writing on the blackboard
The calamitous epidemic of bribery and corruption raging from top
to bottom in political and business circles has tragically hit the
very foundations of society also, as seen in the scandals revolving
around school admissions.
a bid to tackle this crisis at the roots, the Education Ministry
has taken one small step by inviting public suggestions on how to
bring about justice and fairplay in school admissions and minimize
the bribery and corruption that takes place behind the blackboard
committee chaired by Prof. Savithri Gunasekera of the National Education
Commission has been asked to study the issue at depth and make proposals
that hopefully would communicate to our children some lasting lessons
on sincerity and merit instead of deception and foul play.
revision - though it is subject to widespread and largely justifiable
public cynicism about political promises and schemes - comes amidst
the controversy over a JVP parliamentarian's bid to put his son
into a national school though he did not quite qualify, despite
the party's insistence that it would follow higher principles whether
in office or out of office. For even the JVP, which is straining
to live up to be a different and principled party to succumb to
this just shows what pressures are there for parents to use whatever
means possible to get their children into big schools.
Education Ministry and a PA MP in Matara had supported the move
to help the JVP MP's son jump the list and get into Rahula College
in Matara. The JVP leadership no doubt read the Riot Act to this
MP, and the boy was withdrawn. They talk of the poor boy having
to be withdrawn from the school because of the adverse media exposure.
But there is no one to talk for the parents of an unknown poor boy
who would have missed his place because the JVP MP, aided and abetted
by the PA Matara MP - and the Education Ministry - bypassed the
all-island scholarship examination. Shame on all of them.
JVP general secretary's statement that the MP was using his parliamentary
privilege to get his son admitted to a national school was a blatant
contradiction of most of the principles that the party professes.
such desires for party privileges or personal gain, one of the basic
facts and realities we need to keep in mind is that the population
is growing faster than our schools system and structure can cope
with. Though we obviously need more and better schools, the opposite
is happening and scores of schools are reportedly being closed down
due to lack of teachers or facilities or because incompetent provincial
councils are unable to monitor and maintain the schools in the area.
Ministry Secretary Tara de Mel is trying to spearhead a fightback
in this vital sphere. She has an unenviable task before her, and
if she proceeds on a national, apolitical basis, she deserves our
support. It’s not goung to be easy. For instance, she has
outlined plans for the development of rural schools through the
introduction of English education along with information and communication
technology. On English education, the secretary's strategy is to
first train good English teachers and Foreign Minister Lakshman
Kadirgamar during his recent visit to London sought help from the
British government for this purpose.
least two well-known Colombo schools which rushed into starting
English streams from Grade One are now known to have run into serious
problems because the standards of their English teachers are being
questioned. While focusing on English and ICT, the Education Ministry
would need to get tough with bribery, corruption and the 'packages'
available to parents for a fee — false addresses, electricity
bills, telephone bills, etc. We know that at a prestigious school
like Royal, the headmaster often goes checking addresses of applicants
from house to house. But we have not heard of anyone being taken
to courts, fined or jailed for lying or forcing their children to
lie and learn to lie in getting admitted to a national school. Some
deterrent action might help the cause.
issue that needs to be addressed is whether some non-Buddhists schools
give preference to non-Buddhists and parents actually change religions
to get their children into schools. This is the type of practice
that fuels demands for anti-conversion laws. During a better era
in the education of Sri Lanka, we had an independent Education Services
Commission. We remember this famous story of the 1980s when V. L.
Wirasinha - an upright civil servant of times when civil servants
were able to be upright - refused to appoint an art teacher to Royal
College on the request of President J. R. Jayewardene. What has
happened to this Education Services Commission? Perhap, some lessons
could be learnt from it.