Tuesday 25 February 2014

#TeacherTuesday Esnart Chapomba in Malawi

This is part of a UNESCO campaign to highlight the difficulties teachers around the world face. For the first week we are hearing from Esnart Chapomba in Malawi. 

Esnart and her family

This is a transcript of an interview with her:

• I am a self-motivated person who strives to make a positive impact on other people’s lives so that they can use their knowledge to change their own lives and those of others.

• At present, I am no longer teaching full time in class but I train Complementary Basic Education (CBE) facilitators who teach out of school youths and children. These facilitators are met in their village zones/clusters.

• The schools in which facilitators teach are in the rural areas and a maximum of 60 facilitators are trained though mostly such trainings would take place at zonal level where a group of 15 facilitators are trained. CBE classes are held in borrowed premises such as school classrooms or any other community building as they only exist for three years to help school drop outs catch up with learning and those who have never been to school to learn before they go back to formal schools.

• I have been a teacher for 25 years.

• I teach adults who in turn teach children and youth of ages 9 to 17 years.

• There are about 60% males and 40% females in my class.

• My classroom is a permanent building with all facilities available. It has model teaching and learning resources that my students could learn from and make their own in their respective classrooms.

• My students are of diverse abilities and backgrounds, but I create an environment where all are given equal opportunity to learn from me and from others.


My name is Esnart Chapomba from Malawi, Africa. I am a teacher by profession; I have taught for 21years. I have taught in Primary school, secondary school and at Teacher Training College. In my experience as a teacher I have found out that education quality is negatively affected in both urban and rural primary schools due to the following factors: teaching and learning in primary schools takes place in unfriendly conditions. 

For instance, a good number of classrooms do not have desks for learners to sit on; in most schools, children from grades 1 to 5 sit on the floor; most classrooms have roofs that leak during the rainy season, do not have enough text books such that up to 10 or more learners share one textbook; and learners in a good number of schools sit under trees to learn because of inadequate number of classroom blocks. Even a highly qualified teacher cannot deliver with all of his/her expertise because of such environments. However, the Government of Malawi through the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology is trying to beat these problems by annually procuring desks, textbooks to achieve learner to book ratio of 1:1.

The challenge is that learner enrolments are very high in schools, and teachers in lower primary schools handle very huge classes of up 200 learners in one class in most schools in rural areas; they teach in unfriendly conditions and live in leaking orcracked houses such that most teachers are not eager to teach in rural schools.

However, the government introduced rural allowances, an additional amount of money of K5 000.00 per month, to attract teachers to teach in rural areas. Teacher training modes are those that respond to the growing numbers of children in schools such that teachers undergo crash teacher training programmes in order to produce more teachers within a short period of time to reduce teacher/pupil ratios. Teacher trainers hardly have holidays because during school terms they teach conventional students while during holidays they attend to Open and Distance Learning (ODL) student teachers. This compromises the quality of teacher training because teacher trainers hardly have time to rest hence become less efficient in their work

Esnart's teaching story

“When the classes are large the teachers can’t assist the students. The students can’t learn how to read or write. The teacher does not do her job because she’s not able to put her efforts to the right direction so children are not learning when they are supposed to. In such classrooms, the children aren’t learning how to read or write.

If there are many children in class, the resources are few. I can tell you about ten children sharing one resource.

How can children learn when they are sharing a single textbook – reading upside-down,
others pulling it in their direction?

This is the case in most schools here, especially in rural areas. There are so many children enrolling in schools, the population growth is just too rapid.

Part of the teaching training curriculum helps them to deal with large classes – divide the class into portions, small groups, sometimes what we have enough teachers we do ‘twin teaching’, two teachers teach one class in groups. But with a shortage of teachers already, it’s a problem

Sometimes there are shortages of classrooms. In the cities there are more teachers but
classroom shortage is another issue. You can’t fit all the children into one class or divide
the children into different classes, so you have to do some learning under trees –another challenge.

Something is being done about this especially on the book side. The government is
purchasing more text books every year. Standard grade one books are being purchased in the right numbers so that children have more likelihood to have an English book each. But in second and third grades less likely.

The government is trying to train more teachers. We have two months of training before we start and then open distance training as well after. The government are building more teacher training colleges. The teachers go to the training college in their holidays. This means they don’t get any holiday as after their school term they go to the training college. The teachers have to go to the college for training and they have to pass their exams to become qualified.

The government is attracting more teachers into rural areas by providing extra amount of money called ‘hardship allowance’. Until recently they have promoted teachers and given them higher positions if they teach in rural areas, but the challenge is that the conditions are too hard so teachers are not willing to teach there. With open distance training, the government tries to recruit teachers locally.

