Teacher Crisis Q&A Press Release, August 18, 2021
(a) Is this salary issue truly a ‘crisis’ as portrayed by the teachers?
Yes, because for about two decades, on average, all teachers have been paid a basic or starting salary of less than ~ Rs 35,000 per month. This is important because the education sector, on which future generations & socio-economic advancement of this country rests, depends almost exclusively on the contentment of 241,000 teachers. A fruitful teacher-student interaction is an answer to educational advancement at least in part. Due to this crisis students have been without any substantial education for the last several months.
(b) Is it true that ad-hoc salary increases for teachers alone cannot be done, since it will lead to similar demands by other sectors?
Yes, that’s true. That’s why it’s important to immediately appoint a team of officials who are knowledgeable on the topic, to create comparable salary structures for all similar professionals. This Team should give their recommendations in 6-8 weeks. This can easily be done since there are many experienced personnel available and willing to do it. Meanwhile, teachers should have been given a respectable interim allowance a few months ago, for the yeoman service they have done in delivering various forms of distance education using their own resources since schools closed 16 months ago.
(c) Does the Government have money to allocate for such an allowance?
There are enough vanity projects that can be scrapped to provide for teachers’ allowances, teacher accommodation close to school, and other welfare measures. A contented teacher cadre will facilitate high-quality education. Such an education suited for the 21st Century will propel Sri Lanka from a low-income country to one with a high income. The return on investment in teachers & education grows, exponentially.
(d) What should be done to ease the current deadlock between Government & teachers?
Government should acknowledge mistakes and invite teachers to go back to work, whilst speeding up vaccinations to facilitate school re-opening when the pandemic wanes. Treasury should work out an interim allowance for all teachers as compensation for using their own resources since schools closed. Meanwhile, give a realistic roadmap on how teachers’ grievances will be addressed. These should be done with honesty and sincerity. The Teacher-Principal promotional scheme that the Ministry of Education is supposedly developing should be finalized soon. The new scheme should include greater accountability & responsibility by teachers. The center of gravity should move to schools and teachers, not bureaucrats. These ideas should be discussed with teacher unions before finalizing.
(e) What steps should be undertaken to minimize teacher-Government conflict in the future? First, underscore the value of education for the socio-economic advancement of any country. Recognize that teachers are the connector between students and educators. Give teachers due to recognition, and empower and equip them to become knowledge-creators & change-makers in this 21st Century. Government should deal with their issues with integrity & transparency. Predict & address teacher issues before they surface. Appoint a non-political, non-bureaucratic Ombudsman to advise them appropriately. Salary anomaly rectification is just one major issue out of many, which need answers fast.
Sinhala and Tamil Translations will be available! Stay Tuned!