Youngest headteacher: Stella

Set to change the world: Phiri

By Bartholomew Boaz

It’s around 10 o’clock in the morning. Pupils are running about at the school ground because it’s break time. From one of the classes emerges a relatively short and slim girl.

“That’s the head teacher you are looking for,” says Aaron Jumo, who I later learn that he is deputy head teacher. As young as she is, a head teacher? I wonder.

“She is a hard worker and passionate about her work. Perhaps that’s the reason authorities entrusted her with such a big responsibility,” Jumo adds.

She comes and greets me with a bewitching smile then leads me to her office. She introduces herself as Stella Phiri, head teacher for this school, Mbidi Primary School, which lies along the Zomba-Jali road in Zomba district.

Tough Life

Stella was made primary school head teacher in September 2019 when she was only 29. Born on 17 December 1989, she is the youngest and only female head teacher in Namiwawa zone which has 13 schools.

She went to Guilime Primary School and Misale Community Day Secondary School in Mchinji district, and then repeated at Magawa Secondary School.

The third born in a family of eight from Makina Village, Traditional Authority Kabudula in Lilongwe, did not grow up in a well-to-do family. Her mum was a nurse and the father was a farmer.

“Life was tough for me. It was my mum who was the sole bread winner in the family. It was difficult for her to take care of us all in the family,” she says.

In 2009 she was picked to undergo a teaching course at Kasungu Teachers’ Training College.

“It wasn’t my dream career. I wanted to become a nurse because my mum is a nurse. However, I just grabbed this opportunity that I came across at the time. I said ‘I should just try teaching’,” says Stella, who had another chance to go for a military training but her mother discouraged her.

Quick Rise

I have, all along, known head teachers to be relatively old people. Mostly, they have been those with vast experience in teaching and approaching retirement. With Stella the story is different. She has been in the teaching profession for only five years.

After a two-year training Stella was deployed to Mbidi Primary School in 2012. She taught for two years before she was posted to Chiphola Primary School in the district. At Chiphola she was promoted to assistant deputy head teacher. She was then transferred to Sakatama Primary School in 2016 where she became deputy head teacher.

“I was hesitant to accept the position because of the period I had worked in the teaching profession; just four years in the system. Moreover, there were people with more experience than me. I did not have the courage to take the position so much that I consulted several people,” Stella explains.

In 2017 she moved to Namiwawa Primary School and assumed the same position. This time she had gained experience in the position.

When she obtained a Diploma in Education Languages from the Catholic University in July 2019, the Primary Education Advisor (PEA) for her area asked Stella if she would be going to teach at secondary school. She opted to continue teaching in Primary school. The PEA broke good news to her, that she has been promoted to head teacher.

“I was excited because it was something I had wanted to be after joining the teaching profession; to become a head teacher,” she reveals.

“I had ambitions to be a head teacher after observing that many head teachers were men. I asked myself why we have few female head teachers. I took courage,” Stella says.

She was posted to Mbidi, where she started her teaching profession some five years back.

For Strong Foundation

One would wonder why choose to teach at Primary school. Most teachers, when they upgrade their teaching qualifications to Diploma level, go to teach at secondary school. Teachers with certificates remain in primary school.

“I can use my qualification to produce quality learners at the primary school, which is a foundation. The foundation should be good so that those teaching in secondary school should get well-baked learners,” Stella says.

Handle With Care

Stella’s job entails that learners are learning and teachers are teaching in class. The last part should be difficult. She is supposed to ensure that teachers prepare the day’s work and fulfill work they are supposed to do. How is it like dealing with teachers older and more experienced than her?

“The secret is how you approach them. Most of the time my approach is friendly. I don’t take myself as a boss and I don’t shout at them. When there’s a problem I call them and discuss the issues amicably,” she says.

‘Accept Your Job’

The teaching profession is rega- rded as not a good career, at least by many. But Stella says one enjoys the job when they accept that they are a teacher. Stella, who would like to become an education activist, urges girls to believe in themselves that they can do it.

“Don’t look down on yourself. Don’t lose hope despite the problems you are going through. Stick to your goals,” she says.

Being a female head teacher at that young age has inspired some girls. A 12-year-old Standard 7 girl, Tiyamike Mangasanja, who was on the verge of dropping out of school at Mbidi has resuscitated her dream to become a nurse.

“When I see her, I get inspired   and think that I can do it. I will be working hard to achieve my goal despite coming from a poor background,” said Tiyamike.