By Paul Chikondi Nguluwe:
Teachers Union of Malawi (Tum) does not really have the welfare of teachers at heart.
I am saying this, having worked with a wide range of teachers in a number of districts in Malawi. I know this would be subject to debate but I would regard such debates as time-wasting.
In the first place, let Tum tell us how teachers are benefitting from the union.
In 2019, a collection of development indicators by the World Bank indicated that the number of female primary school teachers was at 37,554 persons, as compiled from officially recognised sources. Assuming that the number of female teachers is equal to that of males, then we would be talking of 75,108.
By virtue of being a teacher in the civil service under the Teaching Service Commission, one becomes a member of Tum, whose membership is serviced by a K500.00 monthly membership fee.
Insignificant as it might seem from one’s pay slip, it translates to K37,554,000. Yes, this is roughly what the union collects from the teachers on a monthly basis, meaning that the annual figure is close to half a billion Kwacha (K450,648,000).
Of course, the estimation does not include contributions from secondary school teachers. Therefore, the actual figure could be higher than this.
Unfortunately, a large chunk of Tum’s operations is not known to the majority of the members. In fact, I can challenge here that most teachers have never seen the constitution that confers power on the current Tum leadership.
I can comfortably challenge, again, that teachers from schools such as Mlambe Primary in Ntchisi District, Matowe Primary in Dedza District, Nazitimbe Primary in Zomba District, Mwazisi Primary in Rumphi District and countless other remote schools never know how the funds deducted from their monthly salary in the name of Tum membership are used for.
Truth be told, I am neither against Tum leaders calling on the government to give them Covid risk allowances nor am I in support of it. I have always been neutral on the matter.
My concern, though, borders on how Tum is run and how its members benefit from its operations. I wish the vibe they come with when calling for sit-ins was real enough to amplify the voice of the most neglected teachers in our remotest places.
It pierces my heart to see how teachers struggle, especially those in rural areas, when a mother body that is mandated to speak for them seems limbless.
Not so long ago, a learner lost life at Nantchengwa Primary School in Zomba District after a community-constructed classroom block wall collapsed on the learner.
Sadly, classroom blocks like the one that fell on a learner and claimed life at Nantchengwa are commonplace in local schools. I am referring to public schools.
Nevertheless, teachers risk their lives and facilitate learning in such ticking-bomb environments. Unfortunately, Tum turns a blind eye to such pertinent needs.
It is, in fact, sad to note that the Tum leadership has not done some critical analysis in its fight for Covid risk allowances. As things have turned out, the Tum leadership is just as greedy as some of the politicians themselves.
No wonder, it is reported that, last time, the stay-away was suspended following a meeting with government officials. This time, it has been put on hold allow to allow the Industrial Relations Court to make a determination on it.
Much as I have always been holding my peace on the issue of risk allowances for teachers, I have been skeptical. I guess the recent turn of events just vindicated me.
Obviously, allowances and vaccines cannot be compared in terms of their effectiveness in protecting one from contracting the virus. I wish the Tum leadership confronted the government in a systematic way to address their strategic monetary issues other than taking advantage of the Covid pandemic.
At times, I wonder so much, as regards to what constitutes Tum leadership. I have a wide range of friends who are teachers and I respect them so much when it comes to critical analysis of social issues. Do these friends of mine have an opportunity to share their ideas, let alone contesting for leadership, at Tum and with the union’s leadership?
I think it is high time we sanitised Tum so that the most neglected teacher in remote areas starts smiling as their membership begins bearing tasty fruits!
It would even be much better to abolish Tum and establish Teachers Council of Malawi instead. That way, teachers would be organised enough, just as lawyers, nurses, doctors. That way, they would earn back their glory before it goes beyond redemption.