Public losing faith in education system, says Friday Forum
A prominent group of Sri Lankans who are members of the Friday Forum said it has become an undeniable truth that the public are starting to lose faith in the public education system of Sri Lanka with all the recent blunders in examinations and the curriculum and the absence of a national education policy.
Forum members who addressed the media on Friday pinpointed five issues of concern to them, namely, lack of priority given by the authorities for consultative policy planning, political appointments to key posts, inadequate resources for education, military training for undergraduates and trade union action of FUTA.
“Decision making in a university is a task of the university Senate not that of a Ministry. For a university to function in an effective manner, its autonomy should be protected, Prof. Savithri Goonesekere, former Vice Chancellor of the Colombo University said.
Retired diplomat Jayantha Dhanapala emphasized that while it is accepted that military training should be carried out in ways that are specific for such an endeavour, the question here is how relevant this kind of training is for a university student and whether it is an exercise at teaching them to take orders without questioning.
“A university environment is different from this. In a university environment students are given the opportunity to engage in research and criticize, which is how education in a university is developed,” he said.
Former Colombo Bishop Rt. Rev. Bishop Duleep De Chickera stressed the need for dialogue on the education sector in the country. He added that this should be a proper dialogue where parties show a willingness to express their ideas and also listen to the ideas of others on the issues.
In a statement given to the media the Forum stated that the education sector is one of the Millennium Development Goals to be achieved under the Mahinda Chinthana policy but the recent trend is such that statutory policy advisory bodies like the National Education Commission have been side-lined and made dysfunctional.
“The UGC which in the past recognized its responsibility to uphold the concept of academic autonomy incorporated in the Universities Act, has now become a convenient conduit for implementing ad hoc decisions of the Minister on the management and resourcing of university education,” it said.
The Forum also raised concerns about the politicisation of key appointments in the sector in violation of the Universities Act through persistent political interference in making appointments to the post of Vice-Chancellor and governing bodies (Councils) of universities.
“We are aware of many instances in which eminently qualified academics have refused to apply for the post of Vice-Chancellor because of the political manipulations of the appointment process. There is now open political canvassing for these positions. Relatives, friends and political allies without the relevant competencies and expertise are also constantly being appointed to University Councils. Their main qualification appears to be political allegiance to the regime and/or to the Minister of Higher Education,” the statement said.
It also said the percentage of GDP allocated by the Government for education in Sri Lanka is the lowest recorded in Asia, being only 1.9 per cent. Another issue was the attempt at militarisation of education which they said could have grave implications for academic freedom and institutional autonomy.
“There appears to be a concerted effort of the defence establishment, working closely with the Ministers of Education and Higher Education, to infuse military discipline and a military ethos into the formal education system, both at school and university levels,” the Forum said.
On the trade union action by FUTA, the Forum members said the crippling strike action launched by FUTA has a clearly formulated set of demands on strengthening public universities in the country. “Unfortunately, the Government has not displayed a commitment to engage in a constructive dialogue to resolve the crisis as a matter of national priority. It has wrongly perceived FUTA action as part of a radical political agenda.
From the inception, the Minister of Higher Education, the UGC and the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Directors have been on a confrontational course with the academics,” the statement said.
The Forum members present at the media conference were Dr. G. Usvatte Arachchi, Prof. Savithri Goonesekere, Dr. Selvi Thiruchandran, Jayantha Dhanapala and Rt. Rev. Duleep De Chickera.
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