The Sunday Leader

Views On The Present State Of Education

by Ashanthi Warunasuriya

In the 19th century Eurocentric education was born with the intention of providing a proper education and to build discipline. Several different schools of thought on education operated with various other social institutions as well. With the birth of capitalist wealth distribution in the 19th century the European society took a sharp turn in to changing their educational objectives to cater to their requirement of professionals. But with the global crisis that erupted in the 20th century, creating professions that could suffice the needs of the new socioeconomic structures became difficult. However, it is up to the higher education of any country to create human resources that possess skills to handle the new trends in the society. However, with the developing socioeconomic conditions in order to develop the country the most vital source would be the human resources. The entire development process of the country rests upon it. Hence education must be used as a tool to generate skills and attitudes. At present our educational system has adapted in to a student centered process and the students have been compelled to face competition through exam mentalities.

But on the other hand many are still talking about the anti-student measure that is seen inside the present education system in the country. With all these facts in mind, how should the education sector change in order to meet the challenges that prevent us from achieving the objectives of education?  Following are some of the views expressed by politicians, academic professionals and students regarding the practical issues in Sri Lanka’s education:-

 

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Dr. Mayura Samarakoon

The gap between the university degrees and the job market has been prevailing in our country for a long time. But so far the authorities have been unable to provide any lasting solution to close this gap. Like fashion trends everyone is talking about it.

But that has not produced any practical results. On the other hand there is a close relationship between university degrees and employment opportunities. It is the university that prepares students for degrees and it is the government that provides jobs.

Plus the ministers in charge of higher education have no broad understanding about the university system. If it is the government that is providing jobs then they are vested with the responsibility to select those who are suitable for the jobs. Then these problems would not arise.

However due to these lapses a gap has been created and the problems sored. The only solution available now is to recognise these employment opportunities and to offer them under competitive examinations. In that case when the students follow relevant degrees in the university the administration gets an opportunity to decide on the changes that they should make based on failure rates. Clearly with the quality of education other factors also must be built. Today the granting of employment opportunities is taking place on political motives. Even the government during election times boasts about the number of jobs they have provided.  These are mere statistics and have no sense in quality. The government is not even doing anything to uplift this quality as well. We cannot say that our education system is not adequate enough relevant to international standards. If we take MBBS degrees for example it is recognised by all the countries in the world. There are some undeveloped courses. University degree courses on arts and management subjects must be further developed. But these development criteria must be in line with the government policies. It is up to the government to evaluate whether creative intellectuals are being created. Today the biggest qualification for a job is political influence. The government is not interested about filling its ranks with intellectuals. That is the basic problem. Violence and student protests are common in many countries. If we talk about the beginning of student struggles in Sri Lanka it started with the protest refusing to go in to dining halls dressed up in ties and coats. Such protests have now turned in to violent student movements.

 

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Dr. Tudor Weerasinghe

 

If we take the education system in Sri Lanka it is hard to assume that it suits the socioeconomic, cultural and historical needs of the country. It is also problematic as to whether the employment opportunities available are suitable for students with their educational qualifications.

It is evident from the chain of student demonstrations, teachers’ problems and social protests. If we take the historical aspect in to account we can see that the modern educational system has been created based on European civilization. Here the education must be able to create professionals who could compete with the fast growing social trends.

However, with the global crisis that has erupted in the 20th century the society was faced with the challenge of creating adequate human resources that is needed for the society. When a student comes out of the university after spending 4,5years he is not in a position to deal with the prevailing situation. It is because the outside world is moving much faster than the university curriculum. Therefore there is a huge gap between the student’s knowledge and the required capacity. This in turn creates unemployment.

This proves that the human resources are developing at a slower pace than the outward knowledge. The human resources in our country have not adapted to such a fast moving trend. The European influence has made a considerable effect on us. Unlike European countries not many employment opportunities are created in our country.

It is through the educational institutions the creation of personnel who could adapt to a fast moving social environment similar to western countries is done.

However, due to the unsuitable education system in our country the creation of such intellectual human resources has become a problem.

All these crisis situations have affected us in a serious manner. As a result we have been bombarded with these problems.

Even the Prime Minister has said that the country needs an advanced educational system.

Education is the most vital organ in a state.

More than the political and economic aspects it is the education and the discipline it generates that helps to solve all the problems in the country. If we do not straighten up this education which affects humans from their birth to death then these problems would keep getting worse.

However the education crisis has become a global issue at present. Even the USA is now discussing ways that could help them to reform their education according to the changing social needs.

Education is linked with the socio economic environment of the whole world. So we must reform our education system with an ideological approach. This can only be done through analysis and discussion.

In the past education was confined only to the privileged elite of the society. But today it has expanded to the whole society.

But the spiritual development that is expected from the education has changed with the present social system. Although the education must change according to these needs still 60% of the graduates are from the Arts stream while 20% are from science. This too is wrong. Today our curricula should change according to international standards. If not these protests would never stop.

The violent nature of the students is not their fault. Although many other countries have changed their education systems with the time our country has not yet evolved in that front. When the education does not satisfy their needs the students tend to become violent. We cannot say that the students in USA are not violent. But the problem is that this has been prevailing since a long time without any lasting solution.

 

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Rangana Devapriya – Convener, Socialist Student Union

Since the 70’s we have seen many student struggles based on free education. The students too have been sacrificing their lives to protect free education. Under every government the education was put under the ax. There were threats such as the privatisation of education and gradually the quality of the education too started to deteriorate. Usually the education system of a country must be upgraded once in every four years. But in Sri Lanka instead of upgrading the curricula they were slashed off from schools to universities. Removal of subjects was done mainly during the period of Bandula Gunawardhana. Since 1990 the lack of reforms in the indigenous medicine subjects is being discussed and the struggles are still going on.

