Who in the world could have imagined that Adult Literacy Education (Ale) could end extra-marital affairs? Mary Banda, one the beneficiaries of the programme, says one of the benefits she has so far got from the initiative is knowing how to read.
She says at first when her husband had some letters in his pockets, she could not know the content and thought it was just letters concerning their tobacco business until she joined the Ale programme and was now able to read.
“At first, I could not read all the letters my husband used to have in the house but after learning how to read and write, I started managing to read them and discovered that they were actually love letters from a girlfriend. I confronted him and he confessed and ended the affair with the girl who was also from our village,” says Mary from one of the Ale schools in Dowa North.
The government, through the Ministry of Gender, introduced the Ale initiative in the country to improve literacy levels among Malawians.
Although the initiative has helped many elderly people learn how to read and write, it is facing challenges ranging from lack of learning materials to inadequate allowances paid to volunteer instructors that handle such classes.
Some Ale facilities do not even have a chalkboard, almost 10 years after the initiative was introduced in the country.
An Ale report that was released in 2008 by the Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare, then called Ministry of Women and Child Development, indicated that illiteracy in Malawi remains high particularly among women and the poor.
The Malawi Growth and Development Strategy superseded the Malawi Poverty Reduction Strategy paper aimed, at among others, combating poverty and promoting growth in the country.
To achieve these targets, literacy is acknowledged as the major driving force.
In Malawi, only 65.8 percent of adults are literate. But there is some progress, nevertheless.
Since the adult literacy initiative was introduced, beneficiaries of the programme have had their lives changed for the better. Most of them are now able to read and write.
We travelled to Mbunge Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Chakhaza, a journey of about 50 kilometres from Madisi Trading Centre in Dowa, where there are adult literacy schools.
Village Head Mbunge states that after noting the increased levels of illiteracy in his area, he advised instructors in his area to bring an adult literacy school.
The only thing that was provided for the establishment of the school are teachers; they had to improvise a makeshift blackboard for the learners to be using.
“I noted that in my village, many people were not able to read and write so I talked to instructors to bring literacy classes to my area. They only brought teachers so I had to provide a makeshift blackboard,” he said.
Despite learning under a tree, and even sometimes in a tobacco barn, some learners in Mbunge Village are now able to read and write.
They say their lives have greatly transformed after learning how to read and write.
Apina Kaipa, at Nkhuthe Ale School in Chipalawe Village in Dowa North, testifies that she can now ably read.
“I failed to go to school because my parents could not afford it but now I am able now to even read the bible. I do business and I am now able to calculate change,” she says.
Although men sometimes shun the adult literacy classes, Chikaiko Frank testifies about the benefits of education.
“I was very dull; I could not read and write but now I can read and I am able to do bussiness,” he says.
Jailosi Jemusi from Chamatowo School also says he is now able to even read the bible.
“My friends used to mock me when I started the classes but after learning how to read, I was given a role at church and I am now able to read, as such I am encouraging my fellow men to join the classes,” he says.
During the recent parliamentary meeting, Lilongwe South West legislator, Jean Sendeza, asked Minister of Gender Mary Navicha to consider increasing allowances given to adult literacy instructors.
Currently, despite all the work the instructors do, they are given K15,000.
As Modesta Kasile, an adult literacy instructor in T/A Chakhaza in Dowa North states, it is hard to teach the elderly as opposed to teaching younger ones whose brains are still active.
“To be able to teach an elderly person how to write ABC is a difficult job. Even the two hours that we are given to teach them is limited. It is different from teaching a young learner,” she says.
Supervisors of the programme in Dowa North also say they are given the same K15,000 and that the amount is too little.
This, they state, pushes them to compete with learners in search of piece work in their communities.
Hackson Patukani is one of the supervisors. He says he travels long distances on foot to monitor the progress of the programme.
“Most of the times the learners have no textbooks. They study for 10 months but after graduating, there are no organisations to assist them with capital to start small businesses. The government should also consider raising our K15,000 allowance,” he says.
Kapiyo Kanthengo is also a supervisor in Dowa North and says what is most worrying is that government is even failing to pay them their K15,000 honorarium.
“The situation is out of hand because even the little that we are paid has not come from 2017. We only started receiving the honorarium in May 2019 but we have not been given our arrears. Sometime back, we even stopped working because we were not receiving our dues,” he says.
Education rights activist, Benedicto Kondowe, says giving the instructors K15,000 is a huge disservice and that the government should quickly revise the honoraria.
“The concern that the voluntary teachers are raising is very genuine. Giving the teachers K15,000 is a great disservice. We have been urging the government to consider revising policies to do with this programme. It has to set qualifications for the teachers and revise the money teachers are given in such schools just like in other countries,” he says.
But Navicha says such instructors will be considered in other programmes such as the ‘Cement and Malata Subsidy Programme’ as the K15,000 is just an honorarium.
“We are doing everything possible to change the status quo of the teachers but it should be noted that the K15,000 that the volunteer teachers are receiving is just an honorarium. Government is committed to ensuring that the teachers are considered in other initiatives,” she says.
For the Ale programme to produce meaningful results, there is need to ensure well-funded and comprehensive and broadly accessible services at all levels of literacy.