Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Don’t fiddle with free education

Daily Mirror, 13/06/2012, 


With the gradual and now extensive privatisation of the health sector, the cost of warded treatment in private hospitals is so high that it is beyond the reach of more than 85 per cent of our people. In addition to five-star hotels, we now have five-star hospitals where helpless unsuspecting patients are plundered and their families lose most of their savings.

We need to take a lesson from what has happened in the health sector and act fast before some vested interests backed by arrogant politicians privatise the equally–important sector of education to such an extent that it causes serious damage to the free education service which has been one of the precious blessings for Sri Lanka in a country plagued by rampant corruption and fraud, deception and hypocrisy.

The attack on free education began with the setting up of international schools. Indeed there were loads of faults and failures in public schools with hundreds of them lacking even basic facilities. The root cause of it was the inadequacy of the budgetary allocation for education. During the thirty–year war a huge allocation had to be made for defence, but even after the end of the war, the allocation for education has not been significantly increased while Education Minister Bandula Goonewardene often talks of cheese but gives chalk. Higher Education Minister S.B. Dissanayake has virtually declared war on those who are opposing his plans to set up private universities and to give official status to the private medical college which was set up at Malabe in a subtle if not deceptive way. Minister Dissanayake who had his roots in the Communist Party seems to have turned full circle and often talks like an outright capitalist with a tone that is arrogant and unwilling to come to some middle path of accommodation. As a result, he has antagonised thousands of university students, academic and non-academic staff on issues ranging from privatisation to salary anomalies.

If Sri Lanka has a high literacy rate today with a high degree of intelligence, creativity, initiative and imaginative skills especially among the young people, free education is responsible for it.

Instead of trying to privatise education, the two ministers need to focus more attention on changing the aims, goals and attitudes in education. Passing examinations by fair means or foul and through the scourge of private tuition must not be the priority. Instead we need to create a spirit of inquiry in children, making them interested to find out why various things happen as they do. Then the children will see education as a blessing and not as a burden.

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