Student and teacher attendance in Jaffna and the Northern Province was significantly higher last week when schooling resumed after Covid closures. The returning student numbers in the North were comparatively greater than Colombo’s by 14 percent, according to education department statistics.
The number of teachers returning to schools in the Eastern province was also significantly higher. Teacher attendance in the Colombo district was 17 percent, but in the Northern province, a relatively whopping 48-52 percent got back to their teaching jobs.
The number of returnees – teachers and students – in the Eastern Province was remarkably high, although there was no breakdown of the school types i.e. whether the returnees were mostly from Tamil language schools or otherwise. Anyhow, the Eastern Province is predominantly Tamil speaking.
These statistics reinforce a pattern. The Tamil minority lays a premium on education, and it’s incontrovertible. There has been no poll to determine why school attendance in Colombo was as low as seven percent. Of course if parents were asked in any kind of public opinion poll, there is no doubt they would say it’s because of the fear of Covid.
Don’t the parents in Jaffna and the North have similar fears about the virus? They probably do, but they are able to take that rational decision that schooling is not a significant risk because the youth and child demographic is not Covid prone anyway.
The folk in the North would not easily forego an education. For as long as can be recalled, the Northern Tamil has considered education as transformative while in the rest of the country education though sought after has been seen as less transformative, and less future-determinant. The post Covid school returnee numbers are a continuation of this trend.
For Northern Tamils education has been an emotive issue, and standardisation introduced by the Sirimavo Bandaranaike Government was seen as devastating – leading to youth disenchantment. The dynamics with regard to how book learning and schooling is viewed somewhat differently by the Sinhala majority and the Tamil minority, it seems, have not changed.
Not that there was greater connectivity and runaway success in online education in Colombo contrasted to the Northern Province during the Covid outbreak either. Teachers – when they were teaching and not striking that is – complained in a survey, that roughly 60 percent of students participated in online learning programs, which forced them to look towards alternatives such as ‘workbooks’.
Of course lack of equipment and connectivity issues and so on were problems but non-participation was mostly due to students being distracted or being outright uninterested in online classes. This was a problem for most parents as has been widely reported, but then, when the schools reopened, none of that was a reason for Colombo mums and dads to send their children to school with quick dispatch, as it happened in the Northern Province.
This is the reality and the only inescapable conclusion is that the lotus-eating mentality is greater among the majority Sinhala demographic. This is not a racial slur – it’s a reality that ought to be researched, because it’s the majority Sinhala demographic that also complains more about the utter inadequacy of competencies among our current and past crop of politicians. Not that there are any statistics on that, but it’s known that the Sinhalese are quick to condemn all political office holders, especially in social media.
But the Sinhalese are more willing than the Tamils to take things for granted, and the fact that the children in minority groupings are returning in greater numbers to school after Covid is not accidental. The Sinhalese are not maverick – but there is so much and no further they would go the distance for education, whereas the Jaffna man would break an arm and a leg to get schooled.
Is seven percent a satisfactory school returnee rate in Colombo District? It’s strictly the personal opinion of the writer, but seven percent (at the time of writing) is grossly inadequate compared to the 21 percent in the Northern Province.
The same trend is seen in the returning numbers of teachers. A full 50 percent of teachers approximately came back to work soon after the schools reopened in the North compared to 17 percent in Colombo, and this was in the midst of strike action by teacher unions demanding substantial salary increases.
This means there is significant adult commitment to education in the Northern Province making it all the more clear that the Tamil minority attitude towards learning and didacticism is significantly different from that of the comparable Sinhala cohort. The Jaffna teachers are more willing to take the risk of being called black-legs going against the powerful teacher trade unions, and the guess is that the culture in the North is such that they would be shamed if they don’t turn up for work to teach the returning youngsters.
The Sinhala dissident leadership which is perennially blaming politicians should take another look at these post-Covid school returnee statistics, and decide what kind of leadership they should provide for a somewhat lotus-eating set of whiners who lose no opportunity to inveigh against the political class.
But from among the citizenry, there is relatively little motivation to better themselves. It’s another matter that education as we know it is probably not all that life-enriching these days. Children are being regimented in schools, and are immersed in rote learning and do not have access to many survival or life skills, due to an unimaginative education model that doesn’t challenge young minds to be creative. That’s the case in most countries, not just ours.
But that’s another matter – particularly when it’s known that education is the passport to a better life, and that’s the way the system is ‘ordered’. The Northerner knows that. The rest of the country knows it too, but probably couldn’t care less.
Rohan Fernando Director/Chairman of SLT it was, if the writer remembers right (subject to correction) who made some pertinent observations at a recent TV discussion. He said the Sri Lankan citizen is used to free care from the beginning – free hospital care at childbirth, free vaccinations, free schooling, free uniforms, free education, and then he or she expects a free job too at the end of all this. If Rohan Fernando or any other person said this, the observation was spot on.
Of course it’s known that the welfare state has made folk over-dependent and irresponsible, but it’s good that it was articulated in this fashion by Fernando, lest people forget. It’s pointless blaming politicians – of any stripe – in a broad sweep, if the citizenry is used to lotus eating welfarism and are too laid back to get out of that stupor.
Someone can argue that if only seven percent of Colombo based parents sent their children to school after Covid closures, it was as a result of due diligence and the fear of contagion, but that seems a bit stretched when considering that a far greater percentage in Jaffna and the North thought it fit to send their children to school despite there being no significant difference in Covid numbers among children in the different Provinces.
It’s not as if parents are unconcerned – yes they do worry about Covid – but when things are viewed on the balance, the parents in the North are obviously taking a more rational decision considering their children’s future prospects.
This writer is not saying ‘shame on the parents of the rest of the provinces.’ Each to his own, but if the attitude is relaxed and prone towards lotus-eating, don’t blame politicians alone for everything when the big picture is being assessed. Yes, politicians over time, not just one dispensation, are responsible for many missteps, and grievous mismanagement over the years.
But a lotus eating welfare-pampered class of citizens, particularly those of every Province leaving the Northern and Eastern Provinces aside, cannot expect the politicians to deliver utopia when the dystopia is often of their own making. Citizens can step up to the plate, or expect more reasons to complain, except that they would be advised to be more self-effacing and self-critical before they blame all and sundry about their general lot in life.