It is almost fifty years after the schools takeover circular of 1961. Schools for the poor were always fully state-assisted. Elite schools then were administered by independent boards and funded through a combination of private benevolence and state assistance. Elite schools were elite because children of the elite attended those giving the schools many additional benefits.
Ironically, almost fifty years after the free education initiative, things have not changed much. Schools that the poor attend are still fully state-assisted. Elite schools, both public (and some private) are, for all practical purposes, funded by a combination of private and state funds. Private funds in modern time are not from benevolent Gate Mudliars but from their more pedestrian replacements in the form Associations for old boys or old girls. Elite schools remain elite not necessarily because they teach anything different but because the children of the elite and the want-to-be-elite attend those.
By all accounts present day elite public schools would be in dire straits if not for the generous support of the old boys and old girls. The old boys/girls get places for their children in return for services rendered. Wealthy alumni donate swimming pools while other parents donate their time, car and petrol and occasional fan or some other small necessity for the class room.
The education at these elite schools may not be very different from other non-elites but the availability of more extra-curricular facilities supplied by parents and the opportunity to be part of a group who spoke English at home and such intangibles may be the factors that make these schools desired by many.
The Central Colleges introduced in were meant to bring an elite education to rural areas. They succeeded for a while thanks to generous funding from the state, but, they like many other fine state institutions went into decay as the state tried to do too much with too little. The grade 5 scholarship exam or the GCE (ordinary level), while giving hopes to many, allow only a scant few to cross the non-elite/elite boundary. A complex admissions process based on parental schooling history, proximity to the schools is superimposed on this merit-based system to result in a complex system of admissions that leaves room for discretion and hence bribery, and acute frustration for parents.
Now comes the Supreme Court ruling of March 2007 that the present system of admissions to public schools is unconstitutional. â€˜â€™Mommy or daddy went to this schoolâ€™â€™ can no longer be an admission criteria.
Are elite schools by nature going to be few in number no matter what the government tries to do or will this be a chance to shake things up?
At a personal level, for each of you who reads this, how do you feel about sending your child or another child of a loved-one to the government school within 2 Km of your house? Or would you rather send your loved-ones to a private school (as I or my relatives would do)?
Should the government make land available at low cost to new school ventures by the private sector? What should be conditions for making such land available?
Not all opinions in this blog are researched but the following sources were used as necessary.
1. Education in Ceylon: A Centenary Volume (from the Sixth Century BC to the Present Period), Published by the Ministry of Education and Cultural Affairs, Ceylon in 1969 and
3. Education Guide, 1st Edition, Neptune Publications, June 2005