Sometimes when I consider what tremendous consequences come from little things, I am tempted to think there are no little things -- Bruce Barton
This editorial was influenced by the statements made by the Ceylon Teachers Union (CTU) General Secretary Joseph Stalin, the Ceylon Teachers Services Union (CTSU) General Secretary Mahinda Jayasinghe and the Principals’ Services Union President Sunil Premathileke that the 24-hour strike or work stoppage launched by some 15,000 School Principals and 241,000 Teachers affecting 10,162 schools countrywide was a resounding success, with all national or State schools coming to standstill.
These statements invariably raise several questions that beg answers. How do principals, teachers and the unions they belong to, measure or gauge the success of their trade union action. Do they measure success by the number of schools that were compelled to shut down for the day and by the number of students and their parents made to suffer and inconvenienced or by the amount of concessions they were able to obtain.
From what they say it is only apparent that they are under the mistaken impression that their cause is best served by the number of schools closed for the day and the hundreds of thousands of innocent students and their helpless parents held to ransom or held hostage as a means of forcing the government to grant the demands made by the unions.
Sounding self-righteous, Mr. Stalin went to the extent of even pointing out that any inconvenience caused to the parents and the students -- when the principals and teachers voluntarily fell sick for 24 hours -- should be referred to the Education Ministry.
There is no doubt that the Principals and the Teachers, who provide an essential service to the country and to the people, should be paid a reasonable salary to off-set the ever rising cost of living and as stipulated by the relevant wages boards. But if what is paid is insufficient, then the unions need to buckle down to negotiations, however long they take, to arrive at a consensus, taking into account the funds available and a reality check of the ground situation.
The unions were demanding that the salary anomalies of principals and teachers, which have been in existence since 1997 be rectified; that the Budget should allocate 6% of the GDP to education and the teachers be released from the time-wasting work involved in filling various documents instead of spending more time with their students.
However, while condemning this blatantly concocted transparent lie where nearly 256,000 educators fell sick in an attempt to achieve their objectives, makes us wonder whether the principals and teachers, who are more educated than most, are devoid of the courage and the nerve to launch their work stoppage without resorting to such lame or untenable excuses?
Are not the principals and teachers entrusted with the important responsibility of laying the foundation stones of right-thinking in the hearts and minds of their students and helping them become responsible and useful citizens of our country? But instead, it is sad and frightening to contemplate the future of the students when these educators by their bad example give the mixed signal that it is right to do what is wrong to serve their selfish ends.
Meanwhile, the Education Ministry Secretary Pathmasiri Jayamanne said the unions had not informed the ministry about the work stoppage and that in any case the ministry was not in a position to increase salaries on the basis that it could not take independent or arbitrary decisions.
He had said it was left to the Special Salaries Commission, the Treasury and the Finance Ministry to decide on any increases and had conveyed this information to the unions during the several rounds of discussions.
Where do we go from here? Rather than hurting the students and their parents, who have no say in this matter and are caught in-between, is it not the best option to hold more discussions with the authorities and arrive at a win-win solution instead of a win-lose solution by towing the line of personal or political agendas because what is at stake is the future of our youth who trust their principals and their teachers to guide them on the path of honesty, morality and integrity.
“Almost every significant breakthrough is the result of a courageous break with traditional ways of thinking,” says Stephen Covey.