Racism in schools : Ministry takes action | Sunday Observer

Racism in schools : Ministry takes action

Schools need to encourage acceptance of differences
Schools need to encourage acceptance of differences

The Ministry of Education has called for an inquiry into the incident where a teacher attached to Parakrama Maha Vidyalaya in Bandarawatte, Gampaha, shouted at a student for using a pen of a certain brand and proceeded to break it into two saying it was a ‘Muslim’ product.

This move comes following a complaint filed at the ministry by Minister of Economic Reforms and Public Distribution Dr. Harsha de Silva.

The stationary brand in question was a victim of raging racism in the country following the Easter Sunday attacks on April 21 where 260 died. It resulted in a widespread boycotting campaign, the brand’s officials claimed.

However, this was not the first time racist acts made its way into schools. On May 7, a dozen Muslim teachers clad in hijab were prevented from entering the Church of Ceylon Tamil Maha Vidyalaya in Puwakpitiya, Avissawella, by protesting parents and teachers. They demanded the teachers wear the sari to school. The incident resulted in all 12 teachers being transferred elsewhere.

Academics condemned Sri Lankan schools for failing to tackle endemic racism against Muslim students, teachers and ‘products’.

Speaking to the Sunday Observer Chairman of the Ceylon Teachers Union (CTU) Joseph Stalin said as a union representing teachers he is saddened by the incidents, and requested the Ministry of Education to issue an immediate circular to stop such incidents from recurring.

“Our union stands for ethnic unity. We do not tolerate racism, especially in schools. We have written to relevant officials regarding racist incidents that have been taking place after the Easter Sunday attacks after parents complained to us,” Stalin said.

These complaints include where a teacher attached to a school in Mount Lavinia asking students to eat pork in front of Muslim female students, a principal from a school in Alawwa asking students not to eat even a toffee from Muslim owned shops as they will be paying to fund terrorism, a teacher of a school in Kurunegala asking what Zaharan’s people are doing in school when a Muslim parent volunteered to provide security at the school, and a mother removing her three children from a school in Kadawatha after she was told not to wear scarfs into the school.

“We have subjects in school encouraging unity among ethnic groups and then still hear these stories,” Stalin said adding that this was a dangerous situation and needs to be addressed immediately.

Also reflecting the same views, Dr. Shamala Kumar of the University of Peradeniya said schools need to “Encourage acceptance of differences”. She said Sri Lanka’s school curriculum is too rigid, and there needs to be more accepting of different sectors despite one’s views that could be contradicting to another.

She said the primary education is tainted. “One lesson says the Buddhists eat oil cakes and Muslims eat meat when in reality everyone eats oil cakes and meat. The message the lesson delivers is not correct.”

Dr. Kumar explained that there is pain in the country’s history that is not talked at in schools and that is aggravating the issue. She said schools need to have innovative approaches to tackle racism in schools.

Methodist College in Colombo was praised for its prompt action to issue guidelines and support to its students after the Easter Sunday attacks. It’s question and answer form looked into “What really happened”, why schools were closed, and if everyone was safe now.

For the question “Were the bombers Muslim?’ it stated “The bombers said they were Muslim, but Islam does not tell people to kill each other. The Sri Lankan people, including Muslims, are very sad and angry about what these few people have done. They (sic) been helping the people who were affected and are trying to help to keep us all safe. All different kinds of people have to stand together, help and love one another no matter what religion we are.”

Secretary to the Ministryof Education Nihal Ranasinghe said necessary action will be taken against school officials who are involved in incidents that are deemed racist.

“I have called for inquiries on all the complaints we received of this nature. We will take action against officials who are involved,” he said adding that he is also going to issue a circular preventing schools from promoting or demoting brands.