Sunday, September 30, 2012

The FUTA Protest - Editorial


FUTA put up a good show on Friday, as well it might, given the support it drew from disparate opposition forces hoping that the long-drawn struggle of university academics would be the incubus of regime change. Many motorists and other commuters in the city cursed the disruption and the traffic jams caused as a result of the several processions converging on Colombo from different directions. The police unsuccessfully sought a court order to ban a procession in the interest of preventing the inevitable chaos but most people, even those worst affected, were glad that the right to protest was upheld. Given that the police never invoke judicial intervention when incumbent regimes have their various carnivals to the detriment of the general population, it was refreshing that opponents of the government were granted the opportunity of having their say.

Most people do not believe that the demand that six percent of national GDP be spent on education is FUTA’s primary objective. That demand was cannily attached to the salary increase the academics are pushing for themselves to ensure wider support for their cause. They’ve certainly won a level of public support they might not have anticipated given the pathetic state of so-called free education in the country today. Higher Education Minister S.B. Dissanayake claims that the total education spend is a much higher proportion of GDP than commonly believed. He is right if expenditure by non-State actors including various private participants like international schools, the various organizations offering higher education in a multiplicity of disciplines, what is drawn into the monolithic private tuition industry and daham pasalas, Sunday schools and Madrasas are all taken to account. The ``pearl of great price’’ that Dr. C.W.W. Kannangara bequeathed this nation is now old hat. Education is anything but free with many parents, particularly those aspiring to send their children to university, having to cough out rupees they can ill afford to pay for their children to go from this tuition class to that. Even a few of those university dons, striking for higher salaries, are part of that industry with some reportedly earning very big bucks from their `private practice.’

It is not only education that is no longer free in this country which once prided itself on a well-funded free education system from primary schools right through university. We once boasted the highest level of literacy in the region but today many rural schools are being closed and admission to the better equipped and funded schools has become a racket about which the less said the better. The once vaunted free health care is today anything but free with patients in government hospitals being compelled to obtain drugs, tests etc. from outside. We allowed our English language skills to be severely eroded; well-run State assisted denominational schools providing a useful service were undermined. It is clear that the FUTA struggle has resonated in the public mind the way it has largely on account of the progressive deterioration of welfare services, particularly education and health, in recent years. It is true that we are not a resource rich country and some economists believe that we have paid a heavy price in the lack of development by adopting unaffordable welfare expenditure. These are all matters that are debatable but it is inescapable that what is offered to the people today, especially in the spheres of health and education, is but a shadow of what was previously available; and the increase in population by no means tell the whole story.

Although the war ended three years ago, we continue to incur huge defence expenditures ostensibly for security reasons. While infrastructure must undoubtedly be developed for economic advancement, there are questions on whether mega projects like the Hambantota port and the international airport at Mattala will yield the anticipated returns. The money poured into Mihinair is a scandal and there are strong doubts on whether the airline will ever earn its keep. The people are not blind to the money the political establishment spends on itself with a jumbo cabinet of over a 100 ministers in office and more to come as various political arrangements are finalized. It is difficult to determine how well money has been spent on various mega projects and whether the cost-benefit ratios make sense. Public dissatisfaction on several fronts has resulted in the FUTA demands getting wider support than they otherwise would have.

The government says that university dons will get higher salaries from October but the figures released for public consumption lump salaries and allowance together. The Mahanayakes of Malwatte and Asgiriya have offered to mediate and there is yet no word either from the government or from FUTA whether this offer would be accepted. Meanwhile the strike has dragged on for over three months and the marking of GCE `A’ level answer papers have not begun. With academic activities disrupted, delays in students completing their course will be inevitable. The feisty Higher Education Minister S.B. Dissanayake says there were more university students than academics in Friday’s protest. He alleges that the whole business is politically motivated and claims that senior professors are among the best paid public servants in the country with some drawing more than the chief justice. He says that talks are possible once the strike has ended. Given the tone and tenor of the speeches at Friday’s protest and the dons’ perception that they enjoy public support, the signs are than an early end to the deadlock is unlikely. The academics have already forgone three months salary and though the minister says that he’s received letters from many expressing a desire to return to work, it looks very much as though they are willing to go on longer.

FUTA and the survival of democratic dissent The suffocating grasp of an emergent dictatorship


Kumar David

"Where they burn books, they will afterwards burn people" - Heinrich Heine (German Poet 1821)

The madness fanned by Goebbels and fired by Nazi student organisations, reached a frenzied climax on the night of 10 May 1933 when the nation’s great libraries were stripped of radical, socialist, pacifist, culturally alien and Jewish books, and piled on bonfires, lit as Germany careened to censorship, culture control and eventually the most naked of all Twentieth Century dictatorships. No nation that permits the state to crush its knowledge workers can long survive. The FUTA strike is no longer about academic salaries, long ago it morphed beyond that, it is no longer about securing a fair deal in education for the nation’s children, that Rubicon has also been crossed. What are at issue in Sri Lanka are the last two surviving outposts of democracy. Can the independence of the judiciary and the academic right to dissent survive, or will they perish? It’s no longer about whether you agree with the 6% or not, it’s about shackles of a more menacing nature. Dear god, not even Hitler made Martin Borman, leader of the brown-shirted fascist SA street thugs, the minister of higher education!

If the FUTA strike is crushed it will resemble the crushing blow that JR inflicted on the working class and independent political activity in July 1980. I do not want to over dramatise, it is only in retrospect that we can make secure historical judgements, but it is possible that this is one of the final chances the nation will get to throw back the executive power of an authoritarian menace. The state is primed for the offensive, but public opinion, the working class and trade unions, and the educated classes and left opinion are half asleep, but fortunately, also half awake.

The FUTA strike is no longer about FUTA, it’s about you and I and what we do to bring to a halt the caravan of state as it rumbles on to total control of public life. Total is totalitarian; totalitarianism is the natural culmination of the authoritarian state. Just as nature abhors a vacuum, so authoritarianism abhors all things it cannot subdue. It moved heaven and earth, and cash and threats, to abort a Muslim-Tamil power centre rising outside and beyond its control in the Eastern Province – and Muslim leaders, as habituated for decades, betrayed their community for the umpteenth time. It will not permit an elected provincial council in the North unless international pressure compels it to; it will muzzle the judiciary and harness the police.

The forcing out of Frederica Jansz from Editorship with the instruction that "The first family was not to be criticised in the pages of the Sunday Leader", and the role of Executive Power in arranging for the purchase of the newspaper, is further evidence, if needed, that dictators abhor dissent and the Rajapaksa Regime will pound alternative foci of power or influence. That is the nature of dictators because just as the nature of democracy is to muddle through diversity and wallow in dissent, the necessary condition for the survival of autocracy is the opposite. A house of cards tumbles if one is moved.

The 6% demand is justified

If the call for 6% GDP allocation for education had remained a FUTA slogan bereft of public support it would have fallen away; instead it has been taken up by society, so let us stop referring to it as a FUTA slogan and call it a public demand, a demand by many sections of society. I have heard it described as a bargaining position which we the public are advancing for tactical purposes and will compromise in the bargaining process. Without attempting to tie anybody’s hand in negotiations that are inevitable in the next period, I do insist that 6% is not a bargaining chip; it is a sound and serious proposal. In any case, while I thank FUTA for introducing and popularising the matter, it now belongs to us the public, as it must be, if it is to have legitimacy. How we prosecute the matter after the FUTA strike is over is also a matter in the public domain.

