Friday, September 7, 2012

Cry for Education Rights is NOT mafia

    This is written as a partial response to Shenali Wadge’s article last week and the first point to be raised is that “mafia” is a loaded term. If Shenali Waduge is to call the on going trade union action of the Federation of University Teachers’ Associations (FUTA) as a Mafia movement, a close rescrutiny of her entry point and subject position needs to be made. Such strong allegations were last heard from ministerial quarters when, in the face of a string of recent student protets, the national universities were called “uncleared areas” and students were reduced as “terrorists”. Waduge’s lingo, therefore, gives us a strong suspecion right at the outset. Her arguments fare no better.

Waduge’s assertions, at a general level, show scant regard for history and are apolitical, except for the fact that the persons involved in trade union actions are deemed arrogant and anarchist. Reminiscent of Ryp Van Winckle, she enters the issue of the current education crisis with the on going breakdown. Yet, taken as a process of evolution, the present agitation by concerned unions of the FUTA, other trade unions, student bodies and other stakeholders is the “eruption point” of a prolonged system requirement. This, again, is an “ultimate” outburst, for a series of arguable demands for which genuine negotiatory space was not provided; and when provided were, time and again, proven to be idle promises.

Waduge serves the nation no better than the slimy auhtorities she defends when she misrepresents the FUTA mandate in her charge sheet. For her, the cry for an increase of the governmental investment in education to a 6% of the GDP is merely a justifier of the FUTA trade union action which, as she hints, is based on vested interests. She further tables a couple of articles – a claim for an internet allowance and “an allowance for those not living in university quarters” among them – which reduce the overall compactness of a more comprehensive set of demands to suit her agenda. This form of cheap reduction was done when one was hardpressed at a high school inter-class debate; though many media agents with state apologist status, too, frequently resort to it.   

Waduge’s own argument collapses at the end of the same paragraph where she makes the allusion to the “internet allowance”. She locates a “sad situation” where “officials functioning as yes men to politicians over the years…have handed over their rights to politicians creating the present crisis”. She also deals with rhetorical questions when she asks whether we should not “blame ourselves for allowing politicians to walk off with the power that rested with us?” A close study of the FUTA trajectory and a willingness to see it beyond as being a “mafia impede” would show that the crux of the trade union action is to take the crisis at hand. That is why one has to assess the current standstill as a “historical moment” – a development which has arisen as a result of the very “walking off” by politicians and other vested parties with the education policy and mandate.

The current regrouping of Lankan academics has caused a critical discourse as to where our education stands today and as to what form of avenues should be perused to re-invigourate it. The FUTA trade union action, thereby, has gathered momentum as a dynamic process and within their forums much analyses and problematization has taken place; and the negotiations with governmental stakeholders are conducted on those grounds. If at all, the dodgy and ambiguous natures of the ministers in charge of the subjects of higher education and education have made “negotiation” not smooth.

Waduge carefully deselects several crucial clauses in the basic document with which FUTA submits her demands. The safeguarding of university “autonomy”, perhaps, is the most vital of them all. Waduge neglecting the suggested demands along the lines of autonomy is unpardonable, as she herself recognizes politicization of the system as “sad”.

The salary scales given by Waduge are not contextualized properly, either. The FUTA President was seen on several forums emphasizing the need to “acquire” and “retain” academic resources – and the universities’ being unable to hold the best products of the system as academics and reserachers being a chief crack in the structure. The gross salary figure given by Waduge as the earnings of a Probationary Lecturer is not cut and dry as that. The (all allowances included) near 50,000 rupee pay would be for a candidate who has been in that position for at least five years (for there are minor increments that are made to the basic of that salary step). The basic salary of a Probationary Lecturer is approximately Rs 27000 and Temporary Staff gets paid approximately Rs 25,000. For a university academic to be permanent in service it requires a solid MA / Mphil degree; which has to be followed by a PhD. It is generally a 5-8 year process and it is a lifestyle that is ideally connected with quick information access, updated publications, reading and research material; as much as basic tea and sugar.             

The FUTA is equally focused on education policy and quality control – and suggestions have been tabled that the academy should be incorporated in education policy development; which includes syllabuses. To safeguard the framework of the system, a University Academics’ Service has been proposed which, though a “mafia cry” to Waduge, negotiators on behalf of the cabinet have accepted as timely. University lecturers, for the record, are not pensionable. Waduge also spends several rounds – empty as they are with logic – on education in general. The university lecturer, for instance, is compared with a US school teacher, just to indicate that a US high school teacher works more. Indeed, one may appreciate different systems, but Waduge comments as if in the Lankan national state university there are no duties for lecturers; and that they undertake no extra work. First hand experience has shown me better and if at all by upgrading the structure with more enhanced investment and incentives a more meaningful knowledge exchange can be achieved.

As Paulo Freire has pointed out somewhere knowledge is activism; and if the academic is to occupy a morally bent, corroded classroom even as the system is being infected all around there is, then, something seriously wrong with her as a “teacher”. History is a shrewd judge; that is why Waduge should not disregard it.    

No comments: