REFORMING THE TEACHING PROFESSION IS LONG OVERDUE BUT………

The Education Hub with Benedicto Kondowe

It must be admitted that this publication has been prompted by the purported “recent directive” by government to stop the transfer of upgraded Diploma and Degree teachers from primary schools to secondary schools. As we understand it, the directive is premised on two factors: firstly, that primary schools already have acute shortage of teachers hence the transfers complicate further the situation. Secondly, it is believed that government is already considering the possibility of allowing Diploma or Degree holders to teach in primary schools.

It must be stated from the onset that the call for introduction of degrees in primary education has been at the core of primary education reform agenda. In fact, Malawi is among the very few countries that are lagging behind in this area. This is why government has always retained the requirement of a teaching certificate as a precondition to be allowed to teach in primary schools. Consequently, those with diplomas and degrees have most often than not been redeployed to secondary schools. Truth be told, some of the upgraded teachers have been sponsored by government itself.

It is a shame that in many instances when primary school teachers are redeployed to secondary schools upon acquiring diploma or degree there is no adjustment to their salaries. This has been the worst form of abuse that teachers in these circumstances have been subjected to, and it must be denounced with utmost tenacity.

The question that ought to be interrogated is whether the status quo has now changed or indeed, whether government is ready to drive this reform? We all know that the requirement to teach in primary schools still remains a teaching certificate. We also know that there is no salary structure available for diploma or degree holders in primary schools. In addition, we also know that there is acute shortage of secondary school teachers, especially in community day secondary schools such that it is a common feature to see primary school teachers with MSCE certificates teaching in these schools. As we are writing this article, government is yet to recruit 480 secondary school teachers that it pledged to recruit as part of decongesting the schools in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic. Similarly, it is a fact that the majority of primary schools do not have a pupil: teacher ration to the standard of 60:1. The situation has been worsened by the coming in of Covid-19 pandemic where decongesting of classes is improbable in most schools due to acute shortage of teachers.

While the EduHub firmly supports reforms in the primary education, we however, find the purported directive to be ill-conceived because it is unlikely that government can address the issue of acute shortage of teachers in CDSS within six months or let alone within a year. Therefore, redeployment of diploma or degree holders from primary schools is a way to ensure that CDSS have access to well trained teachers.

This, in our view, requires short-term remedy whilst government is exploring long-term solutions.

It is also undoubted that government could be ready to reform primary education in a matter of days. If diploma or degree are to be introduced in primary schools, there is need to review the salary structure or grades in primary schools in order to accommodate the new reform. It would also require amending the entry point for recruitment of teachers in primary schools.

In the 2020 Education Sector Performance Report, the government bemoaned that teachers in secondary schools had low qualifications hence directly affecting the quality of education. Reads the report, “The delivery of quality teaching is known to be directly related to the quality of the teaching cadre… Teacher qualification is an area that needs to be looked into since the country still uses personnel with a mere MSCE certificate as secondary school teachers.” It is unexpected that government would maintain teachers with mere MSCE to teach in secondary schools when there is already an available supply of teachers with higher qualifications currently in primary schools.

In closing, we reiterate that the reform to introduce diploma or degree in primary education let alone allow diploma or degree holders in other fields to teach in primary schools is undebatable. It is a worthwhile reform that is not only progressive but also strategic in improving quality of primary education. Whilst discussions have been taking place on the matter, government is yet to develop a road map for the reform in view of the many implications that such a reform would introduce into the system. Other reforms include the establishment of the Teachers Council of Malawi, institutionalization of school boards for CDSS as well as development of a road map for the implementation of free and compulsory education in line with the 2013 Education Act.

It is for the foregoing that the recent directive must be carefully reexamined to avoid any potential chaos to the already crumbling sector.

There is need to strike a balance between immediate and long –term solutions to the challenges facing the education sector. At the core of this is the need to plan for the reforms as failure to plan is planning to fail. The best teachers teach from the heart, not from the book. They are the spark, the inspiration, the candle to many people’s lives hence deserve the best from government and the society at large.

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