But in all these events before taking the struggle to the street the students have tried negotiating with the officials. Actually these problems cannot be solved by the university administration. These are entwined with the policies of the central government.  At present there is no faculty complex for the management faculty of the University of Ruhuna. The esthetics university does not have an auditorium. There are welfare problems. But the university administration cannot provide answers to these questions. When we take our case to the UGC they pass the ball to the minister. The issues are being dragged on unnecessarily. Then we have to protest. Violence is not the first step of the struggle. We students come down to streets after trying all other options. It was due to continuous protests of the students, the Mahapola grant was increased. Everyone is trying to justify their actions to avoid the blame. But no one is providing any solutions. There are problems related to HNDE courses and welfare issues. But the government is not providing any solutions for problems in universities. Due to these ignorant policies of the government the student movement has continuously struggled to get the government’s attention. We would continue to do so until our rights are secured. In the future we hope to expand our dialogue to all university student and teachers unions and civil society organizations. This is not only a problem of the students. This is a problem for the entire society. We have written to the President about this. But no positive response has been made. It was because of these issues the former President Mahinda Rajapaksa had to go home. This HNDE issue was there during his time too. The present government too instead of providing answers is engaged in suppressing students.

 

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Mohammad Mussamil – Spokesperson, National Freedom Front

The education in Sri Lanka must be looked at from various angles. The core objectives of creating a good human and professional education have slipped out from the grasp of our education. So we cannot be satisfied that these objectives are being fulfilled at present. But inside free education there is a glimpse of hope for fairness. But with the competition that has broken out with the modern world achieving the said objectives has become difficult.

 

When we take the job market the creation of personnel suitable for the local and international job markets have failed in many fields. So this has to change. When we take the objective of creating a good human being, with the competitive education system such qualities have evaporated. So thoughts of unity have yielded to selfishness.

To make these changes the granting of necessary physical resources and subject reforms must be done. With the education system where girls and boys study together a better society is being created. But we have failed in that front as well. So there must be a broad social dialogue to rectify these lapses. A national policy for education must be formed with the assistance of politicians, bureaucrats, students and intellectuals.

 

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Subash Maduranga Fernando – Student, Faculty Of Arts, University Of Colombo

A number of changes must be done to the school education system.  If we take the English language for an example, despite the fact that we have studied the subject for over 13 years at school at the end it seems like we have learned nothing at all. We pass the exams by writing papers within a given time limit. But other than that we cannot do anything. So a lot of changes should be done in School education. When we take universities it is only a small percentage of students in the country who are qualified to enter universities. They are a hard working group. Sometimes even with 3 A passes people cannot get in to universities. After toiling for years we follow special degrees at the university. But it is problematic as to whether such sacrifices are actually worthwhile. Under Sri Lankan standards just because you finish a university degree that does not mean you can get employed. Even when you get employed it is not always suitable for your degree. Sometimes you have to enter a totally different field. This is a common problem in the Arts field. For those who follow Science stream things work out better. Establishing private universities is good for it provides more opportunities for many people to study. But as I have heard the cost for a medical degree in these private institutions exceeds Rs. 10 Million. The problem lies on whether everyone who is willing is able to pursue such a course. The skill must not be decided solely on money. If private universities are set up then government funds are allocated for them. If the government could fund those institutes then why can’t it start new government universities? There is nothing wrong in assisting the private sector but it must be done after doing justice to those who work hard to get in to universities. Even though it is said that the Z scores are taken in to consideration only 0.9% are capable of paying Rs. 10 Million for a degree. Students have now taken their struggle in to the streets on behalf of the children who are still studying in schools. There is no benefit for us by struggling. Some people ask why we should not study instead of struggling in streets. But the university students are doing this today in the hope of building a bright future for the younger generation.
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Vasudeva Nanayakkara – UPFA MP

What we experience now is not a fault in the education system. The main problem we see now is the lack of funds allocated for education. Because of the lack of funds, creating students who can handle up to date trends of the world has become impossible. If we take other countries for example many have allocated over 7% of their GDP for education. In every country in order to carry out education reforms to meet the challenges there must be adequate funds. Further it is also important to develop the human resources.

To do that we must stop making budget cuts in the educational sector. We must create an advanced educational system in Sri Lanka. If we do not provide necessary funding to make it happen then in the future the government, like the education itself, would become worthless.

 

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Bimal Rathnayake – JVP MP

The national policy is a large topic. However it is necessity to allocate funds for education. Setting up private universities is necessary. Closing the gap of inequality among schools on physical resources is also necessary.
The government must intervene to these issues within five years.
The exam trend must also be changed at least for the primary students.
Hence, steps must be taken to increase the quality of the education by expanding free education. Investing on that could drive the country forward.
There is a need for a national policy on education.

 

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Ranjith Maddumabandara Public Administration Minister

In recent times the country fell in deep trouble politically due to imperialistic and socialist trends. Under such circumstances a proper education system was not created in the country. There was no job focused education or a proper job market. That is why we are still faced with these problems.

But we have taken steps to look in to these issues and to provide relief. In the future problems such as these will not happen. There were many problems in the state sector. But now steps have been taken to increase productivity and efficiency of government employees. In the future it is scheduled to recruit 5500 new graduates for the state sector. So everything would be clear in the future.

 

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