By Joseph Kayira
A sticker at the back of one car along Kamuzu Procession Road in Lilongwe that read “If you can read this thank a teacher”, got me thinking the other day. At first sight, it is a sticker just like any other but a reflection on the message will take you down the memory lane to remember and think about the welfare of teachers in this country that helped you to be where you are today. It reminds you of a noble profession that has helped to teach and train presidents, lawyers, doctors, bankers and many other professionals who are swimming in millions of kwachas.
Yet, when you ask children what they would like to be, few will mention teaching. All of a sudden teaching is no longer appealing to the younger generation. Not long ago, teachers were respected. They had a voice. That respect is seeping away somewhere.
It is the corrupt in society that seem to appeal to the younger generation because of what they own – fancy cars, a string of girlfriends, mansions and money that they can spend on just anything. Thus, teaching has been reduced to a profession that is viewed with indifference.
Why then is it that all of sudden teachers are no longer respected? Why are teachers made to suffer like this? To the extent that they have to wait days on to get their monthly salaries? Yet we all agree how important teachers are in our society?
We all trust our children in the hands of teachers. In fact, teachers spend more time with our children than we do. They shape our children into responsible citizens. Sadly, society has not come to their rescue or offer support when teachers are going through thick and thin. They have always been on their own when the going gets tough as is the case at the moment.
On January 20, the Teachers Union of Malawi (Tum), organized a nationwide strike to force government to pay teachers their December 2019 salaries. Thousands of teachers from primary schools, secondary schools and teachers training colleges are this time around standing up for their rights. They have had enough and are ready to hold vigils for as long as they care. All they want is that government should process their salaries as soon as possible or they would continue with the vigils.
Tum secretary general Charles Kumchedwa did not mince words. If government will continue playing games on such an important issue, the teachers would march to Capital Hill, the seat of government.
“Our aim is not to hear anything from the government side, but to ensure that teachers have been paid. The government has been promising to pay teachers but all the promises have been in vain. So this time the teachers have gathered here at the district office to force the government to pay the money immediately,” Kumchedwa told The Daily Times of Tuesday, January 21, 2020.
The teachers are angry. They have been taken for granted for far too long. This is not the first time salaries have been delayed. While this time Capital Hill says the salaries were delayed because the teachers did not submit their national identity cards as per requirement, teachers have endured the pain of waiting for salaries for days on in the past for reasons emanating from treasury.
Teachers just like other civil servants deserve better. They need better working conditions enjoyed by those in other ministries, departments and agencies. Teachers are crucial in the development of any country. From the kindergarten to university colleges teachers are key stakeholders.
While the rest of their fellow civil servants were spending and enjoying with their families and loved ones during the festivities, these teachers had a dark Christmas and entered the New Year wondering “do we deserve this?” Authorities at Capital Hill should have been considerate for men and women who at times work in conditions that make their colleagues in the Civil Service look more equal than others.
It shouldn’t be the case. A teacher, a soldier, doctor or a nurse are all equal – they are employees of the same Malawi government and are out there to serve the people of Malawi. Nowhere is it written that teachers are less civil servants.
So, can the teachers be accorded the respect they deserve as was the case in the past? It begins with Capital Hill. Salaries must come in good time. Teachers must be motivated. World Bank Blogs reported in 2018 that reforms were underway to the hardship allowance scheme to achieve the original goal of providing a meaningful bonus to teachers working in the most remote schools.
“The improved scheme will provide a monthly allowance of $35.00 (equivalent to roughly one-third of an average teacher’s salary), targeted to the 20% of teachers who work in the most remote schools, with a reduced amount for teachers in moderately remote schools. This is expected to lessen the pressure from teachers to avoid remote postings, and to incentivize them to stay in or move to hardship schools,” it said at the time.
The Ministry of Education and its stakeholders in the education sector must continue to engage teachers on how best they could deliver and boost the performance of pupils and students.
More resources should be channeled towards improving education standards. While the Ministry of Education gets one of the largest votes in the national budget, salaries rather than investment, tend to eat up a good chunk of the budgetary allocation.
With properly set priorities and goals Malawi’s education could turn around and produce brilliant future leaders in all sectors of the economy. Political will is key if the country is to take such a path. Above all else, motivated teachers can take this country to another level – only if decision makers begin to appreciate the role teachers play in Malawi’s socio-economic spectrum.