Do teachers deserve Covid-19 risk allowance?

Since the president announced plans to reopen schools in early September, there have been debates in the public as to whether teachers deserve a risk allowance or not?

Some have argued that unlike health workers, teachers do not directly work with patients as such, they do not deserve any risk allowance at all.

Another school of thought argues that students coming from different homes will act as vectors for the virus as such pose a risk to the teachers, as such they need a risk allowance.

The question still remains, do they really need a risk allowance? In this article I will try my best to argue for the reason why teachers deserve to be give a risk allowance just like their counterparts in the health sector.

In the first place, we need to understand the reasons why schools were closed. It was said that schools being hotspots, it will be easy for the disease to spread on to many people. Therefore this will in one way defeat the notion of social distancing. So, along with other areas that we deemed thus, schools were closed.

A school being classified as a hot zone, will mean that the chances for teachers to be exposed to the virus will be very thereby increasing their risk of contracting the disease. Therefore if schools are to reopen, then there will be need to consider the risk.

Secondly, we also have to consider the sizes of the classrooms we have in Malawian schools. A majority of these classes can accommodate a maximum 40-50 students at full capacity. In addition most classes are poorly ventilated making the exchange of contaminated very high.

With this, probability of the virus to spread in such places is also high. As such this increases the risk of both contracting the disease as well.

Thirdly, we also have to think about assessment modes. If learners are given assignments, they will have to submit their work for assessment and grading. This makes the students’ work to exchange more hands and one of them might pass on the virus through that.

This again leaves a teacher at a risk as they will have to touch many books which they share with the students. This is not also mentioning doors, textbooks just to mention a few as means in which this can be done.

Fourthly, imagine about remedial work that teachers do with their students. We cannot assume that all students are fast learners, some are slow and they need remedial lessons in order to bring them to the level of other learners. Should we say, these students will have to be left to hang in the dry?

One of the joys of a teacher is to see their learners do well and in this case slow learners are a joy for teachers if they are able to display a level of understanding as fast learners. Understand that, teachers working with these learners will be exposed to another risk of contracting the disease.

Lastly, according to labour laws, an employee is entitled to ask for a risk allowance when they are asked to do a job that will put their lives at a risk. Opening schools and being in contact with students poses that risk.

Therefore, by law they are within their rights to ask for a risk allowance. There is a chalk allowance paid to teachers because they are exposed to the risk of chalk dust. If this is the case, how different of a risk is working in a crowded environment where this risk is not only carried by one but many people.

Therefore the call for teachers to be given a risk allowance should not be taken for granted. Just like their counterparts in the health department, they too will be working in an environment that will expose them to the risk of contracting the covid 19 virus.

I believe it is high time we began to see teaching as an equally important profession as others. The narrative that teaching is a noble profession should not be used as a reason in which the profession is looked down upon.

Opinion by Precious Makaika Gondwe, a former teacher.

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