27 October, 2021

Blog

Constitutional Issues In Grade One Admissions

By Jayampathy Wickramaratne

Dr Jayampathy Wickramaratne PC

It is school admission time. Applications for admission to Grade 1 in government schools have been called.

Admissions to government schools, especially to Grade 1, result in a spate of fundamental rights applications in the Supreme Court every year. The procedure is complex with children being admitted under different categories that get different weightages. The categories listed in the circular for admissions during the last several years had the following weightages: children of residents in close proximity (fifty per cent), children of past pupils (twenty-five per cent), siblings of children at school (fifteen per cent), children of persons belonging to the staff in an institution directly involved in school education (five per cent), children of officers transferred on the exigency of government service or on annual transfers (four per cent) and children of persons arriving after living abroad with the child (one per cent). The circular includes an intricate scheme of marking. While the classification and marking scheme in the annual circular is not known to have been challenged, the application of the circular has been the main ground of challenge.

Some time back, two well-known schools in Kandy and Ambalangoda were notorious for violating the circular. Each year, there were many fundamental rights applications in the Supreme Court in respect of these schools. Counsel had only to mention the name of the school and leave to proceed would be granted without much judicial  time wasted. Most of the applications were settled with the school authorities agreeing to admit the children concerned. How many other children unjustly denied admission but who did not have the means to approach the Supreme Court would have suffered in silence?

Unjust “clubbing of schools”

In the “children of residents in close proximity” category, a maximum of fifty marks is awarded for establishing the residence of the applicant according to an elaborate scheme of marking.  The maximum is awarded if the applicant’s place of residence is proved and there are no other government schools with primary sections located closer to the place of residence than the school applied for. In the event there are other government schools with primary sections for the admission of the child that are closer to the place of residence than the school applied for, marks are deducted at the rate of five marks per such school from the maximum of fifty marks. For the purposes of the circular, “other government primary schools that the child could be admitted” means schools having the medium of instruction the child has applied for, schools to which children of the gender of the applicant child are admitted (boys”/girls’ school or a mixed school as appropriate) and schools that admit ten per cent or more children of the religion to which the child belongs.

In the writer’s view, “clubbing” all schools, irrespective of their grading, for the purpose of deducting marks is arbitrary and violates the fundamental right to equal protection of the law guaranteed by Article 12(1) of the Constitution. Government schools in Sri Lanka are classified according to the level of education offered. Grade 1AB schools are those that have classes up to GCE Advanced Level in arts, commerce and science streams. Grade 1C schools have classes up to GCE Advanced Level in arts and commerce but not science. Grade 2 schools have classes only up to GCE Ordinary Level, while Grade 3 schools have classes only up to grade 5 or grade 8.

Thus, while all government schools admit students at Grade 1, not all offer education up to GCE Advanced Level; some offer education only up to GCE Ordinary Level. Only grade 1AB schools have the Advanced Level Science Stream. Ideally, if the application is to a Grade 1AB school, only Grade 1 AB schools closer should be taken into account. Deduction of marks for schools with lesser facilities is arbitrary and violates equal protection.

Let us take the example of a boy living in the Gothatuwa New Town who wishes to be admitted to Ananda, Nalanda or Royal, which are Grade 1 AB schools. Even counting schools in Grades 1C, 2 and 3 only within a circle drawn with Gothatuwa as the centre, the fifty marks will be exhausted. Towards Borella there is Sirihada Vidyalaya, Janadhipathi Vidyalaya, Hewavitharana MV and Siri Perakumba MV, in the Rajagiriya area and SWRD Bandaranaike Vidyalaya Susamyavardhana MV in Borella—30 marks deducted for them only. Added to this, there are many similar schools towards Kolonnawa and Malabe, and the boy’s fifty marks maximum is over. He has no chance of entering the much sought-after schools. Those from less affluent families would have no option to enter a school of a lower grade in the area, while others would find ‘other ways’ of making it, including renting out apartments near prestigious schools, using political connections and even using financial resources.

Naturally, parents wish to admit their children to good schools at the Grade 1 level itself so that children do not have to change schools later.

The writer submits that when a child applies for admission to a school under the “close proximity” category, marks should be deducted only for closer schools of the same grade. It is time that the constitutionality of the present policy is reviewed, preferably by way of a fundamental rights application in the Supreme Court. Parents are reluctant to challenge the circular itself, hoping that their children will be selected. Even after their appeals are rejected, many go behind politicians or approach educational authorities. School authorities who know about the one-month period for filing fundamental rights applications keep on giving parents hope until the period lapses. Perhaps, teachers’ trade unions or others interested in the issue could file applications in the public interest and invite the Supreme Court to rule on it. 

Issues in computing the distance

Computing the distance from the residence of the child has led to controversy and there have been cases of manipulation both by applicants and authorities. 

Lyensa Fernando vs. Dissanayake, concerned the non-admission of the first petitioner to Yasodhara Balika Vidyalaya, Gampaha. One of the issues that arose was the deduction of marks for the existence of other schools in closer proximity. Marks had been deducted for four junior schools which were considered to be situated in closer proximity to the petitioner’s residence than Yasodhara Balik Vidyalaya.

