Fulfil primary teachers’ genuine demands
Tens of thousands of primary school assistant teachers have been on a "fast unto death" at the capital's Shaheed Minar for a third day on Monday, with around 40 teachers reported to have fallen sick of hunger while the others suffered biting winter cold in the open air as they stayed out round the clock.
The teachers are demanding increase in their wages along the line of salary raise for the primary schools headmasters and say now the differences between pay scales of the head masters and asst. teachers widened hugely since the last adjustment.
The headmasters now get over Tk 16,000 a month against the asst. teachers' Tk 10,000+. But they demand the reasonable adjustment would raise the asst teachers' salary to more than Tk 12,000. Currently they get Tk 10,000+ which they say is not fair and must be revised upward.
They have a point as the market prices of essential commodities including rice and onion have gone sharply higher in recent months and the low paid teachers find it unaffordable to maintain their families.
During three days of fasting, no one from the government had visited the teachers or promised to redress their woes but on Monday a few representatives of the primary teachers met with the concerned minister to discuss their plight and seek a way out.
However, the fasting teachers have said they would not end the fast until their "genuine" demand is met. Some teachers said, requesting not to be named, that they would bow down if a firm assurance was received from the primary education minister but they would prefer it to come from Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
In Bangladesh, the ministers make fleeting pledges on many things of public concern but retreat soon after the tense moments of protest or "action" are over. The primary teachers are also facing the same situation and so they want to hear from the PM though no such possibility is visible yet.
Teachers are the builders of a nation and they deserve highest consideration and support to keep their noble mission (teaching) going on smoothly. But they are routinely ignored, especially at the primary level or at the grassroots of the education system.
Why, they ask but get no response. If the asst teachers' demand is not met this time also, they have threatened to go for a bigger "action" -- maybe an indefinite work stoppage. This has not been decided yet but what other action they could plan after the ongoing hunger strike?
They went on the hunger strike on Saturday vowing not to return to their workplaces until their demand for upgrading their salary scale is met. They are pressing a one-point demand -- fixing the trained assistant teachers' grade next to the trained head-teachers' grade.
Recently, the government raised salary of state employees, bureaucrats, university teachers and the members of the armed forces up to 100 per cent trying to offset the impact of high prices and soaring costs on their lives. Then why not the salaries of primary teachers -- the headmasters and others -- be raised satisfactorily?
Unless they are paid well, they would naturally be disinclined to teach their students properly -- and thus the hope of building a strong nation with new generation leadership would end up in a fiasco.