Maximising student support through cluster meetings in a distance teacher upgrading programme25 May 2021
In an attempt to improve students’ retention and ensure high per cohort completion rates, a student support system of cluster meetings was introduced for the upgrading of teachers from primary teacher certifi cate to secondary teacher diploma in Malawi. The programme targeted teachers who were teaching in community day secondary schools (CDSSs), despite being qualifi ed for primary school teaching. The distance education upgrading programme was aimed at improving knowledge and skills to enable students to improve their competency in teaching the secondary school syllabuses. As part of the student support system, cluster meetings and study circles were meant to enhance student-to-student support and instil a sense of belonging to a cohort. Both cluster meetings and study circles have continued to be well supported by subsequent cohorts many years after their introduction in the support system. The study investigated how cluster meetings and study circles contributed to the success of students in the programme. Data for the study was collected through individual interviews with programme managers, focus group discussions with cluster leaders, and questionnaires for students and fi eld supervisors. The study found that study circles and cluster meetings united students of same subject combinations in a cohort in the same way that classes provided a sense of belonging in a face-to-face programme. It was, therefore, concluded that cluster meetings provided peer support, which gave further impetus to achievement through increased collaboration in academic assignments.