Gifts to teachers: mixed reactions: Cleansing the public service | Sunday Observer

Gifts to teachers: mixed reactions: Cleansing the public service

Schoolchildren pay obeisance to their class teacher on World Teacher’s Day.	 Pic: Sulochana Gamage

From time immemorial we have been introduced and made accustomed to the concept of giving gifts to teachers as a token of our love and gratitude. What historical literature refers to ‘Guru Panduru’ loosely translating as ‘offerings to teachers’ shows the respect and admiration placed on teachers, from the early days.

Minister of Education, Akila Viraj Kariyawasam, speaking at a school function in Kuliyapitiya last month said, he had signed a circular prohibiting teachers from accepting gifts from students. This came after several complaints were made against collecting money to buy gifts for teachers.

Following several unofficial advisories stating that teachers should not accept gifts, the Ministry found that the practice still continued. Hence, circular No 33/2016 dated 2016.11.18 was signed and passed under the Minister’s advice.

The circular elaborates….

“Giving gifts or collecting money for such causes can put parents who are economically tight in a depressing state and their children could feel sidelined in the classroom. After considering such practical issues as well as the effect it has on the concept of free education, teachers/principals are therefore prohibited from accepting gifts from children. It is further emphasized that acceptance of such gifts could attract disciplinary action.”

Mothers showed mixed reactions to this decision. Wasana Baddegama a mother of two, both children studying in leading schools in Colombo, said, she believes it is a good gesture to teach children to give a small gift to their teachers and it also teaches good habits to the children. “Today, teachers attend to a class of 40 to 45 students, and it’s not an easy task. This effort teaches children to appreciate what the teachers do for them. Some teachers really go out of their way to work extra hours with students who they think need the special attention. These extra classes are done during their spare time, with no incentives expected,” she said.

As an alternative she suggests, rather than scrapping the whole system it would be better to permit it as a group effort, so that no one feels left out, and no one finds it difficult to bear the cost.

“Of course, teachers should not favour children who give them gifts and leave out others, it doesn’t happen much now,” she elaborated.

Tania Jayasena, holds a different view. “Some schools had banned it sometime back. This is a good move. I think at most, a handmade card should be more than enough. I remember as a child I would always think that my gifts were not good enough. This is an unnecessary stress on the child.”

Sachinthya Delwita reminisces of an incident when she was in school where a particular teacher would treat children depending on what they gave the teacher. “While there are teachers who genuinely love doing what they do, there are more than a few rotten apples who can really make a child’s life miserable,” she shared her experience.

Speaking to the Sunday Observer the General Secretary of Ceylon Teachers’ Union, Joseph Stalin agreed with the circular and said, it was a furthering of what was laid down in the Establishments Code.

“Under the 2nd part of the Establishment Code, Section 48 (3) (1) very clearly states that government servants are prohibited from accepting gifts. There are two hundred and forty thousand teachers, who are considered as government servants, hence, this applies to them as well. So, the new circular in a way is only consolidating what the Establishment Code has already laid down. Teachers are given a salary, so there’s no need for students or parents to give gifts to teachers.”

Speaking on how far this gift giving trend has developed, Stalin said, it has now been heavily commercialized.

“We see nowadays, that most merchants have made business opportunities out of these events and especially of ‘Teachers’ Day’.

This is wrong and will result in denigrating the whole system. So it is a step in the right direction.”

“But, this is not a priority. There are many issues that need to be addressed by the government urgently. We welcome the government’s decisions to reduce the economic burden placed on parents. Today, a parent’s highest expense is education. The government should work to bring this down,” he said.

Most teachers too feel that this decision is a good and practical one. Many teachers who shared their views said, they were agreeable to the decision.

“When children give us gifts it’s difficult to reject it knowing that they would be hurt. And if we do so in the presence of other students, it may affect them even more. So, we are caught in the middle.

Since there is a rule in place we can directly inform the parents so that children don’t face any uncomfortable situation,” said a teacher who preferred to remain anonymous.

The circular takes a further step in stating the legal consequences to accepting gifts. It says “it is reiterated that any aiding or accepting of a gift shall be dealt with in accordance to the provisions of the Bribery or Corruption Act in line with the Establishment Code.”

So this year end if you are thinking of getting a gift for your child’s teacher, maybe you should think again. 

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