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Teachers divided on industrial action

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UNHAPPY WITH STRIKE—Musowa

By Wezzie Gausi:

Teachers in some public primary and secondary schools in the country have vowed to report for work today, indicating that they are ready to brave Teachers Union of Malawi (Tum) threats for the public good.

The development comes barely two days after Ministry of Education officials appealed to striking teachers to return to work today while also urging head teachers to record names of absent teachers.

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In a statement on Sunday, Secretary for Education Kiswell Dakamau indicated that, as far as the ministry was concerned, there was no reason for the teachers to stay home.

“The ministry would like to request all education division managers, directors of education, youth and sports and district education managers in councils and head teachers to ensure that learning commences in earnest on Monday, 1st March, 2021.

“In this regard, all head teachers are requested to maintain teachers’ attendance registers for inspection by the officials from Directorate of Education Quality Assurance Services, formerly known as Directorate of Inspectorate and Advisory Services, together with its sub-national structures based on education divisions, districts and zones. The ministry would like to assure all the teachers and lecturers in public schools and in TTCs [teacher training colleges] of its commitment to continue to prioritise their welfare,” Dakamau said.

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And there are indications that the ministry’s message has arrived home, with some teachers in from public schools in Blantyre, Mzuzu, Zomba and Lilongwe indicating that they were willing to go back to work.

“I and some of my friends have decided to report to work at Kambwiri Primary School today. I understand that some teachers also reported for work at Katerera and Ngolowindo schools today,” said a Salima-based teacher only identified as Andrew.

In Lilongwe, where learners from Saint John’s Primary School in Area 36 demonstrated against teachers’ continued strike Monday, some teachers indicated that they had made up their minds and would now return to work.

Speaking after the learners closed the M1 Road, which is close to Partners in Hope Hospital, with tree branches and stones, one teacher said they had agreed to report for duties today.

The sentiments were echoed by a Bwaila Secondary School teacher, who indicated that they have agreed to resume work.

“We have just come out of our staff meeting a few minutes ago and we have agreed to start teaching. So, our school will start operating normally from tomorrow [today],” he said.

Last week, Malawi Congress of Trade Unions (MCTU) applauded the majority of Tum’s executive committee members who announced that they had taken heed of their line ministry’s call to suspend the strike while teachers’ concerns were being looked into.

Tum leaders, except president Willie Malimba, last week announced the suspension of teachers’ strike pending the outcome of discussions between the government and the union.

Speaking at a press briefing in Lilongwe last week, Tum Second Vice President Rehema Haridi said the suspension of the strike followed commitments President Lazarus Chakwera made during the meeting he had with union leaders at Kamuzu Palace in Lilongwe earlier that week.

Haridi said Chakwera committed to promote the welfare of teachers.

The union’s first vice president Bresters Nyirenda said Tum was committed to the promotion of quality education in the country.

Following the development, MCTU, in a press statement which Secretary General Denis Kalekeni signed, lauded the teachers for prioritising learners’ interests.

“It is for this reason that MCTU joins the leadership of Tum in urging all the teachers in public schools to resume work and go back to class while dialogue continues to take its course,” he said.

The issue of teachers’ strike has also shaken Parliament, where Mulanje Bale lawmaker Victor Musowa threatened to walk out of Parliament and never return until the country’s children return to class.

Musowa said it would be unfair for legislators, whose children are studying abroad or in top private schools across the country, to be discussing business in the august House as if everything were normal when sons and daughters of poor Malawians were not learning.

Leader of Opposition in Parliament Kondwani Nankhumwa concurred with Musowa, saying House needed to discuss the issue of teachers’ strike.

But Leader of the House Richard Chimwendo Banda proposed that the matter be referred to the Education Committee of the House to summon Tum and

government leaders and that, after the discussions, committee members should present a report to the House.

Deputy Speaker of Parliament Madalitso Kazombo then said Leader of the House and Leader of the Opposition should meet and discuss how best the issue could be tackled by the House.

Meanwhile, speaking during the State House Weekly Brief Monday, State House Press Officer Brian Banda said the President hoped that teachers in public schools would understand that the issue of risk allowances was being guided by science.

He said Chakwera understood that those leading the fight against the pandemic had clearly graded the risks accordingly.

“The learners have been out of school for a long time. President Chakwera appreciates the role teachers play [in] teaching the learners, who are the future generation of this country.

“The President, however, expects the teachers to understand that the issue of risk allowance is being guided by science. Looking at this science, those leading us in the fight have developed clear guidelines on the matter. What we are saying is that the negotiations should continue while the teachers are back to school,” he said.

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