Members of Teacher Trade Unions are seen staging a protest
There are 4.3 million students who are following online education because schools remain closed in the island. That statistic could be a strong point in favour of the teachers
Any government would use tools and means to control the public. One of the tools is to slow down education
When there are protests in the education sector a state benefits because that delays the next set of educated people stepping into the society and demanding employment
All top professionals in this country have benefitted from teachers and no one would wish to harm them or stand in their way. Even president, defence secretary and the minister of law would agree that teachers are immensely helpful in education and character building and even qualify to be worshiped. But this is not what we saw a few days ago when teacher union activists coming out of a court after receiving bail were rounded up and sent to quarantine centres.
When one studies the education system and content given to students they have been given a free environment to complete their education. If one looks beyond the school system the same is visible at state universities. And if you study the link between teachers, students and undergraduates they are all involved in a continuous journey. World history shows us that students have been involved in protests against the state and their teachers supported them in these activities. But strangely when Sri Lankan teachers are at loggerheads with the state the students are watching passively; some of the students’ parents even going to the extent of labelling striking teachers as evil people.
Students must realise that if teachers are involved in a struggle then ‘we are all in this together’. Teacher unions are protesting against a proposed bill to privatise the Kotalawela Defence Academy. Even in the past Teacher Trade Unions organised protests against the state when education was exposed to danger. Education is available to the majority because state universities are offering their facilities for free. Apart from teachers the next set of people who would initiate strike action would be the undergraduates and A Level students. We can remember how A Level students joined the Red Party after participating in the ‘five classes’; a series of brainstorming sessions which changed your thinking and political ideology.
There are 4.3 million students who are following online education because schools remain closed in the island. That statistic could be a strong point in favour of the teachers. It’s highly unlikely that these students would throw their weight behind the regime at this juncture. There have however been occasions in the world where students have stood in support of a leader of a regime. A good example is students in Germany showing their support for Hitler’s political activities.
At present students are passively watching the teachers who are on strike. This is a country where nationalistic feelings must be inserted by force. People are so selfish and have little memory of the past; even of people who have extended help to them. Often this feeling of belonging to an institute or or group is etched in the minds of students once inside the university. But if one takes school and university education the majority are represented by students belonging to upper and middle income families. These families are affluent to some extent and would not feel their purses being taxed even if some of the state universities are privatised.
Another problem associated with much of the protests in the country is that there is a huge percentage of people who would any way hold opposing views during a national crisis. Writer Tharindu Uduwaragedara, penning an article to Sunday Ravaya, once said that there is a difference of opinion about ‘commonsense’ when one considers the people in the north and the south. He states that during the war the people in the south saw the Army fighting the terrorists as ‘our Army’ while the people in the north saw the same soldiers as ‘the Sinhala Army’. Very soon the lawmakers of this nation will influence the people of this country to think that teachers are a set of people who are playing with the lives of the students and must be frowned upon. There are television channels which are helping the government to paint this picture in the minds of the people.
Unlike weak protests initiated by lawmakers of the past Yahapalana regime the force that’s standing behind these present protests comprises 242,000 teachers and 16,000 school principals. The big man featuring in these protests is Ceylon Teachers’ Union Gen Secretary Joseph Stalin, who is still detained in a quarantine centre. In the world of teachers and students movements aimed at halting education reforms which are harmful have been squashed using force and roping in the military. The best example for this comes from Nigeria.
The voices that are protesting against the proposed bill to privatise state universities also show their concerns about a possible militarisation of the much talked about university if the bill is passed in parliament. This view (About militarisation) is not the opinion of this writer but comes from the ideas aired by protesting teacher unions and appearing in the media.
Any government would use tools and means to control the public. One of the tools is to slow down education. Hence when there are protests in the education sector a state benefits because that delays the next set of educated people stepping into the society and demanding employment. The other mode of controlling education is by slowing down internet speed. According to an article published on www.worldpopulationreview.com the highest internet download speed is offered in Singapore and it reads as 226.6 MBPS. The other countries which have raised the standard of internet connectivity and efficiency because the governments in their countries facilitated the expansion and improvement of the internet are South Korea (155 MBPS), Denmark (162 MBPS), USA (161 MBPS), Sweden (156 MBPS) and China (138 MBPS). Sri Lanka is rated way below the list and can just about offer 31.19 MBPS. Schoolchildren scaling mountains and climbing on to branches of trees in search of better connectivity underscores this point in no uncertain terms. For the record teachers have withdrawn from online education in protest of members of teacher unions being held in detention.
Generally, according to history, it’s the students who are radical and initiate struggles against the regime. But if one studies the undercurrent at universities teachers with radical minds have influenced the minds of students. The present times are a good example of this.
Education has been crippled in the country due to the pandemic and the teachers were the ones who were chipping in with time and effort to keep students engaged in education. The regime cracking down on the protesting teachers can be viewed from two perspectives; one is that they heavily undermined the clout of the teachers and the second was that the state messed around with the teachers at a time when the teachers are able to negotiate from a position of strength.
It looks like the government will have to shelf its pride and arrive at the negotiating table. However, despite the struggle they make to serve education these teachers have also committed an error. They have forgotten to live by one of their most quoted dictums which is 'education must continue no matter what problems you face in life'. By striking these teachers have temporarily put a stop to their online teaching sessions.