Don’t hold students to ransom

Saturday, 22 April 2023 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

The marking of the 2022 GCE Advanced Level (A/L) examination papers has been delayed for nearly two months by now and there seems to be no resolution to the problem with the government and the teacher unions pulling in different directions without reaching a compromise to settle this urgent problem.

The delay in the A/L paper marking process has delayed the holding of the GCE Ordinary Level (O/L) examination too by two weeks thus pushing more students into disarray as parents and children affected by the ongoing trade union action are left frustrated and angry. 

The demand of teachers is justified to some extent with the main problems being low pay, inadequate allowances for paper marking as well as a shortage in the number of teachers who have applied to be part of the process. Only 12,000 teachers had signed up this year to be paper makers which is a shortfall of around 7,000 required for the process. Teacher trade unions blame inadequate payments, delays in paying allowances as the main reason that teachers have opted out of the process.

Members of the Federation of University Teachers’ Associations (FUTA) who are part of the A/L paper marking process too have been engaged in trade union action over the income tax hike further impeding the marking of exam papers. 

The Education Ministry says it’s done what is within its purview to address the issues raised by the teachers by increasing attendance and paper-marking allowances but says it cannot address problems such as tax issues which are based on policy decisions of the Government. President Ranil Wickremesinghe stepped in this week to address the issue and warned he would make teaching an essential service which would compel them to return to their duties while parents of affected students too are threatening to take to the street if the problem is not resolved within the coming week. Some parents have already gone before the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) seeking redress on behalf of their children.

The failure to complete the marking of A/L examination papers will lead to a ripple effect thus delaying the entrance of students to universities while O/L students too would be affected by a delay in the holding of their exams as well as getting their results in time. Examination Department officials say delay is impacting the annual examination cycle and could lead to delays in holding exams, releasing results next year as well.

It’s no secret that the sectors worst hit by the ongoing economic crisis are health and education, two of the most vital areas for the public. As the Government struggles to overcome many economic challenges, these are two sectors that often get neglected with inadequate allocation of funds.

While the frustrations of those engaged in the teaching profession are justified, here is no justification for putting the future of thousands of students in jeopardy.

Sri Lanka’s education system is plagued with many serious problems and the ongoing impasse over paper marking is a tiny symptom for that. It would do well if both teachers and the Government work out a compromise as soon as possible without holding students to ransom and causing a bigger exodus of young talent from this country than already taking place.