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Serving Sri Lanka

This web log is a news and views blog. The primary aim is to provide an avenue for the expression and collection of ideas on sustainable, fair, and just, grassroot level development. Some of the topics that the blog will specifically address are: poverty reduction, rural development, educational issues, social empowerment, post-Tsunami relief and reconstruction, livelihood development, environmental conservation and bio-diversity. 

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Education: Not privatisation but reforms needed

The Island: "04/05/2005 by Upali S. Jayasekera

It was reported in the press that opening of private universities has been proposed which, no doubt, is another move towards the privatisation policy and practice that would lead to the eventual elimination of the free education system of our country.

How would the proposal, if implemented, affect the future generations, especially the poor sections of the society which constitute the vast majority of the population? This question cannot be left entirely in the hands of the political elite.

There is, it has to be conceded, no perfect education system in our country. We have been experimenting but without any substantial improvement to meet the country’s needs for national consciousness, unity and development. The system therefore needs change and should continue to be changed as and when the need arises.

Any changes in the education system should however be introduced only if such changes suit the economic and social structure of our country. There has not been an effort made to study those aspects realistically. If any study was undertaken the proposals have not been made public. Hence the proposal is nothing more than an attempt to expand the privatisation process to the education system without the slightest concern for the country’s needs on a long term perspective.


Resources, capital, machines and labour are instruments of power which could be acquired and used in a practical and purposeful manner only through education. Education, as such, being part and parcel of economic and social development, schooling is an investment contributing to the wealth and well being of a nation. It is these reasons and the necessity to make opportunities for education available to all alike without discrimination on the basis of wealth, class or creed that the right of education has been included in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The United Nations Convention against Discrimination in Education asserts the establishment and maintenance of separate educational systems or institutions for persons or groups of persons which are not of equivalent standards as discriminatory. This would mean that the maintenance of educational institutions which help the richer sections of the society to steal a march over the rest of the community or the maintenance of schools of unequal standards for the rich and the poor, is discriminatory.

Education therefore has to be based not only on equality of opportunity but also on equity, if we are to more towards social equity and economic development whilst adhering to ethics and standards as proclaimed by the United Nations. We should not permit international money lenders and their agents to undermine or override those lofty ideals taking advantage of our yearning for foreign loans and investment.


Our education system, even as it is, on the one hand, does not meet our national aspirations whilst on the other falls short of the UN Convention provisions.

There is no national system of education that suits our culture and society that meets our needs for economic development. Discrimination in education exists and persists.

The village school is without good and specialised teachers, and is often under-staffed. The facilities there cannot be compared with those where the affluent have access to. The denominational schools, though not open to other beliefs on the basis of merit, receive government grants over and above what is given to rural schools which procedure does not exist even in the western countries, which standards we aim at.

We have been led to treat the English speaking gentry as the educated elite. The swabhasha (Sinhala & Tamil) educated do not come within that parameter. Those from the so-called prestigious schools and others from the rest of the schools do not mix. This then is a division based on the discriminatory system of education that exists, which certainly does not help foster national unity and amity.

What need to be done therefore, is to change our education system to remove the voluntary and involuntary discrimination that exist between the rich and the poor, the rural children and the urban children and different religious groups. The tragedy is that, whilst no measures have been adopted to remedy the situation, discrimination has been permitted to become more and more deep rooted.


Our education policy followed since 1943 requires the schooling of a child in the mother tongue. This is the policy followed in other countries too - developed or developing, rich or poor. Accordingly the medium of education in our schools should compulsorily be Sinhala and Tamil. The use of any other language is contrary to this policy, illegal and anti-national.

However, the International schools, where Sri Lanka children study, have English as the medium of instruction. This then is a serious violation of the country’s education policy. Yet the functioning of these schools have been permitted and those institutions carry on with impunity.

Would any other country allow a privileged section of the children of that country to be educated in a foreign language especially when the elementary and secondary education is concerned? Will America permit Arabic or Sinhala to be the medium of schooling for her children or will Saudi Arabia permit English or Sinhala to be the medium of schooling in that country? No country will tolerate such flagrant violation of her education policy though we have allowed.

What are the Implications of such alienation of our education system?

The alien culture based education imparted in the International Schools, will to a larger extent, prevent our children attending those schools from acquiring social values and the ability to live with others, learning, customs peculiar and essential to our country. The children passing out from those schools will from a new social class with snobbish values, and will be inclined to consider themselves as a superior lot who have received the best education and even look down upon those educated in the swabasha or government schools. Can we permit such an education based class division which is not in the national interest? It goes further.

A news report published in a newspaper recently quoted a student attending an international school as having said. "Who wants to learn Sinhala? What can you do learning in that language ? Can you get a job with a good salary?" This then is the thinking —practical, no doubt.

The international Schools will certainly provide the opening for the children of the elitist class to secure more lucrative employment here and abroad leaving the lesser jobs for the not so fortunate children educated in the swabasha.

With the privatisation programme in full swing it will be English medium educated children of the affluent class who will reap the harvest. That in turn will pave the way for future class conflict and even an upsurge of violence.

It is a pity that there has been no public outcry against this dual system of education, which is in operation against the national policy. Perhaps the masses have still not had the time and the opportunity to analyse and understand the implications of the system, as the issues have not been placed before them in its correct perspective. And the educationists, surprisingly have continued to keep mum.


It could be argued that education in the English medium is nothing new to us and that it has helped the country. English was imposed on us during colonial times and with it came the spread of the western culture as well. English and westernization at the expense of our own language and culture were thought to be good at the time and this thinking and practice continued long after independence. This is because of the dominant part played by our political elite that sprang from the westernised English speaking fraternity, throughout.

English no doubt is a world language and it is in our own interest to get our children to learn the language. However there is no justification to permit the monied class to adopt English as the "mother" tongue in respect of their children for the purpose of economic expediency and social upliftment to the detriment of the vast majority of the population. The people will not endorse the replacement of Sinhala and Tamil with English as the medium of schooling in our country. If they do then that will be fine. Otherwise we have to teach English as the second language only and that should apply to the entire student population. Without exception English should not be the adopted mother tongue of a selected lot only, weather they be Sinhalese, Tamils or Muslims as long as they are Sri Lankans.

Private Universities

The private universities proposal, besides being a move to commence the process of privatizing education institutions, helps the stabilisation of International Schools as an integral part of the education system.

If a private university comes to be established it will be an English medium run fee-levying institution. For whose benefit will that be? Exclusively the rich, no doubt.

It is therefore a subtle move to introduce an education system that favours the rich. Perhaps the permanent establishment of an English educated ruling class obedient to westernised mannerism is the ultimate aim.

Education should help students to get at the good things in the world materially, in intelligence and in knowledge. That possibility should not be made available to the privileged only. It is, in that context, not fair or proper to allow the advantages of education to be reserved for the rich and the powerful only.

Our education system needs change. It is the responsibility of the educationists to take the initiative to propose necessary changes, with the advice and guidance of the economists, sociologists and the politicians.

The people should ever be vigilant, oppose and stop the imposition of any system that does not suit our culture or meet our national aspirations.

What is required is the strict implementation of a national education policy.

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