Malawian teachers for both primary and secondary schools have belonged to the Teachers Union of Malawi (TUM). This association was formed as early as 1945 with the aim of fostering the welfare of teachers in Malawi. However, one hardly notices its presence and its effectiveness. One wonders whether this institution exists or its just one of the many shadow institutions. Many teachers, especially in secondary schools, have sought TUM’s intervention in several situations, but the more they try, the more they become disappointed. My conclusion is that TUM has failed to orient and extend its focus and attention to secondary school teachers. Therefore, it is high time these teachers established their own union.
To start with, the objectives of TUM clearly show that it caters only for primary school teachers, not secondary school teachers. For instance, it aims at facilitating the upgrading of primary school teachers to pass Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE) examinations. There is nothing for the professional development for secondary school teachers. As a union, it was supposed to plan for the professional development of all its members. The bias towards primary school teachers is very evident.
Secondly, out of the many achievements that TUM brags to have achieved, its direct beneficiaries are primary school teachers. For instance, it says it has fought for primary school teachers to have a full civil servant status. It also argues that it has been instrumental in getting primary school teachers’ upgrading course scrapped off so that they can automatically be promoted upon obtaining necessary academic qualifications. TUM runs courses to assist primary school teachers pass their MSCE examinations. From this, one can see that TUM is not innovative enough to offer something to secondary school teachers. The writing is on the wall that TUM has failed to integrate secondary school teachers in its activities.
TUM claims that it facilitates the exchange of useful information to all its members at zone, district, regional and national levels. The truth of the matter is that it is not all members, but only primary school teachers. For instance, whenever there are elections for office bearers, letters to secondary schools arrive on the day of the election. To this effect, there are no TUM school representatives in secondary schools. Consequently, many secondary school teachers have given up their efforts to become members of this grouping. If at all they are members of TUM, they are just added without their knowledge. Many have expressed anger at TUM’s scheme to deduct them a membership fee when they are not members. Is membership to a union ever by default? Not to my knowledge. TUM must conduct a soul-searching to see why, out of the many teachers we have in Malawi, it has only 10 000 as its members.
Therefore, it is a case of a ripe fruit falling from a tree for secondary school teachers to form their own union. This union would adequately serve its members because it seems TUM is overstrain with multiple representations that include primary, secondary teachers and teachers training colleges (TTC) tutors. The establishment of a separate union for secondary school teachers would strengthen their bargaining position for professional development and teacher welfare in secondary schools.
When that happens, TUM should not look at this organisation as a rival, instead it should look at it as a sister organisation with similar goals. In other countries, teachers have formed different unions. For instance, in Zambia, they have Secondary School and Basic Educators’ Teachers Union. In Zimbabwe; there are two as well, the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe and Teachers Union of Zimbabwe. All these unions work hand in hand and there is no conflict among members.- The author is a teacher based in Zomba. He writes in his personal capacity