Teachers in public primary and secondary schools, including teacher training colleges (TTCs) yesterday defied government’s request for them to resume teaching, insisting they will only do so when their Covid-19 risk allowance demand is resolved.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Education has invited Teachers Union of Malawi (TUM) representatives to a meeting today to discuss “teachers welfare issues”.
TUM president Willie Malimba in an interview yesterday said they were ready to attend the meeting.
He said: “I can confirm that we have been invited to a meeting on Tuesday [today]. So, after that we will issue a statement on the outcomes.”
Asked how much the teachers want to be paid in risk allowances, Malimba said they are open to government’s offer.
“We are not demanding a specific amount. We want government to make a proposal and then we discuss and reach a consensus. So, it’s up to government to make a suggestion, we will bargain from that figure,” he said.
Ministry of Education Principal Secretary for administration Kiswell Dakamau said today’s meeting is part of ongoing discussions aimed at dealing with teachers’ welfare concerns holistically.
He said : “ These discussions are ongoing. Beyond the risk allowance, there are strategic issues related to teachers’ welfare. So, we want to address the issues holistically.”
Dakamau reiterated Minister of Education Agnes NyaLonje’s earlier position that the issue of Covid-19 risk allowances is within the ambits of the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19.
Earlier on Sunday, Dakamau issued a statement requesting the teachers to resume work.
He further requested district education managers and head teachers to ma i n t a in teacher ’ s attendance registers for inspection by officials from the Directorate of Education and Quality Assurance Services.
But this did not seem to move the teachers who, The Nation spot-checks revealed, continued to stay away from classes yesterday.
Some learners at Kawale Primary School in Lilongwe City blocked the M1 to protest against the teachers sit-in, but police intervened to calm the situation.
In Mzuzu, Lilongwe Urban, Karonga, Blantyre, Chitipa, Mulanje and Zomba, among other areas where The Nation conducted spot-checks, teachers in some school were sending learners home while in other schools, learners stayed unattended on campus.
Meanwhile, education experts have said the Ministry of Education, as an employer, should address the teachers grievances and not push it to the task force.
In a written response, education expert Limbani Nsapato said the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19 has no contractual obligation to address teachers’ grievances.
He said: “As the employer, the ministry is expected to take responsibility on the issue of risk allowances, especially after the task force rebuffed the teachers’ proposal.”
Last week, NyaLonje told Parliament that the ministry cannot provide the allowances because it was beyond labour policies; hence, the task force was engaged to provide guidance.
But Nsapato yesterday said the ministry needs to meet
TUM and find a win-win solution to the issue, saying learners are being denied class time.
In a separate interview, another educationist Steve Sharra said choosing a path that antagonises teachers and ignores their pleas will have a domino effect on the quality of education which is already in dire straits.
He said: “The government can choose to engage with TUM on a footing that reassures the teaching workforce…”
Sharra said the teachers strike offers government an opportunity to redefine its relationship with the teaching workforce and undo decades of neglect, insensitivity and spite.
Civil Society Education Coalition executive director Benedicto Kondowe also decried the continued delays in resolving the matter, saying it will disadvantage learners from poor families who cannot access education in private schools.
He said government must engage TUM to agree on short, medium-and long -term solutions to the problem.
But during a weekly briefing yesterday, Presidential Press Secretary Brian Banda said the teachers’ allowances demand must be guided by science on what category is at high risk in contracting Covid-19.
The strike has entered its second week since schools reopened from a five-week Covid-19-induced break despite talks taking place between TUM, Ministry of Education and President Lazarus Chakwera, who also referred the question of risk allowances to the task force