The Sunday TimesNews/Comment

24th November 1996



International schools pay well and get the best

By Kshalini Nonis

Amidst allegations that the government sector teacher's services are deteriorating, International School teachers are provided with the best of facilities, in addition to attractive remuneration packages, with some schools even attracting expatriate teachers.

Most of the local teachers who are employed in these institutions have foreign degrees, in addition to several years of teaching experience in the English medium.

Private tuition is also discouraged in most international schools, whilst in some schools, teachers are not permitted to teach outside school hours. Students are also encouraged to participate in extra curricular activities, ensuring that they obtain a "well-rounded education".

According to Kingsley Jayasinghe, Principal of Wycherly International School, the qualifications required by teachers to be employed at the school vary depending on the class. But in general, staff for O/L and A/L classes must be trained graduate teachers, with experience in teaching in an English medium school.

Mr. Jayasinghe added the salaries vary according to the level of experience of the teachers, graduates get over Rs. 6,000, while those with several years of experience may even get Rs. 10,000 or more.

Colombo International School Principal David Sanders said all teachers in the senior classes were graduates, with many of them having obtained their degrees and Master degrees overseas.

"Our staff members are paid substantially above the salary levels of teachers in government schools, thus attracting the best of local teachers. Many (about 25) teachers come from overseas. However, we also expect a lot from our teachers. We expect them to be in school before 7.30 am until 3.00 pm, and catch up on any work that is missed due to their absence.

Mr. Sanders discourages private tuition by all staff members, and if they still want to go ahead, they must get permission from the head of the school.

"This is because I believe that all the energy of the teachers should be devoted towards their students in the classroom", he said.

"World Education Incorporation," Principal Dr. Frank Jayasinghe said that at the Junior School all staff members are required to have a minimum qualification of the two year AMI Montessori Course conducted at St. Bridget's Convent, whilst teachers in the classes ranging from Grade one to Five must be trained teachers. Staff members at the Senior School must be graduates, with a Post-Graduate Diploma in Education," he said.

According to Dr. Jayasinghe, their salaries are three times higher than that offered to teachers in local schools.

"For instance, teachers with the AMI Montessori Diploma will get Rs. 5,000, whilst all trained teachers get Rs. 7,500. Graduates draw a salary of Rs. 8,500 and those with Post-Graduate qualifications will get Rs. 9,500.

Our salary scales go up to Rs. 20,000 (depending on the level of teaching experience in a similar environment) and naturally we get the best teachers," he said.

Dr. Jayasinghe said that being an international school, which is absolutely result-oriented, the recent criticisms leveled against the teachers by the President Kumaratunga, did not apply to them.

Headmistress of the Senior British School in Colombo, Jill MacDonald said teachers at the Senior School must have a degree, however due to competition in entering the staff most of them have Post-Graduate degrees. At the Junior School and 'Infant' School they must have some form of training at the primary level like for instance a Montessori Course, although some of them may even be graduates.

Ms. MacDonald said the criticisms leveled against state school teachers by the President was unfair. It is because the teachers in these schools get poor salaries that they do not have much time to devote towards their students in the classroom.

"They are also human, and to make ends meet, they will resort to giving private tuition. Although this may be idealistic, I personally feel that all private tuition should be banned, as it is ultimately the tax paying parents who bear the burden of tuition fees. Therefore, I feel that with the ban on private tuition, taxes could be increased, and the money that is collected be paid towards increasing the salaries of state school teachers," she said.

"Teaching is a noble profession, and it is not correct to say that teachers should carry out their duties under any circumstances. Their interests must also be looked into," she added.

Principals respond to President's stinging attack


By Roshan Peiris

The civil servant in Sri Lanka has been looked upon as the epitome of the educated with a high value potential in the marriage market. Now President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga has adroitly if not deftly punctured this myth.

The President in a hard-hitting speech at a ceremony held to mark the elevation of Bandaranaike M. V. Veyangoda to national status said that educational standards were so low today it was not surprising that "even some Grade 1 civil servants cannot write 10 sentences correctly in Sinhala or English."

This is not only a severe indictment on the sacred cow (or bull?) of the much-vaunted civil service but on teachers and the quality of education in general.

