As Malawi grapples with a high teacher-to-pupil ratio, government is losing funds training teachers who abandon the profession for other pathways. ALBERT SHARRA Writes.
As youthful Malawians increasingly scramble for limited chances of further education, employment and skills development, some have the luxury of hopping from one government-sponsored training to another.
A new police officer, whom we have christened Mphatso to safeguard his identity, has changed careers twice since 2014.
“It’s the greatest achievement of my life. Many are not as lucky,” says the trained teacher turned police officer.
Mphatso was among 735 Malawi Police Service (MPS) recruits whose pass-out parade was graced by President Peter Mutharika at Limbe Police Training College early this month.
Two years ago, he was among almost 6 000 student teachers awarded government scholarships for Open and Distance Learning (ODL) programme and Initial Primary Teacher Education (IPTE).
“I love teaching, but government did not offer me a job,” says Mphatso, adjusting his khaki uniform.
He is not the only runaway teacher in police uniform. They are many on MPS payroll. Through him, we identified four others in his squad.
Before his exodus, Mphatso was supposed to teach at a rural primary school for five years in honour of his scholarship bond. He did not teach once. His friends quit while serving the bond.
Government introduced the bonds to retain the teachers it trains. Sometimes, government holds on to certificates or sternly warns the teachers to enforce this.
However, recent failure by government to employ all new faces teachers training colleges keep churning out has brought the bond system into question.
Initially, government was training 3 500 teachers per year through IPTE.
In 2010, the shocking sights of a teacher serving almost 100 learners compelled the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology to increase the intake for teachers training colleges (TTCs).
Government blames the prevailing financial hardships for failing to absorb all newly-trained teachers.
Instead, our investigation shows that nearly 10 600 new teachers have been abandoned.
The rejected teachers include 5 458 and 5 142 trained under ODL 3 and IPTE 8, respectively.
Former spokesperson of the ministry, Manfred Ndovi, disclosed that government has problems to include on payroll all teachers coming straight from college.
But at stake are resources spent on these excluded teachers as government spent almost K666 800 to train each ODL 3 teacher for two years and K547 600 for every IPTE 8 recruit. The teachers were also pocketing monthly allowances.
Government spent about K10.4 billion for these teachers that are either loafing or dumping the education sector haunted by brain drain.
Some of them have been lost for good.
However, Mphatso personifies those who will never meet their obligations—much to the detriment of rural pupils who crave adequate skilled teachers—for government has turned them into police officers. Others are at Malawi College of Health Sciences.
While the teachers in police hats can still teach in MPS schools, sources in the security agency say these are treated as different careers.
“ODL and IPTE targets public schools under Moest. Police is under Ministry of Home Affairs and Internal Security. So, there is no way they can claim to be serving the bond at a police school. The problem is our system,” said the source.
Moest spokesperson Lindiwe Chide says the ministry loses about 1 200 teachers to “greener pasture” as well as death, resignation and retirement.
The policy for primary school teachers seeks to ensure that remote areas have enough teachers.
“This is made clear right from recruitment training institutions. Once they graduate, they are posted to rural schools and are allowed to move after serving the bond. They sign an agreement.”
Chide disclosed that some defaulters get stern warnings when they leave the districts for no good reason.
“They have been cautioned and sent where they are supposed to teach since we currently do not have procedures for defaulters,” she said.
The ministry is reportedly working on the desired regulations.
However, the public service gives its employees “a choice” to change careers as government has no system to capture the whereabouts of beneficiaries of State-funded scholarships.
This is why Capital Hill is investing twice on the same individual while many wait in vain for these fluffed opportunities.
“The general government policy is to train its employees whether one works in teaching service or police service,” Chide explains. “The employees make a choice of where they would like to work and government will train them accordingly as the civil service provides for opportunity to transfer between post or change career path based on the acquired qualification.”
Educationist Limbani Nsapato says while teachers can decide to join other careers, the bond must be reinforced.
He explained: “Otherwise, government will be wasting resources, which could have otherwise benefited the education system in improving access to quality education, especially at primary level.
“Again, when teachers leave to join other professions, it is the education sector that suffers given that Malawi has a high shortage of trained and qualified teachers.
Currently, a Malawian teacher attends to almost 80 pupils-twice higher than the internationally recommended ration of one to 40. Government recommends one teacher for 60 learners.
“When trained teachers leave, they are reducing the number of qualified teachers, which will have a negative impact on access to quality education,” Nsapato warns. n