In Oman a debate is now underway. Is it ethical on the part of teachers to go on strike or should they adopt other means to press their demands? An overwhelming majority in the United States, 53 per cent to be precise, said "NO" to teachers strike.
They were responding to a poll and a debate carried out by debate.org. We are certain that if a similar poll is conducted here in Oman people voting against teachers strike will be more than the Americans. They would not only disapprove of the strike by the teachers, majority of the parents and students would even insist upon banning such strikes.
For the past 13 days learning in over a thousand government schools in Oman has gone for a toss because a section of teachers, in fact many of them though not all, have been on a strike since October 1 in support of their multiple demands. They, in repudiation of what the society expects from them, have been refusing to impart learning to students and have sharply polarised the society in the Sultanate.
Exactly like elsewhere in the world, in Oman too "we think of teachers in the same way that we think of nurses or ambulance crew. Individuals motivated in part by the need to work to live but also by an admirable desire to make a difference; or to try to affect change by being a positive force for good. Going on strike is an affront to all of that."
Parents and kinsmen of almost half a million students of the government schools in Oman aren't supportive of the strike by teachers. And the general feeling is that the teachers have gone on strike not for the betterment of education or the improvement of conditions. Their refusal to teach is seen more as an act of "perfidy" or "dishonesty". The teachers have simply walked out on students.
Yes, we stand in solidarity with the government's stand on the issue and agree that the teachers are indeed partners in Oman's academic progress. But the question is, are these teachers on strike worthy partners? We don't need to answer the question. Rankle of the parents show how unworthy partners are the striking teachers in the Sultanate's academic progress. Many of them are now considering shifting their children to private schools.
The raison d'être of the strike, we insist, is flawed. And the government will definitely be right if it resorts to legal action against the striking teachers if the strike is not withdrawn forthwith. The strike, or for that matter any strike, is an arm-twisting tactics and we have zero tolerance for anything that holds the society to ransom. We understand and appreciate that like everyone else teachers too have rights to articulate their expectations, aspirations and even demands. But not by striking work.
Because refusal to teach means declaring war against society and nation. We say children today are leaders tomorrow. And how true it is. But children need grooming and education to become leaders tomorrow. Parents play a pivotal role in the process. But, critical is the role of teachers. And if they go on strike, refuse to teach and wage a war against learning they set appalling instances, leave bad impressions on children and impart ugly lessons. Rather than creating leaders of tomorrow they create bad citizens.
We agree with Katie Hopkins, a broadcaster and business woman. We are passing through difficult times all across the world. Every sector is facing a squeeze. The age of the unionised labour is behind us, hence militant trade unionism is a dated view.
We cannot and must not think of forcing authorities to concede to our demands, however legitimate, by striking work. Teachers' strike is all the more a crime against society, more against time. If they do not teach they are refusing future. "When adults start behaving like children throwing their toys out of their pram, it falls to the rest of us to teach them a lesson and ignore their self centred cries for attention."
Saud Al Balushi, Undersecretary of the Ministry of Education for Planning, said the ministry was working to improve the educational skills of students through a package of procedures and plans. He informed the ministry has already started implementing a plan to enable teachers to become better partners in the development and management of the education system in the Sultanate. He said projects are in place for rehabilitation and training of teachers within and outside the country.
We are convinced that the government's stand is extremely rational and the strike should have been withdrawn already. The teachers should have been patient and have allowed the government time and space.
Laudably, the government in the Sultanate has, on the contrary, shown remarkable patience even as the teachers' strike has affected Oman's national interests. It has not yet banned the strike neither has it taken any other legal step against the teachers for their refusal to teach because, "The ministry is not angry or upset about the demands raised by the teachers." This is tolerance, which we dare say has not been shown by the striking teachers.
It is time that we remind the striking teachers of Oman what Gordon Korman said about teachers. "Ask yourself: 'Do I feel the need to laminate?' Then teaching is for you." Unfortunately, the striking teachers in the Sultanate, we insist, have not asked themselves this question. Alas! They have opted for self lamination.
The author is the Opinion Editor of Times of Oman