Tuesday, 7 October 2003  
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Teachers, retrace your steps to school, please

As another World Teachers' Day dawned, we were given the unwelcome news that some teachers' trade unions are gearing for a demonstration, to press for some demands for which they have been reportedly agitating.

We say that this news is unwelcome not because the State is always seen as right by us in disputes of this kind. Rather, it is because of the fast-crumbling discipline among some vital segments of society including the young.

We are guided in this matter by the maxim that practice is far superior to precept. Today, wantonly irresponsible behaviour could be said to be proliferating even among those sections which are traditionally regarded as dignified and respect-worthy. The rampant strikes by professional groups and key sectors of the public service are proof of this. We could no longer label only the more permissive and violence-prone sections of the young as wanting in a civic sense, orderliness and discipline. Irresponsible behaviour and lack of discipline are spreading like a blight among most sections of society, enveloping some central actors, both among the rulers as well as the ruled.

Not so long ago, the teaching profession was considered to be in a class by itself, in terms of the positive influence it was seen to be wielding particularly among the young. True, there was and there still is a general consensus that teachers need a better deal from the viewpoint of salary and material prospects. Still, the expectation was high that the teachers of the land would continue to be the standard-bearers of what was considered right, ethical behaviour. They were considered an inspirational influence in terms of their character moulding potential and were not expected to slip below certain accepted standards of dignity and decorum. This accounted for the deference with which teachers were treated by the general populace.

Accordingly, forms of protest by teachers, in times such as these when acute anxiety over crumbling standards of discipline are widespread and when wild cat strikes are the order of the day, come as an unnerving and demoralizing shock. It is as if a hallowed bastion of principled living has dramatically collapsed, leading to sense of utter directionlessness in the affairs of the young in particular.

We reiterate that the teachers of the country need a better deal in financial and material terms, but are compelled to register our utter bewilderment at the loss of a sense of values among these restless sections of the teaching profession.

Getting down to basics, the issue is simply this: how could teachers be an inspiration and guide to disciplined living when they themselves are not setting the correct examples in this direction? How could the young be expected to live right when their mentors fail abjectly to establish these standards?

We earnestly request our teachers to engage in some sound soul-searching. Imparting academic disciplines to the young alone is not what is generally understood as education in the truest sense of the term. Education extends beyond the content of the formal educational curricula and embraces the absorption of ethical and humane living as the hallmarks of the educated. Teachers are expected to inculcate these values in their wards, besides imparting instructions in their "school-subjects".

However, teachers cannot measure up to these standards if they go the way of the rabble.

Call all Sri Lanka

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