EQUITABLE QUALITY IN EDUCATION

Almost all parents who send their children to school desire to see them get a good education. The meaning and understanding of what a good education is may vary according to the differing evaluations of parents. Objectively, a good education should mean an education of a good quality which is imparted in a school where the possibility of acquiring the ability of sound reasoning, knowledge in several disciplines and of the challenges, nature and values of life with aesthetic underpinnings are available to the students. That, along with solid aids to the formation of a good character to help the alumni to become civic conscious and live a happy and contented life as socially responsible citizens able to live in good relationship with fellow human beings in a multi-faceted pluralist world may be considered a good education.

The assessment of the quality of education could vary according to the values that are considered high and most important that they cannot be disregarded. Today some may have come to consider education in Sri Lanka in Sinhala or Tamil along with the acquisition of a practical use of English as very valuable. Some others may consider a very good knowledge of English to be the most important along with good abilities in Sinhala or Tamil while some would choose capability in all three languages. Some would consider studying certain foreign languages a very necessary and useful tool and a remarkable value addition. Many wish that a proper knowledge of one’s religion is also very necessary. Many rightly consider sports and extra-curricular activities to be an important formative part of youngsters’ lives. However all may not participate in these in the school itself. Some would choose freedom in education in privately managed denominational schools and fee-levying private schools and those called international schools run under the Companies Act.

Whether the various authorities of education, especially those who plan and make education policies at the national level, have a good understanding as to what a good education would be and how it could be made available to all to equip them for life, should and could be discussed from time to time. What the good educationists of Sri Lanka generally agree on could be implemented so that all may have access to a good education which is their right. If a required proper education was not given to a percentage of the population as low as 0.01 the number so affected would be over 20,000 people in Sri Lanka.

ENVIRONMENTS OF EDUCATION

The environment of schools providing education to our children varies not only due to their being situated in urban, provincial, rural village and estate plantation areas but also due to the facilities available to the students, the qualification and commitment of teachers and the nature of educational management. It is very evident that the State does not uphold the equal rights of all schoolchildren because it does not provide equal facilities to all the students of Sri Lanka and does not provide even the minimum educational requirements and facilities to some schools. Some schools not only lack qualified principals and teachers, those appointed are hamstrung by archaic administrative regulations. Some schools lack suitable classrooms, desks and chairs, and other facilities such as water and toilets. Even to bring matters to the awareness of the Department of Education and obtain the necessary facilities promptly, the MPs of the electorates, low on social consciousness and responsibility, are not that keenly interested as these things do not bring them immediate political profits.

In Sri Lanka Ministers of Education are not known to have been innovators nor even creative maintainers or efficient managers of the system of education who have made notable contributions to raise the standard of education to the benefit of the country. They have been political managers or even manipulators who have taken great delight in presenting letters of appointment mostly to their unemployed party supporters as teachers irrespective of their understanding of education or suitability to be teachers.

NO CLEAR EDUCATION POLICY

The President, Prime Minister and Minister of Education as well as others politicians make statements about education and social values that appear very appealing as they appear in the mass media. But Sri Lanka has not formulated a clear national policy on education or cared about updating any.

Parents interested in education are often compelled due to their economic condition, to resort to the education facilities provided by the State, even though they may not be satisfied with the quality of education and the discipline and formation of character that is inculcated in the school to which they are compelled to send their children. Another phenomenon in the field of education in Sri Lanka is the private tuition system which has spread throughout the country like a virus.

The private tuition system spread after the state take-over of denominational schools and the resultant lowering of standards due to corruption and unqualified men and women being recruited as teachers by politicians who knew next to nothing about education. Politicization in education due to the horribly disarrayed and uncultured characters in politics interfering in education administration, appointments of principals and teachers and their upholding discipline, has not only muddled education and created many a mess in the education system, it has prevented organic development and well thought out education reform. Not knowing what education is, these fellows are not only incapable of letting educationists to formulate a viable policy for Sri Lanka, they do not even know how to help their own children to benefit from the good environment and ethos of the schools, sometimes denominational, to which they send their children. In spite of breathing clean air in a good atmosphere, the children of corrupt politicians turn out to be civically unhealthy citizens and bad eggs that become another menace to society. Bad trees cannot produce good fruits.

NATIONAL POLICY

A national policy is a plan and a strategy with a carefully outlined and well formulated method to implement it. The noted policies especially of SLFP led governments have been state-take-overs and ‘nationalization’ of business enterprises, institutions run by corporate citizens and education institutions. The take-over of schools initiated and managed by religious denominations was mainly directed against Catholic schools, as if they were not national, until they were forcibly taken over by a government with politicians of a narrow totalitarian mindset. They did not just vest institutions, properties and their management in the State; the politicians and their henchmen exploited the process and procedures to plunder some of the most valuable movable properties and take them home as their private possessions.

Politicians of the two main parties have now found more sophisticated methods of plunder but their minds are not set on getting together and formulating viable and stable national policies in the many fields and activities, including the drafting of Constitutions, where a national policy is called for. Politicians in power to do well for themselves get engaged in doing for Sri Lanka, plausibly, all kinds of mega business with governments and world business magnates for which too there is no faithfully followed national policy.

We have no well planned national policy formulated with the collaboration of all stakeholders who are genuinely interested in the integral education, upbringing and formation of the younger generation. Those who have studied the development of education would also know how the universal Catholic Church has over the centuries contributed through education to the progress and advancement of nations. Unfortunately some uncultured politicians both of the SLFP and UNP have been incapable of appreciating the education given to students from its various types of schools and universities by the Church whose priests in parishes saw to the provision not only of free education along with character formation but also meals and clothes for the poorer students long before governments thought of it as a vote catching devise.

Rather than mobilizing the collaboration of the Church, politicians due to their selfishness and jealousy destroyed the system of assisted schools, took on a burden, growing heavier by the day due to increase of students. The costs and wherewithal of running even a creaking and complex system of education turn the mediocre politicians of every government incompetent and inefficient.

INVESTMENT IN EDUCATION

Besides the government that spend taxpayers’ money on education, most citizens spend extra money on private tuition for the education of their children, while parents who send their children to fee-levying schools and international schools foot the whole bill of their children’s education, in addition to paying taxes. While the government also wastes money on an unsatisfactorily maintained education system, in which corruption is rampant, and an overblown and lethargic bureaucracy, parents strain to invest their hard-earned money on a valuable and wholesome education of their children.

It is unfortunate that unprincipled politicians surrender the freedom of citizens to blackmailers who wish to keep a monolithic education system as a state monopoly. The blackmailers adamantly fight against the establishment of non-governmental universities, especially faculties of medicine but are blind to billions of dollars going out of the country for medical education. Investments in education need to be assessed objectively and without bias especially on days following the first U.N. International Day of Education.

A good part of the investment made by citizens on their own and by the government does not benefit our country when those highly qualified sons and daughters of the land do not return to Sri Lanka to serve her people but choose to serve other nations who give them recognition according to their merits and also pay them well. In Sri Lanka, sadly, even retired professors need to find remunerative work just to survive while Sri Lankans who have retired from their jobs in other countries are able to offer their services free, just to keep themselves occupied in a manner useful to others. 



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