The President in a hard-hitting speech has shown teachers the way to teach by regarding teaching "as a sacred duty you are free to quit without taking innocent students for a ride. We will take in those who can," she said.

The stark reality is that "only 20 percent of the teachers do their job properly. Most students hate their teachers for not reaching them. This is one factor that led to two youth rebellions in this country," she said.

It is a crying shame that teachers are found wanting especially since Rs. 7,500 million of public money has now been spent in salary increments alone for Government teachers, she said. "We expect a better service commensurate with the better salaries, from the teachers," she added.

Principles of schools have welcomed the President's plain speaking to teachers. Both rural school principals and Colombo school principals are happy that this much-needed shock to the collective psyche of the teachers was given by the highest in the land. Badulla Maha Vidyalaya Principal Jinadasa Attanayake is a caring man. When I called him early morning he was at the gate watching his students making their way to school.

Mr. Attanayake said: "Hundred percent of my teachers are fine. I personally have nothing to complain about. I have no complaints about the syllabus too. My teachers can cope. They don't usually absent themselves. It is more likely that teachers in the Mahiyangana areas get absent when they have to attend perhaps to their paddy lands. Facilities as such are available at my school, but I cannot say that about many other schools in rural areas. The lack of facilities also make teachers in turn indifferent to their work.

"At my school the teachers have a report book where they enter the work they do, such as helping backward students to cope with their work. So I have a close-up view of the work my teachers do. I am glad to find that my teachers can cope well with the syllabuses. But I am glad the President has made this speech. No other can make such observations without getting into trouble."

E. D. A. Samaradivakara of the Matugama C. W. W. Kannangara M.V. said:

"My grouse is that there are too many holidays for teachers and hence there is inevitably less teaching. Yes, I do admit that some may be taking leave to attend to their paddy fields during the harvesting and sowing seasons.

"Those dedicated teachers who do not take holidays at all must be praised and rewarded. I don't mean bonuses and the like. If I suggest that I will be in hot water. What I say is that they must be given a citation or certificate just to show that their regular attendance is appreciated.

A. B. M. Alavi of Zahira College, Kalutara with 1,460 students both Tamil and Sinhala said:

"We have too many holidays for teachers. Anyway in the Sinhala stream, the results at O'Level and A'Level have been good. I am very very happy at what the President has said. It helps to strengthen our hands. Our children don't take tuition as is the habit in the Colombo schools. It is like the old days when we too had no tuition but managed to cope.

M. K. Abeywardene, Principal of Nalanda Balika Madya Maha Vidyalaya said:

"I have 2,575 students from year 1 to year 13. I have 94 teachers on my staff and some do take leave. I don't want to go into detail about it. But there are dedicated teachers who don't take more than two to three days leave a year. I myself don't take leave. I go round the school several times to see that everything is alright. We do our best. I have a teacher who had a bad fall and now she comes to school using crutches to teach her students. So you see there are such dedicated teachers. I don't want to make such comment on some of the others. For my part I am glad the President has brought the question of school education up. We all need a pep talk."

What do principals of Colombo schools think? Warden of S. Thomas' College, Mt. Lavinia, Neville de Alwis said.

"I welcome the President's speech. I want the holidays of teachers' cut short. They have too many holidays. Syllabuses both for the 'O' Levels and 'A' Levels are far too vast when teachers in addition absent themselves naturally it is the students who suffer. Tell me just how much of a subject can you teach in forty minutes? I insist that syllabuses must be revamped. Eight subjects for the 'O'Levels is just too much. This is the root cause of children faring badly.

"Another reason is that good teachers prefer to give up teaching in school and devote their time to giving tutions. It is moneywise more profitable. Almost all children take tuition. From school their next programme is not games or resting or reading but tuition. A child's young life is spoilt, he or she has no fun and very little extra curricula activities. In school teachers cannot cope with the vast syllabuses.

Royal College Principal is abroad and so Vice-Principal R. N. Edusuriya waxed eloquent on his school.

