The Teachers Union of Malawi (TUM) has demanded a pay increment of about 18 percent, promotions, decent housing and attention to school infrastructure as parliamentarians are deliberating the 2019/20 budget.
TUM general secretary Charles Kumchenga in a telephone interview on Wednesday said the union had presented its expectations to the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MoEST) at a meeting on Monday where it emphasised on teachers’ welfare and provision of teaching and learning materials to be prioritised from the K172.8 billion allocated to the sector.
He said: “As TUM, we are happy with the education sector getting the biggest allocation. But we want government to translate this into a commitment to address key challenges the sector is facing.
“They range from low remuneration and leave grants for teachers, lack of housing, provision of enough teaching and learning materials and availability of good school infrastructure conducive for teaching and learning. We have already communicated our expectations to authorities.”
The education sector has been allocated the lion’s share of the K1.7 trillion National Budget presented in Parliament on Monday by Minister fo Finance, Economic Planning and Development Joseph Mwanamvekha, leading TUM to demand an improvement in the welfare of about 80 000 teachers who it represents.
In April 2019, government announced the promotion of 20 000 teachers, a move that was criticised by education and political commentators as a ploy by the governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration to woo votes for the May 21 Tripartite Elections.
But last week, The Nation reported that four months after the promotions were announced, some teachers were yet to start receiving their new salaries.
In a telephone interview, Principal Secretary for Education Justin Saidi confirmed having met TUM officials but refused to discuss the demands that TUM presented to the ministry.
He said: “You see, at the stage that we are it is too early to say much as the budget is still at a proposed stage. Let us wait when the members of Parliament (MPs) deliberate on it. Only then will we know how we can respond to various issues of concern.”
The education sector has been rocked with various challenges, including demands for teachers’ salary increments.
In January 2018, Nation Online quoted former Education minister Bright Msaka as having said the teacher to pupil ratio was at 1:75, although government has recently claimed the figure had reduced to 1:65 from 1:79 in 2014 following the recruitment of 48 000 new teachers over the past five years.
In June 2018 a classroom wall collapsed on pupils at Nantchengwa Primary School in Zomba and killed four, a development that exposed the dangers of ageing and unreliable school infrastructure to both pupils and teachers.
Commenting on the matter, education expert Steve Sharra said much as the education sector has the biggest allocation of the budget, trends have shown that the sector has been getting lesser allocations in the last few years.
He said: “TUM is raising pertinent issues. If we are serious about reaching our country goals which are aligned to global ones of putting every child in school, we must seriously think of funding the education sector adequately.
“It is high time that education is prioritised as every sector whether health, security or agriculture depends on whether we are investing correctly in education. The question, however, would be why we has seen a drop in the allocations to the sector if we analyse trends of the past few years.”
This year’s allocation is an increase from K142 billion in the 2018/19 budget, which followed a record breaking K235 billion in the 2017/18 fiscal year and K147.6 billion in 2016/17.