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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2705

Education Reforms – application without discrimination are vital for the Economic Prosperity and for Future Directions.

By Sellakapu S Upasiri de Silva, JP

This article place the onus of accepting or discarding these ‘true facts’, essential to reform the education system, squarely on the shoulders of the general public and students hoping to get a University placing. But, the GOSL failed to place before the people how they are planning to bring in-line the private education institutes mushrooming around the country under the BOI legislation and Companies Act, operating as ‘International Schools’. The GOSL enacted legislation to bring these establishments under the Department of Education, but it is not working to the satisfaction of the people. Government is taking action to develop Vocational education but why it is controlled under a separate Ministry and not in one education reform package, as it is an essential part of our higher education system.

The education system left behind by our old Colonial masters and tinkered by every government in power to meet their political agendas. Now the time is ripe for an urgent ‘triple by-pass’ and inject complete new reforms to raise the standard of education and meet the urgent education needs of the people to prosper as a nation.

The controversial reforms introduced to standardize the University entrance for Medicine Engineering and few other departments turned out to be the worst decision ever taken in the history of education in Sri Lanka. The standardization introduce in 1976/77 to curb the entry to Universities from three effluent provinces, discriminated the Sinhala students from the Southern Province, a poor cousin of the other two affluent provinces.

The meager education facilities provided for Southern province schools were very inadequate when compared with the other two affluent provinces. But the standardization became a lethal weapon for the Tamil militants to start the ongoing separatist war. Reforms to the education system are a very sensitive subject for all Sri Lankans. Reforms to upgrade the education system should be introduced without any discrimination to any ethnic group, to develop our country to achieve the economic prosperity we are expecting from these changes.

Education is an essential armament of our lives and it is the only armament all Sri Lankans can used to build their future. All parents try very hard to educate their children and provide them with a better future. This struggle to give a better education is not limited to rich. Poor parents are much eager to educate their children to change their standard of living and eliminate their poverty cycle. As such, the future of the country will depend on a sensible and non-discriminate University and Vocational education system which can provide equality among all Sri Lankans.

Dr. de Mel in her article stated that out of 250,000 students who sit for the GCE/AL examination only 15,000 gain entrance to the Sri Lankan Universities. This may be a rude shock for the students as well as for the parents. To overcome this situation it is necessary to reform the higher education system in our country. Under the present system 6% of the student population is trying to hijack the education reforms leaving 94% of the students (population) in limbo? Out of this 94% another 4% get a place in the vocational education system.

As an academic attached to the Tertiary Institution in Australia, I had a rare opportunity to interact and discuss the present status of the vocational education in Sri Lanka with some Lecturers and Administrators from the Ministry of Vocational Education on a study tour in Sydney. According to their opinion approximately 4% of the student populations who pass their GCE/AL examination get a place in the Technical and other Vocational Institutes. In the true sense this is a real disaster. To overcome this tragic situation our education system needs very constructive reforms and all politicians from all political parties should give their support for a very sensible reform package to resolve this burning issue as soon as possible.

Higher Education in Australia is very costly as free education introduced by the Whitlam Labor government in 1974 was changed by Hawke Labor government in 1987/1989 by a Higher Education Tax (HECS) and other charges.

New South Wales (NSW) where I live and work is the most populated State in Australia. The population in New South Wales is close upon 5 million and we have 8 very large Universities catering for over 120,000 students offering Medicine, Engineering, Law, Science and all other degrees. In addition to this the Technical and Further Education Commission (TAFE) provides Vocational education for over 200,000 students. This represents 8% of the population in NSW. In Sri Lanka University and Vocational training intake is limited to 0.14% of the population. Those who complete a TAFE Diplomas gets credit points to complete a degree in a University.

In addition to these two systems of public education there are many private Institutions and University affiliated Institutions offering courses with direct entry to Universities other than Medicine. The above student population includes ‘Fee paying’ international students. These students contribute 60% of the Total University funding for their ‘Tuition’. This 60% fee contributions provides funds for much needed educational facilities for the local students. The total amount of Sri Lankan students in Australia exceeds 1200.

