Housing crisis: Teacher sleeps in classroom

HOMELESS—Singini about to sleep in the classroom

Housing challenges for teachers have become chronic, leading to dwindling education standards in Malawi. In this edition of Friday Shaker, MANDY PONDANI shares the sad story of a volunteer and homeless teacher who sleeps in a classroom after sacrificing his house to an equally homeless head teacher.

The life of a 26-year-old teacher at Chilukwa Primary School, Engucwini Zone, in Mzimba District is in danger, as he has in the last three months, been putting up in a classroom due to shortage of staff houses.

Adamson Singini’s story is a tale of sacrifice and commitment to serve rural learners who, just like any other child, deserve quality education from a well-qualified teacher.


At dusk, Singini braves the humiliating experience of carrying his beddings to a standard seven classroom, which has in recent months, turned into his bedroom.

At dawn, this teacher has no choice but to pave the way for learners.

Singini admitted that sleeping in a classroom is a humiliating experience but he does it for the sake of learners in this remote part of Malawi.


The teacher hopes that, one day, the learners would bail this far flung area from its challenge of lacking accommodation.

“I have been using this classroom for over two months. I sacrificed the house I was staying in to the head teacher because his was blown off by a heavy storm on December 27 last year,” Singini said.

Sleeping in the classroom has compromised the life of the new-graduate teacher and contributed to poor sanitation.

The youthful teacher said he had given up hope of living in a proper house with a family.

“I sent my wife and kid to my home village because I wouldn’t let them suffer with me here. That was the only choice if I were to preserve the dignity of my family,” Singini said.

On December 27 2018, the area of Traditional Authority (TA) Mtwalo of Mzimba received heavy rains and strong winds which destroyed over 30 houses and crop fields, leaving households stranded and homeless.

SORRY SIGHT—A teacher’s house without a roof

Chilukwa Primary School was not spared of the tragedy. The roof of the house of the school’s head teacher, Mzondi Sakala, was blown off.

The disaster only exposed the longstanding problem of shortage of teachers’ houses in the area and indeed, across the country.

“It was devastating. I lost property valued at over K150, 000. I was rendered homeless. It took one teacher, Singini, to offer me his house. It is a sacrifice that I will treasure for the rest of my life. He is a teacher extraordaire,” Sakala said.

He said the school has nine teachers versus four houses—minus his, which heavy winds destroyed.

“Staff houses have never been enough; some of the teachers walk for over five kilometres to get to work. My plea to the government and other stakeholders is that they must come to our rescue,” he said.

Singini, who is from Kacheche Village in Mzimba, said he could not afford to rent a house elsewhere since he is yet to be hired by the Ministry of Education as a full-time employee.

Having graduated from college with a diploma in teaching, Singini is one of among hundreds of teachers which the government has been promising to employ.

He survives on K20,000 which Parents Teachers Association (PTA) agreed to be giving him as a token of appreciation for the sacrifice he makes for the sake of their children.

“I am failing to support myself. The little that the PTA gives me goes straight to support my old mother who is taking care of my wife and child,” Singini said.

He observed that his predicament falls short of inspiring any learner that teaching is a noble profession.

FRIEND IN NEED—A fellow teacher assists Singini as he heads to the classroom

Singini further blamed systematic failures for his poor living and working conditions.

“I feel let down by the system. I had wishes and ambitions when I pursued teaching. But now it has turned me into a laughing stock. Considering the situation I am in, there is no way I can encourage any learner to work hard class and become a teacher,” Singini said.

The Daily Times has also observed that the housing crisis at Chilukwa has taken a toll on the performance of learners at the school, as they have no full access to the classroom for discussions after classes as they pave the way for their homeless teacher.

“We report for classes late to give our teacher enough time to rest, and also knock off earlier to create space for him. It is sad. We can only hope that authorities will intervene in the situation here,” said the school’s standard seven learner, Marieta Mhango.

The school’s PTA Chairperson, Saulos Tchongwe, said they endeavored to build houses for the teachers but they [houses] are not fit for human occupation.

Tchongwe said they have mobilised resources to build a teacher’s house, but all is in futility due to lack of the government’s involvement.

“This government has no idea whatsoever on what quality education is all about. After 56 years of independence, we cannot have teachers sleeping in classrooms. Other teachers come from distant places, just like the learners. They are always behind the syllabus. How do we expect to improve education standards that way?” He queried.

Tchongwe warned that, if nothing were done to motivate teachers who are based in rural areas, the government should brace for their migration to urban locations.

“If this is how we will be treading as a nation, we should not blame teachers for abandoning schools situated in remote places,” he said.

The school’s PTA has budgeted K2.5 million to cater for the construction of a teacher’s house, hoping it would solve accommodation woes for teachers such as Singini.

Asked why the government is failing to look into teachers’ housing woes especially in rural areas, Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MoEST), Principal Secretary, Justin Saidi, said officials on the ground were better placed to comment on the issue, referring us to the District Education Manager’s (DEM) office.

He, however, said: “There are several reasons that can render a teacher homeless.”

HARD LIFE—The teacher prepares for lessons

Asked about what they are doing to address the problem at Chilukwa, Senior Inspector of Schools for Mzimba-North in the DEM’s office, Weckson Mkandawire, said the problems at the school were just a tip of an Iceberg.

He said 24 out of hundreds of schools in Mzimba face a similar predicament due to natural disasters and resource constrains.

“We, sometimes, use School Improvement Fund to address some of the issue, but, as you are aware, the resources are meagre. Need I say that for some months, we did not get School Improvement Grants (SIG). So, yeah it is a challenge. We also hope for a permanent solution to all the housing woes that our teachers face,” Mkandawire said.

Teachers Union of Malawi (Tum) General Secretary, Charles Kumchenga, said problems of shortage of teachers’ houses was rampant across the country.

He said Tum remains skeptical of the government’s commitment to improve education standards in the country.

“In this age, we don’t expect a teacher to be accommodated in a classroom. When we say promotion of quality education, we incorporate issues to do with housing. We can’t expect a teacher living in a classroom to deliver effectively,” Kumchenga said.

According to Tum, there are no specific statistics regarding housing problems in Malawi but observed that teachers based in rural areas are neglected.

ON DUTY—Singini teaches

Meanwhile, Civil Society Education Coalition Executive Director, Benedicto Kondowe, has described the teacher-housing crisis, especially in rural primary schools, as atrocious, saying it defeats the whole essence of bringing education closer to learners through the establishment of more primary schools.

“Teachers’ housing has been a long standing problem. By now, we expected serious commitment from the government to address it. It is a fact that a teacher with no proper accommodation cannot deliver because they cannot prepare for lessons nor commit fully to work. All we are calling for is political will to sort this problem holistically in all parts of the country,” Kondowe said.

Chilukwa Primary school was opened in 1998 and has an enrolment of 290.

Overall, it is estimated that Malawi has 80,000 teachers in public schools.

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