SPECIAL REPORT: The Plight of Teachers for the Majority Illiterate of Malawi
In our special report this week, Winstone Kaimira, brings to light challenges rocking the adult literacy program in Malawi at a time illiteracy is high and, elsewhere, negatively affecting desired progress.
This is a story in which adult literacy instructors as well as supervisors, are openly expressing frustration as they receive as little as K15,000.00 in honoraria per month but through the government salaries account.
The instructors and supervisors are puzzled that the processing of these payments is also done through the government salaries account, while governments’ own minimum wage, stands at K50,000.00 per month.
In a scorching sunny-Nkhotakota afternoon, a group of women is seated under a mango tree facing a chalk board.
It is time to learn reading and writing in local language; Chichewa.
This is Ching’anyila village in the area of Traditional Authority Mphonde in Nkhotakota district. He is the only adult literacy instructor in this village.
The tools he has; are, a movable chalk board, pieces of chalk and some syllabus books. And before him today are his 17 female learners.
After about an hour of teaching, the instructor is convinced there is progress. And the results of his labor are evident.
“I can now read and write and calculate. I have learnt a lot. At first, I could not read and write. It was even difficult to do business, as I was not able to transact. I am able to do that now perfectly because I have learnt how to do so. I am thankful,” says Amina Mbewe. Amina is aged 60. She is one of the learners under the tree.
This woman has been attending classes for three years now.
The establishment of an adult literacy school in the village, she says, has led to improved literacy in the area.
But this is not all that Mang’ango does. Since 2004, he also doubles as supervisor for a number of adult literacy schools in the area.
This is where he has issues with how government is handling matters.
When Mang’ango begun teaching adults, honoraria was K500 a month. That was later raised to a 1000 Kwacha a month.
At the moment, the honoraria is K15, 000 per month.
But what has been painful is that to get that money has been a hustle.
Another instructor, Masauko January Phiri of Sikweya Village in the area of Senior Chief Kanyenda is puzzled that honoraria to adult literacy instructors and supervisors goes into a public salaries account.
‘“I receive a text message indicating that what we receive are monthly salaries. The message reads: ‘Malawi Government Salary”. But the money we get is K15,000.00 per month. The president directed that each and every employee should be getting not less than fifty thousand Kwacha as his or her monthly salary.
‘Why is it that our case is different? How come that the text message sent through our mobile phones describes the money as part of government salary? There is something wrong somewhere,”’ says January-Phiri.
We confronted spokesperson for the ministry of Gender, Fred Simwaka, over this. He emphasized that the 9,600 adult literacy instructors working in Malawi are paid honoraria and not salaries.
But as to why the honoraria is paid out through Malawi Government Salaries Account, Simwaka said treasury, is better placed to explain.
“Since the honorarium was raised to K15,000, it was very risky for an officer to carry that amount of money for so many people. There are about 9,600 instructors. Then as control measures the government decided to introduce the instructors on some sort of a payroll. So that they could be receiving through the government system - electronic transfer,” he said.
For the whole of the month of August, Zodiak tried in vain to get input from spokesperson for the Ministry of Finance Taurai Banda.
Even after submitting a questionnaire he had asked for.
But our finding is that during a head counting exercise in 2020, there were assurances that adult literacy instructors would-be put on government payroll, that they would receive arrears of about 400 thousand kwacha each and would start receiving monthly salaries at government’s minimum wage, currently standing at 50 000 Kwacha.
Subsequently, each adult literacy instructor was assigned a number for easy processing of the monthly payment through bank accounts.
To date, only one of the three promises has been fulfilled. The adult literacy instructors get 15,000 each month through the banks.
Says Mang’ango: “Some officials came to conduct headcount. They gave us some employment numbers in a process they said, aimed at putting us on government payroll”.
But Mang’ango is baffled that his monthly honoraria of 15 000 Kwacha is deposited in his bank account as a government salary when the minimum wage in Malawi is at 50,000 Kwacha at the moment.
He says the description on text messages he receives when the money is deposited indicates that the funds are part of government salaries.
“The message shows that the money is deposited into our bank accounts by the Ministry of Finance as our salaries. The salary needs to be increased because the current minimum wage, is K50,000.00,” he says.
Milward Tobias is an economic expert. He is baffled that government, which set the minimum wage at K50,000.00, can be paying someone using its salaries account an amount less than the minimum wage.
“This is an anomaly. First, the naming or terminology could actually be revised. Whether it will be classified as an honorarium or an allowance, or else if government can afford then they should raise it, to what the policy says is the minimum wage or minimum salary.
“But you can’t pay somebody less than K50 000 and you are the same government that says minimum wage is K50 000. It doesn’t make sense, we need consistency,” Tobias argues.
The 2018 Malawi Population and Housing Census report by the National Statistical Office, shows that 41. 4 per cent of Malawians (4.7 million) are illiterate and that the majority of the illiterate are women.
In a country where the majority are women, it would be suicidal to allow that even one is left to be illiterate.
Education expert Limbani Nsapato says the adult literacy policy was approved in 2020 to address some of these challenges but it remains non-operational and that little is being invested in adult literacy.
Nsapato alleges government owes adult literacy instructors close to three billion Kwacha in honoraria arrears.
“It has been accumulated from 2018 when the honoraria was raised to K15,000. What it means is that the instructors are just doing the work but without being paid. Funding for operations is between K65m to K95m. This is little considering the work that needs to be done,” Nsapato says.
Official statistics show that the country has millions of citizens who cannot either read or write. A literate population is an empowered population. It has power to fight poverty on its own. It is healthy.
It is the responsibility of government to ensure that the right to education is accessible to all without segregation based on funding.
If knowledge is power, illiterate adults of this country are powerless. In this case, because their teachers feel duped and are a frustrated lot.