There is uncertainty over Ministry of Education’s decision to partially reopen schools next Monday with some teachers threatening not to return to class unless government gives them risk allowances in the face of Covid-19.
A group of concerned teachers expressed their sentiments during a media briefing at a hotel in Lilongwe on Tuesday. They said government should first commit to fuflfil their demands for risk allowances, among other demands.
But in an interview on Tuesday, Ministry of Education spokesperson Chikondi Chimala said the issues the concerned teachers were raising were under discussion with other stakeholders and assured that teachers would get a proper response soon.
During the briefing, Staffuel Chitukuta, who is the chairperson for the concerned group, said teachers would be exposed to the risk of contracting the virus because they will be sharing the same learning and teaching materials with hundreds of students.
He said ignoring their concerns would mean government’s own deliberate move to doom the future of students in the country.
Chitukuta noted that government was not forthcoming to meet some of the grievances teachers have been raising through their mother body, Teachers Union of Malawi (TUM).
He said: “Listening to speeches from government [representatives], we are so surprised to hear nothing about risk allowances. Teachers need risk allowances. They are the engine of the economy. So, neglecting teachers in this way will spoil the future of children…
“As concerned teachers, we believe we will be prone to Covid-19 because we will be in direct contact with learners.”
In an interview, TUM general secretary Charles Kumchenga said he was aware that some teachers had resorted to stage a sit -in soon after schools open if government does not come out clearly on risk allowances.
He said TUM was engaging government on the matter and that both parties were still discussing it.
Kumchenga said the deadline to decide whether teachers should return to work will be Saturday this week.
Reacting to the development, education activist Benedicto Kondowe, who is also the executive director for Civil Society Education Coalition, feared that the education system will be disrupted in the country if government and teachers cannot reach a compromise.
He supported the teachers’ demand for risk allowance, saying that would be important for their safety in a scenario that government has not provided personal protective pquipment both to learners and teachers.
The teachers have not specified the rate of the risk allowance.
Last week, Ministry of Education announced the re-opening of schools from September 7 and that strict compliance to Covid-19 preventive measures will be in force. The ministry budgeted K5 billion to be allocated to the education sector for Covid-19 fight.
President Lazarus Chakwera first hinted at the re-opening of schools two weeks ago in his weekly national addresses. Schools were closed on March 23 this year as precautionary measure to fight coronavirus and comply with a ban on public gatherings of not more than 100 people as prescribed then.
Previously, government bowed to the demands and gave risk allowances to employees working in public institutions such as the health sector and security institutions like the Malawi Police Service and Immigration Department.