25 September, 2023


A Placard For Free Education!

It is with grave concern that we note that the Budget for 2017 does a great injustice to the ordinary people of this country, the vast majority of its citizenry. Education in general, in all forms, primary, secondary and tertiary, has been the cornerstone of our democracy. It has meant mobility for many, made social justice its focal point and made our struggles vibrant. Any attack on free education is an attack on democracy.

FUTAOur education policy is founded on the 1943 policy which states “education in a democratic society should be free at all stages. Talents and ability are not confined to any social class or group and any social system must provide for their emergence by the provision of equal educational opportunities…” (Government of Ceylon, 1943).” All subsequent educational initiatives must extend that fundamental tenet and be justified on those grounds. The present government has undermined this basic feature of our national policy in this budget.

The 2017 budget proposes a significant erosion of and a roll back of the gains of free education, namely the widespread distribution of education to the people. Specifically, the budget proposes both a scaled down allocation for education, at all levels, and worse, a channelling of funds toward private establishments, taking away what could be given to state schools and universities and bestowing them on private enterprises. The cherished ideals of free education have been abandoned as evident from the provisions of the budget.

The Finance minister says that this year’s budget for education is much reduced from last year’s allocation, as the government found that it could not spend the latter. If that is so, why do we still have the phenomenon of schools compelling parents to provide for their children through so many fees and expenses? It is almost two years since the current government took office and it has failed to achieve the many promises made as regards education. It has failed to: create an effective teacher training programme; develop a salary scale fitting a professional job category for teachers; address the problems of parents and students over mounting costs of education; address the problems in admitting students to good schools that allow them to fulfill their aspirations and; do away with an exam oriented educational system that robs children of their childhood. The government has failed to even develop a comprehensive policy on education. Yet, Ravi Karunanayake states:

The Ministry of Education has been able to utilize only around Rs. 38,850 million at the end of the 3rd quarter of 2016. We took careful stock of the situation and therefore allocated almost Rs. 90,000 million for 2017 (2017 Budget Speech, Ravi Karunanayake, 9th November, 2016).

Such a statement requires explanation and accountability. As explanation the Minister of Education responded with, “Often, the money is not passed by the Treasury when we want it. There are delays. That is one reason the utilisation rate is low” (Nov 20, 2016). Clearly there is need; the problem lies with the treasury, red tape and the lack of will on the part of the government.

Instead of keeping their promises to the people, the Minister of Finance proposes to bill students at the beginning of their university education so that they know how much the public is paying towards their education. Considering that the Minister feels he can brush aside unspent funds in such a cavalier fashion, this proposition is somewhat ironic. It also comes at a time when the government is proposing tax holidays for businesses. Who will foot the bill here?

Education in the 2017 Budget

The budget is troubling both because of amounts allocated and the nature of allocations quite contrary to the values underlined in the UNP election manifesto, which outlined a plan to gradually increase allocations to education to 6% of GDP. The budget estimates indicate an approximately forty billion rupee decrease to education, higher education and provincial education combined.

Budget for Ministry of Education. Allocations to education are funneled through several ministries, such as Education, Higher Education and Highways, and Local Government and Provincial Councils. If there is to be a significant revamping of the education system to increase the reach of education to even the most marginalized segments of society the budget should show an appreciable increase to the Ministry of Education. However, the budget does not demonstrate any such focus. In fact there is a decrease in allocations to the Ministry of Education in this budget by approximately Rs. 20 billion.

Budget for Provincial Education. A desirable policy direction would also be to strengthen the provincial school system which caters to a majority of students in rural areas. This would improve access to good schools locally, rather than to distant urban schools. However, allocations to provincial schools are down by Rs. 10 billion from last year’s estimates.

Budget Proposals for Education. An analysis of the budget proposals gives the best indication of the government’s vision for education, especially when no policy document on education has been created. Figure 1 clearly shows that a substantial portion of the allocation goes to private entities (16% for loans and insurance and 45% for computer rental and tabs).free-education-sri-lanka

The extent to which the public will finance private business interests is highlighted in the breakdown of insurance and loan schemes given in Figure 2. These schemes allow the government to channel public funds to the private sector as ‘welfare’. For instance, funds for health insurance will cover private healthcare services for children. These funds should be instead be used to strengthen Free Health; they belong in the health budget, not education.free-education-sri-lanka

There is no evidence of a long term vision that would strengthen the school systems’ teaching, curricula, infrastructure, and access in a systematic way. It is almost as if the government has given up on the system. Overall, one can see that the budget offers little toward strengthening free public education.


One is compelled to ask the question: Why should the state fritter away people’s resources, publicly owned capital, in funding profit making ventures? Whom does the state serve? The people or business ventures which serve not the people by promoting their wellbeing, their upliftment and empowerment, but the interests of a profit making class.

