25 September, 2021

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Education Crisis: A Humanitarian Crisis

By Tara de Mel

Dr. Tara de Mel

Of all the pandemic-initiated crises, starting with public health & economic, the education crisis has been the one that’s often relegated in the list of priorities. When all schools in about 192 countries abruptly shuttered in March 2020 ‘ousting’ nearly 1.6 Billion students from education, it chalked a historic milestone in education, globally. Several countries immediately took action to facilitate online and internet-based education for students.

Most economically advantaged countries had a majority of students switching to online education seamlessly. Some less advantaged and low-income countries used the help of international agencies and swiftly took steps to enable internet and device access to students and teachers, in addition to providing pedagogical assistance. Some countries used this historic opportunity to re-design curricula and teaching methodologies to suit the time. Such governments allocated funds for teacher-training and for equipping teachers to meet the post-pandemic education challenges.

(https://en.unesco.org/news/global-education-coalition-explores-digital-learning-turn-africa, and https://theconversation.com/how-african-countries-can-reform-education-to-get-ahead-after-pandemic-school-closures-163935)

This is Sri Lanka

The entire student (4.3 million) & teacher (241,000) populations have been facing crisis after crisis since March 2020. With school closure, less than 10% of students had the ability to connect to real-time face-to-face education, online. The internet accessibility, as per Census 2019 is only 34.11%, and as per a Computer Literacy survey, only 22.2% of households owned a laptop or PC. About 45% of students used parents’ smart phones to access notes sent by teachers using WhatsApp. A study done by LIRNEAsia last year describes these data. In summary, more than 50% of students had no access to any form of education, since the pandemic.

Since March 2020 teachers have been devoting time, energy and using their own meagre resources to provide some form of education to students. Some have borrowed or pawned personal valuables to buy feature phones. Some have used their own initiative to learn how to conduct classes via zoom, since the technology was new to them, and since no training was offered by the Ministry. Despite all of this, teachers  have not been recognized nor compensated for what they have been doing these past 17 months. They only continue to receive their meagre monthly salary of something between Rs 30,000 – Rs 35,000. (In 2015 a graduate teacher received Rs 16,500 and in 2019 it had been increased to Rs 33,300. Trained teachers get much less).

In Sri Lanka teachers are the lowest paid group of public servants in all of Asia, and the group that will contribute the most, to creating a new generation of citizens who’d be ready to navigate post-pandemic challenges, economic or otherwise. 

Take a look at public expenditure on education this past decade. 

In terms of % GDP allocated for education, see where Sri Lanka resides:

South Africa: 6.5% of GDP

Sri Lanka: 1.9% of GDP

Israel: 6.1% of GDP

New Zealand: 6.3% of GDP

Viet Nam: 4.2% of GDP

Nepal: 5.1% of GDP

Finland: 6.4% of GDP

Middle income countries: 4.4% of GDP

South Asia: 3.5% of GDP

(Source: World Bank data)

Current face-off: sincerity of purpose

For nearly 25 days teachers & Principals are on the streets, risking escalating health-hazards of the ongoing pandemic, and multiple threats to life. They are demanding that salary anomalies be rectified. This is turning out to be the most organised, justified and non-politically motivated protest seen in decades. The Government has been watching, almost arrogantly, with no sincere efforts to resolve this crisis.

Salaries & Cadre Commissions (SCC) have been in operation for decades. They could have offered solutions, but haven’t. If the excuse by the Government is delay by SCC, the latter could have sat for several hours a day since July, when the protests began, and resolved this issue by now.

If there was sincerity of purpose this could have been done.

If there is sincerity of purpose here are some suggestions for paying this group of valuable public servants:

1. Government last increased taxes on the liquor and tobacco industry in March 2019. That’s 30 months ago. Excise taxes from liquor and tobacco alone account for Rs. 200 Billion. A 10% increase in tax will yield Rs. 20 Billion per annum.

2. Government  tax-cuts in December 2019 resulted in tax revenue declining by Rs. 518 Billion in 2020. Recouping even 10% of that by reversing some of those tax changes, that largely benefitted the upper echelons of society, can yield up to Rs. 50 billion

3. Government has in previous years said that Sri Lanka can’t spend 6% of GDP on education. But today Government has found a way to spend 6.5% of GDP on interest cost alone, each year.

4. In the 2021 budget Government found a way to allocate an additional Rs. 20 Billion for strengthening national security. A sector which already receives close to Rs. 250 Billion per year for recurrent spending alone.

It’s glaringly obvious that it’s not a question of lack of resources. It’s simply a lack of willingness to allocate resources for what ought to be a priority. Again if there was sincerity of purpose they’d  raise revenue to fund such allocations.

