The teachers’ strike | Daily News

The teachers’ strike

Under no circumstances can any right thinking citizen condone the actions of Government teachers who ditch their charges and keep away from their duties, least of all school principals, who have received their exalted appointments through scholarship and leadership qualities. But this is exactly what teachers and school principals did yesterday, when they went on strike, shutting down Government schools and crippling the education sector.

According to a front page story we carried yesterday, over 240,000 teachers from 6,000 schools have decided to fall ‘sick’ over the Government's ‘failure to address salary anomalies’ which they claim remains unchanged since 1997. The feat of 6,000 teachers falling sick en-masse, on a single day, no doubt, should enter the Guinness Book of Records, and, what is more, call into question the grand health indices that Health Ministers often boast of, achieved by Sri Lanka.

The teachers who play the role of mentors to their charges and are responsible for their moral upbringing and development of character should hide their collective heads in shame for practising this deception on their pupils and setting a horrible example at the risk of having their charges emulate them. The teachers who are expected to be paragons of virtue, at least in their professional calling, should have known better than to be blind to the possibility of the impact their action would have caused on students in terms of discipline and moral conduct.

According to Teachers' Union President Joseph Stalin, they have reached this decision (to strike) after much deliberation. “We have asked for meetings with Education Ministry officials, but our pleas have fallen on deaf ears,” he said, adding that they have taken a collective decision to go on ‘sick leave’ commencing yesterday.

Meanwhile, the Education Ministry, in response, claimed that certain Trade Unions were trying to gain political mileage through teachers and principals of Government schools at a time the Government has taken steps to rectify salary anomalies of teachers and principals.

It is not clear who is speaking the truth. But if the teachers and principals have allowed themselves to be a cat’s paw of certain politicians, woe betide the country's education sector which up to now has remained largely aloof from political manipulations, unlike the medical profession. It is also significant that the strike was staged at a time the budget debate is in progress, possibly timed to get the Finance Minister to make amendments during the Third Reading stage to provide for increased salaries for teachers.

True, Government teachers are among the poorest paid public servants in this country and they deserve to be treated on par with the dignity and honour attached to their noble profession. Government teachers are also forced to undergo tremendous ordeals and inconveniences due to transfers, entailing disruption of their family lives. They are also lacking in housing, health insurance and other facilities common to other public servants. The schools they serve in, particularly in the rural areas, are without basic facilities that are often highlighted in TV programmes.

But none of these could be cited in extenuation for the course of action these Government teachers have embarked on to disrupt the education of the country's student population. More so, considering their mentoring role in guiding the destinies of the country's future generation.

Time was when the teaching profession was looked upon with awe and reverence and teachers enjoyed recognition and respect as prominent citizens of society. One recalls the status enjoyed by the good old “Iskole Mahattaya” in the village who was considered an oracle of sorts, to whom villages flocked to, for advice and counsel. Sadly, this phenomenon is no longer in existence, the passage of time, like with everything else taking a heavy toll on old values and practices. This change in the times is even reflected in the conduct of our teachers who hardly have time to spare for their charges caught up in the rat race, as the rest of them.

To begin with, the quality of education imparted in schools has dropped drastically, going by the recent results of the GCE (O/L) exams, where failures in subjects such as mathematics, science and English were extremely high. Whether this is due to inattention of the teachers or if they are wanting in competence has to be ascertained if the authorities are to stem the tide. It is also a known factor that some teachers reserve their best for the private tuition classes run by them, to the neglect of their charges in the classroom. This could be one of the reasons for the poor performance of students at the exams.

Hence, the Government should attempt to make the teachers a satisfied lot if it is to get the optimum out of them in their school work. A frustrated teacher population is certain to affect their output and in return the output of their charges, and, needless to say, this vicious cycle is bound to impact on the final product that is churned out of the country's school system and deprive the country of quality manpower.


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