The news that so many students fared poorly at the recently held national exams must be bad tidings indeed. Of concern to parents and offspring alike – to say nothing of educationists and policymakers – must be the shadow that has been cast over these young people’s respective futures, like a monsoonal nimbostratus of today over the citizenry of tomorrow.
While present concerns are no doubt pressing and depressing, one would do well to glance over one’s shoulder at the past, and mark with due respect the root causes that gave rise to radical uprisings and rebellious phases in Sri Lanka’s then still relatively youthful post-independence phase. That a future revolution of an ill-educated and unqualified cadre of youths is in the offing is probably not on any politician’s event horizon – but perhaps it should be. Riots in town and country have been caused by less than the dreaded F.
Be that as it may, the lessons to be learned from the recent ‘O’ Level imbroglio are not merely those of classroom techniques and curricular relevance. Boys and girls en masse failing their exams seems like tragedy enough. But grown men and women not passing the test is another matter all together. That’s a real school for scandal. For while young minds may be forgiven for being altogether unfamiliar with the topics and themes thrust down their throats, experienced hands who have sought political office cannot be exempt from a similar lack of knowledge.
A modest proposal
It is in this light that we would like to suggest for the consumption of the powers-that-be a set of exams to test the mettle of ministers and MPs alike. If schoolchildren must pass muster before they can be permitted to graduate, it is reasonable to expect that our elected representatives and appointed officials be asked to demonstrate a fair grasp of the subject before they are allowed to govern. (No, dears, such a fair grasp does not extend to include the reach of servants of the state who have their greasy little fingers firmly in the public purse!)
For starters, the mainstream political parties can establish a minimum standard for parliamentary candidates whose names they forward for inclusion in the nominations list. One would think that at least O Levels, and at best A Levels, would be par for the course? Of course, the next generation of political aspirants may have to be discounted – if state education continues to churn out the abysmal results that it has produced of late…
In addition, MPs once elected would have to undergo compulsory training in such trivialities as history, good governance, civics, ethics, and the rest of the boring subjects that they probably avoided like the plague when they were (or were not) at university. Of course, dear, you and I know that these concerns are hardly trivial – but to judge by the way our members of the House treat them, you would think they considered these anathema.
As follow up, all so-called government officials of a certain rank (dash it all, why not collar the file as well?) would have to take crash courses in decency, etiquette, transparency, accountability, and above all honesty and integrity.
To raise the bar, ministers would have to be academically or professionally qualified to be in charge of a ministry. To complement this intellectual capacity, it would not be a bad idea to have them sit an EQ test of sorts – if only to demonstrate that they had a heart to complement the brain. Too many mandarins have bright ideas flowing in their veins, but not enough blood-red compassion to feed a starving mosquito.
Bottom of the barrel
Naturally, the most stringent criteria would apply to heads of state, heads of government, leaders of opposition – and other low lifes masquerading as Lords High Poo-Bah. No Grand Panjandrum would be let off Scot-free if they failed to pass even the most elementary tests designed to assess, evaluate, and enforce their compliance with the basic rules of running (not ruining) a country.
If any state minister or higher official were to fail their qualifying exams – why, then, it would be back to the drawing boards for them! And leave alone being a compassionate society aside for a moment, all miscreants who bomb their courses by being exemplars of the “me-first, my-family-and-friends-only” model of government would be fined, imprisoned, executed – or worse, made junior minister of education for the central province. No lesser mortal can be imagined in this nation-state right now, eh?