Updated: July 30, 2021 08:50 AM GMT
A security guard checks the temperature of a student at a school in Colombo before Sri Lankan schools were closed. (Photo: AFP)
Catholic bishops have urged the Sri Lankan government to reopen schools and take drastic measures to stop the adverse effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on the poor.
"The children will be able to learn not only the sciences but also achieve emotional, psychological and spiritual health, interact with their teachers, their fellow students and friends, and engage in extracurricular and sports activities with their peers in order to achieve a sense of emotional balance," said Bishop Winston S. Fernando, head of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Sri Lanka, in a press statement on July 29.
"We appeal to the government in the interests of the children to be flexible and agree to rectifying the long-standing salary anomalies as the teachers matter the most in the moulding of our future citizens and leaders.
"We also call upon the teachers to consider it their sacred duty to form and mould the future citizens and call off their strike action to return to school for the love of the children they look after.”
Teachers and principals have stopped online teaching activities for 19 days over salary anomalies and the controversial National Defense University bill.
Teachers’ unions, university staff and civic rights groups have joined the strike and several demonstrations were organized in main cities. The strike continues as discussions between teachers and government concluded unsuccessfully.
If religious leaders raise their voice for justice and truth, it gives strength to ordinary people who are voiceless
The strike has affected the education of tens of thousands of students as most of them don't have access to computers and the internet.
Joseph Stalin, general secretary of the Ceylon Teachers' Union, said trade unions could not accept proposals made by the cabinet subcommittee.
Ramesh Pathirana, co-cabinet spokesman, said the government has identified the need to resolve the salary anomalies but added that the government is not in a position to make immediate changes due to financial issues.
The bishops also said the country is facing a serious crisis due to the Covid-19 pandemic affecting all aspects of life.
"While we commend the government for its vaccination program, we also wish to reiterate that it needs to ensure that even more vigorous steps are taken to cushion the ill effects of the pandemic on the poorer sectors of society," said Bishop Fernando.
Mahesh Nayanajith, a teacher who supports the strike, said it is very timely for the bishops to talk about children's education as well as the large number of lives lost to Covid-19.
"Politicians always try to use these issues to maintain their power. If religious leaders raise their voice for justice and truth, it gives strength to ordinary people who are voiceless," said Nayanajith.
Bishop Fernando said the entire country is helplessly aware of the severe economic constraints due to the pandemic.
"High rates of unemployment will create inevitable poverty, malnutrition and hunger. Therefore, priorities have to be drawn up and funds allocated to respond to what matters most and not for any ambitious projects," the prelate said.
"We need to adopt the best practices of other countries, the leadership needs to go by expert advice and not by political views, opinions and self-serving agendas.”