HEALTH, EDUCATION AND YAHAPALANA Part 4
Posted on April 18th, 2019

KAMALIKA  PIERIS

This essay looks at appointment, promotion, transfers and salaries of teachers and principals during Yahapalana rule.

APPOINTMENTS

In 2017 Education Minister gave 2,000 non-academic appointments at national schools across the country based on political influence without following a proper and transparent recruitment process, said critics. Most of these recruitments are from the Kurunegala district, especially from Kuliyapitiya. These employees do not even obey the Principals and work on their own agendas in schools. This has created a lot of administrative problems at schools. (Daily News 28.9.17 p 9)

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The Ceylon Teachers’ Union (CTU) was threatening to go on strike in June 2018 in  protest of the Government’s move to absorb unqualified persons into the education sector. CTU said they were against the government’s plan to give appointments and promotions to 1,200 persons without following  the procedures  given by the Public Service Commission . Officers of the Education Ministry ,Examinations Department, Provincial Education Departments and Zonal Education Departments would participate in the strike.

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Attempts were made in 2017  to recruit individuals who have not even passed G.C.E.O/L as Sports Instructors. 15,000 prospective candidates were interviewed for 3,000 vacancies for minor staff posts, titled Sports Advisers” for National Schools  by staff who did not  know anything  about the respective sports.Instead of filtering and reducing the numbers for interviews to economize on time, all applicants had been called for interviews. That involved nearly a month’s work for Ministry staff.

PROMOTIONS

In March 2019,  Public Service Commission (PSC) had turned down the list of names submitted by the Ministry of Education to fill the vacancies of Principals in the 302 National schools in the country. They rejected  the selection criteria  used by the Ministry, the irregular marking scheme and the non categorization of schools. In 64 schools only Class I SLEAS officers can be posted, and in 84 schools, Class II SLEAS officers are posted. The PSC wanted the vacancies  re-advertised and filled within three months. The Ministry  however, said on its website  that it had adopted proper procedure.

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In  May 2018, Ministry of Education decided to grant relief to 1,018 teachers, principals and education administrators  reportedly affected by ‘political victimization’   by promoting them to higher grades.

These   1,018 personnel had been chosen from 14,000 applicants who had experienced political victimization  and placed in a special category  ‘politically victimized persons’. A special Cabinet paper was presented on the matter. ‘They are victims and they have a right to get their grade increase along with salaries,’ said Minister for Education.  ‘We are not actively appointing them, we are only giving them a symbolic grade elevation and granting a salary increase to compensate them’.

A Committee comprising senior officials of the SLEAS and the Government Administrative Service had been appointed to examine the list of names.  Accordingly, 250 Sri Lanka Education Administrative Service (SLEAS ) officers and 800 candidates from the Sri Lanka Principal Service, Sri Lanka Education Administrative Service    and Sri Lanka Teacher Service were recommended for promotions.  The Public Services Commission (PSC), which had approved the decision to promote them,  stated that it had not looked at the personal files of those recommended for promotions. The PSC had only looked at the appeals.

Ceylon Teachers’ Union said it  had no objection to financial compensation, but strongly opposed promotions.  To get promotions or to enter the Education Administrative Service one had to pass examinations. Those selected have not passed the competitive examinations  needed to qualify for the posts. The list contained 27 persons   who have not passed mathematics at the GCE Ordinary Level Examination, which is mandatory and around 115 individuals have disciplinary inquiries pending.  Some of the ‘victims’ lack even the basic qualifications  needed for these posts.

The PSC Act requires that to qualify for promotions, candidates have to sit for examinations held by the PSC. Just because a teacher was transferred due to political reasons, the government could not promote him or her as a Principal, said the unions. It was unfair by the  teachers who went through the rigorous process of selection to see others gain promotion without facing assessment.  An injustice  was caused to those genuinely qualified for the posts.

 The unions  also charged that this was a ruse to promote over 1,000 UNP supporters  using the excuse of  political victimization. The appointments were being granted as political favours rather than as justice for teachers who had genuinely faced victimization.  The Education Minister was providing favours to UNP-affiliated teachers and officials, charged the unions. Several names in the list are there  on the recommendations of politicians. A number of secretaries and other minor officials of the Prime Minister’s Office have also been categorized as political victims. Most of them have not been victimized at all.  Some have  given  flimsy reasons such as their roofs being damaged by Opposition politicians. Past governments tried the same tactics and failed, with cases pending in the courts, said the unions.

The unions asked the Ministry of Education to immediately withdraw the list  of those to be promoted. Minister Kariyawasam said he would not be intimidated by unions and would proceed with the promotions.