International Schools established under BOI

Board of Investment operating under World Trade and GAT Trade Agreements is responsible for encouraging foreign investors to invest in the country to boost our economy. In many instances they have encouraged the correct investors to the country. But on many occasions the BOI has encourage many mushroom companies to establish projects which create a negative impact to our economy. One of the negative approvals of the BOI is, to allow establishing ‘International Schools’. This action of the BOI violates the principals of the agreements. These violations encroached the education sector under their powers thus ignoring ‘the general exemption clauses and may be the Sri Lankan Constitution’. Under the above agreements the BOI should avoid ‘corrupting the education system’ as the BOI is bound to ‘protect the public moral and maintain public order’ and ‘protect human or plant life or health’ of the people and species of the country. At the inception of the BOI, establishment of ‘International Schools’ were provided for children of foreign residents including students from foreign countries to obtain their secondary education in Sri Lanka in 'English'.

But over 100 International Schools controlled by the BOI are providing education to the Sri Lankan students may be violating the government regulations even though they provide a service to the country. BOI is a Business entity and not an Education provider to operate International Schools under their control. Under the general exemption clause ‘protection of public moral and public order’ should be maintained by the BOI. As such International schools should come under the control of the Ministry of Education even though they are established under the BOI. If the majority of students in these schools are Sri Lankans the name 'International' should be removed forthwith. It is my understanding that under the Sri Lankan Constitution and the United Nations Convention against Discrimination in Education every citizen of the country should receive their education ‘free of any discrimination’. But these International Schools discriminate students who are unable to pay the exorbitant charges. ‘Free education’ bill passed in the late 1945 until rescind, requires the government to provide free education to all citizens, but the BOI has conspired with these 'International Schools' using the free trade agreements as a escape route, to violate the UN convention against discrimination in Education and the Sri Lankan Constitution. This tantamount to violation of our ‘poor’ students human rights as they are afford to pay exorbitant fees.

Suggested Reforms

* As the first step in education reforms Dr, de Mel should bring all these International schools (if necessary, with the help of the Minister of Education, HE the President) and all other private educational institutions under the control of a peak education body making them to follow the government approved rules & regulations.

* Establish government approved qualification process for the teachers of these ‘International Schools’.

* Bring regulations to curtail the use of the word 'International' if the school is providing education to majority of Sri Lankan students. The charges should be moderate and in Sri Lankan Rupees. If all students are Sri Lankans the medium of education should be Sinhala as stated in our Constitution and English can be used as a second language.

* 'International Schools' should provide education only for the children of expatriate parents working in Sri Lanka or Sri Lankans working elsewhere and all the charges should be paid in foreign currency.

Without these reforms it will be difficult to convince the ‘jury’ that reforms are beneficial to the people.

Tertiary Education and the Curriculums

Most of our Universities have failed to deliver the required education outcomes for the last few decades. Universities are using the same old curricula for the last few decades with few changes. Lack of practical training components for (most of the) Engineering Architecture, Quantity Surveying and Science degree courses thus depriving these graduates a important segment of their professional education. The final report submitted by a CFTC (Commonwealth Secretariat) Education Expert who served in a Sri Lankan University in 1990/92 was published in the ‘Commonwealth Journal’. This is how he analyzed the practical knowledge of our University students. ‘Avoid discussing theory with Sri Lankan University Students, they are experts in theory but never discuss the practical side as they have no idea about practical application’.

This statement clearly indicates that our tertiary education system does not meet the world standards and learning experiences which should be provided at the University. ‘A curriculum is an integrated sequence of courses of appropriate type and length, arrange in a logical order and designed to achieve certain education goals (Larson)’. There are three Domains under we classify the ‘taxonomy of objectives’. They are (a) The Cognitive Domain (objectives related to knowledge) (b) The Affective Domain (objectives concerned with interest, attitudes and values) (c) The Psychomotor or Performance Domain (objectives related to practical and general skills). If our teaching modules are well set under the 'Affective Domain' as in other countries we can avoid un-necessary 'ragging' and prevent students participating in strikes disturbing their own education. Psychomotor or Performance Domain is necessary to change the behavior of these students.

