Minister of Education, Akila Viraj Kariyawasam, recently declared that a circular would be issued prohibiting schoolteachers from accepting gifts from students and their parents from 2017.
The culture of schoolteachers accepting gifts from students exists in most public schools. However, the extent of gift-accepting and its underlying motives differs from school to school. While female teachers may get sarees, jewellery and flowers, male teachers are patronized with gift vouchers, wrist watches and booze.
The teachers alone should not be blamed for this ‘gift’ culture. One must realize that there is also a giver for a gift. The ‘givers’ are the parents. Parents vie with each other sometimes to give a more valuable gift to a teacher to secure greater favours for the student. Thus, both the giver and the receiver should be discouraged from this plague.
A schoolteacher who did not wish to be named for obvious reasons, admitted that the gift-giving culture (some call it bribes) is mainly found in national and primary schools. At other schools this mainly takes place during the New Year when some students hand over food items to their teachers. At the end of a particular academic year, some class teachers are also bestowed with gifts.
“At National schools this happens frequently and some teachers actually expect gifts. If a child doesn’t bring a gift, it might be a disadvantage to that child,” she said.
According to her, a pupil who is weak in a particular subject may get more attention if the teacher is provided with a gift.
“Gifts can do many things,” she further explained. “Some obliging students can be made monitors and prefects while others can ensure a place in the sports team or at a competition for looking after the teacher’s needs.”
The scenario has also eaten into the sports coaching staff at schools which includes both the private and government institutions. In this case, a cricketer or rugby player for example can be part of the school team despite having a poor run ahead of the capable hands merely because his parents have taken care of the coach or master and this could come in the form of many things, some too sleazy to mention.
A mother of a school student who also spoke to Weekend Nation of condition of anonymity claimed that gifts are also a way of expressing gratitude to teachers by the students.
Gifts are also given on so-called Teacher’s Day either by an individual student or by the whole class. An investigation by Weekend Nation also showed that students, sportsmen and sportswomen who cannot provide their masters and coaches with gifts end up on the wrong side.
Another teacher who spoke to Weekend Nation and did not wish to be quoted said that favoured students who are able to provide gifts are placed at a direct advantage by being pitted against weak students when it comes to competitions.
“For example, when selecting students for competitions, they pair the students they favour with weaker students so that they would get selected to these competitions”, she said.
They also get favoured tuition lessons and some teachers are also said to have developed a craze to accumulate gifts as a hobby.
But amid the gift-taking scourge, some duty-conscious teachers are known to have turned down favours and gifts which they see as unethical and cheating their noble profession.
“I don’t subscribe to this gift-taking business”, said one of them who requested that he not be named. “When it comes to a sport like cricket, the better and talented boys from humble belongings don’t stand a chance against boys who are not capable but get a place in the team because they come from rich families whose parents are in a position to look after the coach or master-in-charge”.
It is a well known fact that some parents even go to the extent of settling the bar bills of coaches and masters in return for selecting their child to the team.
This is also the case in swimming and athletics where the less privileged boys and girls are pushed aside to make way for below par students whose parents can throw in the money.
Nishantha Kumara, a teacher and sports administrator at Devapathiraja Vidyalaya in Ratgama, Galle said that as a teacher he appreciated the action taken by the minister to outlaw teachers accepting gifts from students and their parents.
“We don’t need gifts”, said Kumara. “But I must say that gift-giving and taking is down to a minimum at schools in the villages. If a teacher has to get a gift it is given when he or she retires in appreciation of service to the students and school. Only a small amount of money is collected for the gift.”
Kumara said that favouritism should never be encouraged or practiced while adding that he was proud to serve in a school where students and teachers don’t expect favours even when it comes to sports.
He referred to gift-taking as a form of corruption and hoped the government order will put an end to the sinister practice.
Ceylon Teacher’s Union, General Secretary, Joseph Starlin said that according to clause XXXXVII.III.I of Part 2 of the Establishment Code, government servants are not allowed to accept gifts.
“All this time, this (law) was being violated,” Starlin declared.
He also emphasized that there was a need to check funds being collected by school heads and school societies for various projects.
“A circular was issued by the government on January 27, 2015. This directed schools to divide their total expenditure by the number of students and collect this amount from students in order to maintain the school,” said Starlin.
He said that if the budget allocated six percent to education as promised, some of the burdens could be taken away from parents.
Starlin was blunt on his assessment of teachers accepting gifts. “They (teachers) are paid to do a job, why do they need gifts”, he asked.