The   education unions thereafter engaged in three vigorous protests. They first  had a sick note campaign, with the participation of Educational Administrative Service Trade Union, Teachers Education Association and the Trade Union Alliance of Teachers and Principals. 95% of the Teachers and Principals    went on ‘Sick Leave’. If the Government continues to ignore the demand, the Unions will join for a major strike, which will affect the education programme in schools, they said.

 Nothing happened, so a faction  from the Ceylon Teachers Union, Teachers’ Services Union, Lanka Teacher Services’ Association and Sri Lanka National Principals’ Union went ahead with a  one day token strike on  July 4. 2018    Around 15,000 Principals and 240,000 Teachers participated in the  protest. Schools were partially affected with reduced attendance of teachers and students.   Classes were  deserted and parents came to take the children  home.

Unionists representing the two sides clashed in front of the Education Ministry, engaging in heated arguments and hurling stones and rotten eggs at each other. Principals, education directors and administrative officials were involved in the melee. TV news showed theteachers being shoved about by the police as well. At least one person was injured in the clash. Most of those who opposed unionists protesting against the promotions were assistant secretaries and directors of the Ministry, said  the unions.

“On July 04,2018  we conducted a one-day strike and we gave the government two weeks to reverse its decision, it is a decision  that will destroy the education system. However, almost three weeks have passed and they have done nothing, said the unions. As a result, 300,000 teachers and principals planned to strike on July 26.  Thousands of teachers would gather opposite the Fort railway Station and march to the Presidential Secretariat on July 26 if the government remained intransigent.  They would  hold a mass demonstration along with the strike.

We will be following this up with a boycott of all national examinations, including the upcoming scholarship examinations in August, and the GCE Advanced Level exam. They would not carry out their duties at school examinations either. The unions wrote to zonal and regional education directors, asking them to postpone term tests.  We know that this will inconvenience students but we are doing this to ensure that the education sector is not politicized. We can’t allow people who are not  qualified to hold positions in the education administrative service.

TRANSFERS

Minister of Education  said  that the  teacher transfer policy of the Ministry stipulated that no teacher should be allowed to serve in a school for more than five years. This had not  been implemented for years. ‘I  have decided to implement it ‘, he said. The teachers transfer scheme would be implemented, he   repeated.    

There were mass transfers in January  2016  and teacher transfers continued  in 2017.Teachers were transferred within the Provincial schools system and also from Provincial schools to National schools. There were about 12,000 teachers who had served more than ten years without being transferred, said the Ministry. Some   have  been  in the same school for 17-25 years, and have got awards for their performances, Several of these teachers remain in the same school through political influences, and ‘tend to become corrupt in their comfort zone’. Of these 12,000 teachers,  8,000 were transferred in 2017, while around 2,050 remained, as they have no schools in close proximity to be transferred to..

there was strong opposition to teacher transfers at Ananda College Colombo. students of senior classes staged a protest within the school premises, against the Education Ministry’s move to transfer 40 teachers. Police were  rushed to Ananda. Police stood outside the school premises to face any emergency as students demonstrated, demanding the immediate cancellation of the transfers.

Ceylon Teachers Union  lodged a complaint with Western Province Governor, in September 2017  against discrepancies in the posting of 453 newly appointed teachers to schools in the WP. WP has once again failed to post new recruits to schools with a shortage of teachers,  the union said. Despite the shortage of teachers in the difficult zones, the new teachers are being sent to schools that already have sufficient teachers.

 There are some schools that have a teacher for every 18 students,” the union said. Schools in Colombo North, Kolonnawa and Moratuwa areas are badly in need of teachers. in 2016 too,  they recalled, around 300 teachers were recruited and posted to schools which had an excess of teachers. The transfers are made  according to recommendations by politicians.

 Ceylon Teachers Union  also said that the transfers were not done correctly. Teacher transfers should be conducted according to the 2007/20 teacher transfer policy. This clearly states that such transfers should be handled by duly appointed Transfer Boards, along with representatives of Trade Unions. Yahapalana  had instead given the task to SLEAS officers. 

In 2018, Ministry of Education   decided on a new transfer scheme for Principals of National Schools . Under this scheme, Grades I and II Principals will be transferred every 8 years instead of 10 years, and will affect some 200 Principals of 352 NSs. Teachers in Advanced Level and Ordinary level classes were transferred  under the new program, while those teaching in Grades 6-11, numbering around 3,000  were to follow. In instances where teachers have served for 10 years, but are a year or so away from retirement, they would be allowed to stay on till retirement. Four Education Directors have been appointed to evaluate appeals from teachers with grievances about their transfers. 

