There were mixed reactions yesterday to a call by the Teachers Union of Malawi (TUM) to stage a nationwide sit-in to compel Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MoEST) to resolve teachers’ grievances.
Spot checks in some districts nationwide showed that whereas teachers in other public primary and secondary schools sent back learners as per the TUM call, it was business as usual in selected schools in Blantyre and Mzuzu cities.
The teachers’ grievances include outstanding promotions, salary arrears and leave grants.
In Lilongwe, various schools in Areas 6, 18, 47 and 49 confirmed that the teachers withdrew their labour in protest against failure to resolve their issues.
In random interviews with The Nation on their way home from their respective schools, some of the learners condemned government for victimising their teachers.
The learners also accused MoEST officials of deliberately “violating our right to education because their children and wards learn abroad”.
“The teachers told us they are not receiving their dues; hence, the sit-in. They said they would only report for duties after government fully meets its obligations,” said one of the learners at Kalonga LEA School in Area 49.
A female primary school teacher in Dedza and her male counterpart in Nkhamenya, Kasungu commended TUM leadership for the decision it has taken on the matter.
Teachers defy strike
In Blantyre City, however, it was normal business in some schools despite the TUM calls.
Random checks to some schools within the city found pupils in classes and teachers discharging their duties normally.
At Catholic Institute Primary School the learners we spoke to indicated that they had normal classes since morning and were not aware of the strike.
Head teacher for the school, Vincent Kapangamwa, said in an interview that they were still waiting for communication from government, but teachers had to be allowed to do their job.
It was the same case at Blantyre Girls’ Primary School and Chitsime Primary School in Ndirande Township where teachers were seen in classes teaching.
But at Namiwawa Primary School pupils were seen playing outside while their teachers were seated in the corridors chatting.
A teacher at the school said they were not going to teach unless the issue of their leave grants was addressed.
Said the teacher: “It is not our fault that this is happening. Government is to blame for this inconvenience. This issue has been going on for some time now and all we are told are stories nothing tangible.”
In the Northern Region, teachers in Mzuzu City and Rumphi, among other places, also joined the strike.
However, classes were in session at Moyale Barracks Primary School and the teachers at the school refused to grant an interview.
Rumphi district education manager Webster Mkandawire confirmed about the strike in schools in the district, but was not sure if all the schools were participating.
In an interview yesterday, TUM president Willie Malimba vowed that teachers will not return to work until government resolves their issues.
Initially, TUM battled MoEST over 24 grievances which, among others, included withdrawal of teachers’ promotions, failure by government to effect salary adjustments for the teachers promoted in 2013, failure by the ministry to pay leave grants to secondary school teachers for the 2015/16 financial year and delayed payment of salary arrears for primary school teachers.
Civil Society Education Coalition (Csec) executive director Benedicto Kondowe backed the teachers for the stand they have taken on the matter.
Commenting on the development, MoEST spokesperson Lindiwe Chide said as far as she knows, the ministry did its part by working with councils to ensure the list of teachers to receive leave grants is ready.
She said since January this year, primary education has been decentralised and now falls under the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development.
Attempts to get a comment from Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development before we went to press proved futile. n
Additional reporting by GEORGE SINGINI, Staff Reporter