A welcome step | Daily News

A welcome step

President Ranil Wickremesinghe has read the riot act to school principals and teachers declaring that he would make schools an Essential Service if teachers’ problems cannot be solved through discussions. Speaking at a ceremony to distribute free school books and uniforms in Colombo on Thursday, the President said he will not allow schoolchildren to be held hostage by various groups. “The parents are trying to give their children a better future. Those efforts must be the Government's first priority”.

He stressed that Principals and teachers of the school should be an example. A school cannot be separated from the actions of its Principals and teachers and education is a model that should come from the school. The President said education has the same importance as the economy.

It certainly was about time that teachers were brought down to earth and made to take cognizance of their chief role in society -that of educating the young and guiding them towards becoming useful and productive citizens. The teachers appear to have forgotten this cardinal duty going by their recent conduct and a wake-up call was clearly in order. Teachers are seen more on the roads than in the classroom, engaged in protests and agitations on issues far removed from their teaching profession.

They have even taken up cudgels on behalf of those caught up in the new tax regime although only a miniscule number in the teaching profession are affected and that too academics at university level.

Teaching which was once considered a noble profession has today lost its lustre and dignity and is being looked down upon as just another salaried job, a far cry from the days when teachers dedicated their time and energy towards the education of their charges with little reward. Readers’ columns in the newspapers are full of accounts of such sacrifice and dedicated endeavours of former teachers now long departed, by their past pupils who are respectable members of society holding high positions. Alas, there is not going to be such accolades in the future for sure since the conduct of teachers and Principals has hit the nadir.

Hardly a day passes without an account in the media of a Principal being nabbed for corruption and even sexual abuse of students. The conduct of university professors too leaves much to be desired. Recently they decided to keep away from marking the answer scripts of students sitting for the GCE Advanced Level examination as a protest against the recent tax.

The decision of the professors was unprecedented and taken with callous disregard for the future of the students who after all is our next generation. A wide segment in the professions is affected by the new tax on salaries. What will be the position if members of all the professions decide to boycott work in this fashion until the tax is withdrawn? Like the President remarked, they are holding the students to ransom in order to win some selfish demands. Hence, declaring the education sector as an Essential Service is fully justified.

All this, no doubt, goes to reflect the parlous state to which the teaching profession had descended. The authorities should wake up to the possibility of our student population being increasingly used as bargaining chips to win over demands that are outside the ambit of education as a whole. To that extent declaring the teaching profession as an Essential Service would be welcomed by all right thinking citizens particularly the parents whose children's future is at risk when teachers go on strike.

The conduct by that segment of adults who are dedicated to impart not only an education but also mould the characters of the young and guide them on the right path to make them worthy citizens of the country will no doubt have a contrary effect with all ethics and values discarded by the emerging generation and make them lose all respect for members of the teaching profession. Besides, what will be the repercussions on the country’s education system as a whole?

The Education authorities should introduce strict standards in the recruitment of teachers. Their backgrounds should be subjected to an intense probe like they do when recruiting new hands to the Police. This is because however qualified some may be academically, there may be individuals with character flaws and questionable tendencies which go against the grain of the teaching profession.

Teachers and Principals, including university professors, only recently had their salaries almost doubled. There are various avenues to earn extra income by teachers such as conducting private tuition and other legal means.

Gone are the days when teachers, School Principals and academics in the villages were much respected figures to whom people went for counsel. It is to the Principal/teacher that the parents went to get their toddlers fed the first mouthful of rice or read the letters in the Sinhala or Tamil alphabet.

In any event the iskoley mahattaya (teacher) is today a forgotten and a dying breed after education became a money spinning industry. Much needs to be done to restore the teaching profession to its glory days.

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