By Shenali Waduge
Sri Lanka’s education has been like a volcano – steadily waiting to erupt and it is getting closer to its objective. Undeniably there is no one cause for the current crisis. For Sri Lanka’s education to get on track those responsible for the current crisis must first accept accountability and then resolve to set things straight. Unlike any other ministry – the country’s future depends on the education of its younger generation and we need to now stop passing pillows and seriously set right the malpractices and corrupt ways that exist. Education certainly needs to be saved – but from whom is the next question!
Saving Sri Lanka’s Education ……
From Government appointed Ministers – A common practice when any new Minister is appointed is to think that Education is their right to change as they see fit. A country’s education system must remain a national heritage and an area that is out of bounds for experimenting. This certainly increases the need to draw up a national policy on Education something which is agreeable to the future of the country and which cannot be changed or altered to anyone’s whims or fancies – least of all changing Governments or their Ministers!
From Politicians – From the present involvement of various political groups and politicians canvasing to become the spokesmen for the present academic strike now into its third month reveals that politicians whatever party they belong to are only fishing for issues to draw public attention to themselves. It is time the public realize this. When politics gets involved in education it is easy to use political involvement as an excuse for inadequacies prevalent even without politics or politicians. When politicians get involved everyone takes a step back not wanting to upset applecarts since it will affect them which ends up upsetting the entire education system. We all know that politicians make promises they don’t plan to keep.
From Advisors/Consultants – In every periphery of life we come across people called Advisors or Consultants who are paid lavishly for their expert opinion. Most often than not they are the reason for the downfall of the very people they are working for. It is a practice of advisors and consultants to be the only interphase between the decision maker or leader and they scrutinize and sift whatever message relayed. This results in the leaders getting only a limited or a version that these advisors aspire towards and allows no option or difference of opinion for the leader to contemplate before making final decisions. Advisors have brought governments down in the past and leaders should know that apart from obtaining advice there are enough of channels to increase their knowledge needed to make key decisions – it’s time to use them.
From Curriculum Designers – There is a rising feeling of disgust amongst children and parents like when spelling mistakes are not the only reason to find fault with course curriculums. So how qualified or how passionate are these curriculum designers about the important role that they perform in designing Sri Lanka’s course curriculum? With the downward performance of Sri Lanka’s students it is not hard to fathom that not only the policy but the overall structure of the courses are in need of a big shakeup but nothing should be touched if there is no proper plan in place.
From Principals – too often we hear unpalatable news of principals and their actions and it is nothing to be proud of. To be appointed as a principal means to direct and monitor the academic/non academic activities inside a school environment. A principal is the head of the educational setting and is meant to provide guidance to both child and teacher. The principal also functions as a liaison between the school and the community and will meet parents, school board, government officials, private sector etc… which is why the integrity of the principals must remain high and untarnished. This implores the strict adherence to laws, rules and regulations as well as being a role model to both child and teacher. We question how many of today’s principal are people of integrity. We need a mechanism in place to bring to book these unsuited heads so that the future of Sri Lanka’s children are not destroyed forever.
From administrators/clerks – Too often than not most of the corruption that prevails when admissions come into focus happens with the involvement of school administrators or clerks. They become the go between for payments that guarantee a child admission in a popular school. The practice is usually excused on the grounds that if the higher ups steal what harm is it for them to do the same. Just imagine how our the country will end up if everyone functions according to this same logic? Most often public officials have become “yes men” losing their credibility amongst the masses. The public sector needs to certainly wake up and start delivering – any demands must be associated with what they have delivered in terms of service!
From Parents – The role of parents to children and to society is nothing that needs to be reiterated. They are firstly responsible for providing a stable and safe home – and covers far more than financial needs or providing meals. Parents are the child’s role model – children must be guided on how to interact and with whom and parents should not be caught in the trap of competition. Morals and values are key influences and unless parents lead good moral lives their children are unlikely to respect them. Despite parents being involved in careers it is important to be emotionally supportive of their children. Parents also play a major role in education and it is what a child learns at home that shapes his eventual behavior later on in life. With the current frustrations experienced by both student and graduate alike it is natural for parents to feel equally frustrated. They have a lot of expectations wanting their children to become educated enough to stand on his/her feet. At this current crisis it is the parents who have greater right to demand answers than anyone else.
From Teachers – How many of today’s teachers regard teaching as a profession and not a trade? Today’s children are not interested in sitting down dutifully and listening to what the teacher says. They are in search of a unique learning experience that involves far more than accepting facts – they want knowledge. How many teachers are interested in improving their knowledge to be in par with the curiosities nurtured by children? This is why teaching is a challenging career and one that is best suited for natural teachers and not those that treat teaching as a job. The chemistry between child and teacher will not work out if teaching means nothing other than covering a syllabus. There are many ways a child is able to learn beyond the lesson in a text book…it is upto the teachers to encourage exploration and answer questions that the child asks – but teachers who are not equally updated will not be upto the challenge and this kickstarts resentment between child and teacher where unwarranted discipline is used to cover the teachers lack of knowledge. What student will like to have the teacher functioning as a parrot without any exchange of views and thoughts? Therefore we cannot stress enough for the need for teachers to be far more upto date in what is happening around the world and in Sri Lanka far more than their students – since students are quick to know when a teacher is shamming. Why is there no system to regularly evaluate teachers and their teaching methodology? Why are they not made to re-certify themselves so that they meet necessary standards. Teaching is not a PROFESSION – it is or rather should be meant for ONLY those teachers who love being with children/young adults, who enjoy engaging with them and encouraging them to learn. If teachers do not have creativity, adaptability, resourcefulness and thoughtful planning it is highly unlikely they will succeed as teachers and children are unlikely to get anything out of their teaching as well
From Tuition Teachers – These have become the money hawks of the education system. While there are some excellent tuition teachers who are far better at imparting knowledge than those found in schools the tuition menace is as a result of teachers treating education as a business and a means of earning an extra income outside school hours. Often children are compelled to follow their own teachers tuition class after school. How can a child understand what he does not understand in school by the same teacher just because she teaches after school? Then there are the mass classes where at times over 1000 sit in congested auditoriums often coming hours in advance just to get a sit where one can see the lecturer without much strain. Sometimes a mother can teach far better and there are enough and more reading material available in the bookshops that enhances one’s knowledge without having to pay Rs.1000 an hour.
