Nothing has exposed the government`s ineptitude and inefficiency more than the crisis in the education sector. There seems to be no end to its bungling which it seems to specialise in. Education has become an unholy mess from school admissions to university entrance. The situation is no better in universities.
The Supreme Court had to intervene to clean the mess of school admissions. That was a Herculean task similar to the cleaning of the Augean stables. The crisis has been managed to some extent but a long term remedy for the State`s inability to cater to the growing demand for decent schooling for the country`s children has yet to be found.
The Supreme Court has once again come to the rescue of students and their parents. (It looks as if we needed a separate court for settling disputes in the Education Ministry!) It has ordered that an increment be immediately granted to the warring teachers engaged in a boycott of the GCE (A/L) answer script evaluation. And teachers have been asked to report for paper marking urgently. That is an ideal compromise formula. Teachers asked for their pound of flesh and they have got half of it. But, they can rest assured that they will get the balance sooner or later, given the undertaking of the apex court. They must start paper evaluation forthwith for the sake of children. Let no lame excuses be trotted out!
Meanwhile, the National Salaries and Cadres Commission (NSCC) has locked horns with the Additional Secretary of the Human Rights Commission Nimal Punchihewa over a broadside the latter fired on Saturday. He faulted the NSCC for the teachers` salary anomaly dispute which had culminated in a boycott of paper marking. He was of the view that the NSCC could have nipped it in the bud but it had bungled.
The NSCC Co-Chairmen have dismissed his allegation as an irresponsible statement and offered to educate him on the real situation. That, we believe, is a sideshow but the outcome of that tussle is going to be quite interesting, though a clash between the two institutions concerned is not salutary. There is no need for them to be at daggers drawn and we do hope that the matter will be settled amicably.
The teachers` grievance at issue is 12 years old! Successive governments have erred badly by sweeping it under the carpet and driving teachers to extreme action. Teachers, too, should have known better. By holding children to ransom, they brought their noble profession into disrepute. A good teacher, they must be told, is like a candle which burns so that others get light. Anyone incapable of making sacrifices for children is not fit to be a teacher.
Teachers ought to realise that they have, in contracting a bunch of wily ultra radical elements the JVP hell bent on disrupting education, swapped ginger for chillies, exactly as our ancestors blundered by siding with the Dutch to get rid of the Portuguese.
Those elements in the garb of unionists are advancing a hidden agenda. Resolving the crisis is not their goal. They wanted a foothold in schools and exploited the salary dispute and corruption in the Education Department Co-operative Society, to achieve that objective. They are like the proverbial camel which crept into an Arab`s tent.
They have consolidated their power at seats of higher learning and turned them into empty shells where violence is the order of the day. The day may not be far off when schools go the same way.
Whenever the LTTE gets cornered in the North, Rathu Sahodarayas develop an anarchist valippuva (epilepsy) in the South and create trouble. About two moons ago, they called a strike and dangled a demand for a thumping pay hike before the State workers to lure them into backing the JVP`s political project. But, the workers were wise enough not to let themselves be led by the nose. And the strike came a cropper. Then they turned to teachers being consumed with consternation to sabotage paper marking.
Rathu Sahodarayas now may claim that teachers have got at least one increment because of their involvement in the teachers` struggle. But, the fact remains that teachers could have obtained that remedy without any external help, if they had invoked the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court on their own. Instead, they let their frustration get the better of them and sullied their good name.
The government cannot claim that it is without funds to rectify teachers` salary anomalies. There is widespread waste of public funds and politicians are lavishing pay hikes and various perks on themselves. If it cuts down on wasteful expenditure, there will be sufficient funds to settle the dispute that is eating into the vitals of the education sector.
However, the crisis in school education will not end with the settlement of the present dispute. After granting teachers their pound of flesh, the government must demand that they pull up their socks and tell them that they must teach or depart.
Teachers and their unions must be held responsible for their lapses, as evident from a National Education Commission survey, the findings of which we have repeated in these columns several times. The failure rate at the GCE (O/L) is 51 per cent! About 57 per cent of candidates crash in Mathematics, 52 per cent in Science and 63 per cent in English. About 18 per cent of sixth graders cannot write at all! About 28 per cent of the tenth graders cannot write legibly. Only 35 per cent of the tenth graders can take down a passage dictated to them and only 41 per cent of the sixth graders are at a satisfactory level of performance. In most schools, students are taught precious little in GCE (A/L) classes.
That is the warring teachers` report card! What a shame! It is thanks to their dereliction of duty that private tuition centres are thriving.
As for paper marking, teachers must be told: Raise the sail, all hands to oars and make speed!