Column By Cedrick Ngalande, PhD
The Malawi Government has been taking advantage of primary school teachers for a long, long time. I should know – both my parents taught at primary schools before retiring several years ago. A couple of my brothers have been teachers; and I also have many friends still teaching in the primary school.
Over the years teachers have been promised allowances that never materialized, promotions that never came, and salary raises that were never honored. Perhaps the worst injustice to teachers has been a tendency by this, and many previous governments, to withhold teachers’ salaries because “government has no money”.
Teachers are the most recognizable and, arguably, the most important civil servants in the country. They are the faces of government in many rural villages. They are also the first civil servants most kids would have known. In some parts of the country, they are a positive example of what school can do to a child born in poverty.
Although the country benefits from the work of the teaching community, the government spends very little time considering the welfare of the teachers. A typical teacher is the only breadwinner in the home; has 4 to 8 children and lives in a two-bedroom school-provided mud house, that is if he is lucky. In the villages, teachers buy food at an expensive price because they are believed to be ‘amzungu’ who gets salaries every month.
Yet, in spite of it all, is it not amazing that teachers wake up every morning to go and teach those mostly unruly and ungrateful pupils? For teachers in the lower classes, they sometimes have to take care of young kids who often help themselves in the classroom instead of going to the toilets.
There is a debate that is going on about whether teachers should be classified as frontline workers, and whether they should get coronavirus allowances. I would think, YES, they deserve to be classified as such. In any case, whichever side of this debate you are on, at least we can agree on one thing: the government must NEVER withhold teachers’ salaries and must immediately pay any outstanding wages to teachers.
If teachers work for 30 days as per their contract with government, they must get all their salary just like the president gets all his salary without fail. It is illegal and immoral for government to hold teachers’ salaries. Once teachers work for their salary, the salary is no longer government’s property. The government no longer has the luxury to decide whether to pay the salary or not.
While we are at it, how about giving them a raise? You would be shocked to hear how little some teachers, who have been in the service for a long time, are currently getting.
There are also many reforms that need to be done in the primary school sector in order for Malawi to compete successfully in the 21st century. We need to introduce computing in primary schools. Government should promise graduates from our university that they will be paid a standard graduate salary if they decide to go to villages and teach computing. When we talk about developing Malawi, we must mean it by taking bold innovative steps.
The Teacher’s Union of Malawi (TUM) should be talking about these things. Unfortunately, TUM is a political, corrupt and incompetent organization that is mostly preoccupied with pleasing politicians than look after the welfare of teachers. …. And that is my soapbox!
Before I leave you, let us talk about something different. Have you gone to the Times 360 Malawi twitter page lately? Their twitter handle is @Times360Malawi. Times 360 Malawi decided to publish gruesome pictures of dead people, victims of a road accident. This is a shameful act, especially coming from the oldest newspaper in the country. Times 360 Malawi should know better. Journalistic ethics prevent the media from disgracing deceased people and their close relatives in this matter.
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