At an excellent presentation supported by a mass of empirical material Professor Dileepa Witharana, on behalf of FUTA, at gathering at the Town Hall on September 19, claimed that about 60 countries allocate 5% or more of GDP for education. These countries do not belong to any particular category by stage of development or region; they include high, middle, low and very low income countries, they are to be found in several continents. There is recognition across the board that human development is the key to all development. There is an understanding that human development incorporates both nurturing more aware, imaginative and cultured humans, as well as human resources development in the narrower sense of imbuing young people with skills that contribute to national development. The pity is that in Lanka the state, and to a degree sections of society, have lost sight of both objectives.

Problems stick out on every side. Village schools are starved of resources; students learn little, run around and sometimes run amok. No rural schools can prepare candidates for admission to university engineering and medical faculties, and only 10% nationally, all in urban areas, are able to do so. School teachers have lost respect in their communities and schools are shells where students sit out a part of the day in preparation for ubiquitous tuition classes where the real learning is done. The less said about English, Science and IT teaching in rural schools the better since there is nothing to say; it’s a Torricellian vacuum. English language competence even among young people coming out of the so called elite Colombo schools is putrid since none can escape the pervasive social ethos whose tone is set by blithering idiots ranting about Greek-Judeo-Christian culture allegedly polluting science and breeding the evils of internationalism and plurality.

Three graphs are reproduced here from the FUTA presentation to drive home several points. Figure 1 shows the amount spent by the government on education as a percentage of GDP from 1980 to 2010. Even during UNP times (these are UGC statistics) it was well above 2.8%, but a steep decline set in with Chandrika and plummeted after Mahinda Rajapaksa assumed the presidency. Far from being people friendly this regime is hostile to public welfare. Figure 2 shows that universities have been hard hit during the Rajapaksa period; this government has starved the universities and driven them to the wall. Now it is ready to privatise university education. No wonder students and teachers cannot stand it any longer.

The third illustration compares Lanka with 16 countries, including Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and India all of whose per capita GDP is less than ours. Lanka comes out abysmal rock bottom. Yes we are the wonder of Asia! Believe it or Not!

Reform will not stop at education

Substantial enhancements to the education budget and reform of education practices to deliver a more meaningful outcome cannot and will not stop at education. The overflow will reach public health, public works, transport, energy and the media sectors, and then the issue will not be about 20% of the government budget, but all 100% of it. According to the budget allocations for 2012, the top five ministries in order of funding are Finance and Planning (47%), Defence & Urban Planning (10.5%), Ports & Highways (6.6%), Public Administration (6.3%) and Local Government & Provincial Councils (5.9%).

About 40% of the 47% swallowed by the Finance Ministry is for debt servicing. Conditions are worsening as the government is getting deeper into debt by the day; it is into the business of acquiring more debt to service unsustainable existing debt. This is aggravated as the regime runs amok with vast and wasteful white-elephant show case grandiosities. In the circumstances not only is the government unwilling to improve provision of public goods like health, education, transport and energy, it is also readying to crush dissent since that is the only way it can forestall capitulating on its right-wing economic policy framework. The government is in a dilemma, the regime cannot back out in the face of public demands for substantially enhanced education funding without shattering its economic programme. This very knowledge places FUTA too on the horns of a dilemma.

UPFA mouthpiece and MP, Rajiva Wijesinha, lauds the militarization of education in Pakistan and commends the same practice to us (Island, 25 September). The slip is showing! The second biggest item in the budget lays bare the nature of the regime; three years after the end of the war, militarization suffocates the Tamils and intimidates all dissent, the university sector, thanks to the boldness of intellectuals and the volatility of students, is a pesky irritant inviting suffocation by the regime. Thanks to the momentum it is gaining and the public and trade union support it is winning FUTA has the potential to trigger a mass movement. It is difficult to predict how things will turn out in the next two or three weeks but the public’s responsibility is unambiguous. If we want our democratic rights it is we who have to stand up for it; it is not a subcontract we can pass on to FUTA.

The FUTA March and Pakistan’s Miracle


by Professor Priyan Dias

As the Federation of University Teachers’ Associations (FUTA) march for education was wending its way from Kalutara to Moratuwa on Thursday 27th September 2012, a curiously parallel activity was taking place at the auditorium of the Sri Lanka Association for the Advancement Science (SLAAS), namely the delivery of a lecture by Professor Atta ur Rahman, FRS, on the transformation of higher education and science & technology in Pakistan, the lecture being arranged by the National Academy of Sciences, Sri Lanka (NASSL).

I went for the lecture because it was on higher education, which we all know is in crisis right now, with academics on strike without pay to demand better resourcing by the state; also because he was a Fellow of the Royal Society, a rare honour for any scientist. As I recall, the only Sri Lankan to have received this honour is Professor Malik Peiris who works out of Hong Kong and directed the isolation of the SARS virus. What I discovered at the lecture however was that Prof. Rahman was also a technocrat, who advised and persuaded President Pervez Musharraf to increase spending on higher education by 2400% and on science & technology by a whopping 6000%.

Rahman was appointed Federal Minister for Science & Technology by Musharraf (2000-02) and then as the Head of the Higher Education Commission and the Prime Minister’s Science Advisor (2002-2008); and the unassuming Professor kept us spellbound as he described how both the President and Prime Minister helped him to cut through red tape and spend the allocated money. How was the money spent?

The majority of money (1 billion US dollars) was spent on sending the best graduating students (around 11,000 of them) to top Western universities for their PhDs. There was apparently a special Fulbright scholarship program to send students to the U.S., but Pakistan insisted on paying 50% of the costs, in exchange for deciding which universities they would be placed in. A year before their PhDs were to finish, these postgraduate students could apply for grants of up to 100,000 US dollars to be utilized on their first year of research (including their stipends) immediately they returned to Pakistan – what a way to get them back! This is because Rahman allowed for university procedures that could take up to a year for enrolling such returnees on the academic staff.

All new recruits such as the above had to be placed on "tenure track", which meant that they would get "tenured" or permanent status only after a rigorous review by an international panel after six years. Such appointees typically got paid around 5,000 US dollars per month, around five times higher than a Federal Minister (and their other academic colleagues as well, I guess). But failure in review meant that they were out of a job. The existing academic staff cadre at the time of the reforms was asked to choose between their "safe" job with less pay and the "tenure track" with high risks and benefits.

Generous funding was made available for equipment too, but in a strategic manner without too much replication. However, because of the lack of red tape, any institution could use the equipment of another, the generated bill being paid by the state. Access to online journals was mentioned too, something that academics and research students struggle with, but which any decent Western university provides at the click of a button. So most of us have to rely on our current postgraduate students overseas for getting us journal access – some of us can’t even access soft copies of articles that we ourselves have authored!! Not so anymore in Pakistan, from what we heard. Rahman was careful to mention that such promotion of scholars and scholarship was not confined to science & technology alone, but encompassed all disciplines.

So what were the improvements (from around 2002 to 2011)? The quantity and quality of returning academic staff made it possible to increase university enrolment from 275,000 to 950,000 and the number of state universities and degree awarding institutes from 59 to 137, with 3,600 PhDs produced. Pakistani publications in ISI journals increased from 500 to 8,000 per year, rivaling India on a per capita basis. (Sri Lanka’s own number is presently around 300 per year, which means that our current academic quality is not an impediment to take off like Pakistan). Pakistan’s silent revolution attracted editorial comment from the prestigious science journal Nature, i.e. "The Paradox of Pakistan" (29 November 2007), "After Musharraf" (28 August 2008), "Cash costs" (3 September 2009) and "Investment in Pakistan" (23 September 2010). Pakistan’s investment in higher education is also beginning to bear fruit now, with science & technology based companies beginning to create wealth.

At the question time, someone asked whether the universities should not seek to generate their own funds or create science parks and venture capital partnerships. Rahman was of the firm view that spin offs may come only 10 to 20 years after significant investment. He also said that even the best universities in Europe received 92% of their funding from the state – this received much applause.

