10/25/2021, 16.19
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Elementary school reopens, but teachers' protest continues

by Melanie Manel Perera

Children returned to school today, but the teachers plan to continue protesting against the government, which does not want to grant them higher wages. Many parents are critical of the government’s decision; for them, priority should be given to pupils with exams to take and high school children who have been vaccinated.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – Starting today, Sri Lankan elementary school children returned to school, but not everyone is happy about it.

“High school children who have been vaccinated are at home while the little ones are going to school without having received the vaccine," some residents in Colombo told AsiaNews.

For more than a hundred days, the Teachers' and Principals' Trade Union Alliance (TPTUA) has been protesting against the government, demanding a rise in wages.

To stop the protests, the government introduced a bill (later withdrawn) at the start of the strike to grant a special status to the Defence University, which is run by the Ministry of Defense.

Unions’ unity and resolve have been reinforced by government action. While the unions agreed to go back to work, they pledged to continue their fight against the government by other means.

“This afternoon there will be a protest at Fort, in Colombo, and teachers from Jayawardhanapura and Piliyandala will also participate,” said Mahinda Jayasinghe, general secretary of the Ceylon Teachers’ Service Union (CTSU).

Initially, schools were set to reopen last Thursday, but teachers decided to go back to work only today because the government did not meet any of their demands, in particular their demand for a wage increase.

“The government has decided to reopen schools suddenly to try to defeat us,” said Pradeepa Augusta, speaking to AsiaNews.

For the Catholic teacher originally from the province of Uva, “The government thought that teachers would not show up, so it could say to the parents: 'You see, teachers don't care about your children's education, they just ask for a salary'.”

In reality, “teachers know the value of education and this struggle is nothing more than a trade union struggle against the government’s arrogant decisions.”

Some parents also wonder “What is the hurry to get young children back to school.” The “Priority should be given to those who have exams to take at the end of the year. In other countries, very specific plans have been established, but nothing in Sri Lanka.”

“Being in class wearing a mask all the time is stressful for both children and teachers who have to supervise,” some people told AsiaNews.

“The classrooms will be 50 per cent full and the students will take turns going to class. Distancing should be maintained, but due to the way things have been organised, we cannot be sure that there will be no infections.”

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