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Tuesday February 27th, 2024

Sri Lanka sees very few students, teachers on first day of reopening schools

Schools remain closed in Sri Lanka as COVID-19 cases continue to surge

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka saw very few students and teachers return to school after six months of closure ended on Thursday (21) with the decline of COVID-19 cases, amid an ongoing strike by teachers’ trade unions which is set to finally end next Monday (25).

The government announced that some 5,000 schools which have fewer than than 200 students will reopen on Thursday (21) although key teachers’ trade unions said their members will start working only return to work next Monday.

“The situation of the schools that opened around the country is good. Primary grades were opened with a good participation of students and teachers,” Education Minister Dinesh Gunawardena told reporters.

“There are trainee teachers who have been assigned to these schools along with other teachers. I went to several schools. Principals, teachers and parents of these students have taken steps to continue these children’s education forward, contrary to the false information going around.”

However, many teachers around the country reiterated that they will only start working from Monday as decided by the teachers’ trade unions.

Trade unions are not fully onboard the government’s proposed solution to their long-standing grievance of salary anomalies. The three-month-long strike, one of the longest trade union campaigns in Sri Lanka’s history, has deprived students of their only mode of distance learning in pandemic times: online education.

Footage shared in social media and local television showed empty classrooms with some teachers coming in.

“There were only a few students and teachers in the Kurunagala district,” a principal from Kurunagala told EconomyNext, asking for anonymity.

“The government deployed the trainee teachers who were employed under graduate schemes to these schools. Other than that, we hardly saw anybody coming in.”

“Although teachers have decided to end their strike, principals’ trade unions have not yet decided to start working because some of their demands are different from those of the teachers. Some of the demands include a car permit and a mobile phone allowance,” the principal said.

However, Minister Gunwardena said no schools were permitted to operate with only trainee teachers.

“Both principals and teachers have reported to schools around the country. There are many schools with a small number of students and they are all operating in their respective capacity,” he said.

“Teachers unions have declared many dates and many times for when they will return to school. Now the government has started and opened schools and is continuing the education process. It is up to the unions now to decide their next move.”

School teachers and principals in Sri Lanka were on strike for the 99th day through October 15 when they said they will start working from October 25.

The government proposed to increase their salaries in a four-year strategy, but upon the rejection of that proposal, the government later proposed to give the increments in two installments. The unions rejected this, too, and continued the strike, demanding that their salaries be increased in one go.

However, the trade unions themselves decided to report to work from October 25.

“The steps we took to strike on the opening two days of schools have shown a success rate of more than 98 percent around the country,” Ceylon Teachers Union Secretary Joseph Stalin told reporters.

“We will continue this tomorrow as well. The message we have given to the government is to complete the salary increment proposed by the cabinet subcommittee in a single step rather than going for a four year or two-year plan. That is why we’re doing this,” he said.

“Many politicians took many initiatives to make this strike a failure. They visited schools, tried to talk to and make parents go against us, among many other things. But they did not succeed.

“All teachers and principals are united with us. Not only that, parents have also given a message to the government that they will not send their children to a school without any teachers coming,” said Stalin. (Colombo/Oct21/2021)

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Sri Lanka president appoints Supreme Court-faulted official as police chief after CC clearance

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka President Ranil Wickremesinghe appointed Deshbandu Tennakoon as the 36th Inspector General of Police (IGP) of the country after the Constitutional Council (CC) cleared the official who along with three other police officers were asked by the Supreme Court to compensate 2 million rupees in a fundamental rights case last year.

“President Ranil Wickremesinghe has appointed Deshbandu Tennakoon as the IGP in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution,” the President’s Media Division (PMD) said.

The island nation’s Supreme Court on December 14 ordered Tennakoon when he was the Acting IGP and three other officials to pay a compensation of 500,000 rupees each for the violation of the fundamental rights of an individual.

The Supreme Court also instructed the Police Commission to take disciplinary action against the said Police officers after it considered the petition filed by W. Ranjith Sumangala who had accused the Police officers of violating his fundamental rights during his detention at Mirihana Police Station in 2011.

