Let saner counsel prevail | Daily News

Let saner counsel prevail

The striking teachers and principals have opted to keep off online education and not report to schools on October 21, when schools reopen for in-person education for selected grades following the near two-year closure. By their hardline action, the teacher unions have demonstrated that they are in the same league as other run-of-the-mill Trade Unions which are backed by political parties and not a cut above the rest.

The teacher unions decided to continue with their strike indefinitely after failing to come to a compromise on their salary demands following the meeting their representatives had with Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa on Tuesday. The unions wanted the increase in one go and not in two stages as proposed by the Government delegation, due to the prevailing financial constraints.

Usually, Trade Unions raise the bar considerably when making similar demands at the outset knowing well they will have to settle for something very much less and accept the same with equanimity. In the case of the teacher unions, though, they have decided to stick with their maximum demand knowing well the financial position the Government is in, which makes it apparent that the strike is politically motivated. If that indeed is the case (and from all indications it is), the teaching profession which up to now had been regarded as a noble profession no doubt will be cast into the dung heap by the public, with teachers losing the honour and respect hitherto accorded to them.

What of the future of the student population? Teachers not only impart education to the young but also mould character and are responsible for guiding the destinies of the future generation. How are they going to inculcate the virtues of patience, forbearance, compromise and most of all, traits such as character building into their young charges when they are not going to settle for less than the pound of flesh they have been demanding?

Time was when the Iskoley Mahaththaya (school teacher) of yore was a much sought-after character, especially in villages, for his counsel and guidance even by the elders, attaching great importance to his wisdom. Alas, times have changed and members engaged in the teaching profession will now be viewed with a jaundiced eye by the public at large for depriving the young of their right to education.

Ironically, the teacher unions came to their decision to continue with their strike on the very day the country was marking the 137th birth anniversary of the father of free education in this country Dr. C.W.W. Kannangara.

The teacher unions can still salvage their reputation if they decide to call off their TU action even at the eleventh hour and do their duty by the 4.3 million student population. The Ven. Muruttetuwe Ananda Thera who had intervened to arrange Tuesday’s meeting between the teachers’ representatives and Premier Rajapaksa has now taken a hardline position and wants Education Minister Dinesh Gunawardena to resume schools as scheduled. The Ven. Thera has also urged the Government not to pay the salaries of teachers who do not report for duties. How long can the striking teachers hold out in the face of such extreme measures if the Government indeed decides so?

Most teachers themselves have children of school going age who too are affected by the ongoing strike. Why cannot saner counsel prevail and the teachers, who, after all, are men and women of learning, take a step back and accept the Government’s compromise formula?  The teachers should also keep in mind that a majority of the country’s workforce lost their jobs or had to forgo a good portion of their salaries due to the economic collapse resulting from the pandemic while they (teachers) were not made to feel the pinch.

In such a scenario, are the teachers morally justified in demanding a salary increase beyond all proportion (the increment will amount to Rs. 30 billion annually) when a sizable segment of the country’s workforce are out of employment or had taken substantial pay cuts?

The teachers do have a grievance which the Government is not denying. Their demand is a protracted one dating back 24 years. The teachers certainly are among the poorest paid among the public servants and their current salaries are definitely not in keeping with their professional status and stature.

However, this is hardly the time to make demands that cannot be met by a Government which is striving to keep the economy afloat amidst the pandemic. Perhaps, an appeal should be made by the Most Ven. Mahanayake Theras who have so far not expressed their views forcefully on the matter.

Other religious leaders too including His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith should step into the breach. The contribution made by the Catholic Church to education in this country is not inconsiderable. What is needed is for all those with a voice to come together to ensure our student population, which is our future generation, will not be left in the lurch. They all should prevail on the teacher unions the need for compromise at this juncture.

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