Strikes, Tuition and Today’s Teachers | Daily News
World Teachers’ Day

Strikes, Tuition and Today’s Teachers

A teacher, another name for God
A teacher, another name for God

The World Teachers’ Day falls today, on October 5. This day is very significant for Sri Lanka this year because the entire country has been talking about teachers for nearly three months. The talk is still going on. The discussion commenced with the teachers’ strike when they stopped conducting online teaching sessions almost three months ago.

Sri Lankan teachers are a part of Sri Lankan society and no one can expect them to be different from the other people living in this country. Social destruction was visible in Sri Lankan society during the past several decades, especially after 1977 with the introduction of the open economy which promoted ‘buying and selling’ culture in almost all sectors including different cultures and religions. Today, we experience many negative results and a few positive results due to the introduction of the open economy. Now all types of human relationships are based on money.

But COVID-19 has given us a priceless lesson on the importance of self-sufficiency. But, unfortunately, still, a handful of politicians who introduced the open economy to this country in 1977 are admiring their work though even they can witness it to be a failure over again and again especially during the last two years. The profession of teaching has also been affected by the introduction of the open economy and social change. The results we experience today is the outcome of those initiatives but not the results of the last one or two years.

Today, while we are celebrating World Teachers’ Day, Sri Lankan teachers are fighting for the salary anomaly which caused a loss of over Rs. 30,000 for Grade I teachers. Now they are being forced to retire without getting their due salary. Then they will receive a meagre pension for the rest of their lives.

There are many factors in connection with this issue. Those factors have never been discussed by the protesting teachers, the Government, the ordinary people or anyone else. Those factors are crucial; because factors like those can continue to create similar problems in Sri Lanka for decades to come. This is because the Government appoints various commissions and committees and implements their recommendations from time to time in various sectors.

The main factor is that no one discusses the sentence that was included in the last part of the B.C. Perera Salaries Commission 1995 Report (1997). There are approximately 245,000 school teachers as well as 17,000 principals who are badly affected by these salary inconsistencies that have supposedly cropped up, due to the recommendations of the B.C. Perera Commission Report in 1997, especially the last section which says the matter of teachers’ salary issue will be looked into later. Such questionable recommendations should not have been implemented in the first place. Action should be taken against all who implemented those questionable recommendations which caused all current issues.

The second important factor is the inability to solve those issues since 1997 and taking those issues up now after nearly 25 years in the middle of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. These are the questions posed by ordinary people who have school-going children. Answers should be provided for those questions by all relevant parties such as the Education Ministers from 1997 to 2019, teachers' trade union leaders and members etc.

The bitter truth is that all respective governments down the line since 1997 are surely responsible for kicking this vital issue into the long grass, so to speak, without making any sincere or concerted effort to resolve it. Many past governments had only made promises to rectify this crucial issue.

On the other hand, all leaders of teachers’ trade unions did not take any significant trade union action during the past 24 years in connection with the issue. They only pleased their trade union members by staging half day or full day protests here and there from time to time. They did not want to solve the issue at all. What they wanted was to please their members and keep them with their unions. Most of those protests were just limited to media coverage and no one noticed or remembered them on the following day. It is obvious that they did not try their best before July 2020 in order to get the issue solved.

The leaders of one of the key trade unions which brought teachers to the streets and started to protest from July were with the Yahapalana Government which ruled the country from 2015 to 2019 and the leaders of these trade unions always moved closely with the leaders of the previous Government. Those leaders stayed inside Temple Trees all the time taking part in various committees, panels, boards etc.

The trade union leaders of this small political party which now have a representation of only three percent were silent and did nothing about this burning salary issue of teachers during the past four years. Surprisingly, the member teachers of this trade union and all the other trade unions did not find fault with them for doing nothing for this salary issue from 2015 to 2019. Not a single member of teachers’ trade unions raises this question now or they never did during that period from 2015 to 2019.

Only now, in the midst of this COVID-19 crisis, all of them suddenly woke up from their deep slumber of 24 years and started to protest, stopping teaching online and coming to the streets. Then the Government clearly stated what can be given now in the middle of this COVID-19 crisis and how it can be given. The trade unionists and the Government can argue with each other over this issue. But what is important for us, the ordinary people, is what is justifiable.

Almost all teachers who do not conduct online classes for their schoolchildren conduct private tuition online. In order to get private tuition, the children need to pay tuition fees before the online class but not after the class. Teachers give passcodes to students of his/her private tuition class only after the tuition fee is received. Only the children whose parents pay money to the teacher can attend online tuition classes but not any other innocent poor student.

Teachers receive their full salaries without any deduction of allowances or anything else while many parents of those poor students who are private sector employees have lost their jobs, receive cut down salaries and leave and sometimes receive a small part of their salaries after being exposed to deadly COVID-19 while travelling to their workplaces in congested state and private transport services which hardly provide a healthy service to the public. They do this while all teachers are enjoying their lives comfortably at their homes and doing private tuition to earn extra money.

Private sector employees also worry about their job security all the time because their employers can send them home at any time citing any reason or without even a reason. But no such threat is there to any public servant, especially teachers.

All those factors which is a timely issue are considered by ordinary people in Sri Lanka who have school-going children; these factors were not considered before COVID-19 or maybe after another year or two. The issue exists now. That means it was not there in the past and it will end soon and will not exist in the future. This is why they think the salary issue of teachers should have been solved before COVID-19 or it should be solved later and not now. No one is against giving temporary or financially tolerable (for the country’s economy) solutions now. But the people know that trade unionists with hidden agendas will not accept any of them. It is because they need issues for their survival.

There is another important factor. Middle-aged parents expect teachers to be the teachers they saw during their time as students decades ago. According to them, teachers served in state schools a few decades ago in decent attire. They did not wear fashionable outfits to school. They rarely exposed their personal ideologies to students. There were no class Whatsapp groups for them to share unsuitable/private stuff. Especially, they did not let the students know their salary issues.

The people also urge educational authorities to introduce a proper mechanism as soon as possible in order to regulate the conduct of international schools which have been mushrooming all over the country for a long time.

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