Primary schools across Sri Lanka reopened on Thursday after a gap of over six months, even as the government was negotiating with protesting teachers over their demand for an increment in salary.
Schools reopened to dull scenes as the usual cacophony of school activity was amiss. Most faculty and school principals stayed from the classes as the teachers' unions have voiced dissatisfaction over the talks on wages.
Even most of the students were absent from classes on the first day of reopening. At least two schools in capital Colombo alone reported just one student attending classes. The teachers' bodies have vowed to continue their industrial action which was launched in July this year.
"We will return to work on October 25 and carry on our struggle to win our rights," said Mahinda Jayasinghe, a teaching federation representative.
Earlier in the month, the government promised to hike the wages in tranches.
The government had also announced that primary school education (classes I to V) would begin from October 21 with a maximum of 200 students. The schools for all grades are to be opened by November.
The teachers' unions decried the government offer, which according to their calculation would defer the increment disbursement till 2023. The protesting teachers were also critical of the reopening plan. "Only around 3,000 schools have fewer than 200 students. And for that they need around 10,000 teachers," a striking unionist said.
"We will go for our union action. We have planned a campaign, including strikes, protests and parent-meetings, while continuing the education of children,” he said.
On Thursday, teachers loyal to the ruling party returned to schools, though the overall attendance was poor, observers said. All in-class teaching was suspended in Sri Lanka this year in April, in view of the COVID-19 pandemic. Classes were shifted to the online mode.
The teachers' bodies started their protest citing lack of facilities to conduct virtual classes. They have also demanded an increase in wages which is in line with demands first expressed in 2018, they said.
As the government lifted most COVID-19 restrictions on October 1, it was decided that the schools too should be reopened. The coronavirus has claimed 13,543 lives in the island nation, along with 533,305 confirmed cases, according to Johns Hopkins University.
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