CTSU to protest SAITM ruling-on the streets

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By 2017-02-15

BY RATHINDRA KURUWITA AND CASSENDRA DOOLE

General Secretary of the Ceylon Teachers' Services Union Mahinda Jayasinghe during an interview with Ceylon Today said that although the Courts have passed judgment to accept SAITM, they will take the issue to the streets rallying all genuine supporters against it. He further added that the former President Mahinda Rajapaksa was merely an opportunist, and not a genuine supporter of SAITM.

Following are the excerpts from the interview.

?: In your opinion, what are the biggest issues at present that cannot be ignored in the Education Sector?

A: I think the biggest issue at the moment is the SAITM issue. When we say 'the SAITM issue' it isn't just an issue that concerns only SAITM. We see this issue as the turning point that will eventually decide the direction of education in this country, its stance, the plight of the underprivileged children and the future of education. Yes, there are plenty of issues, but at this very moment, we see the SAITM issue as the biggest problem. On the one hand, we're against SAITM policies. That is, we're against the creation of any private medical universities. Education should not be for sale. However, in both the present government and the previous government, it has become a policy to sell education. It is based on this that we're against SAITM. Thus, we think this should be defeated. All educators and those in the field should pay attention to this issue.

?: There has been a court judgement that SAITM should be accepted. Some question how you can challenge a court judgement. The government has said there is nothing they can do about it. Is this true?

A: What we have to look into is how this court judgement came about. You might have heard of the Sinhala saying naduth hamuduruwange baduth hamuduruwange. That saying is quite apt in this situation too. The complainants are those who claim that SAITM is necessary and needed. The witness was the Health Minister. This Health Minister is also of the notion that SAITM should be accepted. So the complainants and the witness are both on the same side. The current government should take responsibility for this. If they were on an unbiased stance, and gave the necessary points, this court judgement wouldn't be this. We do respect the Courts, but we are not able to respect this decision. We are of the notion that this court judgement should be changed, and while we respect the Courts immensely, we will take the judgement to the streets, and defeat SAITM. We're willing to take action and we know we have hordes of individuals behind us for support. There is a large crowd of individuals who were not against SAITM before 31 January but are against it now. They are willing to join us on the streets against this. We will rally all those against SAITM and work towards abolishing it.

?: When you say all those against SAITM will be rallied, would the former President Mahinda Rajapaksa join in this too?

A: I must clarify that point. We will rally all those who are genuinely opposed to SAITM. Not opportunists who are only looking for political gain. The genuine individuals who are against the privatization of education will be rallied. The former president is someone who has given loans to SAITM via government banks and given ten students from SAITM scholarships, his son Namal Rajapaksa was involved in several SAITM enrolments. He was responsible for the start of SAITM. Thus, it is clear that he's only against SAITM now for political gain. We will not allow anyone to make this an opportunity for opportunists.

?: When this government came into power, there have been certain wage increments and other facilities for government servants. Have you seen such a difference on the part of teachers? Or has there been no change during the past two years?

A: No. Teachers face several issues pertaining to wages. From 1997 to this year; nearly twenty years, there have been significant wage anomalies and there has not been any solutions as up to now. On the other hand, in 2014 a Teacher Services Constitution was created. There has been no change in teacher salaries even according to that Constitution. They don't receive salary increments on time. We recently made a complaint to the Human Rights Commission regarding the failure to deliver the relevant salary increments in the Maha-Oya area in the Ampara District. They haven't received their increments based on several underhand conditions. There are several issues, but the wage issue is also one of the main issues.

?: What is your opinion on what the Education Minister Akila Viraj Kariyawasam has done so far?

A: What he has done is a problem for us too. What he has done so far is use power in an unlawful manner and has given promotions in the education sector. These promotions were not given based on any foundation. The only qualification is the fact that they were of the same party. Using power in such an unlawful manner to achieve their own ends and to grant appointments in the education sector especially from the United National Party is very unfair and unjust. In addition, there is a certain protocol to be followed when selecting students for the grades in between one and six. There are two circulars in existence, known as 2007 (1) and 2007 (2). The students should be selected for enrolment according to those circulars. Putting this aside, Kariyawasam has merely enrolled the children of his supporters with no issues whatsoever, even if the said student was not qualified. When this happens, the opportunity for a truly gifted student is lost. Their own Finance Minister has said that the funds allocated for education have failed to be managed adequately. While the Finance Minister makes such accusations, we make the accusation that the education sector has not been improved at all. On the one hand, funds are collected from parents for the school maintenance purposes. On the other hand, the funds allocated from the budget have not been adequately managed.

Furthermore, the education minister during Bandula Gunawardena's time yelled on podiums that there has been corruption in the sector. We would like to ask him what the ministry has done in order to look into these allegations during the past two years. No investigations have been done into these corruptions. So we can come to the conclusion that nothing concrete has been done.

?: When the Finance Minister reduced the budget allocation for education, he justified it saying not even 20% of what was previously allocated had been used. What is the reason that not much was spent on education?

A: It is the lack of management in the Ministry of Education that led to this. They simply are not aware about which schools need more funds, where the funds should be allocated to etc. Such a question would not have cropped up if they managed it better. If the funds were distributed accordingly, and were given away to the schools that require funds, this would not have happened.

?: There have been several issues regarding the enrolment of Grade One students. There was a media circus over the Royal College students and a name list. Has anything beyond that taken place?

A: From what we know, several people were suspended over it. Other than that nothing has happened. From the information we received, the reason such an incident took place was for personal gain. It wasn't just Royal College that this happened. There are plenty of schools where this kind of thing took place, but no action was taken against those schools.

?: You have made several complaints regarding monetary fraud that took place in the Education Sector in the previous government. Has there been any headway into any of those?

A: Yes, we made a complaint about financial discrepancies when the Mahindodaya Laboratories were being built. From information that we received there had been an account with over Rs 65 million which was suspended. The other investigations have not made much headway.

?: After the RTI was passed, do you have any plans to make use of it?

A: Yes, we will make use of the RTI to obtain information.

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