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Saturday, April 20, 2024

Economic disparity threatens equal opportunities for education in Sri Lanka

Joseph Stalin Fernando
 Although the per capita income of the GDP of Sri Lanka is US $ 1400, the income disparity between the higher income earning group and the lower income earning group is very high. The income of the richest 30% has increased rapidly to 65.6% of the GDP whilst the income of the poorest 50% is 17.64 % of the GDP. In this backdrop, the only option for the parents to save their children from poverty is education.

A large percentage of students drop out through two competitive examinations in Sri Lanka’s education system. They are the G.C.E. Ordinary Level and Advanced Level examinations. Mere 47% qualify to study
for Advanced Level and the rest is dropped out. While 54.9% qualify for the university entrance mere 17.2% are enrolled into universities. This is the outcome of education of Sri Lanka for which the low income groups spend nearly their total income.

The main aim of the present rulers is to create a cheap labor force of drop outs instead of educated

Since the inception of the free education system in 1943, equal opportunity in education was a concern
but even today the disparities remain so high. There are many schools that lack drinking water whilst some schools fill their swimming pools with purified drinking water.

Instead of changing the circumstances, the present leaders are further slashing the opportunities. They are going to create the Wonder of Asia through developing only 1000 schools of the 9662 schools of the education system. The rest is simply ignored. According to rulers, 16% of the schools, 1549 in number,
have less than 50 students. Mocking at their own statements on guaranteeing free education to all students, they say that maintaining these schools is a waste of money and appointing teachers to these schools is a crisis.

Sri Lanka has 698 numbers of 1 AB schools that have GCE Advanced Level science, commerce and arts
streams. The number of 1 C schools that have Advanced Level Arts and Commerce streams is 1937. The schools of category 2 that have classes upto G.C.E. Ordinary Level are 4166. There are further 2861 schools that have primary classes or upto Grade 8. The authorities forget the transport difficulties of the children of the rural areas when they select only two schools per a divisional secretariat area to be developed.

Sri Lanka has 355 elite schools such as Royal, Vishaka, Ananda, Nalanda categorized as popular schools
and the parents try their best to get their children entered into these schools. The reason is that the children educated in these schools are privileged in the society. The competition for admission of children to these schools creates a highly corrupt situation. Under the 1000 schools programme of the Minister, the primary classes of the schools are removed. But the primary classes of these elite schools are to stay as they are. It proves that the reforms aim at maintaining the elite schools of affluentclasses.

Ministers Bandula Gunawardhana and S.B. Disanayaka promote education as a commodity in a way that
no previous Ministers of Education were bold to do. The situation disowns the oppressed classes of the only relief they have and unfortunately no struggle against it prevails in the society.

Education in Forner Battle zone
Education is again victimized by the war launched in the north and east in the guise of a humanitarian operation. 22 schools in Mullaithivu and 17 schools in Kilinochchi are still closed. Some schools are still occupied by Army. In Gamini Vidyalaya of Vavuniya alone, ten schools of the unsettled areas like Puthumaththalan, Puthukudirippu, Ananthapuram are held. The schools beyond A-9 road are affected with a severe scarcity of teachers. Teachers do not like to go to these schools since they are not provided with the facilities like transport. The government that promises to bring spring to north suspended the bus service since December 31, 2011 that was granted for the teachers to travel free of charge as a result of a discussion between the Ceylon Teachers’ Union and the authorities. Teachers travel hundreds of miles every day from Vavuniya and Jaffna to schools in Vanni.

Everything in schools in Kilinochchi, Mullaithivu and Thunukkai educational zones were demolished
during war. Vavuniya North education office was shifted to Vavuniya and the Wadamarachahi education
office was shifted to Point Pedro. The official documents of Madu education zone were taken to Mannr but many things were destroyed. Teachers are facing innumerable difficulties due to loss of their personal files.

Until today, no census has been carried out regarding the students and teachers killed in war. Nobody has been compensated. The schools in resettled areas lack basic amenities.

The education in these areas can be reinstated if the facilities like teachers’ quarters and transport are given. But it does not happen.