"Our results at examinations have been just superb. Royal College has devoted and dedicated teachers. I grant there may be the odd one or two. But speaking as a whole they are a fine set of teachers. You ask whether the syllabuses are to vast. Well that cannot be helped. Knowledge has advanced and so syllabuses have to be vast.

Ananda College Principal T. B. Damunupola observed: Some of the things the President referred to in her speech do not apply to us. I must say our O/Level and A/Level results have been wonderful. I agree that syllabuses for the O/L and A/L exams are too vast and the teachers do find it difficult but still they do a good job.

"Our teachers maintain high standards and take pride in it. They also encourage extra curricula activities."

Bishops College principal L. Jayasuriya said:

"Ours is a private school and the teachers are motivated to work. Our teachers do not take unnecessary leave. We cope with the syllabuses as at present. I believe they are in the process of revising the syllabuses and certain sections I believe may be deleted. In rural areas absenteeism among teachers is heavy since many during harvesting seasons take leave to work in their paddy fields. Our teachers are good and results O.K."

M. N. Edirisuriya, principal of Visakha Vidyalaya said "speaking for my school, I must say most teachers work hard. I expect them to be. Our results at O/L and A/L exams have been very good. I do admit that the syllabus for the A/Level is too vast. I gather they are revising the syllabus. I think that even for art students the syllabus must be practical-oriented with project work and working outside the class room.

"The trouble with rural schools is that there is a woeful lack of facilities. This tends to discourage both students and teachers alike."

R. I. T. Alles, former D. S. Senanayake principal and a respected educationist says:-

"On the subject of 'teachers leave', it has to be said that 'teachers leave' revolves round the personality, the involvement and the authority of the head of the school.

"In the context of the 'personality' of the principal, I have to say that he should be an example worthy of emulation. In that, he takes the least leave, is intrinsically punctual and is fully dedicated and committed to his role. The principal is the school and the school is the principal.

'A principal should be not merely the head of an institution, but the head of a family, and therefore 'involvement' in the affairs of the members of the family, be it teacher, student or parent, is a must. Appreciation on the part of the parents too is an index to teachers' leave and its decline.

"Of course, for all this, it is very necessary that the morale of the principal receives a boost from the Department. His authority has always to be established in the eyes of the teachers and parents. The Presidential Youth Commission of which I was a member together with Professor G. L. Peiris, present Minister of Justice, Lakshman Jayatillake, Chairman of the Education Commission, among others, had stressed on this fact but of no avail. Principals today have to go to the Department for trivial matters. He does not have the 'teeth' to take decisions for the welfare of the school in consultation with his teachers, parents and old boys.

"Almost everything has to be referred to the Department for approval. Today also unfortunately the present Minister's proposal to have a 'Principals' Service' - a revised scale of salaries and allowances for principals has not seen the light of day and we have the unfortunate situation of teachers receiving higher salaries than the head of the school. How could the principal exert his authority under these circumstances?

"In summary, I must say that the morale of the principal should be boosted to the extent that the teachers should be able to look up to him and accept that he is the ultimate superior to whom he/she owes allegiance, and, in turn the principal must be the guide and guardian of the teachers.

"There are two categories of teachers today: One who takes leave excessively and other that takes almost no leave or a minimal quantum of their entitlement.

"In conclusion, I have to say that teachers or as a matter of fact the Teachers Union had never asked for more and more leave. In the past teachers had 14 days casual and their medical leave. This was increased with the enhancement of leave for public servants. The educational bureaucracy will have to take a positive approach in this vexed problem of excessive teachers' leave. My proposal is that the Committee that is appointed should go for a positive approach of appreciating those teachers who, if recognized, would convert the shirkers to dedicated workers by their example and by the fact that the Department offers all promotions, scholarships, etc., to the dedicated, irrespective of political patronage."

We think that it is pertinent to include the plea of H. D. Sugathapala, former Head master of Royal Primary who helped to mold the minds and values of many a youth.

He pleads for imaginative teaching and less concentration on syllabuses which leaves the child with more time to engage in not only creative fields but in reading.

We totally agree with him when he says teachers need re-orientation courses regularly to keep abreast with new methods as well as share with each other their own teaching experience.

