Fed up with on-and-off disruption of classes, some learners in public schools yesterday took to the streets and petitioned authorities to resolve the teachers’ strike to enable them learn uninterrupted.
Hundreds of primary school learners, mostly in Blantyre, Lilongwe, Mzuzu, Ntchisi and Nsanje complained that the closure of schools as a precautionary measure to fight Covid-19 already negatively affected their studies; hence, they cannot afford another disruption through the teachers’ strikes.
In Blantyre, police moved in to quell the situation as hundreds of learners from Catholic Institute (CI) Primary and community day secondary schools marched along the Mahatma Gandhi Road.
They blocked the road while chanting: “Ife tatopa ndi ma strike! Musatiphere ufulu wathu wa maphunziro [We have had enough of the teachers’ strikes. We have a right to education].”
Some learners from St. Pius also marched from the school’s premises in Nkolokosa to Kamba where they blocked the road. They later dispersed peacefully.
The learners’ protests coincided with the resumption of strike by the 103 003 teachers under Teachers Union of Malawi (TUM) demanding a minimum of K50 000 a month in risk allowances, translating to K5.15 billion and K15.45 billion for the three months.
In Mzuzu, Standard Eight pupil Tiny Lwazi said they were tired of being home and asked Capital Hill to ensure that the matter is resolved expeditiously.
She wondered why government was failing to resolve the matter which started last year.
Lwazi said: “We went to school and found that all teachers were absent, asked where they were, we were told it’s about risk allowances. So, our march to the DEM [division education manager’s office] was to ask the office to intervene on the matter.
“I am in Standard Eight and we will be writing exams soon. We have already lost a lot of time due to Covid-19 and you think this strike is helping us? We want government to come in and help. We are giving them one week or we’ll be back on the streets.”
In his reaction, DEM (North) Nameson Ngwira said government was equally concerned with the situation and that it was doing everything to resolve the matter.
“Everybody is worried. Examinations are coming very soon and there is no time for us to waste.
“We will discuss with TUM so that everything is normalised. There is hope that this will end soon and pupils should be home and wait as things are getting normalised,” he said.
But TUM president Willy Malimba said any discussion with government on the matter was meaningless
arguing that there has been enough engagement.,
He said that government has invited them to a meeting tomorrow and wondered why it has taken this long to engage teachers despite a seven-day ultimatum.
Said Malimba: “In the first place, we asked for K35 000 risk allowances, but for PPEs, the minimum we asked was K50 000. We had submitted to government, but they were silent. They kept on changing statements.
“For us, even when we met at Parliament, we asked that they should provide us what they can offer, but they have failed.”
He said the Thursday meeting with government is meaningless if the funds are not made available.
Malimba said: “All that government needs is simply to come up with a figure on how much it wants to give us.”
Civil Society Education Coalition executive director Benedicto Kondowe said honesty and respect was missing in the engagement between government and TUM. He said there is need for a third party to be involved in the dialogue process.
He said: “The system is not moving, the major message from government leaves a lot to be desired. We seem to be operating in an environment where government doesn’t seem to care, it is failing on its constitutional obligation to promote, protect and fulfil the right to education.”
Kondowe said it was worrisome that President
Lazarus Chakwera has remained silent on the matter.
On his part, educationist Limbani Nsapato took to his Facebook page where he argued that the strike could have been avoided if government honoured its pledge to pay the teachers.
He said any calls for dialogue this time around cannot be taken seriously by the teachers.
Said Nsapato: “Teachers won’t be interested in spending more unproductive hours on a dialogue table whose results don’t get implemented. Government has put itself in the soup!”
In a separate interview, Presidential Task Force on Covid-19 co-chairperson Wilfred Chalamira Nkhoma said the matter had already been concluded on their part. He threw the ball to the Ministry of Education’s court.
“They had issued the ultimatum to the Ministry of Education, so they are the best people to talk to so that they can advise us on how they are dealing with the issue,” he said.
Ministry of Education spokesperson Chikondi Chimala said a government negotiating team had been instituted to discuss the matter with TUM and other stakeholders.
Blantyre Police Station spokesperson Augustus Nkhwazi said by close of business yesterday no one reported any damage or injury following the learners’ march.
He said: “Police rushed to the scenes in time to provide security to CI learners who were marching while those from St Pius were dispersed peacefully and nobody was injured.”
On March 8 2021, the Joint Committee of Education and Social and Community Affairs in Parliament engaged TUM and Ministry of Education to resolve the impasse.
Last year, schools were closed on March 23 for five months following government order to prevent the further spread of Covid-19 during the first wave.
Early this year, schools were also closed for five weeks following the second wave of the pandemic.
When government announced the re-opening of schools in February, learners in public schools were further affected by the teachers’ strike, which went on for two weeks as TUM demanded a Covid-19 risk allowance