Sunday, September 2, 2012

Editorial - Students in blackboard jungle, Ministers must go

Daily Mirror, 01/09/2012

Police used water cannon and tear gas to prevent students from marching towards a high-security zone to protest over the latest blunders and bluff in last month’s GCE A/L examination amid serious concern over when and how the answer scripts will be marked.

A spokesman for the protesting students said they feared the marking of the answer scripts might be delayed for several months because university teachers were still on strike and the education sector was in turmoil. The students said if the announcement of the results was delayed till May next year it would give only about two months time for studies by students who needed to sit the examination again. Major questions have also arisen over the recent Grade V scholarship examination with allegations that some question papers were leaked and tuition teachers were known to have given the answers to students before the examination. The Examinations Commissioner said he had decided to go ahead with the marking of the Grade 5 scholarship test papers from Monday. But the Ceylon Teachers’ Union and other professionals said it would be a grave injustice to go ahead with the marking before probing the allegations that some papers were leaked. What a mess. If cheating and fraud are allowed or encouraged at Grade V level, we may be teaching young students the wrong lessons that they could pass examinations by fair means or foul, and the consequences will be disastrous both for the students and society.

UNP leader Ranil Wickremasinghe and other critics or analysts say the root cause of the breakdown in the vital education system is the reduction in the budgetary allocation. A mere 1.8% has been allocated for education, while the equally vital area of health also suffers from a meager allocation.
Opposition and student leaders said the fiasco over the Z-score marking system for the 2011 A Level examination, the blunders and delays in marking the answer scripts of last month’s examination and other crises in the education sector were intended to undermine or sidetrack the free education system which booked a place for Sri Lanka as the most literate nation in South Asia. They say that just as the free health service is being privatised in subtle if not deceptive ways, the same fate may befall the education sector. If health is put in the market, the poor will be left to die. If education is put in the market, the doors for higher education will be slammed in the face of about 75% of our young people who will be denied the opportunity of becoming medical doctors, engineers, lawyers, accountants, or moving into other major professions. Education Minister Bandula Gunawardene and Higher Education Minister S.B. Dissanayake are not only staying on but arrogantly defending what they have done or not done, despite widespread calls for their resignations. If the ministers refuse to bow to public opinion, the President must act against them.

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