Education system in crisis
Inter University Students Federation protest: The education system appears to be in crisis with no ready solution in sight, and university students are more on the streets than in their campuses Pic by Nissanka Wijerathne
Mishaps in educational policy can have far reaching and devastating consequences. Some would go so far as to say that the ‘district basis’ policy of university admissions introduced in the seventies gave rise to the northern insurrection which has erupted into the menace of terrorism today and that argument is not without its merits.
Sri Lanka in its post-independent era has for long taken pride in the social luxuries it provides for its people; most notably, free healthcare and free education that it offers, no matter what financial constraints successive governments have been faced with. Of these two services, it is education that has been hogging the headlines in recent weeks – and for all the wrong reasons too.
The education system appears to be in crisis with no ready solution in sight: university students are more on the streets than in their campuses with their capital expenses slashed in half; teachers are on strike refusing to mark advanced level answer scripts; and most infamously, new admissions to national schools are bogged down in a protracted legal wrangle that is rapidly snowballing into a showdown between the legislature and the judiciary.
Seemingly Sri Lanka should be a country cited as a role model in education: there is universal access to free education right through to the university level, and at primary and secondary levels, not only is education free, students are provided uniforms and text books free of charge as well. What more could one ask from the state?
Yet, the recent unrest in the education sector suggests otherwise. That there is this much discontent indicates that while education is free in principle, the planning and resources that have been afforded to this vital sector have been inadequate.
And make no mistake; mishaps in educational policy can have far reaching and devastating consequences. Some would go so far as to say that the ‘district basis’ policy of university admissions introduced in the seventies gave rise to the northern insurrection which has erupted into the menace of terrorism today and that argument is not without its merits.
That was a decision taken for political expediency to satiate the aspirations of the majority community – and win votes in the process. What it meant was that ‘educationally backward’ areas were given concessions for university admissions instead of such opportunities being decided solely on merit.
That concept is laudable in that it addresses the issue of social inequality between regions but it should have been followed by an aggressive programme to uplift the educational standards of the so-called ‘educationally backward’ regions. That sadly did not happen, the district basis for university admissions continue unto this day and the quality of the university undergraduate has fallen drastically.
Then there was that infamous experiment with private medical education in the early eighties. That was when foreigners came to this country to study for a medical degree, bringing in valuable foreign exchange and in effect, subsiding their local colleagues.
That came to a grinding halt in the face of virulent opposition from academia as well as leftist political forces but the baby was thrown away with the bathwater and now, Sri Lankan parents are struggling to send their offspring overseas for medical education!
Obviously unchastened by this experience, international schools have sprung up, mushroom-like, not only in the capital but in every suburban and provincial city. Again the concept may be laudable but there is absolutely no regulation in its implementation: no one is responsible for the quality or qualifications of their teachers who are let loose on an unsuspecting student population naïve enough to fall for the name board of an international school. Admittedly, there are reputed institutions among them which maintain standards but the point is there is no process to assure that such standards are maintained at every such institution of learning.
All this while, the state education sector has gone from bare maintenance to neglect and dereliction. Education is not a fashionable outlet to channel funds into as its outcome is not instant and its funding has not been accorded due priority in recent times. The sector’s human resources – teachers, lecturers – have been lured by higher salaries offered by the private sector. And state-sponsored education is stuttering from one crisis to another. The grade one admissions fiasco is only a symptom of this larger malady.
The admissions issue is of course politically loaded. Admittedly, the previous system was open to corruption and abuse. The highest courts of the law opined that the system was also fundamentally flawed in that it did not afford equal opportunities for every child and that the prospect of admission was instead dependent on other extraneous factors.
But the issue has now escalated into a full scale battle between the legislature and the judiciary. Parliament, in a rare show of unity, agreed that it will formulate its own guidelines for admission which ostensibly were different from what the courts of law desired. In the meantime though, parents are being pushed from pillar to post, from distraught to desperate.
Neither the Education Minister nor the government as a whole appear to be competent to resolve this in a manner acceptable to all and the danger is that some ad hoc policy will be put in place given the politically sensitive nature of the issue. And yet another educational crisis will be brewing with potentially explosive long-term consequences.
It will take the collective wisdom of all the stakeholders in education – parents, students, teachers, university academics, educationists not to mention the politicians – to avert such a disaster. But sadly, such an attempt has not been made and does not seem to be on the horizon either. And it is highly unlikely that a few pearls of wisdom from the highest judiciary will redress the issue adequately.
"Star Lanka Online" Our NEW Web site And Web TV Channel Launched
the official web site, called
*** Star Lanka Online Dot Com ........................
www.starlankaonline.com will be completed in very near future....
*** Star Lanka Online TV Channel,..................
Just One Click ahead ...
Now you can watch "Star Lanka Online TV" channel broadcasts from Matara, Sri Lanka in most part of the day. Still we are keeping a test transmission also. There is a link right side of your hand to watch our TV channel. You can watch (Click On the Box) live channel on this site without going to another site to watch the TV. and also recorded parts, following the below link.
Place your Own Ad Here
Sunday, August 26, 2007
Education system in crisis