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Teachers paid lower than unskilled casual labour!

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I was shocked and ashamed by the information about wages paid to teachers that was revealed, on July 20, by a leader (Mahinda Jayasinghe?) of a trade union of school teachers. A graduate teacher is paid some Rs.33,000 a month on initial appointment and some Rs. 45, 000 a month after 15 years in service. A teacher fresh from a Teacher’s College receives even a lower salary. A friend of mine, a graduate in science from the Colombo University, who retired from teaching after 32 years, receives a princely monthly pension of Rs.48,000. They accept these low wages because there is widespread unemployment in the country and any employment with superannuation benefits is a bonus. The alternative is often domestic service in West Asia. In 2020, the income, per person, in this country, was about Rs. 60,000, a month. The last year for which data is available (2019) gives the income of per person income in Sri Lanka as Rs.57,400 per month month. (Take the total income in the country; divide that among the total population, including infants and old men and women and you get income per person in the country. These figures are a rough assessment.) A graduate teacher in school is paid a little more than half the income of an average person in this country. It is hard to imagine that and far harder to believe that. Believe that, you had better. They live, at best, in genteel poverty. Is that fair, is that just and is that productive? Some years ago, in this newspaper, I showed that in 1960, a graduate teacher in this country, on first appointment, was paid three times the per capita income at that time and university teachers double that. Imagine a young family of two university graduate teachers and a child, today. The monthly income of all three of them would be about Rs. 66,000, a bit above the average income of one person in the country. Then the income per capita income of this family is Rs.22,000, (divide 66,000 into three and you get 22,000.) about $7 a day-not far above the poverty income. An MP legally earns roughly about Rs.500,000 a month. Many politicians come to Parliament with debt payable to banks. Within two or three years they are rich men. They send their children to expensive elite private schools and have no interest in public schools. Graduate teachers, even after 15 years in service, earn ¾ of today’s average income per person. How dare anyone find fault with school teachers who earn an extra rupee giving private tuition to their own pupils? I should not be surprised if some teachers earned extra money driving a three-wheeler. A member of Parliament with no university degree, who becomes a minister supplements his legal income with millions of dollars, which enables him to live in much opulence and conspicuous grandeur. Governments that pay school teachers so niggardly, and the public who approve of that action, must take responsibility for poor outcomes in schools. Politicians, the bureaucracy and the public at large (We went to public schools and our children and grandchildren go to them now.) all must stand with teachers to get them a decent wage.

The portfolio of education has been held by some brilliant men and women: Bathi-ud-Din Mohammed, Ranil Wickremasinghe, Lalith Athulathmudali, Bandula Gunawardena and G.L.Peiris, all who nevertheless inexplicably allowed teachers wages to fall so low as now. Perhaps politicians, as a whole, found the employment of young people at sub-living wages a convenient way to collect votes at elections. This façade of 18 students per teacher is part of the cheating and hoodwinking that is characteristic of our politicians. How can MPs earn a minimum of Rs.500,000 a month, a rich pension after, as short as, five years in Parliament, travel about in most comfortable tax-free vehicles, eat so sumptuously in Parliament at ridiculously low prices and yet pay teachers beggarly wages? Politicians, and the bureaucracy, especially, must not play games with teachers in our schools. The public must not allow this indecency to continue beyond this year. They must stand with and not against teachers. It is not fair; it is not just; and it is ignominious to debase our teachers with hobbling low wages, as now. Let there be 30 students per teacher. Transfer excess teachers out. Teachers and parents in many rich countries bear with higher student loads and students come out fine. Double teachers’ wages, now. Do not postpone doubling teachers’ wages declaring that such is your intention, as Bandula Gunawardena, who was the minister of education for five years, did on 24 July. Do it now and arrange for its payment in a government strapped for cash at every turn. The public must find the extra resources because the government is a mere agent who disguises itself as a principal. If the public stops paying taxes government must cease functioning. By the same token a public that keeps government on a short leash must have it run as the public wants. Do not let the dog put the leash on the public.

I am astonished how elegantly our female teachers dress to school and how decently male teachers do, on those measly wages. How well they feed their children and themselves, only the kitchen sink knows. (apa kana hati lipa dani.)

 

Usvatte-aratchi



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Opinion

Yohani – not our Manike?

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It is very heartening to hear that both the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader of India have expressed their appreciation of the song Manike mage hithe, sung by the local artiste Yohani de Silva, which had gone viral in this part of the world.

Sadly, neither the government nor the Opposition bigwigs of Sri Lanka have congratulated her in the media, taking into consideration the vast amount of foreign exchange she is bringing into this country.

Indrasena Samaratunga

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Must give way to ambulances

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The introduction of the Suwa Seriya free ambulance service has helped many patients, afflicted with serious illnesses, to get to the hospital in double quick time, saving the lives of many people who would otherwise have succumbed to serious ailments such as heart attack, or grave injury resulting from serious accidents. We have to thank Dr. Harsha De Silva for all he has done to see this very important service established with the help of the Indian Government.

There have been a few people trying to take credit for getting this ambulance service from the Indian government, but it was the sole effort of Dr. De Silva that saw this through. The Suwa Seriya ambulance comes to the location where the patient is, very quickly. Now the Suwa Seriya ambulance service is available throughout the island, a boon to people who cannot afford to pay for an ambulance to get to a hospital.