The budget ushers in voucher systems, opening education to private and for-profit business initiatives, and the use of ICT as an area that will promote growth, but as we can see from global happenings, the trend is now to get back to basics, slow down, and consolidate the gains of what we have while promoting local interests (Stiglitz, 2016). Globally, we see people fighting back against neoliberal education policies in South America and Western Europe. Yet, the government feels the need to push on with its agendas. This government’s regressive actions will haunt us for decades and generations to come.

We protest: our struggle for free education and the right to protest

In addition to creating a budget that is clearly not people-friendly, the Minister of Finance feels the need to attack our democratic traditions. Ravi Karunanayake states, “As a responsible government, we cannot allow the country’s development be held at ransom by a few placard carrying politically motivated groups.” We say we cannot allow the country’s education to be left to ruthless racketeerism and profiteering politicians. If a high-ranking politician is going to sneer at the active forces of democracy, as placard bearing activists, we would like to remind him that he too joined the sea of placards not too long ago to fight for the 6% demand! Short memories might be the mainstay of this government’s anti-people policies and it’s all too quick dismissal of social justice and free education, but we will continue to hold our placards high in our struggles!

Education is a heritage gained through massive public mobilization 70 years ago. From the time of the Kannangara policy of free education, we have fought to uphold our free education system. To that end, we publicly condemn the budget’s lack of commitment to free education and raise the banner of struggle and protest here.

  • We demand from the government to uphold the ideals of free education, make a strong commitment to strengthening free education and demonstrate that commitment in its policies.
  • We demand from the business community that it act with responsibility in their public statements and see beyond the wisdom of profit making investments when addressing education.
  • We call on all democratic forces, trade unions, working people’s forums, women’s groups and others, to rally around the concerns raised here and collectively fight for preserving and strengthening free education.

The statement above is initiated by the Coalition for Public Education and co-signed by the following trade unions and other organisations:

Alliance for Economic Democracy

Centre for Social Concerns Ja-ela

Ceylon Mercantile Industrial & General Workers Union (CMU)

Ceylon Teachers Union (CTU)

Federation of University Teachers’ Association (FUTA)

Joint Plantation Trade Union Centre (JPTUC)

Lanka Estate Workers Union (LEWU)

Mannar Women’s Development Federation

Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform

Muslim Women’s Research and Action Forum

Organization for Elanka Refugee Rehabilitation (OfERRCeylon)

Professional Educationists’ Association

Suriya Women’s Development Centre, Batticaloa

United Federation of Labour (UFL)

University Teachers for Dialogue and democracy (UT4DD)

Women’s Action Network

Women and Media Collective

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Latest comments

  • 7

    Free education: Yes

    Rotten Education: No


    • 4

      Rajasingham Narendran

      RE:A Placard For Free Education!

      “Free education: Yes”

      “Rotten Education: No”

      Competition: Yes.

      Schools should strive to be better and desired schools.

      Better schools should strive to recruit better teachers.

      Better Schools and Better better teachers should strive to recruit better students.

      There should be competition between the Govt schools, Semi-Govt Schools and Private Schools.

      All schools, teachers and students should be ranked, so that it creates competition to be better.

      Without competition lethargy sets in.

      Increasing the funding, will not necessarily improve education.The teachers will still go an teach in Tuition classes, and the students mat still need to go to those tuition classes after school.

      • 2


        For me ‘ Education’ stands for Knowledge+Culture+ Wiisdom.

        The objective should be to produce ‘ Educated persons’ with these attributes. Genetics x Environmental interactions will sort us out into where we fit in the social hierarchy.

        Competition will not produce ‘Educated’ persons.


        • 1

          Dr.Rajasingham Narendrann

          “‘ Education’ stands for Knowledge+Culture+ Wiisdom.”

          “Competition will not produce ‘Educated’ persons.”

          The Theory* of Evolution is about the environment, competition and survival.

          Without survival, there is no Knowledge+Culture+ Wisdom. Only extinction.

          * Theory is an explanation of a collection of observations and facts.

        • 0

          Shouldn’t,t we have a level playing ground to start twit Doctor?..

          • 0

            KASmaalam K A Sumanasekera

            “Shouldn’t,t we have a level playing ground to start twit Doctor? “

            Lets bring
            back Sinhala only language policy,
            standardization on linguistic lines,


            Bhumiputra system of governance,
            Ethnic cleansing (as D S Senanayake did followed by your dear VP, legally of course),
            Sinhala/Buddhist recruitment policy at all state departments, possible state sponsored riots to destroy industries and businesses,
            impunity for armed forces, ….
            selective land grab,
            build more Buddha statue under every boe tree,


            Hopefully these measures will ensure a level playing field which this country never achieved in the past 68 years although the country was ruled by the majority.