An Appeal

This appeal is for the Government and the Minister to take initiative and ‘blink’ at this face-off. Be humble. Be gracious. Give the teachers their rightful due and prevent this crisis becoming a humanitarian catastrophe.

*Dr Tara de Mel – former Secretary, Ministry of Education

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Latest comments

  • 7
    22

    How about other public sector workers? How about the army, navy, air force, STF, police? They too deserve more money if teachers get it.

    Otherwise they may stage a coup against the government. If the unpopular regime wants to remain in power they must increase salaries of the armed forces.

    • 18
      2

      What is not a crisis today ?
      :
      Almost everything turned out to be a big crisis than in a like minded country.
      :
      Srilanka is a country which is 62 times smaller by population. But our PINAs compare it with that of India.
      .
      Today SITUATION is similar to a trainee PILOT became the head of a long distance flight.
      People are in a horrible situation, but as the elephant is in the room, not many would utter anything yet against them. It is all because they know how barbarians would act on them.
      Lasantha Wickramthunga, Wasim Thajudeen, Ekanligoda, those young students (12 or more) abducted and gunned down, and and proved their CRIME friendly activities. Nevetherless MEDIA-MAFIA tackled by Rajapakshe henchmen, painted the picture in favour of their come back. Today, CONSEQUENCES before them:

      • 7
        2

        Trouble is, too much money of the suffering masses are put on grandiose things, like sending students to ivy-league colleges and other colleges in the USA, where many do not even go back to contribute. Other countries like Malaysia and Vietnam don’t bother with such things and spread the money for Democratic learning for their masses. How much more successful they are as nations. Ours is about shamefully trying to prove to the world our Lankan brains…..some white man belittled us a century or two ago and we are still hung up on it……now hanging onto China in attempts to show our clout.

    • 18
      1

      Gatam: We would not need such an enormous number of personnel in the armed forces if the Govt: is successful in solving the problems faced by the tamil speaking people, which whatever said and done, has to be solved one fine day if we are to develop as a country. I doubt though that these two mainstream parties could achieve that, given the racist attitude in them.

    • 11
      0

      Dear Harishchandra,
      .
      Thanks for trying to put an end to the filibuster by GATAM. You have done so by focussing on the main problem that keeps dogging us – racism. GATAM surely sees that he’s advocating the very opposite of what Tara’s analysis has highlighted.
      .
      OTOH, Tara, don’t you think that there are too many teachers to grant across-the-board salary increases? I’ve already heard, from average citizens, the sort of rumblings that we get from the ever-insincere Eagle-Eye. As a retired teacher myself, I wish the teachers success in their struggle for higher remuneration, but we must examine the inefficiencies and optimise the benefits. “Things happened” even when you were the Secretary to the Ministry. You meant well. If we’re really going to learn from past mistakes, I’ll tell you what happened then. The less we merely dole out the better. We have to ensure that there is earned income in the hands of parents; if they decide how it is going to be spent, then we will be well on the way to stopping corruption.
      .
      Does anybody seriously want me to say more? I could.
      .
      Panini Edirisinhe (NIC 483111444V) of Bandarawela

      • 6
        0

        Dear SM,
        Thank you for your valuable comment. I also take the opportunity to thank Dr De Mel for the article.
        :
        Please SM, add more about this topic. As a retired teacher who worked more in SRILANKA than anywhere else, you should have lot more to share with b>
        .
        Many today make every effort to interpret it as if Teachers request their demands be fullfilled right these days itself. But that is wrong… what they ve been fighting for is to govt to focus on the issue. And compared to the teachers’ salaries in neighbouring countries, what our teachers earn is not much lower to that of a pion in a govt sector office today. Ironically, the very same teachers attacked former govt, at the time Rajaakshes made every tricks to mislead them for their comeback. THe fact, is former govt being caught by all the debt traps left by medamulana rascals, increased the salaries of teachers by 10k as my source proved me. Please correct me if I am wrong here with my info.

        • 2
          0

          CT@
          Apologies, my settings accidently left all underneath texts bold.

        • 1
          0

          Dear LM,
          .
          Yes, this can become a headache; bold can legitimately be used to emphasise, but too much of it makes reading more difficult.
          .
          Cancelling it can be difficult, but I’m trying here. Sometimes my efforts are successful, sometimes they are not.
          .
          You have done the right, honest and decent thing in apologising!
          .
          Panini Edirisinhe

          • 2
            0

            I know that happened to you too several times. Apologizing should be made known to Rajaakshes clan, before our people would come to the streets and stone them to death.
            :
            Death rates are rocketing in my home country today. How can anyone with hearts be that ignorant as our medamulana dogs ?