He seemed aware of the FUTA slogan and declared that 6% of GDP was eminently possible and offered to personally convince H.E. the President himself. He said that the reforms were not universally popular but gained acceptance within two to three years. Although his personal prestige as a scientist would clearly have been a significant factor in both his influence and independence, he insisted that it did not need scientists to convince a head of state that investing in science, technology and higher education was the way forward in a knowledge economy.

I wondered (and still do) why and how Musharraf, himself a general, decided to spend so much on education – the defence budget would have suffered. Rahman did say that he may have asked Musharraf to reduce an F-16 or two from his arsenal to create the space for education. Contrast that with the Daily Mirror headline the day after the talk (and the same day as the scheduled FUTA rally following their five day march) – "Defence, Urban Dev. Budget tops Rs 290B". Is science funding as serendipitous as science itself? How was Anaximander able to say in 6th century BC Greece that the earth was help up on nothing, when his teacher Thales had said that it is supported on water, and others before that it was supported on a jar or a turtle? Is that the same kind of question as "How was Musharraf able to decide that science and education deserved massive funding"?

Towards the end I asked a question myself, as is my wont. I reminded the good professor that the last highly eminent Pakistani scientist we heard, Prof. Abdus Salam, complained that Pakistan was not friendly to scientists and ended up working at Imperial College London - from where he was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics (1979) for his work in unifying the weak nuclear and electromagnetic forces. I then asked him how he himself managed to do science and achieve global recognition even before 2002, when Musharraf’s revolutions took place. His answer demonstrated his perseverance in the face of adversity, the true mark of a scientist or educator. He said he returned to Pakistan after nine years in Cambridge, which must have been a journey from the promised land to the wilderness (scientifically speaking). When he wanted an NMR instrument, he had written to around 350 grant agencies before he got one. When he wanted a Mass spectrophotometer, after 100 such letters he decided to approach the National Bank of Pakistan (I think it was) for a loan, which he got because he had armed himself with letters from 10 scientific institutions in Pakistan to cover the collateral.

I hope and pray that the day will dawn in a teardrop shaped island state not far from Pakistan when science, technology and education will be heavily invested in by the state, for the future of all who live in that state. If that day does not dawn, or is slow in arriving, I pray equally that her scientists, technologists and educators would strive against unimaginable odds to produce excellence out of adversity.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Former Pakistan Minister bemoans the state of edutcation in SL

FUTA Long March

Comparison; Wages In The Central Bank And Universities

In 2011, there were 1441 employees in the Central Bank and they were paid Rs. 2, 250, 029,000 as shown in the published accounts of the Bank. Then on average an employee was paid Rs. 1,560,000 per year, an average monthly pay of Rs. 130,000. Of all employees 11% were Minor Employees: drivers, peons and others.   Those not minor employees fell into two categories: Staff Class and Non-staff Class, roughly equivalent to professional and general service categories.  There were 646 employees in the  Non-staff Class and 629 in the Staff Class. There were 4 employees on fixed term contracts, who were not classified. That makes up the 1441.

Of all employees in the Staff Class, 17 percent [109 out of 629] had no post secondary education, whatever. Of them 83 were in Grade I, 23 in Grade II and 3 in Grade III and none in the highest grade, Grade IV. They are generally those promoted from the Non-staff Class on account of outstanding work in that class and promise of good work at higher level s of responsibility. Of all employees in the Staff Class, 28 [4 percent] had professional qualifications, without a first degree. Then 137 out of 629 [22 %] had no first degree. 248 [40 percent of 629] had only a first degree; 80 [13 percent] had a university degree and professional qualifications; 124 [20 %] had a post-graduate degree; and 32 [about 5 %] had a post-graduate degree and professional qualifications. Those in Staff Class who had qualifications beyond a university first degree comprised 38 percent of all in that class. Those with only a first a degree constituted 44 percent of the total, considering those with a professional qualification and no university degree as having obtained a university degree. Then 61 percent of the staff in the Staff Class had no education beyond a first degree from a university.
Let us try to establish the average wage paid to an employee in the Staff Class in the Bank. We know that the average wage of all employees was Rs.130,000 a month [2, 250, 029,000 (1/12, 1/1441).  Let us ASSUME that minor employees were paid on average Rs.30,000 a month. Their total monthly wage bill would be Rs.4,860,000. Let us also ASSUME that the average wage of an employee in the Non-staff Class was Rs.75,000,  2.5 times the average wage of a minor employee. They would be paid Rs.48,450,000 a month. That leaves Rs.144, 192,500 to be paid to 629 employees in the Staff Class, giving them an average wage of Rs.229,000 per month. That works out to three times the average wage paid to an employee in the Non-staff Class and about eight times the average wage of an employee in a the Minor Employee category. These multiples do not look grossly unlikely.

It is necessary to emphasize repeatedly that these wage rates are what I have ASSUMED that staff in the Bank are paid. I have used only figures available to anyone from published sources [Central Bank Annual Report 2011, page Part II-62] and I have not spoken to my friends presently in the Central Bank employ or were so employed at any time past. These figures are consistent with published accounts of the Central Bank for 2011.What is meant by consistent is that when any two wage rates are assumed, the third is determined for you with the residual obtained from figures publish by the Bank. There are three sets of staff, Minor Employees, Non-staff and Staff. Let us call their wage rates M, N and S. If you assume wage rates for M and N as I have done, S is determined for you. If you assume wage rates N and S, the wage rate M is determined. And if you assume wage rates N and S then the rate M is determined for you. It follows that if I have assumed too low a wage rate for minor employees [Rs.30,000 a month] , then the average wage for Staff Class is over estimated. If I have assumed too low a wage rate for Non-staff class, then too, the resultant wage rate for the Staff class is too high.  The argument can be extended with different assumptions, almost ad infinitum.

Consistency in that manner I have shown is no demonstration that the figures I have assumed are right. I think they are not far wrong. Of course, the Central Bank can advise the public the correct figures, much to the latter’s enlightenment. After all, it is their money and they have a right to know how they are spent.

To get back to the comparisons. The relevant category for comparison with university teachers is the Staff Class. All university teachers have at least a university degree, First Class or Second Class Upper Division and most have some post-graduate education.  In the Central Bank, 78 percent of employees in Staff Class have at least a university degree and 40 percent of them have had some post graduate education. A reasonable guess I have presented is that employees in the Staff Class receive about Rs.225,000 per month. This is also the average wage rate, which is paid to the 60 percent of employees   who have no more than a first degree and some less. We have learnt from Professor Amal Kumarage of Moratuwa that from October 2012, a Senior Professor, the highest level of employment as an academic in a university, will be paid about Rs.150,000 per month. A senior professor has one or more higher degrees, often including a Ph.D. degree, which is not true for staff in the Central Bank. That difference in wages does not seem fair and certainly seem wrong incentive-wise.  An assistant lecturer in a university, often with no more than a good first degree, will receive, Professor Kumarage  assured  us, close to  Rs. 50,000 a month, a far cry from what a new recruit to the Central Bank must be receiving.  A bright academic with a good first degree and a Ph.D. from a good Faculty has every incentive to take the first plain out of Katunayake. At the same time there is no clear evidence that there has been any large scale culling of staff at the Central Bank as they age, for whatever reason, including the search for higher wages. In 2011 no more than 11 [of 1441] staff members resigned from the Bank. If their current wages were too low, then there should have been a much higher turnover of staff. These wages are not essential to keep them employed at the Bank. The average age of employees in Staff Class Grade IV and III is 51 years and those in Grades II and I, 41 years. The latter category includes 106 persons [out of 472] who were probably promoted from the Non-staff Class and therefore older. If there were high turnover, we must see a much younger age profile for staff in this category. The argument concerning incentives will need more justification to hold water.  Work in the Central Bank is not fraught with unpleasantness greater risk to permit a higher risk allowance, to justify the higher wages.