          • 4


            Education is not foot ball! The education system should recognize the ‘Individual’ with/in the mass and cater to him/her.

            Every school and university should have the keys to unlock the unique potential of each student. Every home should provide the environment to foster this unique potential. Society should play its role in valuing the worth of each invidual for what he is worth.

            Mass. education which treats every student alike has failed Sri Lanka, as the quality of teachers, parents and values in society have declined precipitously. Our media and entertainment industry has played a nasty role in debasing our societal values.

            Commercialization has crept into every crevice in our society , including our schools and universities.

            Politics and politicians of the worst kind rule the roost and tgeir actions are diametrically opposed to everything ‘Education’ tries to achieve.Sad, but true!



  • 10

    Ranil lacks knowledge on policy issues. His objectives are rusty and his thoughts like old grandfathers is engaged in counting money. Ravi on the other part doing his ‘kanakkapulle’ accounts to match the figures.

    Parliamentarians are all hungry wolves to grab whatever that comes their way. Next they may start selling their families as well.

    We need policy makers. Those who are talented in economics, social values, visionary to take the reigns and expedite progress the country needs.

    There are few departments that keep the integrity of the society. They are Education, housing, health, food, religion etc. If govt. is bent on commercializing them, the downfall is inevitable.

    • 1


      On the statement of the politicians will start selling their families as well!!!

      Why not ? That’s exactly the last leader did ,?? he used his sons , his wife, his siblings and the extended families too to BURY HIS LOOT FROM SRILANKAN COFFERS WHICH WERE BELONGED TO SRILANKA AND ITS PEOPLE.

      SEE now. !!! Most of them including his own sons facing charges of money Laundering , stealing , including MURDER.

      It SUCKS !!! THE WONDER OF ASIA !!!!!!’ Is corrupt ,

    • 0

      Ranil is a macualayite who obeys the white man from the west. This budget is not Sri Lankan. It is by the IMF. The people are made to believe it is karunanayakes budget. Bull shit he is not capable of a budget. The IMF produces it. We have been recolonised

  • 5

    In the recent announcement by the Programme for International Student Assessment (P.I.S.A) – an O.E.C.D. endeavour – where educational excellence throughout the world was assessed. This was for students, I believe, around 15-17. Singapore topped the list – again. Subjects focussed in were Maths, Sciences and Reading. Asia did very well with China, Japan, S.Korea and Vietnam leading the way. In all 3 disciplines rich and resourceful USA was way down the ladder.

    In public discussions in the US media so far, the central reason for the success of Singapore and other Asian tigers is attributed to State support by way of generous funds. This enables them to draws in excellent teachers attracted by good financial rewards.

    Virtually-bankrupt Sri Lanka will continue to suffer with poor quality students – and consequently a poorer quality of society – if education gets step-motherly treatment where financial allocation is concerned. This has been the case for many years in Sri Lanka.

    Consider, for example, why the quality of education and student accomplishment in the leading so-called Colombo international Schools is far superior compared even to the better Colombo and Kandy’s leading schools. The Tiger leader Prabakaran, it may be recalled, laid much emphasis on the primacy and support to education during his brief “rule”

    R. Varathan

  • 5

    Free education not only help needy students to come up but it is a great asset to harness the intelligence resource in every cross section of the country for the betterment of the future of all.

    According to me steps to be taken to improve the quality of education by reducing lapses after an appropriate study.I feel our children are tiresome and teachers too where effort is not adequately effective. Employing resources assigning priority is important,

  • 0

    [Edited out]

  • 3

    Education is every kid’s birthright, but does the government – the present one and past ones – care. They have done next to nothing to improve the system of admission of Grade-1 students. The present system of having to submit house ownership documents for the admission of Grade-1 students must be done away with. Most of the poor parents do not have their own house, neither have they properly made rental documents to prove their residence in a particular area.This hampers their kids’ admission process. So they are being driven from pillar to post. Does any one care – especially the Ministry of Education?

  • 4

    Over the years our leaders have equated ‘free’ education to ‘cheap’ education. Every government over the last 25 years has only budgeted what they can getaway with. Witness the rising dependency of private tuition (in order for students to get the grades they need), and the rise of independent ‘international’ schools to take the vacuum created.

    Ministers don’t give a hoot; their children go the best schools in Colombo and then abroad. If it was government policy that the children of politicians including MINISTERS and government servants should be educated in schools in their electorates, I guarantee we will see a remarkable improvement in standards.

    For now, the future is bleak for the next generation.

