Expert tells govt. to ditch vanity projects and look into teachers’ welfare

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There were enough vanity projects that could be scrapped to provide for teachers’ allowances, teacher-accommodation close to school, and other welfare measures Dr. Sujata N. Gamage, Senior Research Fellow, LIRNEasia and Co-Coordinator, Education Forum Sri Lanka told The Island yesterday.

“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 high-income. The return on investment in teachers and education grows exponentially,” she said.

The 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, to ease the current deadlock between them and teachers, she said.

The expert suggested that the Treasury should work out an interim-allowance for all teachers as compensation for using their own resources since schools closed and the government should give a realistic road-map on how teachers’ grievances would 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 finalised soon. The new scheme should include greater accountability and responsibility by teachers. The centre of gravity should move to schools and teachers, not bureaucrats. Those ideas should be discussed with teacher unions before finalising,” Dr. Gamage said.

She said that for about two decades, on average, all teachers had been paid a basic or starting salary of less than Rs 35,000 per month. The education sector, on which future generations and socio-economic advancement of the country rested, depended almost exclusively on the contentment of 241,000 teachers.

Dr. Gamage said that a fruitful teacher-student interaction was the answer to educational advancement at least in part.

She said that an ad-hoc salary increases for teachers might lead to similar demands by other sectors and the government should appoint a team of officials who were 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,” she said.

“Give teachers due recognition, and empower and equip them to become knowledge-creators & change-makers in this 21st Century. Government should deal with their issues with integrity and transparency. Predict and 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,” Dr. Gamage added.

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