The Supreme Court held that the four police officers violated the fundamental rights of the petitioner by his illegal arrest, detention and subjection to torture at the Mirihana Police Station, which was under the supervision of Tennakoon at the time of the arrest.

President’s Secretary Saman Ekanayake presented the official appointment letter to Tennakoon on Monday (26) at the Presidential Secretariat.

When Tennakoon was asked over if the Supreme Court decision would have an impact on his appointment as the IGP last week, he declined to comment, saying that it was a Supreme Court matter and he does not want to say anything about it.

Tennakoon was also criticized by Colombo Archbishop Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith when he was appointed as the Acting IGP citing allegations against him related to security lapses leading up to the Easter Sunday attacks which killed at least 269 in April 2019.

However, Tennakoon rejected the allegations. (Colombo/Feb 26/2024)

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No water tariff hike in Sri Lanka this year: Minister

Millennium Challenge Corporation Photo.

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s planned water tariff formula is ready, and the government will implement it this year only if the formula’s tariff is lower than the current price, Water Supply Minister Jeevan Thondaman said.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s government has been implementing IMF-led pricing policies on utilities and the Water Supply Ministry has already come up with a formula.

“There is a water tariff formula in place right now and we are waiting for it to be drafted and seek approval from the cabinet,” Thondaman told reporters at a media briefing in Colombo on Monday.

“Once this water tariff formula is in place, there will be an annual revision with an option of biannual review.

The formula has been developed with the help of the Asian Development Bank. The formula includes electricity and exchange rate among many others as components like the fuel formula.

The National Water Supply and Drainage Board (NWS&DB) increased the water tariff in August 2023, claiming that the operating cost had been increased owing to high interest payment for bank loans and increased electricity prices.

The last year revision saw the consumers paying 30-50 percent increase from the existing water bill.

Minister Thondaman said he will implement the new formula this year only if there is a reduction.

TARIFF CUT WILL BE IMPLEMENTED 

“We will have to wait to see what the formula is. If the formula shows us there needs to be a reduction in the water tariff, we can implement it. But if there is an increase, why should we burden the people when we are on a road to recovery?” he said.

He said a group of experts including University Professors are working on the formula and the numbers.

“Once they come with the number, we will have to take a decision on whether we are going to impose on the people or not,” he said.

“We have already spoken to the Asian Development Bank and informed them we have established the formula. But according to the ADB requirement of this policy-based loan, the implementation period is only in 2025.”

“But right now, you want to take the approval for the formula for sustainability.”

The Energy Ministry is considering a drastic slash in electricity tariff soon. Thondaman said the exact numbers will be decided on after the finalized electricity tariff.

However, he said that as per the formula, there has to be a up to 10 percent increase in the water tariff as of now.

“Given the current formula set up, there must be around a 9-10 percent increase. It was actually at 14 percent. What we have done is since it is at 14 percent, we also did a calculation to see how we can do a cost cutting,” he said.

“So, despite our cost cutting measures, there will be an increase of 9 or 10 percent. But we will not be imposing it as of now because this year is meant to be policy sector reforms. Next year is meant to be the implementation.”

“As per August 2023 water tariff hike, we are able to come close to sustainable. So right now, there is no issue in the water sector. But a formula eventually needs to be established.” (Colombo/Feb 26/2024)

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Sri Lanka rupee closes at 310.80/311.00 to the US dollar

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s rupee closed at 310.80/311.00 to the US dollar Monday, from 310.95/311.05 on Thursday, dealers said.

Bond yields were down.

A bond maturing on 01.02.2026 closed stable at 10.60/80 percent.

A bond maturing on 15.09.2027 closed at 11.80/90 percent down from 11.90/12.05 percent.

A bond maturing on 15.03.2028 closed at 12.00/12.15 percent down from 12.10/25 percent.

A bond maturing on 15.07.2029 closed at 12.20/70 percent from 12.20/95 percent.

A bond maturing on 15.05.2030 closed at 12.30/70 percent down from 12.40/95 percent.

A bond maturing on 15.05.2031 closed at 12.60/80 percent from 12.45/13.00 percent.

A bond maturing on 01.07.2032 closed at 12.50/90 percent from 12.50/13.30 percent. (Colombo/Feb26/2024)

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