With the highest priority being given to education, Sri Lanka yesterday joined the international community in celebrating “World Teacher’s Day” on the theme “Teaching in Freedom, Empowering Teachers”.
According to the United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), this year marks the 20th anniversary of the 1997 UNESCO Recommendation concerning the Status of Higher-Education Teaching Personnel. UNESCO says these teaching personnel are often overlooked in discussions concerning the status of teachers. Like teachers at pre-primary, primary, and secondary levels, higher education teaching is a profession requiring expert knowledge, specialized skills, and pedagogical competence.
World Teacher’s Day was celebrated this year, echoing the 2015 theme that followed the adoption of the new UN Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs) in September 2015, when teacher empowerment was reaffirmed as a top priority in education and development strategies.
The Day brought together governments, multi and bilateral organizations, NGOs, the private sector, teachers and experts in the field of teaching. With the adoption of SDG 4 on education and the dedicated target 4.c recognizing teachers as key to the achievement of the 2030 Education Agenda, it has become the occasion to mark achievements and reflect on ways to counter the remaining challenges for the promotion of the teaching profession, UNESCO said.
According to the UNESCO Institute of Statistics, the world needs 69 million teachers if we are to achieve universal primary and secondary education by 2030.
Yesterday, in Paris an international conference took place and it was attended by teachers, trainers, policy-makers, researchers and other education stakeholders to celebrate teaching, academic freedom and what we need to do to ensure quality higher education and a sustainable future for the teaching profession. These include showcasing and discussing progress and persistent challenges in higher education such as institutional autonomy, academic freedom, and professional development of higher-education teaching personnel.
In Sri Lanka, the government took a major step this week by providing life and health insurance to some 4.5 million students in about 11,000 public and private schools in all parts of the country. At Temple Trees, the launching ceremony was attended by President Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and Education Minister Akila Viraj Kariyawasam to underline the importance of the event which was described as a revolution in the free education service.
In Addition, the National Unity Government has announced it will ensure that all children will be given at least 13 years of education, irrespective of whether they pass or fail the GCE O/L examination or do not get enough marks at the A/L Examination to enter university. The government intends to set up a range of vocational training centres, mainly in the sphere of modern digital technology so that the children could reach highest levels in this dimension.
Unfortunately, Sri Lanka’s higher education process today appears to be in a mess or muddle largely due to what is turning out to be a party political battle over the South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine (SAITM). President Sirisena is trying to bring about an accommodation on the middle path and recently appointed a committee to work out a compromise. The committee, among other issues, recommended a suspension of recruitment of students to SAITM, restructuring of the institution and the issue of a gazette notification outlining basic standards for the awarding of medical or MBBS degrees. Professor Colvin Gunaratne has been appointed as the new chairman of the Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC), but the hard-line Government Medical Officer’s Association (GMOA) and unions representing State Medical College Students, are refusing to compromise. They want SAITM abolished. One such left wing union even disrupted an Arts and High tech exhibition at the Kelaniya University this week.
State Medical students have lost several months of precious studies, while regular demonstrations are held at peak times on main city highways, causing longer traffic jams and disrupting the lives of tens of thousands of people including schoolchildren.
With UNESCO this year giving priority to higher education, institutions, teachers and students, we hope will rise to higher levels of responsibility and will not allow bankrupt political parties or extremist groups to disrupt vital processes of education. Doctors who indulge in such indiscipline, should have their degrees degraded because as the legendary Nelson Mandela says, “Education is the most powerful weapon to change the world”.