`No man can be a good teacher, Bertrand Russell has said, `unless he has feelings of warm affection towards his pupils and a genuine desire to impart to them what he himself believes to be value.` The ongoing tug-of-war between the Education Ministry and teachers over a salary dispute may remind one of Russellian wisdom expressed in those words. The Ceylon Teachers` Service Union (CTSU) with JVP leanings has threatened to boycott work at the forthcoming GCE (A/L) examination unless teachers` salary anomalies are rectified urgently.
The Commissioner General of Examinations Anura Edirisinghe has said he will conduct the examination come what may. The A/L examination upon which depends the future of over 240,000 students must be held on schedule. Education is the only avenue available for the children of the ordinary people of this country to achieve upward mobility and no obstacles should be slapped on their way. The A/L examination, as the good teachers must be aware, is not a matinee show, which one may not mind missing but a matter of life and death for the children seeking university education. It is unbecoming of teachers to disappoint their pupils who are set to clear an important hurdle in their life.
Teachers have already failed in their duty by children if the high failure rate in mathematics, English and Science at the GCE (O/L) is any indication. Although this country boasts of free education, educational standards are fast deteriorating in the state run schools, as evident from students` increasing dependence on private tuition. The mushrooming of private tuition centres is a telling indictment on teachers.
What teachers should bear in mind is that the survival of any country, especially a small nation is dependent on its ability to acquire and generate new knowledge which is power in the modern world. It is teachers` duty to enable the country to achieve higher standards in education. In a recent editorial comment on education, we pointed out that even the industrialised countries like Britain had placed a heavy emphasis on education. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair came up with a thought provoking slogan at elections: Education, education, education! His successor, Gordon Brown wants to continue the same policy.
Sadly, instead of developing the education sector, some politicians here are busy trying to increase the number of parliamentary seats! Successive governments have been violating the fundamental rights of students by depriving most of those who qualify for higher education an opportunity to enter university. Little wonder that the youth are frustrated and the polity remains volatile. There has been a slight increase in the university intake of late and it is heartening that steps are being taken to open departments of law at Peradeniya and Ruhuna. Those measures should be appreciated but a lot more needs to be done to meet the aspirations of the deserving students who are left out for no fault of theirs.
Teachers who are demanding their pound of flesh ought to take cognisance of injustices being heaped on children and be compassionate or, as Russell has said, have `feelings of warm affection` towards them. Teachers can rest assured that every right thinking person in this country is on their side on the issue of salary anomalies and other grievances. Politicians and their bureaucratic lackeys have made a dog`s breakfast of the education sector and are, through their callousness, aggravating an already bad situation. It is incumbent upon them to settle the dispute without provoking teachers further in the run up to a vital examination. However, on no grounds can the threat of the CTSU be countenanced. For, children mustn`t be held to ransom!
Trade unions are notorious for making all sorts of demands and resorting to boycotts and strikes to win them. But, what has been their contribution to the development of national education? Do they ever inspire their members to work hard and earn their salaries? The mediocre teacher tells the good teacher explains the superior teacher demonstrates and the great teacher inspires, as we said quoting William A. Ward, the other day. Have trade union leaders ever cared to find how many of their members `tell` `explain` `demonstrate` and `inspire`? Never mind Ward`s categorisation. There are said to be three kinds of teachers: guruvaru (genuine teachers), varu guru (those who scoot away) and guru horu (those who don`t work at all but get paid). How would trade unions classify their members? `It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge,` Albert Einstein has famously said. The teachers` unions should ask themselves how many of their members have mastered that art.
Finally, what is least desirable at this juncture is a showdown between teachers and the Education Ministry, which stands accused of passing the buck to other institutions as a dilatory tactic. Similarly, teachers had better be wary of hidden agendas of red-eyed wolves in unionists` clothing and desist from any action that will help those elements further their sinister political interests.
Let the interests of children take precedence over everyone else`s!