News

Strike action hampers school reopening

  • A majority of schools report students, teachers absent
  • All govt. and Catholic primary schools to reopen tomorrow

By Sarah Hannan

Although grades one through five of nearly 3,000 schools with under 200 students were reopened last Thursday (21), on-ground observations at schools revealed there was a lack of enthusiasm by both teachers and students to return.

The absence of teachers and principals in many schools was attributed to the strike action that was announced by the Teachers-Principals Trade Union Alliance (TPTUA). Calling a media briefing on Thursday, the TPTUA stated that they refrained from reporting to work on 21 and 22 October to let the Government know that their trade union action had not been halted.

As revealed by the TPTUA, only a fraction of schools successfully reopened on Thursday, with 99% of schools remaining closed with no teachers or students in attendance.

It was also revealed that some development officers and political affiliates had forcefully entered schools by breaking the padlocks, although there had been no students, teachers, or principals at the schools.

The Government took measures to deploy graduates who were recruited under their programme to offer employment to 100,000 graduates, to conduct lessons in schools that did not have teachers in attendance on Thursday and Friday (22).

TPTUA member and All Ceylon United Teachers’ Union Chairman Ven. Yalwela Pagngnasekara Thera stated: “We decided that we will not return to work on the dates that the Government had announced. Hence, we will refrain from reporting to work on 21 and 22 October. However, considering the plight of the children in the primary grades, the principals and teachers representing our trade union will resume work on Monday (25).”

The Thera also noted that the teachers and principals will not allow the Government to decide on how the rest of the grades and schools would reopen and that the member trade unions of the TPTUA will decide on the dates after discussing the matter with the health authorities.

“Accordingly, we are looking at bringing in students that would be sitting for the General Certificate of Education (GCE) Ordinary Level (O/L) and GCE Advanced Level (A/L) examinations in the second phase of reopening schools, and we will further discuss with the health authorities and announce the dates that schools would reopen in the next stages.”

Meanwhile, commenting on the continued trade union action, TPTUA member and Ceylon Teachers’ Union General Secretary Joseph Stalin told The Sunday Morning: “Our strike action of not reporting to work on Thursday was 98% successful. We have sent a clear message to the Government that they should address the salary anomaly issue in full as recommended through the Subodhini Committee report and not in stages as proposed through the Cabinet sub-committee. We observed that in most of the schools, only the two police officers and the development officer deployed from the Divisional Secretariat’s Office were present.”

Stalin further noted that even the parents had not sent their children to school, after getting to know that the schools were to be reopened without the attendance of teachers and principals.

When asked about the continuation of the school reopening process, Ministry of Education Secretary Prof. Kapila Perera told The Sunday Morning: “According to the instructions provided by the Director General of Health Services, we are to monitor the health conditions of the schoolchildren who are attending school under the first phase daily.

“Based on these observations, we will then proceed to the second phase of reopening schools from grades one through five in schools that have over 200 students and all grades in schools that have students less than 100. The third phase will allow students sitting for their GCE O/L and GCE A/L exams to attend school, and in the fourth phase, we will reopen all grades in all schools.”

Prof. Perera added that there are 2,962 schools with less than 100 students and 1,439 schools with less than 50 students which will reopen in the second phase, hopefully in the coming week.

Hence, within the first and second phases, almost 50% of the schools in the country would reopen for in-person education at schools.

Moreover, Prof. Perera further noted that there was a request by many of the teacher-principal trade unions to reopen all grades in all schools by Monday, 25 October, revealing that these trade unions had assured him that they would return to work to deliver lessons to students in-person.

In the meantime, the vaccination drive to inoculate schoolchildren in grades 10 through 13 commenced at all schools from Friday, the Ministry of Education confirmed. The vaccination programme is to be completed for schoolchildren between the ages of 16-19 within a month.

With schools now gradually reopening, Prof. Perera also stated: “Parents have a huge responsibility when sending their children back to school. They have to make sure that they adhere to the health guidelines and consider the safety of other children as well.

“So, if they are under quarantine or if they are the first contact of a person who contracted Covid-19, they should make sure not to send their child to school until they have obtained the necessary medical clearance. Furthermore, if the child or anyone at home is displaying symptoms of Covid-19, they need to ensure they get tested, follow the necessary quarantine regulations, and refrain from sending the child to school.”

Meanwhile, only 40% of teachers had arrived at the school premises while only 20% of the total student count had attended classes since Thursday, Colombo Zonal Education Office Director G.N. Silva stated during a media brief on Friday (22).

“Some classrooms were empty, but we hope that by Monday (25), this will be resolved and the teachers and students will return back to (their) schools,” said Silva.

Meanwhile, teachers’ and principals’ trade unions islandwide continued their protests and conducted media briefs insisting that the salary anomalies be resolved.

Teachers’ and principals’ unions have confirmed last week that they would resume teaching on 25 October.

On Friday, Ministry of Education Secretary Prof. Kapila Perera announced that the Director General of Health granted permission to reopen all government primary schools islandwide from tomorrow.

Subsequently, the Bishop’s House too announced that, In line with the Government’s decision, the primary sections of all the Catholic schools islandwide would also reopen on tomorrow.