“There is a need for a teachers’ house in my school,” said nine-year old Selina Josophati.
Selina, a second grade student at the government-run primary school in the Mchinji district of Malawi, is afraid that without a place to live, all the teachers in her school might leave town, shattering her dreams to continue studying and join secondary school. Selina wants to become a teacher when she grows up.
Selina’s fears are grounded in reality. Teacher staffing issues have long threatened the functioning of her small school. Two of her teachers departed at the end of the previous term, meaning the school is now left with only two permanent teachers and one student teacher. There is no one left to teach the third grade. Embekezani Jacksoni, head teacher at the school, must commute eight kilometers each way every day. Due to his lengthy commute, he teaches only the first grade, as its teaching time is shorter than the higher classes.
Unfortunately, this story is not limited to the Mchinji school. Systems for managing and retaining qualified teachers in Malawi’s schools are nationally weak. The system is particularly stacked against students at remote schools like Selina’s. Her school is located more than 20 kilometers from the closest commercial hub, which in the absence of locally available teachers means that the likelihood of teachers moving or commuting into her district from other towns is dismally low.
As part of the World Bank’s technical support to the government of Malawi, my team recently mapped the spatial coordinates of all schools in the country and calculated the distance of each school from its nearest trading center. We found that there is no targeting of teacher housing provision to needy/remote schools in Malawi. In fact, the likelihood of a school receiving some form of housing from the government goes down as the distance of the school from the commercial hub increases. The more remote the school, the less likely it is to get teacher housing.
This is just one piece of evidence to show that incentives to teach in remote schools are virtually non-existent in Malawi. In 2010, the government introduced hardship allowances of MKW 5000* per month to incentivize teachers to work in remote schools. This allowance has proven to be simply too low.
Our analysis indicated that the amount and distribution of these allowances – received by over 85 percent of the teaching force – has failed to redress the inequities in Malawi’s teacher distribution. We found huge disparities in the pupil-teacher ratios between urban and remote districts. For instance, the ratio for a relatively urban Zomba district is 57 students per teacher, while the remote Mangochi district is 152. Within districts, the situation is the same. In a typical sub-district in rural Blantyre, we found that the pupil-teacher ratio could range from 43 to 573 pupils within a cluster of 13 schools!
Teacher-management issues have significant ramifications for the students themselves. Many children drop out before completing upper primary school (Grade 8) and those who stay fail to master basic numeracy and literacy skills. Lack of teachers and overcrowded classrooms lead to higher repetition and lower transition rates, and ultimately, to poor quality of learning.
The good news is that the government has now committed to using this analytical work to rationalize hardship allowances and teacher housing in disadvantaged locations, and link mandatory posting in rural areas to promotions. It has recognized the potential dividends of these polices, and is working on operationalizing a strategy that hits on redistribution of teachers as a key results based component of an upcoming education project.
Selina’s future rests on how quickly the government can respond to Malawi’s enormous teacher management crisis. Like every child in Malawi, she deserves to learn from a qualified teacher without fears of being left behind.
*Editor’s note: When introduced in 2010, the hardship allowances of MKW 5000 per month was equivalent to $30. The nominal amount since then was increased to MKW 10,000 to offset rampant inflation but this nominal amount is worth only $7 at the prevailing exchange rate.
See the Teacher Management project brief.
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