Principals of some National Schools  launched a campaign against the scheme, claiming they were being sent to smaller schools. the Ministry said it  was not a demotion for the Principals in larger NSs, it was a method to utilize their services to improve other schools as well. there may be Principals from smaller NSs who could be effective in a large NS, and needs to gain relevant experience. If the scheme is not effected, they will miss out on an opportunity. Some Principals have been serving in NSs for long periods, using political influence and therefore, are reluctant to move away from where they are, said the Ministry. 

All Ceylon Teachers Services Union  said the new programme is not being done in a proper manner. National and Provincial school teachers are being transferred haphazardly, bypassing protocol set out in the National Transfer Policy (NTP), causing much discontentment among those transferred. Some of the transfers have been done in violation of the Service Minute, with no room for appeal.

According to Ministry of Education Circular No. 2007/20, there is a Transfer Board (TB)  to carry out transfers of teachers according to the National Transfer Policy. Teacher transfer process should commence on May 31 of each year and end by November 01.  the TB meets in May and collects details of all teachers serving more than 5 years in National and Provincial schools, applications are called from teachers for transfers in  June and July. Thereafter, the TB meets and decides on those eligible for transfers. Then,  in September  Letters of Transfer are posted. Appeals are entertained in October  and by November 1, Appeal Board decisions are posted.

“However, neither the Ministry of Education and nor the Provincial ministries of education have carried out this process. Instead, they are transferring teachers according to the whims and fancies of officials. This is an injustice to teachers who are awaiting transfers.”  said Ceylon Teachers Union”

 The unions added, there are 97 TBs in the 9 Provinces, whose members are renewed each year. But unfortunately, he said the TB has not been formed for the last 8 years. The TB was abandoned in 2012 and since then, transfers are effected according to the whims and fancies of officials at the top . All transfers are now being done by officials at the Zonal and Inter-Zonal levels without consideration to the NTP.

Teachers claimed that the unlawful transfers by officials victimizes them, causing much hardship and inconvenience in their work life. Some teachers have been transferred to schools 50 km to 60 km away, and into areas without residential facilities. One example is in the Ampara District, where the distance between 2 schools is around 90 km. These transfers create difficulties, due to the long distance they have to travel on a daily basis.

We are not against the transfer of teachers, but we want it done methodically and in a manner they will not be traumatized.”  On some interview Boards, there are candidates contesting the forthcoming elections. Over 170 teachers with political connections had ignored an Education Ministry order  We have written to the Elections Commission of these issues, and will take legal action in this regard,”  said the union

A Committee comprising the Provincial Education Secretary and the Provincial Education Directors was appointed to set up an exchange system enabling teachers to exchange their appointment, to a school located at a convenient distance from their homes. This is the first time an exchange programme among teachers has been put in place, said the Ministry.

SALARIES.

The Ceylon Teachers Union  charged in 2017 that the Western Province  Education Ministry has failed to use up Rs 2,000 million allocated by the line ministry, to pay arrears to teachers and principals in the 11 zones in the province. the new Service Minute of Oct. 23, 2014, recommended that all teachers and principals get their due promotions in retrospectively from 2008, and the salary increments arising from the promotions paid from 2011.Accordingly, the Ministry of Education  sent a sum of Rs 2,000 million in 2015, to the WP Council to effect payment.

The Western Province Education Ministry said his office received the money too early, even before the calculations were made on 37,000 teachers’ and 15,000 principals’ files in the Provincial and National schools in the WP. As they were not ready with the figures, they had to return the money sent to them. now that the calculations have been done, they are now paying the promoted candidates. We are in the process of paying them and will soon pay all of them,” he said. 

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The Ceylon Teachers Union said the 2018 Budget has been a disappointment, with no solutions for the problems faced by Teachers and Principals in schools. He said there has not been any mention of allocations to pay salary arrears of Teachers and Principals, in keeping with the new Sri Lanka Education Administrative Service Minute.

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The 2019 budget also makes no mention of salary increments. Over 240,000 teachers from 6,000 schools were planning to go on a sick leave campaign starting 13.3.2019  over the government’s failure to address their salary anomalies which has been unchanged since 1997, unionists said.  They staged a demonstration at Isurupaya demanding that their longstanding salary anomalies be rectified. This was dispersed by the police, using tear gas and water cannon.

The government should be ashamed of itself for creating conditions for  this incident, said the media. There has been a serious lapse on the part of Education Minister and the top bureaucrats of his ministry. They waited till the teachers’ anger spilt over on to the streets, without addressing the issues that made them see red. The irate teachers were left with no alternative but to launch a protest to have their voice heard. the Ministry had, in reply  informed the Teacher Unions that it could not resolve the Teachers’ and Principals’ demands, and the matter would have to be resolved by the Treasury. ( continued)

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