Teacher Shortages: Malawi’s Tale

25 Feb


#Teacher Tuesday


UNESCO estimates that over the four year period between 2011 and 2015, 5.2 million teachers will nbeed to be recruited for primary school alone to achieve Universal Primary Education.. this is about 5% of the current primary school teaching force. More interestingly, only about 1.6 million of these will need to be additional teachers, the rest – 3.7million will be needed to replace teachers who will leave the force.


Teachers leave. They love their job and yet they leave. Why?


Often the answer is – teaching conditions.


This is a global issue. The shortage of teachers and their challenges are well known. Teachers find themselves overwhelmed, often alone and unsupported in classrooms that are inadequate and with fewer resources than required. Teacher Tuesday here is a project that aims to tell their stories.


Ten weeks, ten countries, ten teachers.


This week, we tell the story of Esnart from Malawi. She has been teaching for 25 years and now teaches others to support learning. Her biggest challenge so far? Teaching a class of 230 students.


(I will admit, it is daunting. Day after day. I ran a 3 hour workshop for a 1000 students with a co-teacher. Primary school students. Language teaching and story telling. Interactive. It was stupendous fun. And exhausting. To do this day after day is an act of heroism) Esnart had a class of 230 students. And inadequate buildings. She taught them under a tree. Resources in rural school is  challenge. Ten children sharing a book. Pulling and pushing, the book often tears. Many cannot afford a notebook while a slate is provided by the government. Others write in the sand. I read her interview and wonder – what happens when it rains. Is it easier to write on wet sand or dry? Or do the children not turn up to school when it rains. I hear they don’t – when it rains, it is a holiday. Many school buildings leak.


(I think of India, where I live now. It is not very different in many rural areas. Students study under very difficult circumstances and teachers often spend most of their efforts coralling them from around the village. They have basic resources, but do they equip the students for the world ahead? Do the teachers even have the capacity to deal with complex technology that their urban peers claim to be natural for them? I see Malawi here too, as I also see the change that is sweeping through the larger village clusters)


Esnart and her colleagues know that they need more teachers. Not just in the morning hours (school goes on till 11.30 a.m.) but also for the extra sessions that are put on for supporting other learners later – either after school or in the afternoon. But finding teachers who want to work in rural Malawi is not easy. They are far away from good healthcare and services. Local recruiting has helped, but even so, many of them want to relocate to the cities after their training and after gaining experience. Regulations and policy changes have supported teacher retention in rural areas – teachers now have to sign  a contract to serve in a local area for five years.


(Again, I map these to the Indian story – rural areas show high levels of absenteeism. Just like in Malawi, student achievement levels are far lower than is expected of their age cohort. Teachers prefer to live in the cities, traveling far to reach the schools they are posted to – often not making the long slog. India too is working to hire local para teachers, and the challenges of training local people is part of the struggle to improve quality in remote areas. Malawi is interesting in using holiday time to teach these young teachers – a policy that India would do well to emulate)


Conditions are difficult and motivation levels cannot remain high in such tough circumstances. Esnart highlights the difficulties faced everyday by teachers and students while being part of the solution – she offers tools and techniques to support teachers and improve their ability to deal with whatever comes their way – large classes, shortage of resources, multi grade classes – come rain or shine.

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