HEALTH, EDUCATION AND YAHAPALANA Part 3
Posted on April 18th, 2019

KAMALIKA  PIERIS

The Ministry of education, under Yahapalana has come in for much criticism. Much time is spent on issues concerning school admissions and administration of national schools, with very little time being available for issues of policy and monitoring of delivery mechanisms and innovations in education and teaching, improving curriculum and examinations, research and development, said critics in 2017.

The  Ministry  of Education is in a state of chaos, said the media in 2017. Important decisions and signing off on urgent programmes and activities are   left dangling  and delayed. There is no delegation of authority.Nominations and approvals for Tender Evaluation Committees are  not done in a time.  Letters and responses to urgent needs take weeks to get signatures and approval. There have been instances where the letters put up for signatures have been lost or misplaced. Sometimes, files get returned without even a comment or signature. Nominations to attend training programmes, workshops and meetings, get approval only at the very last moment. The Ministry of Education   has one of the lowest rates of utilization of funds.  

Athletes of Ratnayake Central College, Walala made a clean sweep when they won the first, second, third and fourth places at the Asian Schools Cross Country Championships in Hong Kong in 2017. This team was refused funds by the Ministry of Education for their trip to Hong Kong. The Sports Ministry provided tickets, but they had to bear other costs.

 The Minister of Education has  insisted on his face appearing on the vouchers given to students to obtain material for school uniforms. And he delayed the printing of textbooks for next year because he wanted a different photograph of himself in the books   said  Rajiva Wijesinha.

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Teachers’ unions took exception to a letter, issued by the Colombo Zonal Education office, in March 2018 instructing Principals of Colombo schools, under the Western Provincial Council, to invite MPs and Provincial Councilors to important school functions and to treat them with ‘due respect.’ Zonal Education Director has sent a letter telling principals that it is the duty of a government official to respect politicians. He has also attached a list of Provincial Councilors who represented Colombo Zonal Education Development Structural Committee.

The Structural Committees, consisting of provincial councillors, had been established in the Western Province, during the tenure of Prasanna Ranatunga as the Chief Minister of the Western Province, 2009-2015.  The Structural Committees that existed in the 11 educational zones in Colombo had significant powers. “They can also influence the appointment of a Principal. We have continuously asked the current administration to disband the Structural Committees. This government came into power, promising to depoliticize the system. But now they are instructing principals to invite politicians to attend school functions and treat them respectfully said the teachers.

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Yahapalana was planning in 2018, to do away with 315 Divisional Educational offices countrywide, replacing them with 200 Zonal Education (ZE) offices. This  came under heavy criticism from the Ceylon Teachers Union  which maintained that, adding more ZE offices to the Education system will not improve it. The 97 ZE offices in service at present, are under performing. Increasing their numbers is not going to improve  efficiency.

 ZE offices are responsible for Principals’ and Teachers’ appointments, transfers, pensions and maintenance of their personal files, but they have not being doing their job efficiently, Teachers and Principals who sought official assistance from the ZE offices, have made several complaints against the service provided. ZE offices need to be streamlined and made efficient, before more ZE offices are added.

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. The Ceylon Teachers Service Union  is opposing a move by the Ministry of Education to have retired officers serve in a committee to look into malpractices of procurements, during the tenure of the Education Minister Akila Viraj Kariyawasam. CTSU said the function belonged to the Auditors. It is not a function for former officers.  It was also questionable to call in former retired officers including retired audit officers to conduct investigations, and give them allowances and other payments. We believe it may be a move to cover up malpractices or to manipulate the system,” the Union said.

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The government had in December 2017, summoned around 2,000 school principals to Temple Trees to  give money to school libraries.  The government has promised to give a sum of Rs.100,000 to Rs.600,000 to selected schools to replenish their libraries. But they  had failed to hand over the funds. The principals who gathered from across the country went back empty handed and were told that the money would be credited to the School Development Society (SDS) account. Around 25 principals were selected and given token cheques.

The Ceylon Teachers Union  said the principals had travelled long distances to attend the function despite their busy year end schedule but were made to stand out without food or drinks for hours. They assembled early in the morning and were made to stand out for hours before they were taken in. They were also not given a monetary allowance for travelling long distances to attend the event. Eventually  they were handed some guidelines and told that that the money would be credited to the SDS account.This was highly unnecessary they could have done this by sending letters to the principals,”

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The Ministry of Education is responsible for the death of Ambalantota  National School Principal Rohini Kumari Atapattu, during a training programme  organized by the Education Ministry  for Principals,  at the Wayamba Teacher Training Centre, in Wariyapola, Kurunegala  said Ceylon Teachers Union .Rohini( 52), fell from a 40-foot rope ladder she was trying to climb down during the programme.

CTU has demanded to know why such a combat training should be given to school principals.  Also the Ministry has chosen a private company to conduct the training programme.  Who selected this company. Were tenders called and how much has been spent on the programme. The Ministry is trying to make private companies wealthy by putting the lives of principals at risk, The Ministry must immediately conduct an investigation into this death, said CTU. The government officials held responsible for the death had not been made to face any disciplinary inquiries by the Education Ministry the CTU) complained.

 CTU said that this was not an isolated incident; in 2013 Raddolugama Pagnananda Madya Maha Vidyalaya Principal W. A. S. Wickramasinghe died following a stroke while exercising in the morning at the Rantambe Cadet Camp. The Ministry of Education has halted the leadership training programme after the tragic incident.

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The Ceylon Teachers Service Union (CTSU) expressed concern over a Government  proposal to offer loans to A/L candidates to follow Degree courses and join as teachers, on completion of their Degrees. This seems a good proposal to me, but not, it appears, to the teaching profession. This move will lead to teachers with ‘substandard’ Degrees joining the teaching service. There is no guarantee the teacher has a recognized Degree, as Degrees from private institutions too, would be accepted under this scheme,” the union said.   This will also lead to a situation where the 19 National Colleges of Education (NCE) will face the threat of closure, as prospective teachers will look to complete their Degrees from private institutions. The NCEs need to be upgraded and offer Degrees instead of Diplomas.

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There are 10,162 schools in the country but there are not enough security officers. Thus most of them can’t obtain leave for months, said  the Educational Non-Academic Employees Union in 2018. Although there should be at least three security officers at 9809 schools, considering the size, most of these schools have one guard. National schools at least need four guards.

The government decided to reduce the service hours of security guards from 12 hours to nine hours in November 2017. This was a step taken to incentivize the guards by giving them access to overtime payments because most of them work 12 hour shifts. However around 10,000 school guards have not been paid their overtime payments.”They can’t even get overtime payments for working on government holidays.

The Union had sent a letter to the Minister of Education explaining the difficulties faced by security officers attached to schools and problems that had arisen after zonal education offices refused to pay overtime payments to them prescribed by the government. There were no security officers for 2000 schools that provincial councils ran. And after dark outsiders use the facilities in these schools for nefarious activities. This is a scary situation but the government doesn’t seem to care.”   ( continued)

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