Submission Date: 24/07/2014
Subject Area of Article: Education
Malawi Primary School
Teacher attrition from
1996 to 2011
Ken Kaziputa Ndala
Greener Journal of Educational Research ISSN: 2276-7789 ICV 2012: 6.05 Vol. 5 (1), pp. 001-008, January 2015.
Research Article (DOI: http://doi.org/10.15580/GJER.2015.1.072414311)
Malawi Primary School Teacher attrition from 1996 to
Ken Kaziputa Ndala
Lecturer in Educational Planning, Chancellor College, Faculty of Education, Department of Education Foundations,
University of Malawi, P.O. Box 280, Zomba, Malawi.
Mobile number: (265) 99 5410 632, Land line: (265) 522 046
Email: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
The purpose of this analysis was to examine the causes of primary school teacher attrition between 1996 and 2011 in
Malawi. Data collected by the Ministry of Education was used to extract the number of teachers leaving the profession
along with the reasons for leaving by reasons and overall annual teacher attrition was calculated. Overall teacher
attrition declined from 4.9% in 2004 to 4.0% in 2007. Mortality was the main cause of attrition since 1996, and it increased
from 0.5% in 1996 to 1.8% in 2001 but declined to 1.2% by 2004 The finding of the analysis shows that primary Teacher
attrition was highest (5.2 %) in 2004 for male teachers compared to females (4.5 %) and declined to 3.2% and 1.9% in
2007, respectively. Considering all the reasons for teacher attrition in percentage terms, about 33% of teacher attrition
was caused by death in males and 40% in females from 2004 to 2007. The paper concludes that instead of seeing
teachers leaving the system due to retirement and resignation, as has been the case many years, a number of teachers
died in service and many also left due to dismissal and other reasons that are not known. This pattern needs to be
checked and attended to if Malawi is to attain the Education for All Goals.
Key Words: Teacher Attrition, HIV and AIDS.
Teacher attrition remains a concern for education systems worldwide. Rapid increases in educational demand and a
decline in national resources are among the reasons that have raised concerns for teacher attrition. It is viewed that
schools have more pupil enrolment than the number of teachers trained to meet the demand (Kirby et al., 1993;
Billingsley, 1993; Chapman, 1994; Ingersoll, 2001). An understanding of causes of teacher attrition is therefore
essential prerequisite to planning for teacher supply.
Other views have emerged which posit that high teacher attrition is caused by reasons other than the
commonly known retirement and resignation (Ingersoll, 2001; 2003, Wushishi,et, al. 2013). The impact of Human
Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) on teachers (Gachuhi, 1999;
Kelly, 2000; Bennell, 2002), and the need to fulfil Education for All (EFA) goals and the Millennium Development
Goals has raised concerns for teacher attrition. It is feared that the number of teachers required to provide the
needed education will not be met if HIV and AIDS continue to reduce the number of teachers. This particularly is the
case for Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) where most of the infected people live. Countries like Malawi, where the
prevalence has been high, it was expected that many teachers would die or exit the education system for reasons
related to HIV and AIDS (Ministry of Education, 2004).
The purpose of this analysis was therefore to examine the trend in primary teacher attrition in Malawi from
1996 to 2011 and determine what are the main causes. The pandemic is known to have existed in Malawi since
1985.Trend analysis of number of teachers, and teacher attrition were examined from 1996 to 2011 dataset with the
assumption that HIV and AIDS effects were expected to be severe ten years after contracting the virus in a situation
where Anti Retro Viral Therapy (ART) was not available. As a background, the analysis begins with a brief review of
the definition, theories and patterns of teacher attrition. Results and discussion come after an explanation of the
methodology of the analysis
Greener Journal of Educational Research ISSN: 2276-7789 ICV 2012: 6.05 Vol. 5 (1), pp. 001-008, January 2015.
Teacher Attrition rates
The term attrition has been associated with other terms such as turnover, burnout, and exit (Billingsley, 1993;
Chapman, 1994; Stinebrickners, 2001; Ingersoll, 2003). Although sometimes the word transfer is used, it does not
refer to teachers who are exiting the education system so much as those who are only moving from one working
station (school, district or region) to another. Teachers on transfer continue within the teaching profession but are a
loss to a particular work station (Billingsley, 1993). Other authors however feel that the term attrition has no single
appropriate definition (Grissmer & Kirby, 1987, cited by Billingsley, 1993, p.139). In this paper, the term attrition
refers to teachers who are leaving the education system for any particular reason.