The comparison between wages earned by employees in the Staff Class in the Central Bank and university academic staff make convinces me that university academic staff deserve relatively higher wages. The inability of universities to recruit some 3,000 [?] staff to its cadre year after year is evidence of poor wage incentives, among other things.

I have a more intimate knowledge of work in the Central Bank than in universities, although I am not completely unfamiliar with work in universities, either here or overseas or indeed, the history of universities anywhere over the last 800 years. I spent my first 3 years as an economist at the Central Bank of Ceylon and the Central Bank very generously provided for my education in Cambridge. I Iearnt the first letters of the economics alphabet in Peradeniya. I have always found universities very civilized places, havens in the midst of all the storms of noise and clutter outside. Walk through the tall gates of  Columbia College in Upper Manhattan, drive into Yale College in New Haven or walk into Colombo University and you  know you are in a place of civilization. Best of all are university towns. Drive into Swarthmore College about 15 miles out of Philadelphia, a huge city, Princeton in Princeton, New Jersey, through the great gates of King’s, Trinity or St.John’s in Cambridge  and many another to realize the validity of what  I say. So my loyalties are evenly divided between Central Banks and universities and this note bears witness to that tension. However, the comparison between wages received by employees in the Central Bank and in Universities makes me convinced of the case for higher wages to academic staff in Universities now.

Two Repeatedly Used Words Today Are Education And The Acronym, FUTA

Bishop Dulip De Chickera
Two repeatedly used words in formal and informal conversations in several parts of the country today are education and the acronym, FUTA (Federation of University Teachers’ Associations). Where people gather with seriousness; clarification, explanation and interpretation of the current educational crisis takes place. The media have kept the debate alive with extensive coverage.
The good thing about the three-month long FUTA action is that it is educating the people on education. People are learning that free, quality education from the primary to the tertiary level is a fundamental responsibility of the State ; that good university teachers must be employed, retained with contentment and provided security of tenure if our universities are to flourish; that a governments seriousness in this task is measured by the money set aside for education and the degree of independence that educational institutions are given; and that there are worrying gaps between these primary obligations and existing realities.
Another welcoming feature about the FUTA action is its rare island-wide collaboration. In embracing academics of all communities from north and south, east and west it has demonstrated that the people of our country can rise above sectarian agendas in pursuit of a common cause.
Lessons in democracy
But the learning curve is not limited to education only. The issue is becoming a profitable case study in the pros and cons of democratic governance in Sri Lanka today. For instance, there is a relearning that governments are formed by the people and exist for the people; and that an important test of democratic governance is the extent to which governments are accountable to the people and willing to hear public opinion. People have also been reminded that it is their money (taxed and repayable loans) that governments use to run a country and that this task must be exercised with prudent planning. And many understand that there is therefore a breach of trust if governments stand outside the circle of accountability and arbitrarily reduce expenditure on essential welfare services such as education and health, which impacts initially on those already and most deprived.
Lessons in solidarity
Increasing sections of the people are also learning that if the various issues raised by FUTA are resolved favourably, both, education and future generations will stand to benefit. It is for this reason that there is growing public endorsement of the FUTA action. Sustaining an action of this nature is costly. Those directly involved and their families have come under threat repeatedly. Public endorsement must also condemn these threats and offer moral support. Those directly involved and their families have forgone their salaries for almost three months. Public endorsement must find ways and means of offering appropriate support with respect for the dignity of the person and the person’s commitment to democracy. Those involved and their families continue to go through uncertainty, review and stress. Public endorsement must spill over to befriend, encourage and accompany these courageous but vulnerable persons.
A long term lesson
The crux of the FUTA action questions the assumption that politicians know best when it comes to education. It is the uncontested acceptance of this dangerous principle that has over the recent past led to drastic cuts in spending, inappropriate academic and administrative appointments, careless ‘mistakes in educational routine such as assessments at public examinations, an arbitrary educational ‘policy and the inability of those in authority to engage in self- scrutiny and healthy dialogue.
Consequently the long term lesson for us is the need to shift from this monopoly of education towards an independent and structured discourse on educational policy between policy makers, administrators, teachers and the public. Our most creative educationists drawn from the public and private sectors should be invited to participate. So must representatives of students and deprived communities and groups; who will offer pertinent insights into the harsh realities of life with which education is called to engage. The willingness to learn from creative global trends will further enhance the discourse.
Lessons in social justice
Such initiatives will undoubtedly be more sensitive and better equipped to address the discrepancies and discriminations in the current educational policy. For instance, the rapid closure over the last decade or so of primary schools will then be addressed and poor parents relieved of the extra burden of having to either transport their children to distant schools or be forced to have their children drop out.
Such initiatives are also likely to respond to the anguish of the Tamil plantation community which has had for decades to battle with scarce schooling facilities, especially in the Sabaragamuwa region; compelling this community to face the most unreasonable options of either forcing their children to study in the Sinhala medium or in a Muslim school, and thereby gradually lose their language and cultural identity, or simply foregoing their education to remain trapped on an estate for the rest of their lives.
Since educational challenges, like all social challenges will recur, initiatives of this nature will have to be mandated to continue to wrestle with the vision of an independent educational service which benefits the people most. Such a discourse will do well if it sees itself as a continuing bridge between the mess we keep returning to and the heights to which we are still capable of rising. Such a process will contribute in producing independent institutions and independent thinking persons, so essential for safeguarding the wider democratic ethos of a nation.
Lessons on closure, continuity and change
At the end of the day however any organised action on public issues cannot go on forever. It is hoped that sooner than later this particular FUTA action will be successfully brought to completion. The repeated public position taken by FUTA that they are ready for a compromise through negotiations so long as there is respect and seriousness regarding the issues raised, is encouraging and can be built on.
But FUTA cannot be expected to work alone for these changes. The sustained collaboration of an informed, civic minded public is indispensable and will make a significant difference.
If this collaboration were to include academics and the wider public from all over the Island its’ dividends could well bring a bonus far beyond the educational sector. There is every possibility that it could release a fresh energy for wider democratic change in the country.

EFA Coordination and Policy Formulation

UNESCO Dhaka supported MOPME in preparation of National Plan of Action for EFA (2003-2015) after the Dakar EFA Conference in 2000 and conducting EFA mid-decade assessment in 2007. Assistance was also provided to Ministry of Education for developing the national education policy in 2010 through a series of consultations organized by the Task Force consisted of education experts in the country.  The policy was endorsed by the Parliament and published in both Bangla and English for wide distribution in the country by the Ministry with support from UNESCO Dhaka.
UNESCO Dhaka assisted Ministry of Primary and Mass Education (MOPME) to organize the Second Ministerial Meeting of the South Asia EFA Forum in 2009.   The main focus of the Meeting was the strategies to reach the un-reached and decentralized education management.  In the ‘Dhaka Declaration’, the forum made a pledge to allocate at least 6 percent of the GDP in education.  The final report of the Ministerial meeting was disseminated to the governments and NGOs of member states as well as development partners.   At the same time, there was little follow up at the country level and also regional level including the proposed 3rd Forum Meeting which was agreed to be organized in India in 2011.
The Global Action Week (GAW) has been observed every year to promote Education for All. In 2008-2011 The GAW were celebrated in close collaboration with Bangladesh National Commission for UNESCO, Bureau of Non-Formal Education and Campaign for Popular Organization (CAMPE) along with other NGO partners to address the thematic area as a part of broader advocacy in the country. Every year a number of activities such as rallies are organized in many parts of the country to mark the GAW. The aim is to make people aware on the thematic issue as well as Media Professionals Forum for EFA, Policy Roundtable, Press Conference, Education fair, seminars etc were organized.
During the Global Action Week the EFA Global Monitoring Report (GMR) was formally launched every year including a publication ceremony by the MOPME, UNESCO, the Board of Trustees of Transparency International Bangladesh and Dhaka University in 2008.  Since 2008, with the partnership of CAMPE and UNESCO club the Summary of GMR have been shared through organization of division level workshops at the six divisions of Bangladesh, emphasizing the importance of achieving EFA goals by 2015. 

