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Saturday November 27th, 2021
Education

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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