Literature reveals some variations in teacher attrition across countries with developed countries having
higher teacher attrition than developing ones. Teacher attrition in OECD countries ranges from 2% to 14% per
annum (International Task Force on Teachers for EFA, 2010). Between 2000 and 2001, the USA had attrition of
15.7% (Ingersoll, 2003). In Germany, it has been reported that less than 10 percent of teachers reach normal
retirement age and in the United Kingdom (UK) the attrition rates for primary and secondary school teachers in 2004
were 10 and 7.2 percent respectively (Bennell, 2005b). The OECD (1996) reported that in the Czech Republic about
25 percent of newly qualified teachers did not even enter the profession (Macdonald, 1999).
In SSA, available literature suggests that teacher attrition is lower than in the developed countries. It has
been reported that in Botswana, Malawi, South Africa and Uganda, teacher attrition has been declining or has
stabilized since alternative employment opportunities for trained teachers became scarce (Gottelmann-Duret &
Hogan, 1998). A research report from South Africa, by the Mobile Task Team (MTT), shows that teacher attrition in
1997/98 was 9.3 percent, dropping to 6.4 percent in 1999 and declining again to 5.5 percent, before rising to 5.9
percent in 2002/2003 (MMT, 2005). In Namibia, total annual attrition rates among teachers are reported to have
increased from 7.2 percent in 1999/2000 to 8.2 percent and then declined to 6.8 percent in 2001/2002. In other
countries the attrition appears low. For example, in Lesotho it is reported that between 258 and 380 teachers,
representing 3 and 4 percent of the teaching force, left the profession within a year. In Mozambique, teacher attrition
was estimated at 7 percent (Mulkeen & Chen, 2008). The Ministry of Education in Malawi estimated teacher attrition
to be 4.5 percent of the primary teaching force (Ministry of Education, 2001).
Causes of teacher Attrition
The reasons why teachers leave the profession are numerous but are inclusively captured in theories developed by
Lortie, (1975); Kirby, (1993), Chapman, (1994) and Billinglsy, (1993). These theories remain pivotal in the discussion
about teacher attrition as many other reasons of teacher attrition rest on them. Lortie (1975) suggested an appeals
theory that posits that there are certain inherent appeals in the teaching profession that attract people to work in
schools. When such appeals do not exist, teacher attrition occurs.
Kirby et al. (1993) affirmed this through the fundamental tenet of the human capital theory of occupational
choice which says that individuals make systematic assessments of the net monetary and non-monetary benefits
from different occupations and make systematic decisions throughout their career to enter or leave an occupation.
Thus as a person stays in a profession, the accumulated wage premiums translate into human capital. The greater
the amount of capital accumulated, the less likely it is that the individual will consider leaving the profession.
Chapman, (1994) identifies two types of factors that he refers to as root causes and enabling factors to
teacher turnover. Root causes are those that can be addressed if turnover is to be reduced. Enabling factors are
those that do not themselves cause teacher attrition but are conditions which allow it to continue once it started. He
establishes that the root causes that directly lead to teacher attrition include: economic incentives that encourage
turnover, lack of incentives, government policies that encourage turnover, poor working conditions, limited alternative
access to higher education, reforms, relevance of teacher training and community apathy.
Finally, Billingsley (1993) introduced a model which suggested that teacher attrition is influenced by three
major factors: external, employment and personnel. External factors include societal, economic and institutional
variables that are external to the teacher and the employing organization. An example of the societal factor is lack of
respect from the community that is associated with the teaching profession. Economic factors, on the other hand,
include good salaries, wages and other benefits provided by other organizations. Institutions that may have an
influence on teachers’ decision to leave or stay in their profession include colleges, universities and teachers’ unions.
Recently, HIV and AIDS have become one of the factors of teacher attrition in SSA. Many studies carried out
have found out that the numbers of teachers in SSA were decreasing (Amone & Bukuluki 2004; Bennell 2003;
Mbwika, Mburu & Thuita 2003; Ndamugoba, Mboya, Amani & Katabaro 2000). Apart from focussing on the declining
number of teachers, high mortality has also been focused as evidence to severe effects of the pandemic. The use of
mortality was recommended due to paucity of hard data although it does not indicate AIDS specifically as the cause
of death. Besides, it measures deaths that occur in service only leaving out teachers who die after resigning the
teaching profession on health grounds (Boler 2003; Desai & Jukes, 2005).
