It is a fact that an educated human being is a critical resource that drives the engine for the growth of any economy.
Education propels every sector towards achieving success as countries endeavour to economically position themselves.
However, some learning environments have become a nightmare for young aspirants due to the abuse they suffer at the hands of their teachers.
The conduct of some teachers in schools has forced learners out of institutions where leaders are made, leaving them wallowing in ignorance.
Patricia Biliati, 14, recalls how her appetite for education got thwarted when her Standard Seven teacher wanted to sexually exploit her.
She says: “We were doing our evening studies in preparation for our Standard Seven mock exams. My teacher told me to accompany him to his house to get three more torches for our studies.
“I had no reason to suspect anything. It was the shock of my life to see him touching my private parts without my consent. I shouted for help and, luckily, he let me go.”
Patricia is just one of the many learners who have suffered and continue to suffer abuse at the hands of people deemed as second parents.
Given her tender age, psychological trauma gnawed at her mind. She saw no need to continue with her education because her perception of teachers had changed.
Says Patricia: “I was scared to tell anyone about it, not even my mother or friends. I just found no reason to continue with school.
“After a week of forcing me to go to school, I told my single mother that I was no longer interested in education. And this is how I ended up dropping out of school.”
Most schools in the country have become a haven for all forms of abuses from sexual harassment and corporal punishments to abscondment of duties.
Astonishingly, despite some of these vices being reported to authorities, perpetrators are left scot-free. In some cases, they are sent on forced transfers, a situation some quarters believe is not solving the problem.
In what could be termed as a rare occurrence, 20 teachers were suspended in Mangochi owing to misconducts.
In an earlier interview with The Nation, Mangochi district commissioner (DC) Raphael Piringu, lamented the levels of misconduct among the teachers which, he said, have a negative bearing on learners’ performance.
He says: “Instead of being committed to their duties, teachers trek to South Africa or Tanzania to do business and leave learners in the cold. This affects their performance.”
Mulanje DC Stallich Mwambiwa fired six primary school teachers for absconding duties following a directive from Local Government Service Commission.
In February this year, government, through the Ministry of Education, announced that it would issue a professional code of conduct, a move education experts hailed as a permanent solution to the hostile teachers’ behaviour.
Ministry of Education spokesperson Chikondi Chimala said government remains committed to promoting teachers’ behaviours.
He said plans to roll out the code of conduct are at an advanced stage as all preparatory stages have been finalised.
Chimala said: “We’ve been putting in place processes to ensure that we conduct an outreach campaign to engage all stakeholders.
“We are glad to state that we have finished all processes, including printing copies of the code of conduct and we will engage,” he said.
Chimala said the ministry will work closely with Teachers Union of Malawi (TUM)to ensure that the code is used as a positive tool to promote professional behaviour among teachers.
He said: “The discipline of teachers goes a long way towards inculcating a culture of discipline amongst learners.
“The code is meant to be a composite of rules and norms of behaviour to create a safe learning environment.”
TUM president Willy Malimba expressed optimism that once the code is effected, schools will become safe environments for learners.
He warned that any teachers who will be found contravening the code will not be shielded by the union.
“Once teachers are sensitised on the code, TUM will not protect anyone violating it. We will leave it to government to deal with the issue in line with the laws,” he said.
Considering the gravity of the problems in the country’s schools, Chimala’s soothing words seem not enough to raise hope in education experts who feel the professional code of conduct was needed yesterday.
Civil Society Education Coalition executive director Benedicto Kondowe said government must focus on the implementation part if the code is to yield desired results.
“This code was long overdue. However, its effectiveness largely depends on commitment to implement it. In the absence of implementation, nothing tangible will come out of it,” he said.
Let everyone put their fingers crossed as the country waits with bated breath for the ‘game changer’ in schools and colleges. It is high time all stakeholders in education banged heads so that the country’s education sector is married with morality.