Rhoda Moses, 12, has never been taught by a female teacher. She is in Standard Five at Thundu Primary School in Mulanje, which has 12 male teachers.
Here, Esther Rocki and Asiyileni Mukhomo were briefly taught by an open-distance learning (ODL) student on teaching practice.
“When I hear about schools that have female teachers, I just admire them,” says Rhoda.
According to Mloza primary education adviser Anitta Katchana, there has never been a female teacher at this school and the ODL trainee is waiting for employment.
“Thundu has been a junior primary school for so long. It’s only growing, but Mirriam Gawa, who was under ODL, was the first female teacher,” she said.
Adolescent girls look up to female teachers as role models and confidantes when it comes to menstruation and other sexual changes they cannot comfortably discuss with male teachers.
Thundu’s problem reflectes the situation in many remote schools across the country.
Figures from the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology show that out of 65 928 teachers on its payroll last year, only 27 475 were female.
This means there are just about four female teachers in every 10 standing in front of pupils.
Distant and disadvantaged
Information from senior inspector of primary schools in Mulanje, Dinner Pemba Kalepa, shows that the district has 963 female teachers—with some primary schools having fewer and others none.
Yet most female teachers shun rural schools in preference for urban localities—with some citing marital obligations and others faking to be following their husbands.
One of the shunned destinations is Therere Primary School in Traditional Authority (T/A) Ngabu, Chikwawa.
It has had no female teacher for 10 years.
According to educationist Dr Steve Sharra, the numbers of female teachers in the education system reflect the gender gap which characterise the rest of the Malawian society.
It is pathetic the gender disparity persists despite the National Education Policy’s provisions for access and equity in numbers of workers in the public sector, observes education activist Benedicto Kondowe.
“There is lack of equity in numbers of teachers in the rural areas despite the ministry having a recruitment policy. Rural schools will continue to be disadvantaged. If female teachers are not deployed to the rural schools, female students will keep viewing education as a male-dominated field,” says the Civil Society Education Coalition (Cesc) leader.
The gender imbalance in rural primary schools contravenes the Malawi’s Gender Equality Act of 2015 which obliges recruitment authorities in the public service to deploy no less than 40 percent of either sex.
‘We have limits’
Forum for African Women Educationalists in Malawi (Fawema) executive director Hendrina Givah is worried with the low number of female teachers, saying “the impact could be big.”
Thundu head teacher Godfrey Wokomaatani Makoma says the enrolment of girls—who constitute 575 out of 1 250 pupils at his school—is too large to be ignored.
“These girls need no less than two female teachers to handle their educational and private needs. As male teachers, we have limits in the way we handle girls,” he explains.
To bring parity, Fawema took advantage of the ministry’s ODL programme to train female teachers who sign a bond to teach in rural communities, especially their setting.
With support from the Scottish Government and the UKAID, Fawema reached out to almost 1 000 young women in Dedza, Mwanza, Ntchisi and Nsanje between 2010 and 2013.
It also trained 2 000 in Machinga, Nsanje, Salima, Zomba Rural between 2014 and 2016.
A matter of urgency
Lack of female teachers in rural schools has serious implications on female pupils, says seasoned gender activist Emma Kaliya.
“If female students have no female teachers, they are deprived of role models and cannot proceed with education. Secondly, male teachers can take advantage of them when they come to confide in them about their situation. Thirdly, as a country, we need to be serious with gender equality,” says Kaliya, the director of Malawi Human Rights Resource Centre.
The inspector of school says the situation at Thundu and other schools is “ a matter of urgency”.
He says the district education office is looking for female teachers to be deployed to remote school, but asked surrounding communities to build houses for teachers. n