the performance gap amongst pupils
• Improves the performance and engagement of under-achieving learners• Improves confidence in the classroom and develops leadership skills• Builds professional capacity in schools
• Enhances skills that are relevant in a global economy• Can help improve behaviour of learners in class• Makes the curriculum more stimulating and improves ethos around the school
• Helps improve motivation• Improves stimulation through refreshed content and resources• Improves engagement with the local community and partnership working
• Develops core ICT skills• Promotes knowledge of other countries and cultures• Helps centres meet the objectives of inspection.
• Raises awareness and understanding of different cultures and religions.• Improves knowledge of global development.

One of our members, 25th Stirling (Dunblane) Boy’s Brigade, partnered with Likhubula province in Malawi, reflects that their partnership has been:

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"…a great chance for Scots to learn more about themselves and their outlook on life as well as to learn from Malawians and Malawi."

25th Stirling (Dunblane) Boy’s Brigade.

ScotDEC, the Development Education Centre in Edinburgh, says:

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"International partnerships can lay the foundation for Global Citizenship.  They can inspire young people, and practitioners to create positive social change by increasing understanding that our choices and actions may have repercussions for people and communities both locally and internationally."