Mass support for free education


People turned out in their thousands today to support the Federation of University Teachers Associations (FUTA) rally at Hyde Park. Here political leaders and the public listen to one of the many speeches made at the meeting.Pix by Samantha Perera

Fighting for a cause


University lecturers, civil society movements, political groups and students joined today in Colombo, for the protest march organized by the University lecturers. The protesters demand that the government spend 6% of the GDP towards the countries education with the main slogan of the protestors being “ Save state education”. Pix by Pradeep Dilrukshana and Kushan Pathiraja

Pix by Pradeep Dilrukshana
IUSF protest march

Pix by Kushan Pathiraja

විශ්වවිද්‍යාල ආචාර්යවරු මාරාන්තික උපවාසයකට තල්ලුවීමට පෙර ආණ්‌ඩුව මේ ප්‍රශ්නය විසඳිය යුතුයි - ජ්‍යෙෂ්ඨ කථිකාචාර්ය දඹර අමිල හිමි

Divaina, 28/09/2012

විශ්වවිද්‍යාල ආචාර්යවරුන්ගේ විරෝධතා පා ගමන

අපේ මේ ශක්‌තිය අනාගතයට
දැවැන්ත ආයෝජනයක්‌ වේවි
- ආචාර්ය නිර්මාල් රංජිත් දේවසිරි

නිලන්ත මදුරාවල

විශ්වවිද්‍යාල ආචාර්යවරුන් මාරාන්තික උපවාසයක්‌ කරා තල්ලුවීමට පෙර ආණ්‌ඩුව වහාම මේ ප්‍රශ්නය විසඳුයි යුතු යෑයි විශ්වවිද්‍යාල ආචාර්යවරුන්ගේ සමිති සම්මේලනයේ උප සභාපති ශ්‍රී ජයවර්ධනපුර විශ්වවිද්‍යාලයේ ජ්‍යෙෂ්ඨ කථිකාචාර්ය පූජ්‍ය දඹර අමිල හිමියෝ පැවසූහ.
පෙළපාලිය ගමන් කළ අයුරු

උන්වහන්සේ මේ බව සඳහන් කළේ ගාල්ල සිට කොළඹ දක්‌වා පැමිණි ආචාර්යවරුන්ගේ විරෝධතා පා ගමන අවසන් කිරීම වෙනුවෙන් හයිඩ්පාක්‌ පිටියේ ඊයේ (28 දා) සවස පැවැති රැලියේදීය.

එක්‌සත් ජාතික පක්‍ෂ නායක රනිල් වික්‍රමසිංහ, ජනතා විමුක්‌ති පෙරමුණේ නායක සෝමවංශ අමරසිංහ, ප්‍රජාතන්ත්‍රවාදී ජාතික සන්ධානයේ නායක සරත් ෙµdන්සේකා, සජිත් ප්‍රේමදාස, දොස්‌තර ජයලත් ජයවර්ධන, ජෝන් අමරතුංග, රවි කරුණානායක, දයාසිරි ජයසේකර, හරින් ප්‍රනාන්දු, අකිල විරාඡ් කාරියවසම්, ජයන්ත කැටගොඩ, අර්ජුන රණතුංග, අනුර දිසානායක යන මහත්වරු ඇතුළු දේශපාලන පක්‍ෂ, වෘත්තීය සමිති හා බහුජන සංවිධානවල නියෝජිතයෝ රැසක්‌ ඊට සහභාගිවී සිටියහ.

පසුගිය 24 වැනිදා ගාලු කොටුපවුර අසලින් ආරම්භවූ පා ගමන පුරා දින පහකින් කොළඹට ළඟාවූ අතර එය හයිඩ් පිටිය කරා පැමිණියේ ලිප්ටන් වටරවුම හරහාය. නිදහස්‌ අධ්‍යාපනය සුරකින ලෙස ඉල්ලමින් කොළඹට ළඟා වූ අන්තර් විශ්වවිද්‍යාලයීය පා ගමනද අවසන් වූයේ ලිප්ටන් වටරවුමේ ඊයේ සවස පැවැති උද්ඝෝෂණයකින් අනතුරුවය.

එහි සිසුන් අතරින් පිරිසක්‌ පමණක්‌ ආචාර්යවරුන්ගේ පා ගමනට එක්‌වූ අතර සෙසු සිසුහු හයිඩ්පිටියට පිටතින් රැඳී සිටියහ.

රැලිය ඇමතූ දඹර අමිල හිමියෝ මෙසේද සඳහන් කළහ.

කිලෝමීටර් 120 වඩා දුරක්‌ ගෙවා ගෙන දින 05 ක්‌ එක දිගට ගමන් කළ විශ්වවිද්‍යාල ආචාර්යවරුන්ගේ විරෝධතා පා ගමනක්‌ ලංකා ඉතිහාසයේ අප දැක නැහැ. අපි දැවැන්ත කැප කිරීමක්‌ කරමින් මේ දුර ගෙවා දමන විට කකුල්වල දිය පට්‌ට පවා මතු වුණා. විශ්වවිද්‍යාල ආචාර්යවරයෙක්‌ යෑයි කී විට බොහෝ දෙනාගේ සිතට නැගෙන්නේ පුස්‌තකාලය සමග ගැටෙන පොත් සමග ගැටෙන නව සොයා ගැනීම් පිළිබඳ පර්යේෂණ කරන මිනිසෙක්‌ පිළිබඳ චිත්‍රයක්‌. නමුත් වර්තමානය වන විට අධ්‍යාපනයට සිදුවන මහා විනාශයකදී තවදුරටත් ඒ චිත්‍රයේ රැඳී සිටින්නට ආචාර්යවරුන්ට අවකාශයක්‌ නැහැ. ඒ නිසයි නිදහස්‌ අධ්‍යාපන අයිතීන් සුරැකීම වෙනුවෙන් අභිමානවත් සටනකට පා තැබුවේ. මේක ආශ්වාදජනක අත්දැකීමක්‌.

නිදහස්‌ අධ්‍යාපනය රැක ගන්න මීට දශක කීපයකට පෙර මේ රටේ සුද්දොත් සමග සටන් කළ කාලයක්‌ තිබුණා. ඒ සටන්වලදී පාලකයන්ට සිදුවුණා නිදහස්‌ අධ්‍යාපන පනත රාජ්‍ය මන්ත්‍රණ සභාවට ගේන්න. එදා ඒ බලකිරීම ඉතාමත් සාර්ථක වුණා. ඒ බලකිරීමේ ප්‍රතිඵලය අවසානයේ නිර්ධණිකයන්ගේ උරුමයක්‌ බවට පත්වීමයි. එදා කීප දෙනකුට පමණක්‌ උරුම ව තිබූ අධ්‍යාපනය විවෘත ලියවිල්ලක්‌ බවට පත්වුණේ ඒ අනුවයි.

