It has become so very difficult to highlight any one problem that the people in this country face .There are so many issues caused by the mismanagement, corruption and abuse of power and just the lack of concern. Good governance seems to a be a myth as politicians seek to nurture themselves as they survive in their niches of power .They are no longer worried about the issues facing the voters who were once dazzled by the manifestos they presented .Today these voters have been reduced to discarded statistics while the politicians like the famous ostriches who hid their heads in the sand feeling that since their tiny heads are not visible no one will see them. As such they feel , they need not be bothered but they fail to realize that it is only a small part that is covered while the rest of the body can be seen and identified ! In the same manner the people do see through the duplicity of their politicians and their lack of commitment and dedication.
Other than the ever escalating cost of living from which politicians divorce themselves and in the manner of Pilate wash their hands off all responsibility finding refuge in high sounding economic explanations (which are not at all convincing, even to them) the most important crisis at the moment is the mess that is continuously being caused in education. Education it has been said by John Dewy â€œis the fundamental method of social progress and reform. All reforms which rest simply upon the law, or the threatening of certain penalties, or upon changes in mechanical or outward arrangements, are transitory and futile…. But through education society can formulate its own purposes, can organize its own means and resources, and thus shape itself with definiteness and economy in the direction in which it wishes to move…. Education thus conceived marks the most perfect and intimate union of science and art conceivable in human experienceâ€ Unfortunately it appears that education today has become a farce and has little or no impact on the present or future development of the country.
A few weeks ago we heard the University students protesting at the cut in the financial allocations given for higher education claiming that the Government was attempting to bring in a scheme to privatize higher education. Influenced by political parties with hidden and devious agendas the university students organized a huge demonstration . Their slogans were all about the evils of privatization .It appeared that they though free education was the panacea for all ills. Sadly enough they did not seem to realize that not charging for the education they received was not guarantee that they were receiving an education that would provide them with job opportunities or in fact that they were even receiving an education that would give them a quality life education . The education they were obtaining at most of the universities was a threadbare education which at most gave them a skeletal knowledge of the various subjects they studied. This was due to the fact that many Universities do not have properly qualified lecturers.
The Minister of Higher Education has recently said that â€œTertiary enrolment ratio (enrolment in all post-secondary institutions as % of the population 20-24 age group) is only about 6 % and only about 2 % of the population of 18-19 enter the universities as full-time students in a given year. While the social demand for higher education is high and growing, the opportunities available, particularly in the university sector, have in general lagged behind the growth in demand. As a result there is tremendous pressure for university admissions. In recent years, of the total number of students who have obtained the minimum marks to qualify for university admission, only about 16% or so have in fact been admitted. There are 11 universities in Sri Lanka which have a capacity to admit about 12,500 students per year as against about 75,000 candidates who aspire to enter the university system. The present government has expanded the opportunities for university education by the establishment of three new universities in 1995 and it is planned to set up two more new universities next year. However, even with these expansionary measures, the social demand for university education has emerged as an important issue in the higher educational system.
But unfortunately financial constraints have prevented universities from providing a viable and relevant education. Rajarata University is suffering from a severe lack of lecturers. In the faculty of management, for instance, only 22 of the 33 lecturer positions have been filled and none has a doctorate. The faculties of management, social science and humanities do not have separate buildings. The reading hall has places for only 20 students to study. There are no student hostel facilities and only about 800 students out of a student population of almost 2500 have hostel accommodation. At the countryâ€™s only institution for the performing arts and fine arts the Aesthetic University in Colombo only 83 of the 154 lecturer posts are filled and departments such as theatre history and applied music have failed to function due to lack of lecturers .Sometimes there are only two lecturers in areas which should have very much more such as the department of western music.
Most of the universities lack proper infrastructure and in many instances modern technological equipment to assist students is totally lacking or are in a state of disrepair. Given the acute lack of financial resources it is certainly difficult for the students to be provided with streamlined facilities or expertise to give the students the best of a university education.
The tragedy of this situation is that the students themselves realize that unless financial resources are available their progress is restricted their knowledge limited but yet caught up in the vicious cycle of political manipulation which has made an idol of the free education the students are often duped to believe what certain political parties preach.
Furthermore with this fear that free education will be denied is also a large unsatisfied social demand for university education. However, there is also a serious problem of unemployment of university graduates. The Minister states that about two-thirds of the students admitted to universities study social sciences, humanities, commerce and science and a substantial proportion of such graduates find it difficult to obtain productive employment; they remain unemployed or underemployed for long periods creating a problem of educated unemployed and frustration and social problems of various sorts.
While the problems affecting University education loom large two other matters too have had disastrous consequences of the present education system One, is the refusal of the teachers to evaluate the Advanced Level results till their salary anomalies are sorted out or at least a firm assurance is given that it would be done. The A Level examination has already been concluded but yet no action seems to have been taken to persuade the teachers to reconsider their decisions. The present situation will not only affect the students who are anxious to seek University entrance here and abroad but will also lead to a delay in finalizing university admissions.
Furthermore the education department was aware of the action the teachers were contemplating and as such measures should have been take to dissuade them, waiting till they decided to boycott the evaluations has led to this present crisis. In addition once this problem is sorted out, it will also have an impact on the students in schools who are preparing for their Ordinary Level examination .Many of teachers who will be involved in the AL evaluations are also subject teachers in their different schools and once they commence work on evaluating AL scripts they will be absent from school for a considerable period of time and substitute teachers will not be able to cover their work . Ceylon Teachersâ€™ Union itself claims that the number of school days in this year is less than the average and the delay in Advanced Level examination evaluation will severely affect the number of education man hours in the schools eventually having an effect on the education of the students. In a sense the lackadaisical action of the ministry and the department officials in this instance will affect two sets of students those who have sat for their AL Examination and those who will in December sit for the OL . Once again it appears that the government is totally unconcerned about the future of these students , and this against the background of the much boasted about free education policies!
The next problem that faces the Education Ministry is that of admission to grade One. The courts have approved one set of guidelines the Cabinet another . It appears to be a situation where some say this and some say that ! Meanwhile the Principals are not involved in the admissions and now it appears that zonal Directors of education will have to take on the responsibility .This will lead to further confusion.
It is time that the Education Ministry considers the totality of the education policies in the country and sorts out the mess it is in. Free education is not a license to constrain or restrict the opportunities of the youth to gain a proper education for as Aristotle states â€œAll who have meditated on the art of governing mankind have been convinced that the fate of empires depends on the education of youthâ€™.
By Manel Abhayaratna