        • 0
          0

          Dear LM,
          .
          It is now four days since I made my initial comment. How can we possibly discuss something in seven days when other readers take so long to ask for more facts?
          .
          Nevertheless, given that eleven have liked the comment, and none have disliked it, I shall do my best to say something; not up here, but at the very bottom of this page. And why has there been no response from Tara, either?
          .
          I’m still convinced of her sincerity and all that, but she must necessarily learn from those working at the grass-roots.

    • 4
      0

      Prof. Malik Peris has already warned, that the weeks to come, will be very decisive with the spread of virus.
      .
      We should put the blame on the govt for his huge failure.
      .
      We should be shameful as a race (SINHALA RACE) looking at the manner how current men in leadership rules this nation: Though I always consider mea s srilanken, however, this govt came into being through sinhala racism – is the fact. This was repeated by alleged war criminal/incumbent president by himself during his first speech after getting elected.
      They were too late to order vaccines, despite the fact that national health authorities were familiar with vaccinations and its reliable effects. There no special advice on that was necessary. Total ignorance and lack of wisdom as leaders, they were very late to order 40 millions of jabs to the nation. As we are well aware of the costs – entire cost would have been not 160 millions of US dollars. Abusive men in govt never placed it above on their list. They compare it today with some countries whose standards are not similar tot hat of srilanka. Even if we are a poor nation, but WHO has already listed the country as one of the exemplary countries where VACCIANTION programs could be very successful.

  • 13
    2

    Dr.Tara, Totally agree with your appeal as ministry and health teacher. Next generation is becoming confused slaves of the regime which is promoting it with militarization to fight whom. China will not tolerate it. The west is already doing the expected roping. As we are in a global atmosphere, unless educated to keep pace, the deceived uneducated villagers too will be jobless like the top. What a national tragedy.

  • 9
    1

    The statistics is shocking but that is a fact. The country has been going in a wrong direction since the so called independence and every sector is influenced by Buddhist Fundamentalism and Opportunistic politicians. Today, the country is under the military rule because of the policies of the consecutive governments. Most of the Senior government officials are based on political influence and making money is their priority not selected based on their character or past experience or suitability. War was excuse. Corona is now an excuse. They will find another excuse if nothing is there similar to Easter Bombing.

  • 2
    0

    Re-design curricula and teaching methodologies to suit the time.

    China is good friend of sri lanak they can supply millions of lap top and when the students are earning they can pay. Give the framework and tools to flourish in your role, while making sure you have Getting the balance right pay back on china companies that is coming up in sri lanka or some china company in the word. It’s the teacher that makes the difference, not the classroom, more than 50% of students had no access to any form of education, since the pandemic. and avoid to be borrowed or pawned personal valuables to buy feature phones. The parlimentarians Should Try New Things, Trying new things not only helps us to vanquish those fears, but it also allows us to expand our minds and learn—both about said new thing, and about ourselves. and Students

  • 3
    21

    “They only continue to receive their meagre monthly salary of something between Rs 30,000 – Rs 35,000.”
    —-
    These guys who protest demanding more money got their education free, sure to get even a meagre salary at the end of the month and ‘Pin Padi’ after they retire until they go six feet under. These teachers have forgotten that the country is experiencing a pandemic and facing severe financial hardships. They also have forgotten that there are hundreds and thousands families who are unable to provide a decent meal to their children because of the pandemic. I wonder what is the point in giving free education if that free education is producing highly irresponsible, selfish, self-centered morons?

    • 11
      0

      Dear EE.
      …I wonder what is the point in giving free education if that free education is producing highly irresponsible, selfish, self-centered morons?……..
      And I just wonder how many of these “irresponsible, selfish, self-centered morons” are in our Parliament of 225. I say all – even though some have had it only till Year 8. And a few with post graduate degrees also obtained free from our own Universities.

      • 3
        0

        My view,
        People are no different to those in Pakistan. They don’t enjoy free education. I think alone free education cant bring any thing so long law and order is filled with pot holes. If u go for an opinion poll with 1000 representing a cross section of the society, outcome would be no different to that of Pakistan whose illiterate rate is very high. People in general dont care about facts why is that ? 🐃🐃🐃🐃🐃🐃🐃🐃

    • 5
      1

      EE,

      How do you feed/fertilize a Bo tree organically without insulting it?

      If ye put all the crap at its feet …….. how do you make sure it’s all pure Sinhalese crap …….. and no Tamil and Muslim crap has mixed in?

      • 5
        0

        Nimal,
        EE is good at vomiting BS, which is good fertilizer.

        • 4
          0

          OC,
          He should have personal vendetta with minorities above all with srilanken tamils. Who knows that the man may have been a victim of a rape gang ? Look he doesn’t seem to know the basics of our origin. Other than ” our native sinhalayas ” . I have no doubt that none of us are pure 😉😉😉😉😉😉😉

    • 5
      2

      Eagle eye
      I wonder what is the point in giving free education if that free education is producing highly irresponsible, selfish, self-centered morons?
      ———–
      That means you must have had free education yourself!

