Teachers and principals protested over their pay anomaly that lasted for the past twenty-four years, through many previous governments, came to the forefront suddenly three months ago. However, it was settled on 12 November 2021 when the Minister of Finance declared that 30 million were set aside via 2022 Budget proposals in his Budget speech. Initially, 250,000 teachers and 16,512 principals in Government-run schools suddenly withdrew from online teaching to protest over the detention of Union leaders and their supporters under the pandemic laws. Since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Government decided to close all schools, but teaching online facilities continued. Three months ago, in a statement, eleven educational trade unions accused the police of detaining the Union leaders and supporters and held them at quarantine centres for breaking the health guidelines.
In June 2021, the Government proposed legislative changes governing the structure of the KDU (General Sir John Kotelawela Defence University). Several groups initially challenged the move on privatisation and militarisation of higher education in Sri Lanka. They protested, particularly on the KDU.
Then Ceylon Teachers’ Union said, “Two hundred and forty-two thousand teachers and sixteen thousand school principals” joined the strike action initially for detaining the union leaders for protesting over the proposed privatisation and militarisation of the KDU. They suddenly changed their initial demand and concentrated on their unresolved pay anomaly. It was akin to a chameleon changing its colour to suit the environment!
On 12 October 2021, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa agreed and promised to pay the teacher’s salary in three stages, commencing from the November 2021 Budget. The Leadership of the Union at the meeting did not oppose the suggestion by the Prime Minister. Nevertheless, after the meeting with the PM, the Secretary of the Ceylon Teachers Union, Joseph Stalin, demanded their arrears forthwith. The protest continued for one hundred and eighteen days. On 10 November 2021, Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa assured the trade unions of teachers and principals to pay their salary anomalies at once instead of in three stages. One hopes that for the sake of the younger generation, teachers’ and principals’ salary anomaly comes to an end!
The unions hoped to end the strike with false “some kind of a victory overtly.” Instead, the Government reopened schools prematurely on 21 October 2021, after an extended closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The teachers’ unions were desperately appealing to resolve the salary anomaly issue before the school reopening. The latest protest by teachers and principals across the country went on record in Sri Lankan history as the worst industrial action during a pandemic.
Schools and colleges
The time we all spend in schools and colleges is an unforgettable chapter in our lives. In school, we all discover a certain amount of pride, excitement in our success, and sorrow when we become a failure. Also, we learn rather unselfish loyalty and develop camaraderie with other boys who come from entirely different backgrounds. Friendships developed at school or college will later turn into relationships with schoolmates and with our character.
Friendships in school
The student friendships created in school become a distinctive category with schoolmates. Such friendships become helpful in the future as each character has its qualities. When the young grow up to be adults, they invariably think of the school days with nostalgia. The teachers whom we identified as failures and tolerated as ‘heartless’ in our young minds, later when the young become mature adults with affection, we realise how such teachers, though stern at junior school influenced students’ minds. The present generation of students is caught up with a diabolical vacuum because of schools closing down due to the COVID-19 pandemic and teachers deciding to stop online tuition.
COVID-19 pandemic, followed by teachers’ and principals’ industrial action can never fill the vacuum children suffered, nor can they recover those years in the future. Those students will never get those vacuity years back, even if given another chance. In this respect, the public are annoyed with the union leaders responsible for this dastardly act in taking vengeance from innocent poor children, who cannot forgive the strikers for refusing what the Government agreed, even when the administration is going through a financial crisis. Nevertheless, Joseph Stalin and Mahinda Jayasinghe needed their pay anomaly settled instantaneously!
We are all human
Teachers and principals, like everyone, have their financial requirements and need to look after their family and relatives. However, the purpose of a committed teacher or a principal, for that matter, is more than his pay packet. Teachers’ task is highly responsible; they take a priceless reward in grooming the young to be men of the world, and what a joy for them to sit back in their retirement and see the eminent gentleman of the world, who have passed through their hands! With such role-modelling, students may in their future act manly and magnanimously.
Teachers need to know their subjects unquestionably well and thoroughly. If they become cheaters and do not perform their duty as expected, they only waste their time and opportunities (they need to have additional qualifications! ). Teachers become genuinely successful when they give students an unselfish aim in life and the inclination of walking courageously towards that target.
Successful teachers touch the hearts of their students and strengthen them more than improving students’ knowledge. Pay, material comfort and pleasures are the modern world’s widespread targets. The skill to achieve them is done in schools and colleagues. Teachers’ responsibility should be to train to swim against the tide! Teachers should be able to train their pupils to cultivate fearlessness, self-restraint for truth and justice. Should pupils appear arrogant and contented after students’ bond with teachers, there is nothing wrong with it. However, teachers should inculcate respect for what they do because they fall with the tradition of flattering some, denouncing others or ignoring the rest.
After leaving the school or college, students should be ready to stride where the stones are rough or seek carpets.
The writer wishes that the teachers who denied future generations’ education by joining the trade union action and deprived pupils’ of online tuition will be encouraged to ask from themselves the facts mentioned in this article.
picture credit: Ceylon Today Newspaper