School repeaters cost govt K23bn

Government lost K23 billion last year training repeaters due to understaffing at the back of thousands of unemployed primary school teachers, an expert’s survey has revealed.

An education expert Limbani Nsapato, in an interview on Tuesday, said  in 2017,  1 170 337 pupils in primary schools   repeated classes—representing a 24 percent repetition rate, among others—due to effects of a single teacher handling large classes.

Short-changed by the high vacancy levels in education sector

Malawi’s teacher-pupil ratio is at 1:111, according to Unicef. Government’s target is 1:40.

Over the past five years, the number of repeaters  in public primary schools has been on the increase, ballooning the cost of training them from K7.6 billion in 2012 to K23 billion last year, according to Nsapato.

He said money wasted through repetition could be used to buy teaching and learning materials, construct teachers’ houses, classrooms, and pay salary arrears for teachers, thereby easing some of the perennial challenges experienced in the sector.

The survey also revealed that during the past five years, government has lost K72.5 billion through repetition in primary schools.

Said Limbani: “Government should expedite the recruitment process to avoid undue losses such as through repetition in the system.

“When teachers are not adequate, it leads to inefficiency in the system, which breeds high rates of repetition, absenteeism and dropout of learners.

“Pupils also get a raw deal. Failure to recruit teachers in time reflects badly on the government as it shows inefficiency in the recruitment process and overall human resource management. The trained teachers themselves also suffer because they lose potential income which may translate to about K1.5 million per teacher in a year.”

According to Unicef, only 45.7 percent of pupils who enrol in Standard 1 complete primary education.

Government on Tuesday admitted that about 10 000 primary school teachers, who graduated in 2016, were not employed but promised to recruit them in 2018.

Principal Secretary for Education Justin Saidi, in a telephone interview, said the challenge was that there was a government recruitment ban because it did not have money.

“That meant the positions for those teachers were non- established. Government has now established those positions, and that is why we are recruiting them. During the 2017/18 financial year, we already recruited 9 630 primary and 1 200 secondary school teachers who had graduated earlier,” he said.

But chairperson for the Parliamentary Committee on Education, Elias Chakwera, in a telephone interview on Tuesday,  blamed government for failing to employ the 10 000 teachers when the teacher-pupil ratio in the country is high.

“Teachers remain a critical resource that must always be provided at all costs. How can we meet our SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals] in education like this? We have been expressing disappointment with the conduct of government on recruitment of teachers. Usually, they promise one thing in the budget and end up doing the opposite.

“You cannot deny children the opportunity to learn by not providing teachers. Not when other resources, such as teaching and learning materials, including, are in short supply,” he observed.

Chakwera blamed the Ministry of Education for lacking seriousness and not being proactive in the area of teacher recruitment.

“You see that the ministry responsible waits for the teachers to graduate to start negotiating for their recruitment. And you know how long that takes in government. This is a man-made problem and, unfortunately, it is children of poor taxpayers who suffer in the end,” he said.

“In the 2017/18 financial year, they promised to recruit all teachers who had graduated, but here we are. The government lacks seriousness.”

Education expert Steve Sharra, in an e-mailed response on Tuesday, said keeping thousands of teachers at home for years without recruiting them was taking the education sector into the opposite direction.

He said: “Government spends millions of every year to train these teachers and yet fails to recruit them. This translates into money going down the drain. The policy rhetoric from the government recognises that the quality of the education system cannot be greater than the quality and quantity of the teaching profession.”

In a related development, stakeholders in the health sector have also blamed government for failing to recruit thousands of health workers, including nurses and midwives, despite the existence of a 60 to 65 percent vacancy rate for the cadres.

National Organisation of Nurses and Midwives (Nomn) president Dorothy Ngoma said an estimated 3 000 nurses and midwives, who graduated in the past three years, were still unemployed in the public health sector.

Said Ngoma: “We are aware that the Ministry of Health has a vacancy rate of 60 and 65 percent. The government has 5 000 nurses on its books—about 3 000 already graduated but have not been recruited. Some are doing petty work in clinics and pharmacies when the general public is suffering for lack of trained health personnel.

“At the moment, it takes up to three years for government to recruit nurses and midwives after they graduate. This piles pressure on those that are in government, who are being overworked and underpaid.”

On its part, the Society for Medical Doctors (SMD) hit out at the government for what it described as ‘lack of commitment’ to engage doctors who graduated during the last financial year.

In a telephone interview, SMD president Amos Nyaka on Tuesday blamed government for paying lip-service on the recruitment of doctors while the general public was suffering for lack of trained health workers.

“We still have a backlog of doctors who graduated in the past year, who are yet to be recruited. Meanwhile, doctors are thin on the ground and if you look at the type of work they do at Queen Elizabeth, Kamuzu and Mzuzu central hospitals, you would understand. So, government’s commitment is only on paper, but in reality there is nothing, sadly,” he said.

Nyaka said it was difficult for the country to achieve health indicators at the rate things are going.

Ministry of Health spokesperson Joshua Malango pushed back the blame to Nomn for obtaining a court injunction in 2015 against government’s decision to conduct interviews for nurses, which he said was vacated a year later.

He maintained that government had committed itself to the recruitment of 1 000 health personnel in the current financial year.

“Those numbers of nurses and midwives not recruited by the government accumulated not necessarily because of the government.

“Nomn obtained a court order restraining government from conducting interviews. That meant no nurse or midwife was recruited by government that year.

“When Nomn vacated the injunction, 90 percent of the next cohort of graduates failed exams. The exams were re-administered, but the results only came out later in 2017,” Malango said.

On medical doctors, he said all those who graduated and finished their 18-month internship have been recruited and the ministry is now employing those that attended interviews last month.

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