Playing Pandu with Country’s Future
The Government has announced the resumption of academic activities of the primary sections of schools that have less than 200 students from today (21) as the first phase of an ambitious plan of completely reopening schools in the country in November. Accordingly, about 5,000 schools in the country that have less than 200 students are to be reopened from today. Education Ministry expects to reopen 5,056 schools today with 463,995 students and 53,615 teachers returning to schools.
However, complete resumption of academic activities is still lies in the dark with teacherprincipal trade unions remaining widely divided on whether or when to return to work. Even though, teachers are being heavily criticised for picking a troubled pandemic time – a global crisis – to agitate against their salary anomalies that prevailed for more than two decades, one should not forget the fact that it was teachers and principals who voluntarily started teaching students using online platforms at a time Government or education authorities had no plans in sight to continue academic activities after it was decided to close schools in early March 2020.
Nevertheless, anyone in right mind would not be able to justify the continued stalemate between striking trade unions and authorities in coming to a consensus for almost 100 days, as it has led already troubled education system of the country to a deeper mess. Not only the results of GCE Ordinary Level Examination 2020 were released sans aesthetic subjects as the aptitude tests not being held, holding of all three main examinations due in 2021 – GCE Advanced Level, Grade 5 Scholarship and the Ordinary Level – still hangs in balance.
This was due to teachers refusing to process the exam admissions, which is a primary duty. After much deliberation and several rounds of discussions, Government initially agreed to resolve salary issues in three stages to which the striking trade unions opposed. Following a crucial discussion held in Temple Trees with teacher-principal unions, the Government announced the reopening of schools on 21 October. While, teachers attached to SLPP trade unions agreed to return to schools today, two main education sector trade unions – Ceylon Teachers Union headed by Joseph Stalin and All Ceylon Teacher Services Union headed by Mahinda Jayasinghe – said they will only return to work on 25 October and will go on strike on 21 and 22 October.
Even though it is unclear as to why Government announced 21 October as the date to reopen schools, many parents have expressed views against it. Understandably, 21 October being a Thursday that falls after two official holidays and with weekend around the corner, lots of parents may not send their children to schools. Parents leave their children in schools as they are used to blindly trust teachers as the safest hands to protect children in their absence and with teachers expressing uncertainty in reporting to work, the parents too will have second thoughts in sending children.
It is in the midst of this that trade unions led by Ven. Ulapane Sumangala Thera have threatened to continue strike action and blamed others who were willing to call it off for betraying the battle and called them traitors. One should not take it lightly that the pandemic alone has disrupted the education of more than 800 million children in Asia – 400 million in South Asia – due to school closures since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020. Out of the 210 school days in 2020 schools were functioning for only 65 days.
According to statistics made available to Parliament in early October, the success rate of alternatives followed in continuing academic activities including teaching via online platforms is mere 40%. Starting primary section education is of utmost importance as schools provide a balanced education, which helps to promote the child’s psychological and mental growth. It is not only about academics as children also learn a wide range of important life skills like good manners, teamwork, sharing, responsibility, and unity, from schools.
In school, children are exposed to various sources of knowledge and this helps them to develop their thought processes. The school also helps in socialising a child as they are exposed to divergent views, both from their teachers and also from their fellow learners. From these diverging views, children will learn social skills like friendship, empathy, assistance, and teamwork, which will be vital in their adulthood. Schooling and education, in general, are important agents of change. The education, skills, and information acquired in school help to improve livelihoods, enhance social skills, contribute to social stability, promote child development, improve our societies, and drive long-term economic development.
So, whether it’s about financial security, commanding respect, family stability or community development, learning and proper schooling, the importance of the school cannot be undervalued. Anything that hinders child’s right to acquire these skills is hindering the future of the country as children of today are the adults of tomorrow and they will need the right skills to contribute to the economy in a few years to come. It is at this point where school comes in playing the most important role and that role could not be completed without teachers. Playing politics with the future of the country cannot be condoned by any responsible citizen of the country.