අපි අද ඉන්නේ ඒ වගේ කාලයක. කීප දෙනකුට පමණක්‌ අධ්‍යාපනය පිළිබඳ තීන්දු තීරණ ගැනීමේ අයිතිය නතු වන පසුබිමක්‌ අද අපට තියෙන්නේ. මේ තත්ත්වය තවදුරටත් ඉදිරියට යන්න දෙනවද නැත්ද කියන තීරණය අපි ගතයුතුයි. එදා වල්පොල හාමුදුරුවෝ, ඊ. ඩබ්ලිව්. අදිකාරම්, මෙත්තානන්ද, මහාචාර්ය මලලසේකර වැනි ශ්‍රේෂ්ඨයන් අවශ්‍ය වූවාසේ අදටත් නිදහස්‌ අධ්‍යාපන අයිතිය සුරැකීමට එවැන්නන් බිහිවිය යුතුයි. ඒ යුතුකම ඉටුකිරීම ශ්‍රේෂ්ඨ කාර්¨යයක්‌ .ඒ නිසයි වැටුප් රහිතව සටන් බිමට පැමිණ සිටින්නේ. කකුලේ දිය පට්‌ටා එනකම් කිලෝමීටර් ගණන් පයින් ඇවිදින්නේ.

ඒ ශ්‍රේෂ්ඨ වැඩේට අතගසන විට භූමාටු තලාටු භූතයන් ගෙන්වා ආචාර්යවරුන්ට එරෙහිව බොරු අවලාද මඩ පොම්ප කිරීමට ආණ්‌ඩුව කටයුතු කරමින් සිටිනවා. ඔවුන් කියන්නේ අධ්‍යාපනය සඳහා දළ දේශීය නිෂ්පාදනයෙන් සියයට හයක්‌ වෙන් කිරීම අනවශ්‍ය බවයි. ආණ්‌ඩුවටත් අවශ්‍ය එයයි. මොකද සියයට හයක්‌ අධ්‍යාපනයට වෙන්කෙරුවොත් ගමේ අධ්‍යාපනයත් දියුණු තත්ත්වයට පත්වෙනවා. මුළු රටේම මිනිස්‌සු හොඳින් අධ්‍යාපනය ලබා ඔලුහදා ගත් විට එය අවාසියක්‌ බව ආණ්‌ඩුව දන්නවා.

රාජ්‍ය අධ්‍යාපනය රැක ගැනීමට කැපවිය යුතුයි. නිදහස්‌ අධ්‍යාපනය තියෙන්නේ රාජ්‍ය අධ්‍යාපනය තුළයි. නිදහස්‌ අධ්‍යාපන ප්‍රතිපත්තිය රාජ්‍යය අධ්‍යාපනය තුළ තෙම්පරාදු කළ විට ඔරිජිනල් එක ගන්න පුළුවන්. ළමයින්ට ආදරෙයි කියලා ඔලුව අතගාලා සිප ගත්තට වැඩක්‌ නෑ. එහෙම කරන ගමන් අධ්‍යාපනයට කරන වියදම කපා හරිනවා. එලෙස කපා හැරීමෙන් පෙන්වන්නේ දරුවන්ට කරන ආදරය බොරුවක්‌ බවයි. දරුවන්ට ආදාරෙයි කියලා කටින් කිව්වට වැඩක්‌ නෑ. ඒක ඔප්පු කරන්න පුරෝකථනයක්‌ අවශ්‍යයි. අධ්‍යාපනය ගැන රජයේ ස්‌ථාවරය රටට කිව යුතුයි. අධ්‍යාපනයට කරන වියදම අයවැයෙන් පෙන්විය යුතුයි. මොකද මේ රටේ අවශ්‍යතා කාලෙන් කාලෙට වෙනස්‌ වෙනවා. එක කාලෙකට රගර්වලට ප්‍රමුඛත්වය ලැබෙනවා. තවත් කාලෙකට ප්‍රමුඛත්වය ලැබෙන්නේ මෝටර් රථ තරගවලට. තමන්ගේ දූ දරුවන් සතුටු කරන්න. ඒ වගේ දේවලට ප්‍රමුඛත්වය දුන්නට රටට වැදගත් වෙන්නේ එවැනි පුහු දේවල් නෙවෙයි. හැමවිටම අංක එක විය යුත්තේ අධ්‍යාපනයයි. දෙදාස්‌ පහ වසරේදී දල දේශීය නිෂ්පාදිතයෙන් 2.9% ක්‌ අධ්‍යාපනයට වෙන් කළත් මේ වසරේදී එය 1.6% දක්‌වා අඩුකර තිබෙනවා. සුපිරි බොරු දිසානායකගෙන් අපි අහන්නේ මේක වැඩිකිරීමක්‌ද? එහෙම නැත්නම් අඩුකිරීමක්‌ද? කියලයි.

විශ්වවිද්‍යාල ආචාර්ය සමිති සම්මේලනයේ සභාපති ආචාර්ය නිර්මල් රංජිත් දේවසිරි මහතා- අද මේ හයිඩ් පිටිය දෙස බලන විට තව කොපමණ දුරක්‌ යාමට අප ශක්‌තිමත්ද යන පහන් හැඟීමක්‌ ඇති වුණා. නිදහස්‌ අධ්‍යාපනය සුරක්‍ෂිත කිරීම වෙනුවෙන් අප වැය කරන මේ ශක්‌තිය අනාගතයට දැවැන්ත ආයෝජනයක්‌ වේවි. අපි ආශ්චර්යයක්‌ කිරීමට සමත්ව සිටිනවා. එකට සිටගන්න බැරි දේශපාලන පක්‍ෂ නායකයන් එකතැනකට ගෙනඒමට අපට හැකි වුණා. මේ බලවේගය ඉතාමත්ම ශක්‌තිමත්. විශ්වවිද්‍යාල ආචාර්යවරුන් කියන්නේ නිදාගෙන සිටින යෝධයෙක්‌ වගේ කියලයි මට හැඟෙන්නේ. එක්‌ වරක්‌ නැපෝලියන් චීනය ගැන යමක්‌ කිව්වා. ඒ තමයි චීනය කියන්නේ නිදාගෙන ඉන්න යෝධයෙක්‌ කියලා. ඒ නිසා ඇහැරවන්න එපා කියන දේ ඔහු කිව්වා. මේ අපිට තිබෙන ශක්‌තිය දෙස බලන විට මටත් ඇතිවෙන්නේ එවැනි හැඟීමක්‌.

ලංකා ගුරු සංගමයේ ප්‍රධාන ලේකම් ජෝෂප් ස්‌ටාලින් මහතා- දින පහක දැවැන්ත පා ගමනකින් පස්‌සේ තමන්ගේ ශක්‌තිය පෙන්වූ විශ්වවිද්‍යාල ආචාර්යවරුන්ගේ ඉල්ලීම් සම්බන්ධයෙන් ආණ්‌ඩුව දක්‌වන ප්‍රතිචාරය කුමක්‌ද? ජනාධිපතිතුමා ළඟ තියාගෙන එස්‌. බී. දිසානායක ඇමැතිවරයා මාධ්‍ය ප්‍රධානීන්ට කිව්වේ ආචාර්යවරුන්ගේ ඉල්ලීම් සම්පූර්ණයෙන් ප්‍රතික්‍ෂේප කරනවා කියලා. ජනාධිපතිතුමා ඉදිරියේ ඇමතිවරයා එසේ කියනවා කියන්නේ ජනාධිපතිතුමාත් ඇමැතිවරයාගේ ස්‌ථාවරයේ ඉන්නවා කියන එකයි. ආණ්‌ඩුව එවැනි ස්‌ථාවරයක සිටින්නේ නම් ඊළඟට අපි ගන්නා ක්‍රියාමාර්ගවලට සියලුදෙනාගේ සහයෝගය අත්‍යාවශ්‍ය වෙනවා.

