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Challenge to Retain Zambia’s Teachers

Brian Moonga

LUSAKA, Nov 1 2010 (IPS) - Zambia’s efforts to strengthen its education system will come to little if no way is found to retain skilled teachers like Caroline Chisenga.

Many Zambian teachers are voting with their feet on pay and working conditions.  Credit:  Manoocher Deghati/IRIN

Many Zambian teachers are voting with their feet on pay and working conditions. Credit: Manoocher Deghati/IRIN

She is a maths teacher with ten years of experience under her belt. She has recently upgraded her teaching qualifications with a full degree. But she has one eye on leaving the country in search of higher pay.

On average, a teacher with a diploma qualification receives a salary equivalent to $400 a month, with housing and other allowances adding another 100 dollars to monthly pay. This amount, teachers say, is too low to sustain even a small family in the face of high inflation and the generally high cost of living, especially in places like Lusaka and the Copperbelt Provinces.

That’s what led Chisenga to first leave the country after seven years teaching in Zambia’s second largest city, Ndola.

“My salary was not to my satisfaction, so I went into Botswana and got myself a job. I served there for a year, and while i couldn’t sign a second contract, I think I got away with some good money and decided to come back home.”

Chisenga says she made as much as $1,500 a month in Botswana. Mathematics and science teachers like Chisenga top the numbers of those who leave in search of better conditions of service, leaving a huge dent in staff numbers at public schools.


The government faces a massive challenge in finding people to take charge of the more than a quarter million students enrolled in high schools across the country. The average ratio is roughly one teacher to 60 pupils in high schools.

“Teachers that the government trained have since decided to leave the country and serve in other countries,” says Chisenga. “That’s how serious the situation is and this has actually led to a negative impact in schools, especially high schools. If anything, I still look forward to taking another chance out there because there is good money.”

Patrick Nyambe is Head Teacher at Lusaka’s South End School, which has close to 600 pupils. Nyambe says his school needs at least five science teachers, and another five to teach mathematics, but the school has only been able to find two for each subject.

“[Teachers] are few. We are a little behind, you find that [Zambia] still has colleges offering two-year training. That’s for primary school, but those are the teachers that are falling in to teach science in schools because the demand is so high because of the exodus [of teachers from the country]. They should have a fast-track type of training so they could train more teachers to fill the gaps.”

A recent media report told the story of a teacher in a rural district where a teacher who had only completed grade seven was teaching primary school, so desperate is the need for staff. Low pass rates in science and mathematics are evidence of how the shortage is affecting the quality of education.

Zambia currently has about fifteen government-run teacher education colleges. Additional training is available from the University of Zambia.

It costs $10,000 dollars over three years to train a Fine Arts or English language teacher at Lusaka’s Evelyn Hone College – training a science teacher at the University of Zambia costs even more. A large number of the trainee teachers are beneficiaries of the government bursary system but they have no obligation to take a public school teaching post after completion of their studies.

And most of those trained have ambitions of leaving the country.

All of this is aggravated by the decimation of a generation by the AIDS pandemic: a report by the National AIDS Council indicates that fully 40 percent of Zambian teachers are HIV positive. A thousand teachers die from AIDS each year.

Zambia’s education ministry has in the past two years deployed over 20,000 teachers across the country to replace those who have left for greener pastures or died. Chinyama is one of those who believes that even training more teachers is not enough.

The Zambia Education Coalition is one of the leading education non-governmental organizations set up to support policy framework on education for all and the millennium development goals.

Its director, Miriam Chinyama, has called on the government to quickly improve working conditions for Zambia’s teachers.

“We are currently looking at the teacher-pupil ratios, and the statistics are not favourable. We need to do everything possible to try and retain the few teachers that we have,” she said, underlining that pay is not the only issue for teachers, who are also de-motivated by a lack of materials and equipment in classes.

“Government needs to ensure that they put in place competitive conditions of service to keep our teacher in the system. There are lots of ways to motivate teachers,” she said.

“For instance, government started a programme giving solar panels to teachers in rural areas so that they have things like electricity. Those are small but important things that need to be enhanced, apart from just looking at take-home pay.”

From his vantage point at the South End School, Nyambe agrees.

“The education system in Zambia, they put up schools where they have not provided the necessary equipment to make a teacher of science enjoy his work. So you find that this is part of the frustration which is there. As they upgrade these basic schools, they should upgrade the equipment, the science labs and all that.”

As Zambia strives towards achieving quality education it is important that the government seriously implements measures that will address teacher motivation in order to prevent more personnel from seeking economic refuge in the region given the economic cost the loss of teachers has on the future of the education system.

 
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