The following interest story was prepared during my communications support at UNESCO 2019/2020. During my mission to Dubai, UAE I held interviews with different stakeholders on the NTI project to get a sense of their personal stakes in teacher education. It was a fascinating chat.

My favourite subject at school was science,” begins Dr. Godfrey Kafere as he describes what is obviously a fond memory “It all began with the teacher and how he would point out the process for me to better understand mathematics and science. He built those processes in me. I took them and pursued my interests further. I don’t know where he is now, but these things have not left me.” That much is evident as the Director of Technical Services at the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MoEST) shares his mission to ensure that Malawi’s students have a similar or better experience. They too have the right to learn and pursue their passion. Yet, the current teacher situation contrasts sharply with this memory of a schoolboy.  Malawi, like other low-income developing countries in sub-Saharan Africa, faces severe teacher shortages. This teacher crisis has been further exacerbated by a large percentage of un-trained teachers within its education system.

Untrained teachers outnumber qualified teachers

Free primary education (FPE) in 1994 caused primary school enrolment to triple in the first year after the policy change. The increase in student population could not be readily matched by an available supply of qualified teachers. The government’s thrust to train the untrained in the shortest time possible resulted in trained teachers being quickly outnumbered by untrained ones (Kruijer, 2010). These short-term teacher training schemes aimed at secondary school leavers and volunteers could not be sustained. The resources, structures and systems were neither in place nor in practice to allow school-based supervision, mentoring or professional support. In the last decade, Malawi has tried different teacher education models at the primary school teacher training level but with limited success. Some have created inconsistencies in the qualifications and capacities of teaching personnel to deliver expected learning outcomes. Additionally, high pupil to teacher ratios, inadequate classroom facilities, inequitable distribution of resources, teacher deployment discrepancies, poor remuneration and working conditions persist and have impacted adversely on teacher morale.

Government obligation to supply qualified teachers

Although the scenario described may seem daunting, this is no indication of the future of teachers in Malawi.  The fulfillment for the right to education is an on-going process and the government of the day is very much aware of its duty. Universal rights of the child go hand in hand with universal governmental obligations to make education available, acceptable, accessible and adaptable (UNESCO, 2004). The right of the school-age population in Malawi to receive a quality education is linked to government’s obligation to increase its supply of qualified teachers, which in turn is governed by the country’s socio-economic environment. Malawi is classified as a least developing country. In 2018, Malawi ranked 170 of 188 countries with a human development index of 0.476, placing it well below the sub-Saharan average of 0.523 (UNDP, 2019). Financial resources are needed to improve teacher’s working conditions, as well as to standardize pre-service and in-service teacher training and to provide continuous professional development.

The Norwegian Teacher Initiative: a coordinated response for SDG4c  

Supplying the student population with qualified teachers takes much more than political will. The teacher target, or SDG4c, requires an integrated response from education development partners, such as donors and development agencies, teachers’ organizations, civil society organizations, and even private education providers. Currently, Malawi is one of the four beneficiary countries of the Norwegian Teacher Initiative (NTI)’s “Strengthening multi-partner cooperation to support teacher policy and improve learning outcomes”  a joint UN initiative which draws on the expertise of seven global partners: the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the International Task Force on Teachers (TTF), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Education International (EI), the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), the International Labour Organization (ILO), and the World Bank. There are two main outcomes: 1) improved coordination among partner organizations and 2) strengthened national teacher policies.

NTI Partners at the forefront on teacher issues in Malawi

Speaking on the occasion of the International Day of Education in January 2020, Hubert Gijzen, Regional Director of UNESCO’s Office for Southern Africa explained that teachers are the main focus of UNESCO’s education activities in the region, “Teachers are at the centre of education systems.  They are key actors and ensure sustainability and national capacity in achieving learning and creating societies based on knowledge, values and ethics.” UNESCO supports the development of standard setting instruments at regional level including regional frameworks on continuous professional development and qualification for teachers and supports the capacity building of teachers in the areas such as information and communication technologies (ICTs) and education for sustainable development (ESD).

Both UNESCO and UNICEF are working closely with the NTI Country Focal Point in the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology and various national and international partners. NTI funded activities are embedded within other planned initiatives for the sector to amplify sustainable impacts on the teaching profession in Malawi.  Leveraging its lead role for SDG4, UNESCO is the coordinating agency of the initiative at global level. Meanwhile, UNICEF serves as the lead agency in Malawi based on its existing work and expertise ranging from teacher training programs (Child Friendly Schools project, Enjoy Learning), to the construction and outfitting of teachers’ training colleges, the digitization of teacher development centres (TDCs) and the construction of teacher houses in rural Malawi. The initiative has facilitated the bringing together of other development partners active in the area of teachers in Malawi such as the UK Department for International Development (DFID), German international Cooperation (GIZ) and the German Development Bank (KfW).  

