For time immemorial, teaching has been a basis of other professions.
Greece, where formal education started, divided society into three professions: warriors, artisans and philosopher kings.
Philosopher kings were thinkers, guardians and rulers. They mentored the warriors on the art of war.
Philosopher kings also advised artisans how to process raw materials into finished products.
Eminent philosophers, Socrates and Plato, could be compared to modern day teachers.
All professions owe it to the teachers. At all levels of education—primary, secondary and tertiary— they prepare learners for different professions. Lawyers, doctors, pilots, engineers, journalists have a teacher to thank.
Teachers, particularly in primary schools, play a fundamental role as mentors, guardians and facilitators who give clueless children a solid start in life.
This is why teachers are highly respected and well incentivised elsewhere. They prepare learners for different professions and to be knowledgeable and responsible citizens
They are agents of change strategically spread across the country. If government introduces new policies, teachers form a formidable network to reach the remotest part of the nation.
Prior to the restoration of democracy in 1993, the status of teachers in Malawi was admirable. Most learners wanted to become teachers.
They were role models in communities they served and this rejuvenated their passion for the job.
Not any longer.
The teaching profession has lost respect. Learners no longer admire their teachers. Teachers themselves have lost enthusiasm for their profession. Most learners envision themselves becoming lawyers, accountants, engineers, pilots…not teachers.
Students in teacher training colleges (TTCs) and universities have no kind words about the teaching profession.
They did not want to pursue this profession, but circumstance forced me to do it, they say.
Others dare say they are pursuing the profession as a stepping stone to other professions.
In worst cases, they say their parents forced them.
This raises numerous questions. Where did the country get it wrong? Why is the profession no longer admirable? Who is to blame? How can we restore the glorious status of a teacher in Malawi?
Can the country learn something from neighbouring countries where teachers are still respected? Why have some learners become unruly and difficult to manage these days?
The questions are endless and without clear-cut answers. Some may sound obvious.
Teachers’ morale has slumped due to pathetic conditions they are exposed to—low pay, delayed salaries, poor housing and heavy workload
Due to myriad of unfavourable conditions, some teachers have abandoned the profession while others have advised learners not to take up teaching in future.
Realistic policies need to be put in place to reverse the uncomfortable conditions teachers are enduring.
Teachers in public schools deserve better. The majority of Malawians cannot afford to send their children to private schools.
Improve teachers’ conditions in public schools.
Commitment to improving teachers’ conditions is not an option if the nation is serious about improving the levels of literacy in learners in public schools.
Some learners confront teachers at will. In some cases teachers have been rendered vulnerable. How do we control such learners to make the teachers’ work manageable? What policies should be put in place to ensure that learners’ rights and discipline complement each other in order to achieve meaningful learning? No learning can take place without discipline.
To what extent should human rights groups advocate for learners rights? Some learners have emphasised their rights without exercising responsibility of their actions.
Unless policymakers realise the fundamental roles teachers play in socio-economic development of a nation, a Malawian teacher’s status will remain despicable. n