The Supreme Court has hammered home the message to teachers that they should not protest at the expense of innocent children. They needn`t have gone all the way to the apex court to learn that lesson. They could have learnt it from the much maligned private bus crews, whom their employers once called thirisannu (or wild beasts) because of their callous disregard for the commuting public. But even those `thirisannu` had some consideration towards the school children who sat the GCE (A/L) examination after years of learning and suffering. They postponed a strike in view of that crucial examination. But, the good teachers chose to hold their own pupils to ransom. They launched a boycott of the evaluation of the A/L answer scripts and brought in the process their noble profession into disrepute. Their trade union action at the expense of children was tantamount to a mother refusing to breastfeed her crying baby over a family dispute.
It cannot be impugned, to begin with, that teachers have legitimate grievances which the government must take the full responsibility for. The government obviously pressed their patience too much and created an environment for anarchical political elements to fish in troubled waters. They began to thrive on the dispute like maggots on a festering wound.
Education has always been a red rag to the revolutionary bulls of the JVP. In the late 1980s, they paralysed the entire university system with an absurd slogan which they had obviously borrowed from a famous footwear manufacturer and adapted to their political needs: Palamuwa maubima devanua paasala (Motherland before school!) Schools remained more closed than open and universities were crippled. Thousands of children who had qualified for higher education had to wait years to enter university as a result. Students died in their numbers at the hands of the JVP and the vigilantes. Remember the Suriyakanda massacre (of school children) that shook the country.
Although the JVP has entered the democratic mainstream and is behaving in national politics it has not yet been able to overcome its disruptive tendencies at the other levels as evident from the violent suppression by its student wing of dissent in universities thus triggering frequent bloody clashes. Old habits die hard!
Its trade union arm remained dormant for sometime after the UPFA government came to power but today it has gone into the attack mode and hijacked the teachers` cause and is leading them like the Pied Piper of Hamelin. The promise of the rectification of their salary anomalies must be music to the frustrated teachers` ears. It is natural that they have pinned their hopes on the trade union combine led by the JVP.
The JVP is desperate to humble the government having pathetically failed in all its previous attempts. It tried to achieve that objective at the Local Government polls last year by going it alone only to have egg on its face. The other day, it went all out to cripple the railway through a strike, which, too, flopped. It suffered a great deal of humiliation in Parliament recently when it tried to shoot down the government`s finance amendment bills in vain. The only way to coerce the government into submission, it may have thought, was to use the teachers` trade union action as a bludgeon. The JVP is usually enamoured of disputes which are likely to drag on till the cows come home. The teachers` boycott over a demand that the Salaries and Cadre Commission had spurned came as a godsend for the outfit.
Strangely, the UNP, which refused to support the JVP`s railway strike and let it stew in its own juice as the latter had not participated in the Jana Rala protest campaign, decided to throw its weight behind the teachers` strike. That was a typical political quid pro quo. The UNP had to be grateful to the JVP, which voted with it against the government`s finance bills. It is a supreme irony that the UNP which threw tens of thousands of workers out of their jobs, who took part in the 1980 strike?and boasted that the Elephant had only moved its trunk?and the JVP, which refused to join forces with the workers at that time on a flimsy pretext, have come together to protect teachers` rights, while President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was once considered a friend of the working class, is under fire for his failure to redress workers` grievances!
Never mind politicians and their doings. It is time for the good teachers to engage in some soul-searching. A teacher, as a writer says in a glowing tribute (in today`s Leisureland) to one of his former masters at Royal, is like a candle: It consumes itself to light the way for others. But, of how many teachers can we say that today? The findings of a survey the National Education Commission conducted recently are a telling indictment of the teachers. Why don`t the teachers` unions speak of their responsibilities?
Students preparing for the GCE (A/L) examination consider attending school an exercise in futility, due to dereliction of duty on the part of teachers in most schools. They attend private classes during school hours and thousands of them were almost debarred from sitting the examination due to poor attendance last year. A pertinent question may be how the teachers who are not capable of proper teaching in their respective schools could be tasked with the evaluation of answer scripts.
It behoves teachers to be wary of falling prey to evil political elements hell bent on causing havoc and to heed the lesson they have learnt from the Chief Justice. And now that the paper marking has begun at last, the government had better meet the teachers` unions urgently and settle the dispute once and for all. The problem, we reckon, is far from over.
Interests of the voiceless children must take precedence over everyone else`s.