Mandates may differ but the goal remains the same. According to Kimanzi Muthengi, Chief of Education, UNICEF Malawi “UNICEF is looking for transformative opportunities in the area of teaching. We want to elevate teaching as the entry point for changing most of the education indicators for the better in Malawi. A greater focus on teaching as a pillar of education would be the game-changer for Malawi.”  He sees the NTI as a huge opportunity because of the national momentum that is building on teacher issues encouraged to a large extent by the improved coordination between development partners, increased ministry capacity for teacher policy, regional conferences, social dialogue workshops and engagement with the Teacher Union of Malawi (TUM).

National teacher policy can harmonize approaches to teacher education

The absence of policy guidance on career path for teachers contributes to the loss of teachers to other professions (GPE, 2019). Closing the teacher gap involves training, recruiting and retaining new teachers, but also motivating and supporting those who are already present in the system with opportunities to improve their pedagogy and to evolve throughout their careers. What Malawi needs is comprehensive and well-coordinated continuing professional development (CPD) and a corresponding implementation plan. Truth be told, there have been previous systems of INSET and CPD interventions in Malawi from which some teachers have benefited. Poor working conditions and an inequitable distribution of resource discourage teachers from applying what they have gained from CPD interventions. Ironically, it is continuity that remains as a major challenge and is to be collectively examined and planned for beyond the limitations of NTI.

In his new role, Misheck Yagontha Munthali, Director of Teacher Education and Development (DTED) in the Ministry, has adopted the participatory approach taken by NTI to collaborate with other education stakeholders for the the development of a national teacher policy and the implementation of continuous professional development (CPD) for teachers in selected schools in Malawi. Not only would a national teacher policy help to define the minimum professional standards and qualifications for the teaching profession, it would promote a common understanding amongst all education stakeholders of what constitutes good, effective teacher practice to support education goals.

Teacher education (initial and continuing): a dimension of national teacher policy

Villegas-Reimers (2003) defined the professional development of teachers as a “long-term process including regular opportunities and experiences planned systematically to promote growth and development in the profession” (p.12). The TTF’s Teacher Policy Development Guide lists teacher education (initial and continuing) as one of the nine dimensions of national teacher policy, and with good reason. Continuous professional development (CPD) can have a profound impact on learning outcomes. Moreover, it is important to attaining sustainable education. NTI partner organizations caution that without access to sustained learning opportunities, teachers (even those with initial training) will not be able to meet the needs of learners. Kruijer (2010) suggested that “the education [re-education?] of unqualified teachers will be more attractive if it answers their professional needs and gives them the prospect of future certification, salary increase, and new career perspectives” (p.35) After all, rights-based education is cross-cutting and teachers are part of that complex ecosystem. An inclusive and cohesive national teacher policy would help to ensure adequate allocation of resources and strong policy dialogue between decision-makers and practitioners.

Surely, it helps to know that the Ministry considers a qualified teacher to be someone “who is equipped with knowledge, skills, competent in reflective pedagogy, and is a life-long learner,” but what will become of those un-qualified teachers? Mary Chivala Phiri, Country Focal Point for NTI in the Department of Teacher Education and Development in the Ministry, says losing human resources is not an option, “We are trying to make sure that all the teachers who are already in the system get CPD, with the existing interventions we want to train more teacher on the ground.” Mary, like the rest of her colleagues, know that a nation’s greatest resource is its people.

Changing mindsets and moving forward

The Ministry is seeking support for the dissemination of national continuous professional development to teachers countrywide. “This will not be over after NTI,” says Muthali, “Things as complex and long-term as a teacher policy require more time.” He’s right. Mindsets need to change on a large scale and at all levels for meaningful and sustainable practices to take root and for the sector to make progress – at least in the area of teacher education. The kind of shift his country is looking for implies concerted effort, synchronization of programs, pooling of resources and strengthening of the synergies among stakeholders. The NTI may have started the ball rolling but it will be up to Malawi to run with it.

The Norwegian Teacher Initiative’s “Strengthening multi-partner cooperation to support teacher policy and improve learning outcomes” involves the countries of Burkina Faso, Ghana, Malawi and Uganda. It has been generously funded by the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad).


International Teacher Task Force on Teachers for Education for All. (2015). Teacher policy development guide. Paris, France: UNESCO

Kruijer, H. (2010). Learning how to teach: The upgrading of unqualified primary teachers in sub-Saharan Africa: Lessons from Tanzania, Malawi and Nigeria. Brussels: Education International.

Meke, S. E. (2013). Teacher Motivation and Implementation of Continuing Professional Development Programmes in Malawi, The Anthropologist, 15(1), 107-115.

United Nations Children’s Fund. (2007). Human rights-based approaches to education. NY: UNICEF.

United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (2019). The least developed countries report 2019. NY:USA

Villegas-Reimers, E. (2003). Teacher Professional Development: An International Review of the Literature. Paris: UNESCO International Institute for Educational Planning.

NTI Malawi in the news

Useful links

NTI project site

Education policy data center


UNDP Human Development Report: Malawi 2019

Candice Sankarsingh designs digital and non-digital learning environments and products to motivate and improve human performance. She especially likes working in new knowledge areas and non-traditional, development contexts.