Lanka’s primary schools are set to open tomorrow thus ending the long dark abysmal night which has blighted the nation’s seed to blossom and stunted their academic advancement. But while classrooms will once more come to life, lit with children’s laughter and smiles, the entire structure of education sits grimly on a volcano of discontent, [...]


Schools rest on volcano of brimming discontent


Lanka’s primary schools are set to open tomorrow thus ending the long dark abysmal night which has blighted the nation’s seed to blossom and stunted their academic advancement.

But while classrooms will once more come to life, lit with children’s laughter and smiles, the entire structure of education sits grimly on a volcano of discontent, brimming to burst and spew its molten fury sans notice.

The rumbles have been distinctly heard but why the foundations tremored have gone studiously ignored.

TEACHERS' STREET PROTESTS: Uneasy peace after agreement is reached with teachers planning further agitation till demands materialise

The coronavirus had closed schools for the better part of last year and had shut it down completely this year. During this enforced inactivity, principals and teachers had seen it opportune to revive their mission to seek remedy to their long held grievance: to press the Government to rectify the long existing anomaly in their salary increments. They had rallied from all corners of the island and, in a united movement spearheaded by their respective union representatives, had clamoured in one voice to achieve this justifiable end.

It has been an anomaly not corrected for over 20 years. Principals and teachers’ salaries have remained stuck in time, stagnant since 1997. Even as infinite patience is held an indispensable virtue when it comes to teaching children and making allowances for their truancies, it would have demanded the haloed patience of a biblical Job to have borne with calm composure, the manifest incorrigibility of delinquent governments.

Frustrated to the brim at being denied throughout the years even what their cup of moderate needs could hold, this 250,000-strong faculty of teachers, nevertheless, pressed on, still clinging in desperation to ever urging hope that patience will be rewarded; and revived their repeated prayer to the Government this year, appealing to the authourities to implement the Subodhini Report recommendations to resolve the long-drawn deadlock.

In their short litany, they asked:

“The starting salary of a graduate teacher is Rs. 32,200. The salary of a person who enters the teaching service after qualifying from colleges of education is Rs. 30,300. The salary of a Grade 1 basic level teacher who has been in the teaching service for 15 years is just Rs. 44,950. Are these salaries fair? Shouldn’t the teachers deserve more?”

A Grade 3 Principal’s salary is Rs. 35,280. A Grade 2 Principal’s is Rs.40,040. A Grade 1 Principal’s salary is Rs.46,325. Are their salaries fair?

Evidently not. And the Subodhini Committee, which had been setup during the previous Government by the Education Minister to inquire into the salary anomalies of teachers, agreed wholeheartedly that it certainly wasn’t fair.

Known as the Subodhini Committee Report, its findings recognised the incongruities existing in teachers increments compared to other fields and recommended that an extra Rs. 71 billion be spent to resolve the salary disparity. But the then Government failed to act on the report they had initiated.

This Government was no better than its predecessors. It, too, remained with its head buried in the sand and refused to see with blindfolded eye the justice in the teachers’ plea. It stayed intransigent, arrogantly aloof to the teachers’ distress.  In July, appalled by repeated rejections, the teachers’ saintly patience snapped. The dammed up frustrations swelled to break through the sluice gates of patience. Enough was enough.

The teachers had finally come to their senses to realise that their patience had been taken for timidity, their modesty taken advantage of by successive governments and their true value, though sung in worshipful praise, were grossly unappreciated, with their much hailed service bought cheap; and naught but the struggle would render unto them what they had so long awaited in patient hope.

The Government’s tepid response to the teachers’ request to resolve the anomaly issue did not augur well. On July 12, teachers began to boycott online teaching and soon the protest spilled onto the streets with teachers marching on the roads. In desperation, the Government offered a measly hand out of Rs 5,000 but this was summarily dismissed out of hand. Ceylon Teachers’ Union General Secretary Joseph Stalin told reporters, “We do not accept the 5,000 rupee allowance. We want our salary anomalies to be fixed as a part of the previous Subodhini committee report.”

As the crisis continued to worsen, with the teachers resolute in spirit and determined to carry on the good fight until their grievances were addressed and their demands were met, the Government brought in the propaganda guns to boom the message of unscrupulous teachers, heartlessly holding innocent children to ransom, snuffing out the lamp of learning to win their pound of flesh.

In a bid to win public approval for its intransigence, the pandemic was marshalled into the fleet, saying that government coffers had been drained bare due to COVID expenditure and therefore no money was available in the kitty to dole out to teachers.

Some even called them ‘kalakanni’, or the ‘inauspicious’ while others claimed teachers were risking the respect afforded to them by exposing themselves to hails of tomato and rotten eggs as they marched on the streets in protest. But the teachers’ spirit could not be broken. Their strength was the strength of ten for their conscience was clear.

With COVID showing a welcome respite and the prospect of opening schools beaming, the protests intensified as did the Government desperation to coax the teachers back to school become keener. But still the Government maintained it had no money to spare and asked the teachers to be patient till the following year and even the next.

The Subodhini Report’s recommended pay increase to rectify the increment anomaly would cost an additional Rs. 70 billion to the present budgetary allocation of Rs. 127 billion for Education.