Local recruitment is good, but many still move to the urban areas afterwards to join their husbands after they are qualified.

In the past there are no female teachers. I remember a case where we assisted the
government to build more hostels for female teachers, and the government are changing their recruitment so they take on half female and half male. They encourage the females to apply.

There was a problem getting the right female teachers because they didn’t comply – they didn’t have the qualifications. Now they take females on lower grades than the males as there are still more educated males.

The female teachers especially when posted in rural areas are role models for the girl child. They encourage them to go on with their education, encourages them to work hard in the schools.

When I was teaching I could see some girls continuing to go to school because they got
encouragement from female teachers.

In the family, they go to educate the boy because they think he will one day be the head of the family, but nowadays, we are seeing many female role models. Right now our president is a female. We are now seeing more possibilities for the female.

When I was teaching at a training college in a rural area, none of the girls from that
area went to school but others came from different areas. So we went to talk to the mothers and the girls.

They are mothers wanting grandchildren, so we female teachers went to talk to them ‘look at these females from other areas coming here to get an education, why can’t girls from this village come to get an education and come to this college to become teachers? We managed to get female teachers in two primary schools and supported them. We contributed to help them so they could continue their education.

Lack of encouragement from parents affects them.

Some of the girls getting pregnant by their boyfriends so they stay with their families who look after the young baby. Some of them get married early. Soon after puberty they get pregnant. Some get pregnant and drop out. Most girls now being taught about HIV and AIDS and say no to unprotected sex. The teachers are trained in sexual education and it is in the curriculum. How they grow up, and take care of themselves. The female teachers are more responsible for the female to teach them lessons about how to protect themselves.

Unfortunately it could be the male teachers impregnating the female students. But something is being done about this fortunately. If they are discovered, they are dismissed.

I became a teacher because I had a teacher that was so good. She loved everyone in class. She wanted to see us succeed in our lessons. She would let us stay longer to get assistance from her. And when I went into a classroom, and I saw the children being able to read English and write English, I saw that I could change someone and that’s the motivation I got.Teachers had a good status. I wanted to become a nurse but after seeing my sister teach I wanted to become a teacher. My father said I would be a good teacher so they contributed to helping me achieve my goals.

It was a good profession but nowadays with the houses where teachers are, rural areas,
it makes it less desirable.

I think the situation is getting worse as life is getting more improvements in the cities
with electricity, access, hospitals but in the rural areas the government is too slow, very
very slow. And teachers travel more and spend more time to look for good health care and get facilities for their family so it’s another world altogether.

More people are wanting to become teachers because they haven’t got anywhere else to go, they are not qualified for anything else. People go to training as their last choice because they have nowhere else to go. This means those who have good grades go to university and teachers are another layer who have nowhere else to go.

Secondary students go to university. The primary school finishers become teachers. This means some teachers struggle academically, some are not motivated. Usually when have become teachers, many drop out, and many drop out even in the training. They don’t turn up to the college because they have found other opportunities. It’s a last resort. This contributes to the children not learning anything. If I don’t like my job how can I be productive?

So the government needs to do more to improve teacher salaries, conditions, building teacher housing, giving electricity, better facilities closer to rural areas. Good clinics, and healthcare needs to be found in the rural areas.

In large classrooms it’s difficult to control the children and they teacher become exhausted. The contact time is very minimal and the children aren’t taken care of because there’s no time with the teacher. And no time with children with disabilities.

Grade1-4 attention-span is too short – so small – that they’re not taken care of. The teacher sometimes give them some work to do, songs to sing, quite a challenge. Some fall asleep, but most of them make noise, hitting each other, crying, going out, saying they’re going to the bathroom, but they’re going out to play.

The biggest class I taught was 230 children under a tree because there was no classroom space, so I taught them in open ground. The children were 7 and 8 years old – 2nd graders. From the surrounding villages.

Outdoor classroom

When I went back to that school, they have now built more classrooms, but there are some schools in my country where teachers are still teaching under the same conditions. When it rains, the children go home.

There are so many disturbances. You can’t teach all the subjects in the curriculum. Sometimes out of the 6 subjects, I’d teach 2 or 3 or 4 because there’s not enough time to give them feedback. Children are exposed to too much sunlight – an uncomfortable situation. 

Some could read and write at the end – maybe 50% of them. And because they can’t repeat, they’d go onto the fourth grade without being able to read and write. These children would not learn anything. 

There are strong dropout rates when they don’t learn in school. 