Greener Journal of Educational Research ISSN: 2276-7789 ICV 2012: 6.05 Vol. 5 (1), pp. 001-008, January 2015.
Bennell (2005) established that teacher mortality rates (from all causes) did not exceed 1 percent in Southern African
countries (Botswana, Lesotho, South Africa and Swaziland) during 2003-2004. The mortality rates were below 1
percent in Tanzania and Uganda and around 2 percent in Malawi and Zambia. Actual mortality rates for teachers are
reported to be generally much lower than the estimated mortality rates for teachers generated by standard AIDS-
adjusted demographic projections. Furthermore, teacher deaths are said to account for less than 20 percent of total
teacher attrition in most countries, and less 10 percent of total teacher turnover. Teacher mortality rates are said to
be falling or are reasonably stable in a significant number of countries (Bennell, 2009). It is against this background
that this analysis is done to examine how the primary education sector has lost its teachers in Malawi. This will help
in strategising on the management of teachers.
Educational Management Information System (EMIS) dataset from 1996 to 2013 obtained from the Ministry of
Education were used. Each year the ministry of education collects data. Questionnaires are designed and
administered in all education institution and schools in Malawi. In primary schools the questionnaires are
administered through primary school head teachers.. Using a computer Program called Access, the data is coded
and captured for a particular school and aggregated at district, division and national level. This paper provides a
national level analysis extracting number of schools, enrolment and teachers leaving the system for various
reasons.. Teacher attrition was calculated by dividing the number of teachers who left the ministry in a year by
reason by the total number of teachers in that year and multiplied the result by a 100.
RESULTS AND DISCUSSION
Trends in primary school teachers
Table 1 shows status of primary education in Malawi in terms of number of schools, enrolment, teachers and pupil-
teacher ratio. Before analysing its trends, it is worth noting that there are some challenges in the management of
EMIS in Malawi. As can be seen, data for teacher attrition was not available in 2002 and 2003. It is reported that the
data had a number of anomalies and was not included in the statistical bulletin (MOEST, 2002, 2003). Also, looking
at the available figures for school percentage change and teacher percentage change, it is evident that some of the
schools were not counted consequently this affected the total number of teachers. Surprisingly advocating for
accurate data started long time ago.. Experts called for improved and strengthened EMIS in SSA but this is not yet
materialised. No wonder, lack of accurate and appropriate data still remains one of the impediments to analysis of
teacher attrition related to HIV and AIDS. Many analysts expressed this concern and called for more relevant data
(Shaeffer, 1994, p. 25; Kelly, 2000, p. 99; Coombe, 2004, p.109; Carr-Hill et al., 2002, p. 82-83). Despite these
shortfalls, the available data will still help in providing a glimpse of causes of primary teacher attrition in Malawi.
First, the table illustrates that since 1996, the number of primary schools has increased by 40.8% and this
has seen the enrolment increasing by a million. Overall, the number of teachers, which is our main concern in this
analysis, has increased by 2,391 representing 4.8 % increase. This is on the lower side considering that Malawi has
been training teachers every year through its Teacher Development Programmes to attain the PTR policy of 60:1
(NESP, 2007). It should be of great concern to see that the PTR has escalated from 59:1 in 1996 to 78:1 in 2011. In
short, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of schools as well as in enrolment indicating an expansion
of the sector. The increase in pupils has put pressure on the supply for education particularly the teachers. The
increase in teachers however has not necessarily followed the increase in learners as evidenced by the increase in
PTR. While the table shows some incompleteness and inconsistency in the data as discussed above, overall it
shows that many teachers leave the profession. If this is not corrected urgently there can be a serious shortage of
teachers such that Malawi can hardly attain the EFA goals. It is therefore important to find out what causes the loss
of these teachers.