  • 2

    Who says “Education is not a commodity”? If anyone says it is, then there is something wrong with him. Today it is a “Huge Marketable Commodity”, I say. Travel across the country and see for yourself, the multitude of students and their parents who accompany them to those “TUITION CLASSES” conducted by the “SPECIALISTS”. Just take the daily news papers and see for yourself the advertisements placed to get the students to attend the “Specialists” classes. Also see the “POSTERS” on walls and public places, such as Buss Halts. Some of these, posters show the pictures of students who have attended these “Specialists” classes and obtained the highest grading in various subjects. This High Grade Commodity, called “Education” is sold from Grade Five and upwards, up to the University entrance level. Talk to the parents and ask them how much those “TUITION FEES” they have to bear for an average of three students in a family. This “Tuition Fee” vary from subject to subject and the examination student is facing. We have even produced “Minister of Education” out of “Tuition Master” and that shows the marketability of this COMMODITY called EDUCATION.

  • 2

    well…the govt need the fund to erect the largest X’Mas tree in the world….from Miracle of Asia we leap to the Miracle of the World

  • 0

    UNP PM Batalanda Ranil declared even as late as a few months ago that he will Americaniise our Mahawamsa Education .

    Elite, Anglicans, and the Yahapalana suckers would have shouted Hoooray.

    Now the UNP FM galleon has put the Fiscal framework to make his boss Ranil,s Vision for Mahawamsa inhabitants come true.

    Those once coveted graduation ceremonies are dime a dozen already. But depends on how much money the parents have in the Bank to get one for the kids.

    Which is fair enough.

    But what about the Dalit kids in the Bush?

    May be they are not part of this Yahapalanaya..

  • 1

    It is very important to save state education and maintain free education.

    The system if far from perfect, but the problem lies in the commodification of education; not in free education.

    Free education has helped us all. It helped me go to the university, do post graduate studies in the US, and come back to work in the university system. The students who come to Peradeniya are very bright, they work hard, they struggle against all oddes, and yet do well, and go into the world. there are severe draw backs, the major one being, lack of funds; nevertheless, they do well globally. The best of our students can go to any university in the worl and do well. They go out to serve Sri Lanka in the academic, educational, service and professional cum industrial sectors. take a look at the figures for our graduates. they are not at all bad. but it is only a fraction of our society, and if you are interested, if you have the interest of our country at heart, you will support free education!

    • 0

      I am very much for Free education – financially supported by the State. I am a grateful product of this system. The problem is our growing population imposes unbearable burdens on our meagre resources. This is just as true of the State health sector as well – now cannibalised by the venal private sector. Both disciplines are now the golden cows of the private sector. Both sectors could not have become multi-billion dollar sectors without much support from those who hijacked the positions – as Ministers in recent decades. These roly poly crooks themselves came from rural schools and are now multi-billionaires living in fancy residential areas with their children and grand-children exposed to English education – initially within and thereafter in the West/Australia. As to the children of poor parents they are pushed into low quality education and will end up as labourers and manning blue collar jobs.

      R. Varathan

  • 1

    Now we see the deceitful tendencies of the Government clearly.Did any one of us
    suspect this kind of Governance before the last two Elections.We have been well and truly cheated and the politicians have demonstrated their inherent predominant nature.It is a pity that some decent and honest members of the Govt. have to eat the humble pie.We salute them and wish their tribe may increase, but woe to them who still pillage and plunder the poor man’s coffers.Unless and until the Govt.resigns to the fact that honesty is the best policy and discipline their rank and file and purge the corrupt from their positions who ever they may be our country will be back in square one sooner than later. We should do well to remember that there is a Supreme Legislator who will bring down the mighty from their seats. Just worshiping with Pots of flowers on their heads at temples and shrines will not save any one of us. It is sheer hypocrisy.

  • 0

    The discussion seems to revolve round Grade I schools and perhaps Grade II schools.
    I had occasion to visit some Grade III schools in the Jaffna Peninsula recently. Conditions were, overall, very poor. (The books and Teacher’s guides were there on time, however, this time.)
    I know that there are many more schools in worse condition: schools with just the Principal or Acting Principal, and schools with one or two teachers only. But there are also overstaffed schools in the same region.

    I think that a report by the Education Ministry of the Northern Province released two years ago will be an eye opener. Dr Ethirveerasingam’s inputs to the project were highly commendable, as were the commitment of the Minister and his team.

  • 0

    Whoever wrote this needs to learn some basic economics first.

    A reduction in the budget for education doesn’t really mean anything, if that money was not being spent or allocated efficiently in the first place.

  • 0

    Allocating money is important,but lot of it was stolen in procurement,case in point computers purchased at 100,000 were billed at 250,00 by hora Bandula the the great economist tuition master who has a degree in economics from the SL university.He also claimed one could live on 2500 Rupees. The other fraud the Mahindodaya where science labs were not established , but the money was taken out.Elimination of corruption and the rule of law is the first for a democracy.

  • 0

    Free education has been the saviour of this country for decades. Without it, Sri Lankastan would not have survived the political and economic storms swept through it. Killing free education is going to bring a lot of pain to everyone.

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