ලංකා ගුරු සේවා සංගමයේ ප්‍රධාන ලේකම් මහින්ද ජයසිංහ මහතා- මේ රටේ අන්ධවී සිටින පාලකයන්ගේ දෑස්‌ ඇරවන්න, බිහිරි වූවන්ට කථා කරන්න හැකි යෝධ මිනිස්‌ බලයක්‌ අද මෙතැන තිබෙන්නේ. දීර්ඝ පා ගමනකින් පසු අපි අද මේ රැස්‌ව සිටින්නේ මීට වඩා අරගලයකට වුවත් සූදානම් බව පාලකයන්ට ප්‍රකාශ කිරීමටයි. මේ ජන බලය ඉදිරියේ තවදුරටත් ඇස්‌ කන් පියාගෙන ඉන්න පාලකයන්ට ඉඩක්‌ නොමැති බව අපි තරයේ ප්‍රකාශ කර සිටිනවා.

ශ්‍රී ජයවර්ධනපුර විශ්වවිද්‍යාලයේ ජ්‍යෙෂ්ඨ කථිකාචාර්ය ආචාර්ය ජගත් වික්‍රමසිංහ මහතා ද මෙහිදී කතා කළ අතර විශාල පිරිසක්‌ රැළියට සහභාගිව සිටියහ.

Education and social emancipation: The need for a broader discussion on the education crisis


by Andi Schubert

The trade union action of the Federation of University Teachers’ Associations (FUTA) is now about to enter its fourth month. Prior to and during the strike a number of debates and discussion have raged between supporters, opponents and observers about the issues raised by FUTA viz. education and the crisis facing the education sector in Sri Lanka. In this short article I hope to examine the nature of the debate so far and hope to broaden it by introducing the dimension of social emancipation. This article is the further development of a point I raised during the "Forum with Eran" program organized by Eran Wickramaratne MP on the 26th of September which brought together Dr. Nirmal Ranjith Dewasiri and Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha MP for a discussion on the education crisis in Sri Lanka.

Current discussions on the FUTA strike

The debate on the FUTA strike has brought to the fore a number of key questions about education, trade unionism, policy development and the future of students in this country. In this section I try to document some of the major debates on these issues as they have appeared in the media since the beginning of the FUTA strike. I must note that the list below is not an exhaustive one but I have tried my best to capture some of the key debates that have taken place so far. In doing this I don’t attempt to take sides but simply hope to document some of the key issues that have been raised in the media.

The discussions on the issue of education include the need for higher allocations for education, the question of whether private expenditure on education should be considered part of the government’s education allocation, the way in which an increased allocation for education should be spent, the financing of higher allocations for education as well as the question of the introduction of the private sector as an education provider (especially at the university level). Another aspect of this debate has been the discussion on the quality of education generally and more specifically on the quality of teaching in the university as well as in schools around the country. Questions have also been raised about the quality of research and knowledge production within academia mainly because of the call by FUTA for better salaries for academics. Most importantly FUTA has succeeded in creating debate as to the purpose of education (specifically tertiary education) in the country and a wide debate has raged on whether the primary aim of education should be for employment or for knowledge or both (and to what degree of each).

In terms of trade unionism the debates in the media have ranged from the legitimacy of FUTA’s trade union action to whether it is within the scope of a trade union action to call for policy change. There have also been a number of articles that either critique or praise the tactics employed by both FUTA and the Government in seeking to resolve the current standoff. Another important aspect of the debate on trade unionism has been the question of voice in a broader social movement for change and questions have been raised about the capacity of FUTA to represent a variety of interest groups as it evolves into a larger social movement calling for serious change in the education sector.

This has also led to serious debates about the process through which policy development takes place in Sri Lanka, and questions have also been raised as to who should be consulted in policy formulation and whether there is a need for wider public consultation in policy development. Furthermore in the light of a number of educational blunders, serious questions have been raised as to who should take responsibility for educational policy though there appears to be very little consensus on this.

Interestingly much of the debate has also focused on the "student" and both FUTA and its detractors have invoked concern about the student in seeking to legitimize a variety of stances. I must note here that "the student" appears to be stuck in a time warp between the present and the future as FUTA’s detractors point to the plight of current students while FUTA has sort to emphasize the need to think about the future student and the capacity of education to support her/his development.

A blind spot in the debate?

Three months into the FUTA strike it would be unlikely that there has been any aspect of the debate on education that has not received much attention. However, there is one significant issue that is yet to receive much attention but which I believe would significantly broaden the terms of the debate on education that has taken place so far.

In an extremely interesting article, a key FUTA member and prominent academic Prof. Jayadeva Uyangoda excellently argues that the introduction of free education provided by the welfare state was widely seen as a stepping stone to social emancipation for a class of people in the country that had been severely marginalized and excluded during colonial times by the elite as well as the British. It was hoped that education would open doors to employment in the public sector that had hitherto been limited to the elite who had the capacity to pay for a private education that in turn secured them employment in lucrative and respectable public sector jobs.

However, the welfare state was unable to cope with the surging demand for public sector employment or provide the necessary infrastructure to ensure that all students across the country received the quality of education that would enable them to secure similar employment prospects in the public sector. As a result Uyangoda argues that the State could only provide partial social emancipation in so much as it provided a new generation of youth with the education but it could not secure complete social emancipation for the vast numbers of rural, lower middle-class young men and women. Or as Uyangoda puts it "the system could not help them beyond purchasing one way tickets to higher education."*

Social emancipation in an era of patronage politics

I want to build on Prof. Uyangoda’s insights to argue for the need to re-examine the link between education and social emancipation. In a country that has come to rely more and more on patronage politics, the onus is placed on personal relationships to mediate and facilitate personal interests in order to achieve social emancipation. In this context it is hardly surprising that the Government’s intransience seems to suggest that the existing system is adequate to bring about social emancipation.

Amidst the cacophony of the voices that are speaking out on education in Sri Lanka, I believe that at the heart of the issues raised by FUTA and its supporters is the question of the contribution of education to the social emancipation of marginalized youth around the country. What is not articulated however, is the question of as to how increased funding for education will enable this social emancipation.

Therefore, it is necessary to pose a few questions that I believe can broaden the debate on the current education crisis in Sri Lanka. What do marginalized young people expect from education today? What is the link between education in Sri Lanka today and the desire for social emancipation? Does education still only offer partial emancipation? Would the increased allocation of funds for education bring about social emancipation or stymie it by creating expectations that cannot be fulfilled? Is the creation of employable graduates the answer to the demand for social emancipation? This can also broaden the understanding of who is responsible for bringing about social emancipation, and goes beyond the narrow confines of the debate on graduate employability.

By seeking to answer these questions we can broaden the discussion even further into the role that education is expected to play in a developing society. While lauding FUTA for creating and generating debate on the current status of education, I believe it is important that there is also an articulation of the relationship between education and social emancipation. This is because in the final analysis the questions FUTA has so successfully raised are not limited to education alone but impinge on the very meaning of social emancipation and its role in combating oppression.

*I have made a rather clumsy attempt to paraphrase what is a truly insightful and thought provoking article. For the full version of this article see Uyangoda, J. (2003). Social Conflict, Radical Resistance and Projects of State Power in Southern Sri Lanka: The Case of the JVP. In M. Mayer, D. Rajasingham-Senanayake, & Y. Thangarajah (Eds.), Building Local Capacities for Peace: Rethinking Conflict and Development in Sri Lanka (pp. 37-64). New Delhi: Macmillan India.

Let’s not allow the Pearl of Great Price to be destroyed - NOTEBOOK OF A NOBODY


by Shanie

"There was once a beautiful apple tree,

who refused to shelter even the tiniest bee.