Table 1: Trends in primary schools, pupils and teachers, 1996-2011
Change Pupils Teachers
1996 3 706 2 887 107 49 138 59
1997 3 761 1 2 905 050 47 370 -4 61
1998 4 025 7 2 805 785 41 634 -12 67
1999 4 481 11 2 896 280 45 812 10 63
2000 4 525 1 3 016 972 47 840 4 63
2001 4 857 7 3 187 835 53 444 12 60
2004 5 113 5 3 166 786 43 952 -18 72
2005 5 159 1 3 200 646 45 074 3 71
2006 5 041 1 3 242 483 41 637 -4 76
2007 5 086 2 3 264 594 40 612 -2 78
2008 5 118 1 3 542 019 43 325 7 82
2009 5 106 0 3 614 324 43 201 0 84
2010 5 191 1.7 3 818 829 46 380 7 82
2011 5 225 0.7 3 996 831 51 529 11 78
Source: Ministry of Education data, 1996 to 2011
Second, the table shows that between 1997 and 2000 there was a lot of teacher loss. Reports indicate that the
number of teachers increased between 1999 and 2000, as a result of 4,000 teachers recruited in 2000 (Actionaid
2007; Kunje, Lewin &Stuart 2003). It was also reported that between 2000 and 2004, 4,000 teachers left the service
and a further 2,071 left in 2006 (Actionaid 2007). This was supported by other studies (Bennell, Hyde & Swainson
2002; Kadzamira, Maluwa Banda & Kamlongera 2001; Moleni &Ndalama 2004; UNDP 2002) which show that
primary school teacher attrition has been a concern for many years in Malawi. The increase in number of teachers in
2009 to 2011 was attributed to the government’s initiative in recognizing the need to train more teachers. A one year
Initial Primary Teacher Education programme started in 2005 with a target of training 18750 students by the end of
2012. It was reported that by the end of 2010, 10 640 qualified as teachers (Mambo, et, al, 2012). Much as this can
be celebrated, it is important to monitor and support these teachers to stay in the system.
What the figures suggest is that Malawi experiences a decline in the number of teachers and these are
caused by a number of reasons. One possible interpretation of these statistics would be that the decline in number of
teachers could be a result of the effects of the pandemic. Many teachers exited the system, either because of deaths
and illnesses resulting from the effects of HIV and AIDS. . A second, equally likely interpretation is that the decline
associated with the period 2001 to 2004 is a result of teacher disillusionment. The implementation of poor teacher
training that was effected with the introduction of Free Primary Education (FPE), in addition to poor working
conditions, could have frustrated the teachers and caused them to leave the system. As evidenced from a report,
many of the teachers who were recruited during the introduction of FPE dropped out either due to poor conditions or
because they could not complete the course through failure (Kunje, Lewin &Stuart 2003). This cohort had recruited
teachers with only a Junior Secondary Certificate of Education which is a weak qualification because it is written at
the mid of secondary education unlike Malawi School Certificate which is a final certificate for secondary education.
Let us now take a look at the trend in teacher attrition for the years that data was available.
Table 2 presents the statistics on teacher attrition by retirement and death from 1996 to 2004 at national level. Data
from 1996 was obtained from an analysis that was done by UNDP (2002) and the rest of the data is from EMIS. As
can be seen, deaths and retirements are among the main causes of teacher attrition in Malawi, rising from 0.8 % in
1996 to 2.5 % in 2001 and declined to 1.7 in 2004. The table illustrates also the dramatic increase in the number of
teachers, who have died while in service, a threefold increase, from 246 in 1996 to 787 in 2001, before declining to
500 in 2004. At the most basic level, teacher attrition due to death and resignation at national level increased from
0.8 % in 1996 to 2.1% in 2001 and declined to 1.7 % by 2004. Attrition due to death or mortality alone increased from
0.5% in 1996 to 1.8% in 2001 but declined to 1.2% by 2004. Put differently, in 1996 one in every 200 teachers died in
service. By 2004, the number had increased to just less than one teacher in every 50 teachers, representing 260
percent increase. Together the overall picture of the attrition from both deaths and resignations show a dramatic rise
in the period of the study from a very low level in 1996 to its highest in 2004.
Table 2: National teacher attrition by cause (1996-2004)
1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2004 2005 2006 2007
Total teachers in post n 49138
Number of teachers died
n 246 302 472 531 453 787 737 618 500
0.5 0.6 1.1 1.2 0.9 1.8 1.6 1.4 1.2
Number of teachers retired
n 168 228 332 294 218 217
280 239 203
0.3 0.5 0.8 0.6 0.5 0.5 0.6 0.6 0.5
Attrition due to death and
n 415 531 805 826 672 1004 1019 858 704
0.8 1.1 1.9 1.8 1.4 2.3 2.3 2.0 1.7
Table 3 provides the numbers of teachers who left the profession for various reasons excluding those who died in
service. More data on the reasons teachers left the profession started being collected in 2004 presumably because
of the call by the experts. The table indicates that the number of teachers who left the profession for various reasons
were generally high between 2004 and 2006. Those who left for unknown reasons were the highest from 2006 to
Table 3: Teacher attrition by gender and cause 2004-2011
2004 2005 2006 2007 2008
Total Teachers in post n 43946
Number of teachers
Number of teachers on
Number of teachers
Number of teachers
Number of teachers
left for unknown
Source: Ministry of Education: 2004-2011
Teacher attrition was highest in 2006 at 3.5 %, and lowest in 2010 at 1.5%. Notable also, unknown reasons,
dismissal and resignation have been the other main causes of teacher attrition in that order from 2004 to 2011.
