Teacher Transfer Causes Controversy
By Nabiya Vaffoor
Researches around the world confirm the success of Sri Lanka’s education system; comparing it with the others around the region, but they don’t emphasise its shortcomings. Reduction of gender disparities is a known positive fact in Sri Lanka’s education system; – The Free Education system has fostered the notion of equal opportunity. In fact, in higher levels of education, women are more likely to complete their education than men.
For example, 60 per cent of those enrolled in higher education were women in 2015. Of the graduating students, 68.5 per cent were female. While the education system seems to be promoting gender equality, the political environment of Sri Lanka is still sparse in terms of women, a disparity when compared to their educational success that must be addressed to continue their progress, but some recent incidents question the opportunities in Sri Lankan schools for male teachers.
The alleged refusal of Visakha Vidyalaya Principal Sandamali Aviruppola to allow a transferred male teacher to assume duties at the school emphasised this issue. He mentioned that prior to the appointment, Aviruppola had written to the Ministry requesting them not to send him to the school.
Speaking to Media on 10 January, Ministry of Education Secretary Prof. Kapila Perera said the Ministry will investigate into what was reported to be inappropriate behaviour on the Principal’s part as well as whether the Principal’s initial request to not transfer the teacher was reasonable.
“We produced this letter to the Teacher Transfer Board, but the Board still decided that the teacher should be sent to Visakha Vidyalaya,” he added.
It was reported last Thursday (7), that Aviruppola had refused the appointment of a male teacher who was transferred to Visakha Vidyalaya to teach Sinhala and claimed that the Principal had “thrown the transfer letter at the said teacher claiming that a male teacher is not suitable to teach Sinhala language and literature at a girls’ school”.
Speaking to the Media the following day (8), Aviruppola claimed that the Director of Teacher Transfers, Dhammika Jayanetti had “overstepped” the Ministry Secretary’s directive and appointed the teacher to Visakha Vidyalaya when the Ministry Secretary had requested him to be appointed to a different school.
However, when we inquired from the Ministry Secretary whether he had made such a request, he said that if he had done so, that too could be investigated.
“I will also investigate if the Principal’s request was a fair one or whether the objections were based on personal reasons,” said Prof. Perera.
He added that such regular teacher transfers should be allowed to take place.
Speaking to the Media on 9 January, Aviruppola said there are no vacancies at Visakha Vidyalaya.
“Even if the appointment is completed and I am requested to accept the transfer, I would not be able to, as there are absolutely no vacancies for an A/L Sinhala teacher at the school,” she said.
She also claimed that the teacher had acted inappropriately when teaching female students at his previous school, St. Paul’s Girls’ School Milagiriya, and that teachers and students had complained to school authorities.
However, Prof. Perera said the Ministry had not received such a complaint from any of the teacher’s previous schools or previous students’ or their parents, and if such a complaint was received, that too would be investigated.
Trade unions’ reaction
To find further information in this regard, Ceylon Today collected statements from teachers’ trade unions.
“Aviruppola has a lot of pending cases on her in the education commission. It is important that Aviruppola should realise that we are public servants and when the Ministry orders something best for the students we should execute them but if she is trying to refuse them, disguising herself as a powerful authority who can refuse orders of the Education Ministry based on personal issues, such incidents should be objected,” General Secretary of Ceylon Teachers’ Union (CTU), Joseph Stalin expressed.
He further noted that even though there are complaints against 15 violations on principal Aviruppola, yet she was appointed as a member of the presidential task force on education.
“Many so-called popular schools principals in Colombo usually were charged with such complaints but when the complaints are investigated they have already retired. If such complaints were filed against a rural area school principal, they will be transferred immediately. Even during the issue of H.B. Wasantha, the statement from this principal emphasises that she has neglected this teacher for some personal vigilance. But instead of rapid action against this principal, the teacher has to fight to prove the allegations made was false,” he added.
He further claimed that since she has contacts of higher authorities and politicians who are alumni, any violations by her are covered-up.
The principal’s qualms
A representative of the Ceylon Teachers' Service Union noted that instead of neglecting his appointment and raising different allegations regarding his past, the principal should have informed the Education Ministry of the surplus of teachers in the school as she has revealed now.
“The principal is raising claims against Wasantha and Janayanetti in order to cover-up her personal vigilance and own beliefs. Initially, she ignored the teacher claiming that he has worked under the principal of St Paul’s Girls’ School Sumedha Jayaweera. Then she neglected his appointment claiming that a male teacher cannot teach Grade 12 Sinhala literature since there are poems praising women’s beauty in the syllabus that needs to be explained to girls. Then she claimed that there is a surplus of teachers teaching Sinhala literature at school so another teacher is not needed and then she accused the teacher of a disciplinary flaw that she confirmed from the former principal of St. Paul’s Girls’ school,” he added.
He also noted that a complaint has been sent on behalf of Wasantha, hoping that he will be served justice after a fair investigation.
Meanwhile, when Ceylon Today reached Aviruppola over the phone she refused to make a statement, claiming that the issue was already informed to the Ministry Secretary and she also noted that she refuses any allegation from H.G. Wasantha and noted that she neglected his appointment since she received negative comments from his previous school.
In the meantime, H.B. Wasantha also refused to speak to the Media since it can affect ongoing investigations.
Ceylon Today also tried to contact the former principal Geetha Abheygunewardana and the current Principal Sumedha Jayaweera of St Paul’s Girls’ School in order to confirm the allegations, but they too refused to comment.
Ceylon Today reached Dhammika Jayanetti, the Director of Teacher Transfers, for her take on the issue.
“I didn’t overstep in my duty as Aviruppola claimed. I did my duty using my authority adequately. This is an ordinary transfer that was ordered by the secretary. Though she claimed disciplinary allegation on H.B. Wasantha we haven’t received such complaints to consider when transferring him,” she confirmed.
Reliable resources say that investigations are still in progress. As trade unions claim, will they drag till both the principal and teacher in this issue are retired?