My typical day I start at 6.30am, between 6.30-7.15am I make sure premises are swept by the children. 7.15am is assembly time where all the children gather to do morning devotion and receive instruction from the teachers, 7.30am classes begin. After 2 lessons, children go for a break, then go back, 2 lessons, short break, then 11.30am they go home. Then I write my lesson plans for the next day. 

They don’t stay that much in school. This is because they don’t have packed meals, so they go back home. This is the same in all government schools. Grade 4 students stay until 12.30pm. 5-8 Grades stay until 1 o’clock. Some go home to do work in the afternoon. 

Some teachers hold more classes for children to come back for more help at around 4 o’clock. Some special cases the schools stay open in the afternoon. For the special cases who like to study.

There is a discussion that they would like to increase school hours but I don’t think it will happen any time soon. Maybe less people would become teachers if this happened. Some who I have encouraged to go ahead with their studies have gone to help teach other students. I use my bright students to teach those students who are not doing so well. Most of them have become teachers. 

In my standard 2 class, one boy had many difficulties, and it was hard to handle him, but I encouraged him to stay in school and told the head teacher to let him go to the next class, and I saw him later and he learnt how to write and read. And he acquired these basic skills. I spent extra time with him and in the afternoon to help him learn. I use the afternoon to help slow learners. 

The teaching style I use, we ask children to match words and pictures, real objects, letters and objects. They write on the sand and on paper and on slate. But they can’t keep anything when they write on sand so they have no record. In most cases, they use paper and pencil, but those who can’t afford use slate. The slates are purchased by the government. 

Students don’t pay for the textbooks, they’re given to them. Schools run out of supplies so poor students have to buy their own but can’t. They have to buy their own school uniform, but this isn’t compulsory. The uniform was helping students look equal whether from a poor or rich background, but some poor families cannot buy the uniform.I was sent to teach in the rural area by the government but I was demotivated when I ran out of money and I had to travel a long distance, but otherwise I loved my job and my children. But these days teachers chose the district where they teach. Usually there are houses in the schools for teachers in the rural areas. I found my husband at that school. 

If a teacher is married and the husband lives in town, she will want to follow her husband to the urban area. But if she marries in the locality, she’ll stay there. These days the government is making it easier for them to move around, but the teachers have to sign a contract to say they’ll teach for five years in a local area. 

Malawi Teaching Facts

There is a huge teacher shortage in Malawi 

Malawi has one of the world’s most dramatic teacher shortages, equivalent to 2% of the global teacher posts standing empty. This means children are often squeezed into overcrowded classrooms, with those in early grades particularly disadvantaged. Education quality must be improved by reducing class size. 

In Malawi, there are 130 children per class in grade 1, on average, compared with 64 in the last grade. The pupil/teacher ratio in primary school has increased from 63:1 in 1999 to is 76:1 in 2011. 

The teaching force is growing at just 1% per year, far from sufficient to reduce the pupil/teacher ratio from 76:1 to 40:1. 

For Malawi to achieve Universal primary education by 2015, it would need to increase its teaching force by 15% annually between 2011 and 2015. The capacity of its teacher education programmes is currently far from sufficient to meet this need. Unless urgent action is taken, the country is unlikely to close the teacher gap by 2030. 

Shortages are particularly problematic for rural areas, where teachers, especially women, are often unwilling to teach. These circumstances contribute to some of the 
lowest learning outcomes in the world. 

The expansion in Malawi’s education system has yet to improve literacy among young people because of the poor quality of schooling. 

Many young people who have spent just a few years in school do not develop literacy skills – and in some cases even completing primary school is not always a guarantee for literacy. 

In Malawi, after completing up to four years of school, over 70% emerge illiterate. After 5-6 years in school, around 30% still emerge illiterate. 

In Malawi, literacy rates among those aged 15-24 years increased slowly from a high starting point: from 72% in 2000 to only 77% in 2010. 

Youth literacy is improving, but not always fast enough for most disadvantaged groups: Young people from poorer households are far less likely to be able to read. Around 90% of the richest young people are literate, compared to 60% of the poorest. The poorest young women in the country are not expected to be universally literate until 2064. 

Making teaching quality a national priority 

Strong national policies that make teaching quality and learning a high priority are essential to ensure that all children in school actually obtain the skills and knowledge they are meant to acquire. 

In some countries, the engagement of teacher unions has improved policies aimed at helping disadvantaged groups. Sometimes teachers’ union activities may harm student learning opportunities, however. Teachers campaigning for their rights should ensure that they also tackle issues holding back progress in learning, but do not always do so.

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