Retirement and prolonged illness have been the least causes of teacher attrition.
What is coming out of this analysis is that the ministry of education in Malawi has been losing on average
about 1000 teachers a year for other reasons besides those who died in service. No wonder that since 1996 despite
several innitial teacher programmes that have been carried out, the overal increase of teachers in public primary
schools has been 2,391 represnting an increase of 4.9% from 1996 to 2011. This is a serious senario that ought to
be improved if quality of primary achievement levels are to be improved. An immediate impact of loss of teachers is
high pupil teacher ratio which shows that it has increased from 59: 1 in 1996 to 78: 1 in 2011. This is likely to have
casued deterioration in achievement levels. This loss of teachers also indicates a loss of investment that has been
provided in teachers education over the past 7 years. The ministyr therefore ought to critically look at ways that retain
teachers. As noted by Kirby 1993, Chapman 1994, Lortie 1975 and Billingsley, 1993, teachers tend to move out the
profession in search for better working conditions. This particularly has been the case in developed countries where
teacher attrition is relatively high compared to SSA because of the availability of well-paying alternative jobs and also
because of high economic status. Provision of relatively good working conditions can therefore retain teachers in
countries like Malawi where employment is also scares. Kavenule, (2013), reports of a study that show that teachers
who came from high status family were likely to leave teaching than those coming from poor status family.
That death, dismissal and other unknown reasons are among the main factors for teachers attrition should
be of concern for the ministry too Although it is not clearly known that some of the teachers died of AIDS related
diseases, it likely that some might have died of the AIDS. There is a need for the researchers to find out what
escalated the death of teachers from 1998 to 2004. . It is important therefore for the Ministry of education to keep
monitoring the situation by collecting relevant data, including information on teachers on ARV.
Dismissal, as a contributing factor to teacher attrition ought to be looked into seriously too. High dismissal
can indicate lack of commitment and motivation from the teachers. Due to lack of jobs in low income countries
teachers do not want to leave the profession although they are not motivated to stay. This can lead teachers to
commit offences that can warrant dismissals. A study by Faume, (2012) discovered that demoralization and lack of
commitment make teachers be implicated in indiscipline issues like, bear drinking, having sexual affairs with students
and indulge in absenteeism. This eventually can lead to a number of teachers being dismissed.
But is the trend in teacher attrition catastrophic as has been suggested? The evidence appears not robust
enough to support this for two reasons. First, while the percentage increase is nothing short of dramatic, it is an
increase of a very low base. Even at its highest point in 2004, the attrition rate from death and resignation and these
factors combined is not cataclysmic. At the highest point in 2004, an attrition rate of 2.3% remains considerably lower
than attrition rates in other countries (Macdonald 1999; Borman & Dowling 2008; Ingersoll 2001; McCreight 2000,
Kirby & Grissner 1993). It is however surprising that death, dismissals and some unknown reasons are among the
main cause of teacher attrition. Retirement and resignation has been the main cause according to many studies that
have been carried out. This emerging pattern is a threat to the teaching corps in Malawi and needs to be monitored.
In the face of HIV and AIDS there has been a growing concern that education sectors particularly in sub-Saharan
would lose its teachers due to sicknesses and death of teachers. The purpose of this article was therefore to
determine the causes of teacher attrition between 1996 and 2011 in Malawi..This was done through analysing
secondary data collected annually by the Ministry of Education. Analysis of number of schools, teacher pupil teacher
ratio, and attrition were conducted.
Among other factors that contribute to teacher attrition This was expected to have happen when the
pandemic reaches its peak. The analysis has shown that overall teacher attrition indicates that the teaching corps
have been affected but not catastrophically as suggested. Despite that mortality has been the main cause of teacher
attrition; overall the attrition has not been as alarming as expected.
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Cite this Article: Ndala KK, 2015. Malawi Primary School Teacher attrition from 1996 to 2011. Greener Journal of
Educational Research, 5(1):001-008, http://doi.org/10.15580/GJER.2015.1.072414311