It was a vain and selfish tree,

It would say,"No one is mightier than me!"

One day, as it woke up from its slumber,

It was surprised to see a strange climber.

It saw an army of termites, all ready for a fight.

The tree trembled with fear,

and asked them the reason why they were there.

"You do not shelter the birds’ nests,

you sway in the wind and make them fall instead.

You are a selfish creature and as good as dead", said they.

The tree now fearfully called the birds,

"Help me, I apologise,

I promise I shall shelter you and do my best,

But please save me from these horrible pests."

The birds came, one and all,

for they could not ignore the plea of the tree forlorn,

From that day onwards it would to every passerby call,

for it had learnt a valuable lesson

That pride goes before a fall!"

- Poornima Kamath

For centuries, Sri Lanka has placed great value on education. Buddhist Pirivena educators, theosophists, Hindu reformers, Christian missionaries and Muslim modernists have over the years helped to build institutions of great learning. Compulsory education was introduced in 1911 but it became effective only after the wide education reforms in the mid 1940s. The state provided free education from primary to tertiary levels and also established quality secondary schools in all the districts of the country – from Tellijawela in the south to Nelliady in the north, from Ibbagamuwa in the west to Vantharamoolai in the east, and in Nugawela and Welimada in the hill country. These schools had some of the best teachers in the country. By 1950, there were fifty such schools. There was consequently a quantum leap in the country’s literacy rate from 58% in 1946 to 92% fifty years later. In 1990, over 95% of children of primary school age were enrolled in a school. In 1942, we had just one full-fledged national university. Today, we have universities in almost all districts plus an Open University that has study centres spread throughout the country. University enrolment increased from 2500 in 1950 to over 50000 about fifty years later. The Kannangara reforms provided equitable access to quality education up to the University level. It was the Pearl of Great Price.

It is this Pearl that all right thinking people need to safeguard from unthinking and arrogant politicians and their sycophantic bureaucrats. Access to free education from the kindergarten to the university must be available to all. That is not all. It must be access to quality education. Quality education can only be provided by top quality teachers at all levels. Such quality teachers need to be retained and that would be possible only by the state providing adequate resources for it. The trade union action by the Federation of University Teachers’ Associations is all about providing such resources to the Universities, safeguarding equitable access to education and maintaining the University traditions of autonomy and academic freedom.

The need for a revision in pay

The trade union action began with the academics requesting a pay rise in keeping with their academic and professional qualifications and positions. When this demand was made last year, the government accepted this as reasonable and promised to deliver. But like many a promise made to others and broken, the promise of a pay rise was contemptuously ignored. But the academics would not take this lying down and continued their agitation. They still had not launched on strike action. The government’s response was typical. There was a volley of abuse hurled at the FUTA and its leadership. Perhaps, it would not be fair to say that the government as a whole was responsible. There were many within the government and indeed within the cabinet who were embarrassed by the shameless breaking of a solemn promise. Even among the academics, there are many who have politically supported the President and UPFA who were angry that the government had let them down.

There were Ministers who were willing to negotiate with the academics for a reasonable resolution to the pay rise demand. They did talk to FUTA and agreed to convey this reasonable demand to the government. But it appears that their efforts were scuttled by the Ministers in charge of education who perhaps found, in their arrogance, that their pride had been hurt. There were also the political sycophants in the UGC and even among the academic community who supported the Minister. These were the self-styled patriotic university teachers. Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel and recent history has shown us that playing the patriotic card is resorted to by those bereft of ideas and a belief in justice. To this was added another well known gimmick – the conspiracy theory. It is laughable to even think that there can be a conspiracy to overthrow the government by university teachers.

The conspiracy theory was effectively demolished by Professor Jayadeva Uyangoda in a recent article in The Island. He stated: "(The FUTA trade union action merely) seeks policy changes with regard to education. It challenges the government’s positions on education, allocation of public expenditure, and, the role of the state in social issues. It critiques the government’s policy priorities. It actually argues for policy reforms on education, particularly in higher education." He went on to add: "It appears that the government has two parallel tracks to deal with the FUTA strike. One stresses a hardline approach with no concessions to, or compromise with, the striking academics. The conspiracy story seems to emanate from the faction which advances this hardline track. The other is for a negotiated settlement though compromise. When the negotiation track has begun to show some positive directions, the other line seems to be determined to undermine the possibilities of a compromise. That is why they appear to be trying to re-define the FUTA action as a national security issue."

Public expenditure on education

The FUTA trade union action has had a radical shift from the original pay rise issue to the future of higher education in our country. They have demanded greater allocation of resources towards education. Education now accounts for only 2.5% of government expenditure. The expenditure on defence is 400% more than on education. The government repeatedly assures the people and international community that they have successfully eliminated terrorism and there is peace in the North and East and the rest of the country. The priority then is now to spend more on education, health and social services. Is there not something sinister in defence spending continuing to take precedence over education and welfare services?

Creeping Militarisation

One of the grievances of the university teachers is the creeping militarisation in the universities. Last year, all new entrants were subject to what was euphemistically called leadership training in camps. There was no consultation with any of the university academic bodies and the UGC meekly acceded to political directives. Some kind of training and orientation may be good for new entrants but this and the curriculum for it should be worked out in consultation with the academics. In the end, the curriculum was based on promoting the ideology of the ruling class within the government. What also was the need to have this "leadership training" in army camps and not in the universities.

Another aspect of the militarisation and the loss of academic independence was the UGC directive to the Universities, in clear violation of the Universities Act, to employ a security agency linked to the Ministry of Defence. This came at a huge price too. Earlier, each University called for tenders and evaluating all the bids chose the security agency that was most appropriate. The UGC’s illegal directive meant that the statutory bodies of the Universities did not have the freedom to evaluate the quality of security service nor any choice about the enormous difference in costs for employing the Defence Ministry related security agency, Rakna Lanka. The natural suspicion is that this agency is engaged not only in providing security services but also in spying on activities within the universities.

Political Directives

The quality of our educational services, both higher education as well as the schools, used to be the pride of Asia. We maintained that quality by establishing the healthy tradition of autonomy and academic freedom, and avoiding political interference in university affairs. But over the last couple of years, there has been a marked decline in the quality of our education services. This has been accentuated in recent times. The deterioration of standards is directly attributable to the Minister of Higher Education, the Chairman of the University Grants Commission and some of the Vice Chancellors flouting the traditions of academic autonomy and making political decisions and political appointments to the universities. All of them, in their arrogance and pride, are fond of attributing political motives for FUTA’s trade union action. The Chairman of the UGC, when confronted, denies any politics in his decisions and denies having issued any directives in violation of the Universities Act. The circular directing the Universities to hire Rakna Lanka for security services was one such. More recently, he has reportedly issued another circular that the UGC representatives on the Selection Boards would have a right of veto when selecting persons for academic appointments, etc. The Vice Chancellor of the Colombo University has reportedly, addressing a workshop this week, accused the FUTA leadership of having a political agenda. Academics, she is reported to have stated, must not be involved in politics. She probably does not remember (like politicians who conveniently do not remember after they have committed crimes) that she along with the Chairman of the UGC and some other Vice Chancellors appeared at a Press conference and urged support for a particular political party/candidate at the last election.

Universities should be liberal seats of learning where study, research and teaching, diverse opinions, dissent and legitimate challenges to authority should be encouraged and safeguarded. People with authority in the university system must respect the Universities Act and remember that their primary loyalty is to the university community, teachers, students and non-academic staff, and not to the political establishment. They must have the humility to dialogue with the university community and resolve issues through consultation and negotiation. Arrogance and Pride surely goes before a fall. When that fall comes, all the King’s horses and and all the King’s men will not be able to put them together again.