Along with the Suwa Seriya, there are a large number of ambulances attached to government and private hospitals. We hear the sirens of ambulances throughout the day. When an ambulance is rushing to a hospital, it is absolutely necessary that motorists give way. It is noticed that most older motorists try to move their vehicles to make way for the oncoming ambulance to proceed without a hassle. But some younger motorists, driving expensive SUVs, and some private bus drivers, who think they own the road, do not give way for the ambulance to proceed.

It is imperative that all motorists abide by the rule to give way to an ambulance as soon as the siren is heard. It is the duty of all motorists to enable an ambulance to reach the hospital soonest.

H.M. Nissanka Warakaulle

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Opinion

Mr. President, please let this be a turning point!

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By Rohana R. Wasala

When I pen these words, most Sri Lankans are still sleeping. I am ahead of them and awake. That is because of the time zone difference between where I live and Sri Lanka, my country of birth. As usual, as the first thing I do in the morning, particularly these days, I glanced at the headlines in The Island epaper, and was depressed to read the banner headline “Ratwatte remains a state minister despite resignation over running amok in prisons”, with the following underneath it:

“State Minister of Prison Reform and Rehabilitation Lohan Ratwatte yesterday told The Island that he had informed President Gotabaya Rajapaksa that he would step down immediately from his post as the State Minister of Prisons. However, he will continue to be the State Minister of Gem and Jewellery Industries”.

Having earlier read and heard over the media about Lohan Ratwatte’s alleged escapades in prisons on Sunday (12) night, I have been eagerly waiting to read a newspaper headline like “Deputy Minister remanded; a good start to meeting challenge to rule of law”, for I expect nothing less from President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. As a disciplined and determined executive, with a military background, he, I assume, tries to handle the toughest cases with the strictest adherence to the law. He appears to rely on the ministers and the government servants, serving under him, to follow his perfectly lawful commands in a spirit of military discipline, mutatis mutandis, in the context of civil government. Whatever the likely or actual response to the extremely embarrassing deputy-ministerial episode (not the first involving LR), it should be of a kind that contributes to a restoration of the fast eroding public faith in the hoped-for Gotabaya rule. The Island editorial of Thursday (16) under the arresting heading “Arrest them” offers sound advice. I drew some solace from that. For I realised that there is at least another person of a like mind.

I was even more shocked and disappointed by the Commissioner General of Prisons Thushara Upuldeniya’s attempted absolution of the Deputy Minister. According to the online Lanka C News (September 16), the Commissioner has said that the Minister visited the prison to discuss pardoning some prisoners and that the he has the right to visit the prison to discuss with the inmates at any time of the day. The Commissioner might be technically right, but I am doubtful about the lawfulness of what the Minister has done, especially in his alleged inebriated state. Upuldeniya was handpicked by the President for the extremely demanding job. His coming to the defence of LR was a bolt from the blue to the innocent peace-loving law abiding citizens of the country who have been for decades persecuted by the persistent menace posed by the unholy alliance between criminals and some jailors and a handful of politicos providing together an impregnable bulwark for the first.

However, since the case hasn’t yet been verified or investigated, we don’t know for sure whether the Deputy Minister is guilty of going berserk under the influence of liquor as alleged. As a person embroiled in politics, he could be a victim of some calumnious effort of his detractors, and we must be cautious in passing judgement on him. But again, as he, who has a previous thuggish reputation, has virtually accepted guilt in this case by tendering his resignation, citizens are justified if they expect, as I do, a tougher reaction from the President.

At this moment we should anticipate a presidential response different from the mild rebuke “Anthimai!” (equivalent of a sarcastic “Great!”) that the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa greeted the hospitalised Labour Minister Mervyn Silva with, on December 27, 2007. (I eagerly hope that the President’s deterrent reaction would be known before this reaches The Island readers.) The latter was admitted to hospital after being given a taste of his own medicine following a rowdy interference he committed with the work of a news editor by the name of T.M.G. Chandrasekera at the state-owned Rupavahini TV station over not giving enough coverage as he alleged to a public event that he had organised in Matara the day before. Though very close to MR, he was not an elected MP; he was only a national list MP from the SLFP that MR led. In any case, it was inexcusable that he conducted himself the way he did, for what he did was bound to reflect badly on the President himself. The other employees of the TV station, angered by the uncouth highhanded behaviour of Mervyn Silva, forced him and his notorious sidekick, suspected drug trafficker Kudu Nuwan or Lal or someone (I am not too sure about these trivial details now) to a room and held them there, handling them roughly. Mervyn Silva was heard pleading : “I will tender an apology if you say I have done wrong”. He had. The workers were providing manual proof as best they could.

Mervyn Silva was beaten up right royally, and bundled into his prestigious ministerial Pajero and was briskly driven away to hospital safety. The state Rupavahini telecast the proceedings live for the whole world to see in repeated ‘news flashes’ most of the day that day, as my older readers might clearly remember. It was a sort of news carnival for the wrathful Rupavahini broadcasters and for the scandalised viewers. While watching the scenario live, I convinced myself that President Mahinda Rajapaksa would kick his you-know-what-I-mean within the hour, or at least after his discharge from hospital. To my utter disgust and disappointment, nothing like that happened. The fellow flourished for another eight years under MR’s wing until he betrayed him utterly in 2015, after having abused his well-known humaneness and his reluctance to abandon people who have helped him in the past. Lately, Mervin seemed to try to cozy up to the boss he so treacherously let down; but MR’s brothers have saved him from his erstwhile unequal friend.

I personally believe that we are not going to see such wretched characters protected under President Gotabaya Rajapaksa during the remainder of his term.

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