As students start returning to schools: Govt and Teachers Locked in Stalemate

By Thameenah Razeek | Published: 2:00 AM Oct 23 2021
Focus As students start returning to schools: Govt and Teachers Locked in Stalemate

By Thameenah Razeek 

There is now a new hope to smell the paint and touch the metal tables after hours of screen time for a day that lasted more than a year. Students who were studying in front of a screen can return to their former lives by attending school. Every child looks forward to going back to school and being cared for by their second mother, the teacher. 

The Government’s decision to resume academic activities in the school after a six-month hiatus can be viewed as a brave step, given that it occurred in the midst of a number of crises, including a strike by teachers and principals who refuse to get back to work unless their long-standing salary disparities are sorted out amicably. 

Even if the parent and child are eager to continue their education by enrolling in a mainstream school with their classmates and teachers, the teachers and principals are debating whether or not to report to work. Aside from the fact that teachers and principals are fighting for a pay disparity that has existed for 24 years, neither teachers nor the government should play games with children’s education, who are currently our sole national asset is an opinion of mixed feelings. 

Students victimised by Govt apathy 

Only the child suffers as a result of a Government that disregards the consequences of inciting teacher strikes and teachers who are forced to use students as hostages as a result. Despite the fact that the Government has made progress in reopening the school, no progress has been made in addressing the legitimate concerns of the teachers and principals. 

Teachers, on the other hand, however unwillingly, have resorted to utilising students as a leverage because they are left with Hobson’s choice in order to get their demands met as quickly as possible. Teachers and principals from across the country have been on strike for nearly three months, demanding higher pay. They have announced that they will return to work on 25 October, but will continue to protest and avoid non-academic activities. 

Teachers from the Ceylon Teachers and Principals Trade Union Alliance, on the other hand, chose not to go to work on 21 and 22 October, when schools were scheduled to reopen after being closed for months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Yalwela Pannasekara Thera, President of the Ceylon Teachers and Principals Trade Union Alliance, has called on all principals and teachers to return to school on 25 October to resume the educational process, vowing that they will not give up their fight. 

“Even after we resume teaching, we will keep our strike going by refusing to perform non-academic tasks like supervising extracurricular activities.” What will they do to resume the halted education of the students? He vowed to complete all unfinished tasks and to adjust the children’s mental levels. “Various religious and artistic programmes exist to help the child reintegrate into society,” he said. 

Despite the fact that the school year is only two months old and students are expected to take their third-term exams on average, nothing has changed today. The primary three competitive examinations that should be held each year are not being held this year for the first time in history. This includes the GCE Advanced Level, GCE Ordinary Level, and Grade 5 scholarship exams. Furthermore, for the first time in history, the Examination Department was forced to announce GCE Ordinary Level examination 2020 results without aesthetic subjects. 

Other Teachers’ Unions face division 

Other teachers’ unions have slammed the allegations made by the teachers’ unions. They claim that implementing the Subodhani Committee’s recommendations on teacher pay disparities will result in a wage war across the government. There are several flaws in the Subodhani Committee, including the qualifications that teachers must meet in order to be paid more. Wasantha Handapangoda, Chairperson of the Public Education Services Union, said that Ceylon Teachers’ Service Union President Mahinda Jayasinghe had called and requested a two-stage pay increase, which they had agreed to, and that Ceylon Teachers’ Union General Secretary Joseph Stalin had also signalled the same with his handprint. 

“They reasoned that continuing in this manner would be counterproductive. As a result, when we were told that the salary increase would be phased in over three years, our union requested that it be phased in two. However, they left Temple Trees and said something else, He explained. Meanwhile, Venerable Ulapane Sumangala Thera, Convener of the National Collective of Teachers and Principals, stated that the formal strike would last until 21 October, when the Government planned to resume academic activities. 

He said that they will never, ever create an environment unconducive to the resumption of academic activity in schools, and they challenged the Government to show how they are doing so. Meanwhile, the Principal Graders Association’s Secretary, Nimal Mudunkotuwa, said they believe they have been misled, because some teacher unions affiliated with them have abruptly changed their stances. He did, however, state that the revolt would continue until the situation was resolved. The Education Ministry felt confident in verifying teachers’ and principals’ attendance when schools reopened on 21 October. 

Despite the fact that teachers have been divided and multiple factions have formed among them, the Education Ministry has done nothing to listen to what is going on with them or to inquire as to why they have split. When asked what the Education Ministry’s position is on teachers refusing to come to school on the day it was announced that schools would open and on teachers who have been on strike indefinitely, Additional Secretary to the Education Ministry L.M.D. Dharmasena stated that they have never labelled teachers as traitors and have never been concerned about forcing them to attend school. 

He also said that they are confident that teachers will return on 25 October after several successful meetings with teachers and principals. “Teachers are professionals, and we prefer not to speak with them because they are educated individuals. We understand what they are going through, and we acknowledge that the problem they are bringing up is real. We know that teachers will arrive at school to instruct their students. 

Because they are more rational than others,” he said. Meanwhile, Sarath Weerasekara, Minister of Public Security, has said that if teachers are intimidated when they arrive at school on 21 October, harsh action will be taken. When the Ceylon Today team met with teachers and principals on 21 October, it became clear that the teachers did not want to be identified, because they were assisting the government in resuming academic activities at the school. Teachers were also apprehensive about showing their faces to any other stranger. But, if there are teachers who genuinely want to educate students, is it not fair to pay strikers and nonstrikers the same wage? 

A fantastic solution was presented 

Minister Dinesh Gunawardena, the government’s third Education Minister for the 2020-2021 term, said that raising teacher salaries was a difficult and critical decision because providing education to children is a vital duty. The Prime Minister spoke with teachers and principals about their concerns. During that conversation, a fantastic solution was presented. Salary increases will be phased in over a period of time. The Prime Minister stated unequivocally that education is our responsibility, and that this will lead to future professional growth for teachers. 

As a result, everyone must collaborate to carry out their responsibilities. The Maha Sangha’s sole demand is that children’s education not be disrupted due to a salary dispute. The Most Venerable Iththepana Dhammalankara Maha Nayaka Thera requested that teachers in this country be told to set aside everything else and focus on educating thirsty children, as this is the most important thing to do right now. 

Destruction of the child’s education will be unavoidable if the situation continues in this manner. He added that schools must be rebuilt before a dangerous world emerges. As part of an ambitious effort to reopen all schools in the country by November, the government has announced the resumption of academic activity in primary sections of schools with fewer than 200 students. As a result, it was expected that 5,000 schools with fewer than 200 students would reopen across the country. 

The Education Ministry expected 5,056 schools to reopen, with 463,995 students and 53,615 teachers returning to their classrooms. However, the full resumption of academic activity remains a mystery, with teacher principal trade unions divided on whether or not to return to work. Anything that interferes with a child’s right to develop these skills jeopardises the country’s future, because today’s children are tomorrow’s adults, and they will need the necessary skills to contribute to the economy in a few years. At this point, school plays the most important role, one that cannot be fulfilled without the assistance of teachers. Any responsible citizen cannot justify playing politics with the country’s future.

By Thameenah Razeek | Published: 2:00 AM Oct 23 2021

More News