All over the world and after long months of closure due to the pandemic, schools are reopening. But in Sri Lanka, victim of the spread of the Delta variant causing the upsurge in the number of Covid cases since the end of April, schools and universities remain closed. The courses are done online.
Since July 12, the country has been the scene of a massive mobilization of teachers who, tired of teaching at a distance and opposed to a government reform project for universities, have decided to go on strike. Teachers are also asking for better salaries.
In this context of tug-of-war between the teachers’ unions and the government, the Church has taken a stand, urging the reopening of schools, through the voice of the president of the Episcopal Conference of Sri Lanka, Mgr Winston S. Fernando, bishop of Badulla. He is worried about the economic and social consequences of the closure of schools for children from the poorest populations who do not have a computer or Internet access to study. Tens of thousands of students would be affected.
Train future citizens
In a statement released on July 29, the bishop insisted that “children need not only to learn, but also to achieve good emotional, psychological and spiritual health, to interact with their teachers, classmates and friends, and to engage in extracurricular activities and sports with their peers to achieve emotional balance ”.
In the interests of children and in a context of economic and social crisis in the country, the prelate called on the government to showflexibility and rebalance teacher salaries. “We call on the government to agree to rectify the problems of salary payments concerning teachers, because the latter are essential to train our future citizens and our future leaders”, he added. “We also call on teachers to consider the sacredness of their vocation to train and mold future citizens, and to give up their strike movements to return to school, for the sake of the children in their charge. “
If in his press release, Bishop Winston S. Fernando congratulates the government on its vaccination campaign against Covid-19, he also insists that measures be taken to “mitigate the adverse effects of the pandemic on the poorest sectors of society“. The president of the Episcopal Conference also discusses the potential future consequences of lack of education. “High unemployment rates will inevitably lead to poverty, malnutrition and hunger. It is therefore necessary to establish priorities and allocate funds to the most important things, and not to ambitious projects ”, underlines the note.
Bishop Fernando ends the statement by urging the government to learn from what has worked elsewhere. “We need to adopt best practices from other countries; leaders must follow the advice of experts and not just their political opinions and personal interests. “
Faced with this statement by the bishops, the Asian Catholic news agency UCA News reported the reaction of Mahesh Nayanajith, a teacher supporting the strike movement. The latter welcomes the stand taken by the Sri Lankan prelates in favor of the education of children. “The leaders always try to use these questions to stay in power. If religious leaders raise their voices for justice and truth, it gives strength to ordinary people, who are speechless ”, Mahesh says.