The government implements its programme of developing thousand schools in north as well. 134 schools in Western Province, 153 in Central Province, 110 in Southern Province, 90 in the Northern Province, 103 in the Eastern Province, 127 in the Northwestern Province, 82 in the North Central Province, 88 in the Uva Province and 113 in the Sabaragamuwa have been selected for the programme. Students in remote areas have fallen to fire from the frying pan due to the decision of removing primary classes from these schools. For instance, the students that intended to enter the primary section of Mankulam school have to travel 4-5 kilometers now to another schools.

Once the primary sections of Kilinochchi Central, Mulangavil, Akkarayan and Muruganantha schools were removed stating that they will be developed under the Isusru school project. But no change took place other than that.

Meanwhile, the government is in the process of slashing expenses for education drastically in the guise of streamlining education. Although UNICEF has specified that a government must allocate 6% of GDP for education, Sri Lanka has become the country in South Asia that spends the least percentage of GDP for education. In 2009, 2.1% was allocated for education. By 2011, it has been reduced to 1.8% while a country like Cuba spends around 18% of GDP for education. How can a government that maltreats its future generation create the Wonder of Asia that they promise.

Militarisation and privataisation
The new entrants of the universities were made compulsory to undergo military style leadership training. Ceylon Teachers Union and other organizations sued against this move but the judiciary did not grant leave for it to proceed and the training was carried out as scheduled. The students are forced to shun free thinking. While suppressing the students’ organizations, the government is openly pavingway for private universities under full government sponsorship. The government justifies this move stating that it will save foreign currency that flows out of the country for foreign education. But this has increased disparity by opening university doors only to the affluent sections while a large number of students that gained high marks in Advanced Level lose opportunities. Thus, both general and higher education sectors of the country have been brought to the doorstep of privatization.

School curriculum is also a problematic. Except Tamil language and Religion, all Tamil books are direct
translations of text books written in Sinhala. The books like history present controversial facts while ignoring other facts like Tamil provincial rule. The text books have translational errors also and act as negative factors in establishing ethnic harmony.

Ruhunu University in Southern Province and the Eastern University were opened contemporarily in the
past but they are far apart regarding the facilities available in them at present. Jaffna University has basics while the Southeastern University is below it.

The professional education opportunities for the teachers have been slashed to minimum level. No retraining programme is available for teachers and they stagnate academically as a result of it. Tamil language Palali Teacher Training School is taken into a high security zone and relocated in Thirunelveli with two small lecture halls. The teachers are paid a very small salary and their struggles for a better living standard were suppressed manipulating judiciary. No solution has been granted for the teachers’ salary issue.

No 2 in corruption
Today, the education sector is second only to police in corruption vice reflecting the general situation in the country. The aids granted under special projects do not treacle down as expected. The organizations like UNICEF, JICA, SIDA, GTZ, DFID etc. that provide assistance to education sector also do not have proper monitoring to evaluate the outcome.

In this backdrop, various reforms were proposed to uplift education of the country. Today, the National
Education Commission has submitted its suggestions to a parliamentary advisory committee. The term of the members of the National Education Commission ended in last April and the vacancies remain unfilled reflecting the rulers’ attitude towards it.

The Minister of Education while stating that a parliamentary select committee will be appointed to seek solutions to the problems in the education sector, the same programme promoted by the World Bank some times back as per GEP-1 and GEP-2 is currently implemented in a new name as project for developing secondary schools.

The free general and higher education system of Sri Lanka is threatened in this context. The future of a people whose literacy rate is very high is directed towards darkness. The opposition parties like the United National Party, the People’s Liberation Front and the Tamil National Alliance also only touch the issue without actually perceiving the depth of the tragedy.

The whole education administration is corrupt. Ceylon Teachers’ Union has initiated a number of legal
measures against this but the situation remains unchanged. Informal appointments in the education administration are a major problem. Although the applications were called for five positions of Zonal
Director and 21 positions of Divisional Director of Education in the Eastern Province, individuals with political influence are given the opportunity to cover the duties instead of giving appointments properly to qualified persons. In some other areas like Thunukkai, the officials above the retirement age are deployed in duty preventing the promotions of the officials in formal service.

Ceylon Teachers’ Union emphasizes the need for organizing horizontally and vertically the working class to struggle to safeguard the right for free education and equal opportunity for the oppressed masses.

Joseph Stalin Fernando
Ceylon Teachers’ Union


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