'My official title at Providence was Key Post Teacher of Mathematics'

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'My official title at Providence was Key Post Teacher of Mathematics'


Frank remembers teaching at a missionary school in Malawi.


Frank Gaynor


Trinity College Dublin




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Frank Gaynor

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Marriage and Family


Life Story

Spatial Coverage

Malawi, Africa

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Malawi became an independent state in July 1964. At that time there were about 20 secondary schools in the country, and only a few of them were offering courses up to secondary school certificate level. During our time at Providence there was considerable expansion in the secondary school sector. By 1972 the number of secondary schools had increased to 58. Students were selected from among the highest achievers in Standard 8. Most students had to travel long distances to a secondary school. For this reason it was necessary to have boarding schools. Providence Girls Secondary School was built during the mid - 1960s. It was built to cater for eight classes of 30 students. The classrooms were well furnished, spacious and bright. There was a reasonably well equipped science laboratory and a small library. The teaching resources included an overhead projector. Sr. Bertha was a hardworking Headmistress. She was for ever on the move. In addition to her duties as Headmistress she had a full teaching load. She made daily visits to the dining hall, hostels, classrooms and construction sites. At the end of the school day she spent hours catching up with office work. Issues that she failed to resolve by reasoning she tried to resolve by shouting. When Bertha and the parish priest, who was a Dutchman, disagreed over a site for a new staff house, they both resorted to a lengthy session of shouting close to our house. It was obvious that she needed to offload some of her work. Fortunately, we were able to help. I took over her maths teaching load and Monica relieved her of much of her office work. She was very grateful for our assistance and we worked well together over the following couple of years. The school staff had a strong international flavour to it. At different times the staff included Montfort Sisters, British VSO, Canadian CUSO, US Peace Corps, and local Malawian teachers. In 1970 two recently trained primary school teachers from Ireland, Phyllis Nugent and Frances Thomas, came to Providence as independent volunteers. Phyllis's father, Tod, was the most famous of the previous generation of Clonkill hurlers. I never saw him hurling, but I remember him coming with his tractor and plough to do the ploughing for my father. I recall some happy evenings, in our small sitting room in Mulanje, when we had great laughs as Phyllis and I entertained Monica and Frances with funny incidents involving some of the odd, and not so odd characters in the Crookedwood/Clonkill area. Frances insisted that she came from a more sophisticated environment in north County Louth. When we arrived the curriculum was in transition from the Cambridge Overseas School Certificate to the Malawi School Certificate of Education, which is now known as the MCE. Providence had a good reputation. It was seen by some of the better - off Malawians, including government ministers, as a safe and suitable place for their daughters to be educated. This helped to raise the profile of the school but also left it open to interference from politicians. My official title at Providence was Key Post Teacher of Mathematics. Under the Key Post Teachers programme the aid arm of the British Government, then known as ODA (Overseas Development Administration) agreed with the Malawi Government to support teachers of three key subjects (English, Mathematics and Science) in certain secondary schools. The task of recruiting the teachers was delegated to Christians Abroad, based in London. ODA covered the cost of travel to and from Malawi. The host school provided housing. In Malawi the teachers entered into contracts with the Malawi Ministry of Education and were paid and treated the same as local secondary teachers. Without being aware of the situation when we were leaving Ireland we had launched ourselves on a journey with ODA in Africa that would serve us well for over 20 years.


Irish Research Council for Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences (IRCHSS)

Research Coordinator/P.I.

Dr Kathleen McTiernan (Trinity College Dublin)

Senior Research Associate

Dr Deirdre O'Donnell (Trinity College Dublin)


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