and old age: Coping with the challenges
International Day for Children and the Elderly was observed in October.
Both are of significance for the country. The children of the country
are the future hope. Their health and education and values will
determine the nature and pace of economic growth and social development
in the country. The reduced rate of population growth provides the
country with an opportunity to concentrate on the improvement of
the quality of education. Till recently the high rate of population
growth meant that the number of children entering schools continued
to rise and the education budget was spent largely on providing
more infrastructure and teachers. The quantitative expansion of
education facilities absorbed the money that was available for education.
proportion of expenditure for education too dwindled owing to growing
fiscal difficulties. The quality of education declined. Now that
the fertility rate has dropped even below the replacement level,
the number of children entering schools would decline. This gives
the country the opportunity to focus on the quality of education
that is woefully inadequate in most schools in the country.
government has indicated its commitment to spend more on education.
Any increase in expenditure should go towards an improvement in
education at all levels. It is through a qualitative improvement
in education that we could sustain the country's economic growth
at a high rate. No longer is it adequate to think in terms of high
rates of literacy. What is needed among the youth is a capacity
to think, analyse and possess skills that a modern society needs.
foundation must be laid by a more intelligent approach to primary
education followed by a versatile knowledge base in secondary education.
Such an approach requires better training of teachers and equipment.
A higher investment is needed to achieve these goals in education.
An expenditure of 6 percent of GDP should be the aim in the next
few years. With a GDP growth of 5 per cent per year and lesser numbers
in school, such expenditure should enable a qualitative improvement.
However much finance is important there are other perquisites of
educational planning and administration that are vital to make the
higher per capita investment in education cost-effective.
the other end of the age spectrum is the emerging problem of an
ageing population. The proportion of the population over 60 years
is rising with the longevity of the population increasing. The current
life expectancy of 72 years is expected to rise to about 80. The
proportion of the population over 60 years is expected to increase
to over 20 percent by about 2030.
has serious implications for the economy and society at large. The
retirement benefits are inadequate and in fact a large proportion
of the population has no retirement benefits. These persons would
have to be looke after for a longer time than before. Those getting
pensions would find the real value of their pensions eroded by inflation.
changes that are occurring imply a need to provide larger numbers
of the old aged with institutional homes. Such homes would require
to be provided by the state, voluntary organisations and for the
affluent by the private sector.
there is little action to provide such facilities adequately owing
to the preoccupation of governments with political issues and the
lack of adequate resources for funding such facilities. These are
only a few of the problems. Though the problems are grave, the attention
is inadequate. Unless there are reforms to cope with the problem
they would become very serious issues in the near future.
is becoming a fairly widespread phenomenon in the world. Yet the
rapidity of the process in Sri Lanka and the fact that the country
is facing economic and financial problems and political instability
mean that the needed directions of policy may not be embarked on
till the problems become serious and their resolution more difficult.
rhetoric of the international day for the aged must be backed by
specific measures to make the life of the larger proportion of elders