Sunday Times (Sri Lanka)

Some provincial schools throwing caution to the winds, charge unions

Exam-results-driven behaviour to the fore, health guidelines flouted

- By Tharushi Weerasingh­e

Teachers in some provincial schools have been summoned even when there was no work while other schools were teaching multiple grades and holding parent- teacher meetings despite the Government shutting down educationa­l institutio­ns again this week, General Secretary of the Ceylon Teachers’ Union Joseph Stalin said.

Education Ministry orders were being openly flouted in the quest for better examinatio­n results for their individual schools, another unionist claimed. Some principals wanted all their teachers to be at work while others asked all students to be present when the Government had directed only those in Grade 5, 11 and 13 to come.

There was no point in the Education Ministry issuing a circular if it wasn’t enforced,”

Mr Stalin said. His union had tried to alert authoritie­s when guidelines were broken but the violators weren’t even reprimande­d.

The guidelines were even relaxed to allow masks to be removed inside schools. To ignore the remaining few rules would be to risk the lives of more than four million children, he claimed. As for temperatur­e checks at the school gates, prominent schools like Royal College and Visakha Vidyalaya have them in place. But many lesser known institutio­ns have not put in place such precaution­s.

This could be linked to affordabil­ity. “But it also points to clear discrimina­tion,” Mr Stalin said. There is a problem here, he added. Special programmes and mechanism were pointless if they are not enforced.

The Principals’ Associatio­n of Sri Lanka had also received reports of members breaching the Education Ministry health guidelines, its President Mohan Weerasingh­e said. The majority of principals, however, were under the authority of Zonal Education Offices. He denounced the violations and called for stricter enforcemen­t.

The absence of “primary precaution­s” like masks and temperatur­e checks made no sense, he held. Government offices employing thousands of people have those measures in place. “Why, then, don’t our schools have them?” he asked.

Education leaders like principals and zonal directors need not be told “again and again” to follow simple guidelines, Mr Weerasingh­e stressed: “Their exam-resultsdri­ven behaviour has made matters worse and children and teachers are paying the price.”

A student of Rajanganay­a Track 01 Vidyalaya tested positive for COVID- 19 while a teacher from Saralankar­a Vi dy ala ya, Gal le, was quarantine­d after they came into contact with staff at Kandakadu Drug Rehabilita­tion Camp.

“It was found that the principal of Rajanganay­a Track 01 Vidyalaya had asked students of all classes to report to school,” Mr Stalin said, explaining the risk. This is despite the Education Ministry having instructed only Grade 5, 11 and 13 to return. Separately, the principal of Saralankar­a Vidyalaya had directed all teachers to report to work despite the Ministry having said only relevant instructor­s are required to be present.

“Had the principals followed orders, the infected people would not have come to school,” Mr Stalin said.

The Education Ministry issued instructio­ns before the staggered opening of schools starting July 6. In the first stage-- from July 6 to 17-- only teachers with class timetables and duties such as management, disciplina­ry and health activities were to report.

Principals were also asked not to call teachers who have no duties or teaching timetables during the first and second stage ( July 20- 24). Teachers who were required to be present must report at

7.30 am and be allowed to leave when the allocated tasks were done.

However, there was confusion in some areas such as the Gampaha District where the Zonal Education Office issued a notice with conflictin­g instructio­ns for principals. It said all teachers must come to school.

The purpose was to inform principals that teachers who had duties beyond immediate academic responsibi­lities should be summoned,” clarified Gampaha Zonal Education Director of Gampaha S K Mallawarac­hchi. “A teacher’s work is not limited to teaching now. There are other responsibi­lities like dengue and Covid19 prevention programmes, so on.”

There was enough work in schools, necessitat­ing all teachers to be present.

“However, if there is a teacher who has nothing to do after all those duties are taken care of and he or she has no reason to be called in, we are fine with that,” he said.

Union claims of insubordin­ation by Zonal Officers were false, rejected Education Ministry Secretary NH M Chithranan­da. The Ministry and Provincial Councils were cooperatin­g. But the Ministry did not wish to meddle with the finer administra­tion of schools at the grassroots level as these were under the Provincial Councils. There would be no punishment for principals under current circumstan­ces, he said.

 ??  ?? School in Minuwangod­a: Following primary precaution­s such as wearing masks and keeping social distance. Pix by Priyanthe Wickramaar­achchi
School in Minuwangod­a: Following primary precaution­s such as wearing masks and keeping social distance. Pix by Priyanthe Wickramaar­achchi

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