From Lecturers/Professors – To become a lecturer the journey is not an easy one. A lot of hard work and studies. Lecturers on the strength of the service they offer to nurturing graduates for Sri Lanka’s tomorrow needs to be not only providing a quality service for the role they have been chosen for but to ensure that they are regularly updating the course that they are responsible for. How far our expectations of this is fulfilled is questionable. There is debate that many of Sri Lanka’s professors are not qualified to be called such. Of the 4000 lecturers over 550 have signed bonds but have not returned. Do the public know that the State offers fully paid sabbatical leave every 7 years that extend to 2-3 years or more, air fares even for the spouse are covered by the state, they are not disallowed from lecturing privately, providing consultations, involved in projects with these earnings are tax free, they enjoy more holidays than other public sector personnel. Today, the university lecturers are on a 3 month strike – their demands of salary increases is growing to reach unacceptable levels considering that they are the highest paid in state service. Given that the quality of the university education has not seen any acceptable level of improvement we wonder how far another increase is likely to change the status quo.
Is it not insane to be asking 6% allocation of the country’s GDP when its earnings are just over 14%!
From students/teachers unions – Why do these trade unions not spend the energy they use for demonstrations and placard making towards demanding better hostel facilities, well equipped libraries or other such needs that are directly associated with their studies. Why do they not request Governments and Education ministry to help develop their soft skills since these are traits that private sector especially looks for. Why is it that often university students are referred to as thugs and vandals, especially when the majority of them come from poor homes… why would they want to be sadistic enough to implement cruel forms of ragging and call it social interaction? Have any of these thugs being brought to book or punished and have criminal charges framed against them for the emotional and mental tortures they have caused sometimes forcing talented youth to commit suicide – are these perpetrators not committing murder and are these not members of the very trade unions that claim to be working in the interest of the student and country? None of these trade unions have reaped any purposeful results. What is a common practice is to use students as tools to advance the interests of the union members….the university should have strict guidelines on how student/teacher unions function. There should be no involvement on politics or political groups inside university premises. All students who rag should be punished and repeated warnings must lead to eventual dismissal – there has to be a system of discipline. If the university environment cannot respect and treat fellow humans humanely inside the university we can imagine the damage they are likely to do to society when they come out.
From External Forces – the current crisis in the universities was predicted to happen when foreign representatives started to meet up with university unions and their representatives. The educational authorities must use their intelligence to foresee these eventualities and have a proper mechanism to respond to them. Waiting for the Government to take action is not going to help. We need to be more proactive and the Governments especially education ministry officials and the Minister must respect these mechanism and rules once they are designed and implemented.
From Students/Graduates – The majority of university students come from very humble homes. It is a tragedy to see that most of these union members too come from these same homes. Where the onus on them is to study and come out to enter a profession or continue further studies most of them have opted for violence and demands. University life is not only about study just as going to school is not only about passing exams. Both places are for learning about varied people and various situations and one’s ability to deal with them. It is a pity that students and graduate alike have taken to paths that are leading to their own destruction and the eventual collapse of the future generation of Sri Lanka. Go to malls during the day and one can see numerous children in school uniform loitering about…students are now involved in porn and other forms of vices….parents and all authorities associated with children need to wake up and put these children and graduates on track…it is not an impossibility.
From the Media – Just as politicians wait for issues to show their presence, the media is ever hungry to sensationalize events. The role of the media in providing a means of checks and balances have not met the expectations of them. Most media outlets are ruled or run by political parties or their stooges. The information fed to us is not wholly the truth and certainly does not cover essential data to leave the public to decide. Most often the public are fed only half truths. In the issue of education, the media could have played a bigger and better role in portraying the truth without taking sides and then relaying the news based on the bias. All we needed to know was do the FUTA have a right to strike when they have been recipients of regular increases? Why have these data being given in portions?
From the Public – every issue ultimately leads to the masses. Therefore it is time the public became aware of the lies and halftruths that prevail. A country’s assets are its people. A country’s ultimate weapon too is its people for they are the one’s to protect the sovereignty of the country. All issues that various quarters will highlight now needs to be intelligently dealt with by the people without allowing them to be turned into Arab Springs that has totally upset the entire Middle East today. The public needs to read about the external environment – they need to update themselves on what is happening around in countries near and far and the public must ensure Sri Lanka never falls victim to similar situations.
We cannot reiterate enough the need to have a proper policy – a National Policy for education one that does not get touched or changed by any political party or politician. It must be sacred and designed to take Sri Lanka’s future to great heights. We must protect our heritage, value our past and protect our future.
The views expressed are the author’s own.