The Sunday Leader

Education In Progress?

By Waruni Karunarathne

Students in the Western Province are considered to be privileged compared to the students in the other areas of the country merely by the relative comparison of education facilities, resources and infrastructure.

When looking at the results of the scholarship examination, O/L and A/L examinations, the schools in Colombo often take the lead, creating more competition between students outside, especially at the A/L examinations, where the cutoff mark for university entrance is higher in the Western Province than the other provinces.

However, there is a huge variation of facilities among popular schools in Colombo, urban poor schools within the Colombo metropolitan area and schools outside Colombo in the Western Province.

Not isolated to provinces

Convenor of the Federation of University Teachers’ Association (FUTA) Dr Nirmal Ranjith Dewsiri told The Sunday Leader that most of the problems related to education could not be isolated according to the provinces.

He added that the Western Province, as an entity, is comprised of the majority of the so-called popular schools in the country and, yet, when considering the Colombo metropolitan area with other areas such as Gampaha and Kaluthara, it cannot be put into one entity with reference to education facilities, resources and achievements.

“There are schools within the Colombo metropolitan area without proper teachers for subjects like Science, Mathematics and English,” he added, “Popular schools have strong and powerful alumni and wealthy parents who provide facilities. Some of these schools have recruited teachers on contract basis through school fund schemes outside the government pay scheme.”

Thus, the urban poor schools seem to have a severe plight as they do not have similar resources, capacity building strength and the facilities enjoyed by the wealthy schools and yet they undoubtedly have to compete with the popular schools in the province.
“Free education is where the state takes the responsibility of providing free access to education for all,” he explained, “but it has now been restricted to providing limited infrastructure and paying the salary of some teachers.”

Directing MPs unknowledgeable

Secretary of the All Ceylon Teachers’ Union Mahinda Jayasinghe told The Sunday Leader that there were 11 Directing MPs appointed by the government to each divisional secretariat of the Western Province until the council dissolved, but none of those who were appointed had required knowledge on the area of education. He added, “The appointments of the Directing MPs were politically influenced and, therefore, did not serve any purpose but only added up to the education expenses.”

The discrepancies in transfers and giving appointments to principals and education officers are not specific to the Western Province, but are a common problem faced by the whole country as a result of politicization of each sector.

In addition, he complained about some teachers in the Western Province being forced through different means to get enrolled in an insurance scheme called ‘Guru Pavura’.

He said, “The ministry of education was trying to promote this insurance scheme among the teachers in the Western Province. They were told that it gives more benefits than the existing insurance scheme for the government servants (Agrahara) for a lesser amount of money.”

According to him, the ministry stopped forcing the teachers only after the interference of the teachers’ unions. However, he added there were over 5000 teachers who had signed up for the insurance scheme.

JVP MP Vijitha Herath also voiced that the Directing MPs appointed to each divisional secretariat of the Western Province served no purpose.

He added, “These Directing MPs were appointed by the government to deal with matters related to students’ entrance into schools. They were given the leisure to take authority into their hand when entering students to schools and the principals of the schools thus became puppets.”

Some schools are at a risk of closing down as they lack both physical facilities and human resources. He added, “Not only in rural areas but also within the Western Province, there are schools with less than five students and with no principals.”

According to Herath, some schools have excessive teachers while some other schools face a shortage of teachers due to discrepancies in the transfers. “There are teachers who have been in the same school for more than 15 to 20 years,” Herath said. According to him, thus there are several schools even within the Western Province with a risk of closing down under the 1000 school development scheme.

Education, a commodity

Convenor of the Inter University Students’ Federation (IUSF) Najith Indika added that education has become a commodity and the problem is not limited the Western Province. The provincial council cannot give solutions to the current issues in the education sector. According to the IUSF, through student activism they hope to fight back the discrepancies in the system.

Many education unions also claimed, in order to address many issues related to education and to overcome inequities in the education system, it is important to allocate at least 6% of the GDP for education, which the government failed to fulfill.

While education unions have expressed their displeasure on lack of funds allocated to education and the government’s lack of true intention to promote free education, officials of the Ministry of Education claim that there has been a remarkable progress in the sector.

According to the booklet “The Gigantic Transformation of Sri Lankan Education” issued by the Ministry of Education, 1552 schools with less than 50 students have been developed as child friendly schools by the Presidential Secretariat, among which 93 are from the Western Province. It also indicates that 5000 feeder schools have been developed as child friendly schools with several aspects such as electricity facilities, water facilities, latrine and sanitary facilities, fence and gates, repairs to buildings and painting, activity room for grade one students etc. In the Western Province, the number of feeder schools developed with those facilities by the end of 2013 amounts to 464.

The Ministry of Education stated that under 1000 Mahindodaya Secondary Schools, they aspire to establish at least three schools for each DS Division with facilities for Advance Level Science, Mathematics, Language, Commerce and Arts streams and 3000 graduate teachers have been recruited on school basis to teach subjects such as ICT, Science, Mathematics and English.

The ministry claims that they have invested Rs 150 million to each school for Mahindodaya technical laboratories and out of 1000, 407 technical laboratories have been already completed. They have indicated that 41 out of 132 laboratories allocated for the Western Province have already been established.

Despite the progress in education shown by the government with statistics and figures, the recognition and preference given to popular schools in Colombo and lack of educational facilities in many schools both in and out of Colombo still remain a cold hard fact.

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