      • 5
        0

        How about if free education would be given only to Rajapakashes and their men pleasing the majority punnaku drinkers? Then they could save a lot? 😉😉😉😉😉

    • 5
      1

      “wonder what is the point in giving free education if that free education is producing highly irresponsible, selfish, self-centered morons?”
      Where did you study, EE?
      Just asking, so that I can tell the young ‘uns to avoid the place.

    • 2
      0

      Like you.

    • 2
      0

      Eagle eye: Like you.

  • 3
    0

    It is a reasonable request that a minimum of 6%GDP shall be spent on education.

    However, it is not the provision or the allocation but the actual expenditure. 6%GDP expenditure is a desirable target and should look for quality.

    If for any reason, Sri Lanka could not afford to reach the stipulated target, Sri Lanka could still spent on quality education, prioritized on the availability of funds.

    Care should be taken to spend on quality rather than on prestigious buildings to cater to the desires of scheming politicians or the ignorant school community.

  • 4
    2

    Our university academics fought for 6% for education. But readily settled for a whopping pay rise for themselves.
    *
    It is not just the salary. Attitude is a big problem. Nearly no one wants to teach in backward areas and poorer schools. Any station is fine for the first job, then on the first opportunity that comes one’s way, one jumps ship.
    *
    Le us face it, nobody who matters cares as long as one can find a good school for the child.

  • 5
    3

    For me, the topic and discussion is merely academic!
    .
    The more urgent humanitarian crisis is the Texts that are being taught in schools.
    .
    Sinhalese unhappy that Tamils were holding more and better Government jobs came up with a novel solution. Sinhala Only.
    .
    Text books got re-written. Sinhalese children were taught to believe that Tamils were the enemies of their well-being!
    .
    Once the minds are corrupted no education serves a country.

  • 7
    1

    Indeed i have seen it myself.
    I once read through the childrens section of the sunday observer in sri lanka some years ago.
    There was a ‘history lesson’ section which openly referred to sri lanka as a ‘sinhala buddhist land’ and labelled tamils as ‘invading barbarians’
    Racism is fed to sinhalese from a very early age. And its not even racism based on fact but complete lies which is what makes it even worse!

  • 0
    0

    Instead of intellectual arguments of power hungry insecure ignorant uneducated decision makers, let the ongoing education progressively direct it’s journey like the rest of the world of which we are a part. It is simply foolish rebellion against humanity to think “I am the all knowing one, not you”. Of course there is such a one whom many do not know exists, but let the current system go on without sacking, as eye opening pandemic is a global structure which can continue to mutate, and even added on to by evil nation’s ambitions.

  • 0
    0

    Even though there is a salaries commission, certain categories of employees have found crafty ways to avoid it by taking huge allowances added to their salaries. For example, CEB engineers get a take home pay of about Rs 5 lakhs by adding various allowances. Their PAYE tax is also paid by the CEB going against a supreme court decision. Similarly there are many corporation heads get exorbitant salaries. Sri Lankan airlines has over 100 employees getting salaries in the range of Rs 20 lakhs in spite of heavy losses.
    There is no financial discipline in the country nor any efforts by the Government to address these issues and that is the problem.

  • 1
    0

    Dr. Tara’s teaching experience is speaking. Some pundits are arguing. Militarisation is to defend the country and the army is a small trained number and there is no current war. Education is for all, not only for youth. Prez. Xi had forced disruption of education with communism and later qualified as chemical engineer with involvement in gain of function research for enhancement and vaccine production in communist style. He educated his daughter at prestigious USA Harvard university under a false name, craving education. How he deceives SL is for those craving yuan to put in friendly debt trap. They sell their souls to Lucifer to own family land finally ending up like the Russian Tsar family shot in 1918 in the Bolshevik Revolution. Tsar had a dragon tattoo. SL craves amulets for protection. Citizens need freedom, not suppression.

  • 0
    0

    I shall once more try to do my best to communicate what I know; the problem is that after the first two days of an article, nobody looks any more.
    .
    The current article is the third that Tara has written recently. This was the first. You will find about three comments by me towards the end of the pile.

    .
    https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/switching-to-distance-elearning-too-little-too-late/
    .
    This next has many more at the bottom – almost a dozen. I’ve been as bold in proclaiming the truth as I see it,
    .
    https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/switching-to-distance-elearning-too-little-too-late/
    .
    Thanks, LM, for that encouragement. I’ll try to make some new, not so much focussing on the quantum of the allocation as on how a great deal even of that allocation is then “miss-spent”. I tell the villagers up here, in Bandarawela, but they just don’t want to take on themselves even a small portion of the effort needed to prioritise.

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