FUTA Will Courageously Defend The Rights Of The People
By Dr. Mahim Mendis
The members of the Federation of University Teachers’ Association (FUTA) appeal to the people to express solidarity with their national level trade union struggle demanding for 6% of the GDP on education since we need to protect state education and also collectively provide vital checks and balances to the process of governance in Sri Lanka. Academics need to ensure that public policy formulation in all sectors, not just education, will be influenced by them with their strong academic credentials. Also academics together with the clergy and other civil and political society leaders have a strong mandate to enlighten the people on all matters.
This we did convincingly through our historic public meeting at Hyde Park on 23rd August 2012, with eminent members of the trade union movement like Bala Tampoe and Most Venerable Madhuluwawe Sobhitha Thero addressing the people. FUTA watchers including those of the NIB know quite well about our capacity to mobilize people with short notice whether it be in Colombo, Rajarata, Jaffna or in Ruhuna. They also know that we cannot be silenced since top FUTA leaders are well known to millions of people here and abroad.
We of the FUTA believe that the onus is equally on the citizenry to hold their governments responsible for irresponsible utterances and actions of ministers and public officials. Ironically, it has now come to a stage where the people need to plead with those whom they elected that they be responsible as their humble servants. In Sri Lanka, the ‘Servants’ have become the ‘Masters’ and such a topsy-turvy situation needs to be reversed today and not tomorrow.
As stated by Bernard Shaw, “the people get the government they deserve”, and we know that the people do not deserve a political regime with a near total absence of democratic accountability whether it be on elections, rule of law and administration of justice, ethno-political crisis and the LLRC Recommendations, Human Rights, Petroleum, Power and Energy, Public Health or Education. On all these frontiers, international benchmarks have totally collapsed and you cannot be silent any more. No amount of Presidential Commissions will solve these problems either!!!
The academics of Sri Lanka have watched with extreme patience as to how the politicians as servants of the people behave by shamelessly prostituting the will of the people, crossing over from one side to another, proving abundantly to their masters, the people, that they do not care a damn for what the people think. They probably believe that they are sure of winning elections even by taking into custody the chief presidential candidate before the first proper electoral results are released. They also believe that current cabinet ministers should tie people to trees to discipline them as done by eminent Dr Mervyn De Silva, a topmost minister with international credentials.
The FUTA has proved to the people that Sri Lankan academics are not a docile community and will not allow this country to perish in broad daylight. We can only appeal to the President, in the way we would appeal to any leader in the future to be careful of those in government ranks who do not even respect the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka.
To get back to the ongoing struggle of the FUTA, all what I need to state with an absolute seriousness of purpose is that we consider it our bounden duty towards the people of Sri Lanka to commit the government to the UN benchmarks on education. The Minister of Higher Education probably believes that we are now a part of an international conspiracy to display this benchmark of ‘6% of GDP on FUTA T-Shirts!!!’ Such is the level of thinking of these ministers at the helm, bringing shame to the President habitually and on a daily basis. After all it is not so long ago that they protested against the United Nations Organization with cabinet ministers fasting unto death in the UN compound, making the people of this country, an international laughing stock.
The FUTA struggle demonstra-tes that academics cannot be satisfied with 99% literacy at primary level of education, that Minister Bandula Gunawardene boasts abo-ut, and that too with half of the schools without proper lavatory facilities. We need to remind the President and the Cabinet of Ministers, that mere primary level literacy is absolutely inadequate to civilize the people, including those who wish to be politicians and academics.
Primary level literacy is mere ability to read and write letters and numbers,without putting the ‘thumb mark’ as a person’signature. Secondary level literacy is the ability to reproduce knowledge which has only reached a little more than half of the population. But academics are concerned about what would happen to this beautiful land of their birth if tertiary level literacy remains so low with approximately 15%. That number comes only when university education is combined with technical and vocational education, as pointed out by many. University education is university education and we look to the day the vast majority of people will graduate from universities, to indicate that we have a rational citizenry with independent thinking. Not Traitors and Patriots.
With primary level literacy we cannot prevent elected members from prostituting the will of the people either. Also, 90% literacy at primary level is not the achievement of the present regime and this was there when the minister himself was a student.
All what his ministry has done is to close down the schools that existed many years ago and mess up the entire education system including the examinations as seen in Z-Score Fiasco. This same minister claimed in Parliament this month that we are still better than the British Education System with regard to examination evaluations. So how can the Z-Score be a problem to this government?
Tertiary level literacy which is University Degree Level and above, enables a person to critically understand a message that is disseminated and provide an intellectual perspective of ones own.
It is for this that the country should be able to attract the best qualified men and women to serve the universities; a task that has become humanly impossible without internationally competitive salaries for those with top academic credentials. This is a demand that we made last year. In accepting an Interim Solution in July 2011, we only wanted the government to respect the recommendations on salaries made by their own Malik Ranasinghe and Jiffrey Committee in 2008. So, it is meaningless telling the people that we have been given 80% increase in salaries since their own benchmark is yet to be implemented while interim understandings have been blatantly disregarded.
This waste of time will further aggravate Brain Drain, leading to a total collapse of the educational and moral oder. Highways and harbours or no amount of economic development will make a country developed if the people remain ignorant and in chains. The work of Indian Nobel Laureate and Harvard Economist Amartya Sen should be read by those in government if economists in Sri Lanka are not taken seriously by this government.
It is not surprising that the political leadership at different levels cannot distinguish the difference between good and evil, with an ‘anything goes’ attitude.
In this country, those alleged to have committed multiple murders are allowed to go free, if they say they have forgotten all what happened, since those in government probably have no understanding of good and evil. If we point out what is evil, we would be treated as traitors in line with the dominant ideology.
The government should realize that there is no international conspiracy when we talk about our principal demand which is the UNESCO Benchmark of 6% of the GDP on education.
Also they should realize that if international benchmarks created by the United Nations are made a mockery, not only with regard to education, but also with regard to fundamental instruments such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we certainly would mobilize all local, international and even extra-terrestrial forces to safeguard the future of this country. This is because, for academics the future direction of the Sri Lankan state is more important than the future of the present government or a future government.
Let all people unite in meeting the demands of the academic community, not only with regard to education but also in creating a just social, political, economic, cultural and moral order as stated clearly by the courageous monk, Venerable Madhuluwawe Sobhitha Thero in addressing thousands of people in pouring rain at Hyde Park Rally.