To Environment Minister Mahinda Amaraweeera, 70 billion was not a realistic figure. He thought it was way too high but he did not question whether it was realistic for this Government, considering the security needs of this non-aligned country in peacetimes, to maintain a defence force at the cost of Rs. 373 billion a year compared to the allocation of Rs. 153 billion to the Health sector and Rs. 127 billion to Education, both totaling only Rs. 280 billion.

The new government sub-committee appointed to review the present teacher anomaly proposed an extra Rs. 32 billion. Under the scheme, it will increase the salaries of Principal Service III-I by 19.54 percent, Principal Service-II by 21.59 percent, Principal Service I by 25.95 percent, Teacher Service III-I by 13.52 percent and Teacher Service III-IC by 16 percent.

The Cabinet also agreed to issue a gazette notification before November 20, 2021 declaring teacher service, teacher advisory service and principal services as closed services. This will also mean that cadres from the teachers and principals services cannot be transferred to any other public services.

The major teachers union led by Stalin agreed to return to school for the sake of the children but vowed to fight until all demands were met, one of them being the demand it must be paid in one go not in three stages extending to 2023. But it is an uneasy peace that will prevail for the unions have, until their demands are received, planned a course of non-action that will impair the smooth functioning of schools. Such are the depths to which the credibility of the Government has sunk that its word is no longer regarded as its bond.

While the Government had shown no qualm to tar the good name and social standing of teachers and spared no brush to paint them in evil light as accursed ogres who show no scruple in holding children hostage to win their demands, the question must be asked why this bleeding-heart Government feigns poverty when it comes to investing in the children?

Why does the Government stint on investing in children’s education and regard it an onerous burden to bear when it is generous to a fault with other extravagant projects of lesser importance? Cannot walkways, mobile gyms, beautification projects, luxury SUV vehicles for government ministers and parliamentary MPs, with pensions for life after a five-year term, and a whole host of others take a back seat until better times dawn?  Cannot the funds thus saved by astute husbandry be used in these trying times to ensure an educated next generation of Lankans?

Rather than sermonising to teachers on unbecoming conduct to deny children the light of learning, the Government must realise that it is its own negligence in failing to provide adequate resources for children’s education that had compelled teachers to take to the streets.

And realise further, if it wishes to prevent a repletion of the teachers’ hundred day strike, if children are the lifeblood of schools then the teachers are its master spirits.

Cardinal prays for  divine intervention 

Prince of the Holy Roman Catholic Church, Cardinal Malcom Ranjith, marked the two-and-a-half year anniversary of the Easter Sunday bomb blast deep in prayer, vowing to seek justice for the 269 victims and invoking divine retribution on those who had masterminded the carnage.

In a powerful oration delivered at St. Anthony’s Church Kotahena — one of the sites of the gruesome suicide bombing — in the service held to remember the dead and maimed who fell victim to the Easter Sunday blast 30 months ago, Cardinal Ranjith warned “that those who used the Easter Sunday mayhem to come to power will not be able to stay in power for long if they are part of it.

CARDINAL MALCOLM RANJITH: In prayer for justice at 30-month remembrance service for Easter Sunday victims

He described the present crises in Lanka as an ominous sign of divine retribution and thundered that, unless the truth about the attacks was uncovered, it would become a curse for the rulers and people. He said: “It looks like Sri Lanka is suffering from that curse since the Easter Sunday bomb attack as no one can live happily earning whatever they can while those who are in power find it difficult to run the country. Those who came to power using the Easter Sunday attacks will not be able to hold on to power for long.”

The Cardinal, who had tirelessly striven to render justice to the victims of the Easter tragedy, has been increasingly disappointed at the slow pace of the investigations to bring the masterminds to justice. Last Saturday he had appeared in a webinar and talked of a bigger conspiracy behind the 2019 mass attack on Churches. He had reiterated his view, saying: “The Easter attack was not carried out by a group of seven or eight persons. There is something big behind the attacks and we need the support of the international community to find out who used these persons to fulfill their objectives.”

“The Presidential Commission to investigate the Easter Sunday attacks,” he said, “had recommended that the Attorney General should get intelligence units to carry out investigations on a series of unclear areas” but it had not materialised.

Now dismayed, perhaps, that his search for truth has led nowhere but to a cul-de-sac; and despairing that the once bright prospect for finding justice now seems bleak and appears elusive, coupled with the hope that it can be found in temporal jurisdictions fast receding; he has called for divine intervention and sought a higher court to render unto him justice supreme.

On Thursday, from the pulpit at St. Anthony’s Church in Kotahena, he prayed to God and Saint for divine succour to divine the truth.

He said: “We have done everything possible to uncover the truth behind the Easter Sunday mayhem and now we seek divine intervention to uncover the truth and to punish those behind the attacks. We must give justice to those who were affected by the tragedy. God will help us as he helped Israelites to move away from Egypt where they were kept as slaves. Patron Saint of this church, St. Anthony will also intervene on behalf of us the way he helped to uncover the truth behind a murder his own father was accused of.”

In the twilight glow of the setting sun, this Man of God prayed for light. Amen.

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