Teaching the Unlearnt Lessons

Just one week before the 1st of May: the International Worker’s Day, Hindu teachers of Sri Shanmuga Hindu Ladies College in Trincomalee District, made a protest against the violence behavior of husbands of some teachers of the same school.

Sri Shanmuga Hindu Ladies College is a 78 years old national school in the heart of Trincomalee district in Sri Lanka. There are around 2,400 students studying in the School, among them 120 students are Muslims and 110 are Christians. Even though the School has been celebrated the Diamond Jubilee, it has not seen violation against any communities in its long history. As it was reported, when some of the Muslim teachers who were wearing of series to the School have started to wear their religious attire, the abhaya [a cloak worn by Muslim women to cover their full bodies], the Principal has discussed the matter with the Muslim teachers and informed not to wear the abhaya. The problem has not been settled, the Principle has continuously requested them not to wear their religious attire.

This has resulted husbands of those teachers and some Muslim community members to enter into the school. This has resulted the Hindu teachers and Tamil community members in the area to protest. While the Tamil teachers who protested stated that the men who came to the school have threatened to the Principal, the members of Muslim community refused of threatening to the Principal and stated that they went to discuss the matter and solved the problem.  However the issue was burst forth with a demonstration carried out by the Hindu teachers, in which they demanded to protect their Hindu culture. Finally, the temporary decision was achieved announcing that the Muslim teachers are transferred to some other schools.

In Sri Lanka there are number of schools that hold common names where students from different ethnicities pursue their education. This includes students, teachers, administrators and workers either minor or major from different religions backgrounds contribute to the development of the school. It is common that schools are named as “Sinhalese College”, “Hindu College” and “Muslim College”, where students and teachers from all ethnicities are allowed to serve. Whatever the name may be humanity plays a major role.

Chapter three of the Constitution of Sri Lanka guarantees the freedom of religion, including the freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and also the none discrimination against on the grounds of race, religion, language, caste, sex, political opinion, place of birth or any such grounds.Wearing of clothing is entirely a human characteristic and is a feature of most human societies. The social significance of the finished product reflects their culture. Freedom in attire is ensured to follow their respective religious and cultural traditions.

There are no rules and regulations to be followed in particular to the mentioned above specific ethnic group. This is the practice for decades in Sri Lanka. The problem in this scenario is quite different as Muslims usually wear sari and fartha (head cover) as their traditional dress especially to schools, but now some of the Muslim teachers have started to wear abhaya.

As per the education circular of 2012–37, the Teacher should wear clean, simple and culturally accepted dress to adhere to the code of conduct in all circumstances and ‘the culture means the culture of the children.   Further, the same circular states that the teachers need to adhere to the decisions taken by the management committee and handle activities in patience when problems arises. The failure to adhere to the code of conduct has resulted to the adverse situation of Sri Shanmuga Hindu Ladies College.

It should also be significant to know that the body language and facial expression (non-verbal communication) of a teacher plays a vital role in the learning context. Bernd Hackl, a researcher at the University of Graz pointed out that “It is teachers’ body language which gives them credibility and determines whether learning processes will be fostered, or not, as the case may be”. This issue must be dealt from the child’s perspective and not as ethnicity. Some independent scholars argue that abhaya may hinder the child’s understanding of a context particularly in the junior grades.

There were many instances where Teachers from Burger community volunteered themselves to wear ‘’sari’’ even though they are free to wear their own traditional dress. This shows their willingness for a unity in diversity.

This situation contributes to the saying by John F. Kennedy ‘’violent revolution is unavoidable for those who are failing to make peaceful revolution”. This immoral issue has gone beyond the limits due to worsening the situation by not following the generally accepted norms and values which were followed for years in the Sri Lankan history.

Teachers are the secondary level guardians of the children who are suppose to teach children not only the subjects but also the lifelong learning including religious harmony and conflict management. Same way, the teachers do have a responsibility to become the examples for the students. Even after three decades of armed conflict, if the teachers have not learnt the lessons it is not easy to teach to the next generation.

Nilakshy  |  Sri Lanka