For the students to get benefited from ‘free education’ inherited by them they should contribute to support the ‘free education’ without hindering the system. Government spends 13 billion rupees a year for education. Students should help the government to re-coup some or total of the expenditure. In most Universities around the world student share certain percentage of the cost of their education. In Australia a local student undertaking Medicine must pay approximately A $ 60,000 (Rs. 5 million approximately) Engineering A $ 40,000 (Rs. 3 million approximately) plus other expenses. The Australian government spends 40% of the balance expenses. Foreign students undertake a Medical degree in any University in Australia spend around A $ 300,000.00 (Rs. 24 million approximately) and the University (the government) provide them with the necessary theoretical & practical training.

Suggested Reforms

* Provide new buildings and other essential facilities to all our Universities and increase the intake of students. Only alternative under the current economy conditions is better to allow one fee paying ‘private’ University to be established under the University Grant Commission.

* Increase the intake of Engineering, Architecture and Quantity Surveying (Building Economics) degree students to the Moratuwa as it is under utilized at present. Also introduce Science degrees in addition to the above.

* As the Building Economics (Quantity Surveying) degree at Moratuwa is accredited by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) allow some International Fee paying students to be taken into the QS intake. [This may need changes to the Universities Act] to support the funding arrangements levied on foreign students.

* Increase the intake of students by 10-12% by running degree/higher degree courses in the evenings or pruning degree courses not productive. Provide additional facilities at Peradeniya, Colombo Sri Jayewardenepura, Kelaniya and Ruhuna for increase intake.

* Increase the intake of students by increasing departments at Sabaragamuwa, Rajarata, Eastern and South Eastern with additional facilities. These Universities are under utilized.

* Jaffna University only second to Peradeniya is having more departments than the Colombo, Moratuwa, and Ruhuna Universities should be provided with additional facilities to increase the intake. {Do we need to check Jaffna with the LTTE?}

* As Universities world wide upgrade the curriculums of their Universities in every five years to include new changes to support the emerging industry needs, re-write our Engineering, Science and all other curriculums to meet the industry needs & demands.

* Upgrade all Teacher Training Colleges as affiliated Colleges to Universities and provide degrees in education including Science and other compatible degrees to boost the student intake.

* Re-organize teaching patterns of academics to meet world standard, at least 4 day teaching week with increased salaries.

* Increase funding for research as research is the driver of university mission and status for good reasons. Research capacity is central not just for the reputation of Sri Lankan Universities but to the long term capacity of the nation in a global knowledge economy.

Vocational Education

As vocational education is part of the higher education system it is necessary to discuss vocational education in this article. Vocational education in Sri Lanka is provided by seven (7) separate departments under the Ministry of Vocational Education. This is a very cumbersome process. If we are to achieve the best practice methods vocational education should be provided by a single provider for students to achieve a better future. In Sri Lanka parents are keen for their children to be Engineers and Doctors but not carpenters and bricklayers. To remove this stigma and the disparity we must provide facilities for students undertaking vocational education to enter a University and to complete a degree after completing the vocational training if they wish to do so.

To provide this smooth transition these seven (7) departments should be amalgamated under one department as the Department of Technical and Further Education or what ever the name suitable for the country, under a Director General of Technical Education. Higher national diploma and national diploma courses should come under this department and the students who complete these diplomas should get credit points for their respective degree courses.

Suggested Reforms

* Technical and Junior Technical colleges should be expanded with more departments. Intake of students should be increased.

* Higher National and National Diploma courses should be affiliated to a separate Technical colleges and remove them from Moratuwa University to create much needed space to increase the student intake. By doing so the HND and ND Diploma courses can be run well structured to provide the necessary second tire of Technical Officers for the country as well as required progression to obtain a degree.

* All other vocational courses should be reorganized to meet the present and future requirements of the country with facilities for those students willing to proceed to complete a higher degree.

* Trade courses coming under Apprentices Board should also come as part of the Technical education to allow students undertaking these courses to have a progression to higher degree courses.

Reforms should meet the nations hope for a better education system without any discrimination to the poor. If the government can convince the ‘Jury’ they may agree to productive reforms without any prejudice. Reforms should meet the aspiration of all Sri Lankans without changes to the ‘Free Education’ system as majority Sri Lankans cannot afford any ‘fee’ paying education.

- Asian Tribune -

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