The Sunday Times did suggest this to the Ministry of Education but we did not have any response.

Only 20% qualify

According to statistics released by the Department of Examinations, less than 20% of the students who sit the GCE 0/L examination qualify to sit for the GCE A/L examination.

According to statistics, in 1995 only 17.1% students actually passed the exam (i.e. passed in six or more subjects with first language and Mathematics), while in 1994 and 1993, the pass rate was 19.5% and 18% respectively.

The statistics also show, the percentage of students who passed in all eight subjects had declined over the years with a mere 8.8% passing in eight subjects in 1995. In 1994 and 1995 only 7.8% of students and 5.6% of students passed in all eight subjects respectively.

The statistics also show that only 17.8% passed in one subject in 1995, while in 1994 and 1993, 19.2% and 18.8% of students passed in one subject respectively.

Teachers reject charges

By Shelani de Silva

The sweeping allegations made by President Kumaratunga against teachers has caused great concern among Trade Unions. Premasara Samarathunge, President of the Jathika Adyapana Sevaka Sangamaya told The Sunday Times the Union had written to the President and the Minister of Education saying the allegations was baseless, demoralizing all the teachers in the country.

''We would have accepted the statement if it was made after conducting a systematic survey but to direct such allegations without any substantial proof does a lot of harm to the profession. If the President feels that only 20% of teachers do the work properly, she should appoint a committee and carry out a survey without coming to any conclusion. The teaching profession is not like any other profession. A lot of hard work, dedication and sacrifice is needed. They work under a lot of pressure. So statements like this will not improve the system", he said.

Commenting on the allegation that teachers do not attend classes regularly, Mr. Samarathunga said every school had a record book where teachers were expected to write their daily lessons, and challenged the President to carry out a survey based on these facts.

''There might be teachers who do not carry out their duties, we don't deny the fact. But that does not mean that the entire profession should be condemned. Never in the history of education has a statement of this kind been made. If there is any loophole in the system the President should make arrangements to rectify it rather than create more problems'', he said.

According to the Union leader, instructions have already been sent to their 136 branch offices requesting them to carry out a protest. ''We will distribute leaflets and conduct seminars denouncing these charges.

Referring to allegations about the number of holidays Mr.Samarathunga said reducing the holidays was a violation of the fundamental rights of a person. "It's wrong to say that a teacher works only for eight hours, because they have to prepare for the lessons the following day and also give their attention for fifty children. It takes a lot in preparing for a lesson.

Ven. Yalwela Pagnasekera Thero, president of the Samastha Lanka Eksath Guru Sangamaya said the allegations might create a rift between the public and the teachers, which will affect the entire education system.

"It's not only misleading the public, but also the allegations demoralize the teachers who give so much to the students. It is time that the President and all those who advised her to make such a statement the damage it has done to us," the monk said.

The Thero said that our education system had no proper plan, and before making such allegations the authorities should work in bringing about a plan.

Ven. Pagnasekera said it was baseless to accuse teachers of getting too many holidays, pointing out it was not a special benefit the teachers got.

"The holidays are not for the teachers. They are mainly for the students, who are expected to relive their minds. Also part of their holidays are for exams. Most of the teachers do come to school even during the holidays," he said.

Commenting on the salary increase, and the allegation that teachers do not attend school on time, the monk said they were not happy with the said salary increase and it was the duty of the school head to take action if the teachers were not punctual.

According to the monk, the Teachers Unions will have a discussion tomorrow to decide on what action they should take regarding the allegations.

"We will also discuss the proposals put forward by the B.C. Perera Salaries Committee and the impact the President's remarks has on the teaching profession"

P. S. Fernando Treasurer of the Sri Lanka Jathika Guru Sangamaya, said no political leader has ever made such a baseless statement in the history of Sri Lanka. All teachers could condemn such utterances.

He said that without proper figures and facts no one had a right to throw such blanket charges against all teachers.

Mr. Fernando said if the president felt some of the teachers were not doing their duty there are officers who can carry out investigations and take disciplinary action.

Continue to the News/Comment page 4 - * An absurd comedy, * No justice for Lanka's first lady Judge, * Political victimization of Judges

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