The petitioners submitted that the Attanagalu Oya river, Palu Ela canal and a vast marshy land lie between their residence and Asgiriya Walpola Junior School and Siddhartha Junior School, two schools for which marks had been deducted. The applicable circular provided that a circle should be drawn using the main entrance of the residence of the applicant as the centre and the entrance to the school applied for as a point on the circumference of the circle to determine the proximity. Where there is a difficulty in accessing the school from the applicant’s residence due to natural barriers such as rivers, lagoons, marshy lands, forests, etc., marks should not be deducted for the existence of schools within the circle, notwithstanding the fact that such schools may be located in closer proximity than the school applied for. The petitioners pointed out that while the distance by road from their residence to Yashodara Devi Balika Maha Vidyalaya was 1.2 km, the distance to the two schools mentioned was 2.2 km and 1.7 km, respectively. The seventh respondent, the Principal of Yashodara Devi Balika Maha Vidyalaya, on the other hand, took up the position that what was relevant was the distance ‘as the crow flies’.

Justice Kodagoda J, with Justices Murdu Fernando and Thurairaja agreeing, took the view that the application or enforcement of a law should be for the purpose of achieving the governing objectives of such law. A law has to be enforced for the purpose for which it has been enacted, and not oblivious of the purpose for which it has been created or for a collateral or abusive purpose.

The learned Judge stated: “I am of the view that in order to give effect to the policy of the State, it would be necessary to take into consideration the ‘actual distance’ a child would have to travel to the relevant school either by road or by footpath, as opposed to the ‘direct aerial distance’. The fallacy as I see, in the submission made by learned Senior State Counsel is that, though a crow would actually fly in a direct line as he can and generally does so, since he flies above the surface of the earth, a child would have to necessarily travel by road or using a footpath, and not ‘fly’ to school. Thus, it would be rational to take into consideration the ‘actual distance by road’ as opposed to the ‘aerial distance’. Clause 7.1.5 [of the applicable Circular] recognises the possible use of a ‘Google Map’ and the ‘Survey General Department’s Map’ in instances where a difficulty arises in computing the distance. In fact, one advantage in using a ‘Google Map’ is that it facilitates the measuring of the ‘distance by road’ between two locations.”

In the circumstances, Justice Kodagoda held that the term ‘other schools situated more proximate to the residence’ in the applicable circular should be necessarily interpreted to mean ‘other schools situated more proximate to the residence, given the distance one would have to travel by road or recognised footpath generally used by the public’. The Court found that the fundamental right to equal protection had been infringed and made order that the child be admitted to Grade 3 of the school. Taking judicial notice of the fact that the petitioners would have spent a considerable sum of money to obtain relief and that the child had not received education from the school which she was entitled to received, the State was directed to pay the petitioners Rs. 500,000 as compensation.

Reducing the gap, the only answer

The long-term solution to the issue of school admissions is to bring all schools to the same standard, which is easier said than done. Various proposals ranging from having at least one Grade 1AB school in every electorate or Divisional Secretariat area, to making the “closest school the best school” have been mooted by successive governments but without any significant change. Sri Lanka is nowhere near the globally accepted goal of spending six per cent of the GDP on education. In 2017, Cuba spent 12.9% of its GDP on education while Somaliland spent 9.6%. In South Asia, Bhutan spent the highest percentage of GDP on education, 6.6%. Sri Lanka’s contribution was 2.8% doing better only than Bangladesh.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Latest comments

  • 10
    1

    In Sri Lanka, “free” education is as much of a myth as “free” healthcare. Even children attending the best schools still have to attend tuition classes, for which their parents pay dearly, sometimes as much as sending the child to an International school. Isn’t it better for the state to provide purported free education up to, say, Grade 8 and let the private sector take over after that? Even China doesn’t provide free University education.
    “Sri Lanka is nowhere near the globally accepted goal of spending six per cent of the GDP on education”
    Maybe, but SL is prepared to spend more on its bloated military and public service. That keeps the educated multitudes in useful “employment”, doesn’t it?

    • 4
      0

      Your right, free education and health care are just a myth to prevent poor from standing and challenging the rich and powerful.
      There are a few good schools that are considered public entities but the public has no access to it unless your rich, politician or at least a politicians boot kicker. Sri Lankans spend a fortune educating their children in Australia, UK,USA etc.

      Health care is simply a nightmare. Honestly I cannot recollect anyone that I know of that uses the public system. Politicians know this including gota, even for a small procedure they fly out of the country. Worst part is most of the expenses are paid through public funds.

      • 2
        0

        Burt,
        .
        Your observations ought to have received /b>many more approvals!
        .
        With the public not even bothering to pay heed to what you’re saying, how can we possibly look to the future with any hope?

    • 3
      0

      “Constitutional Issues In Grade One Admissions”

      Geeze ……. I thought the issue was, the whole line up in the photo was going to be admitted to Grade One!

      That would’ve been a great start for the country! ……..To hell with the children ….. they are already smarter than that lot!!

  • 7
    1

    Even Grade one admissions to schools have now become Constitutional issues.
    Fundamental Rights ……Briefs for Lawyers on the anxiety of Parents…..and it goes on.

    Religion is what keeps the Poor from murdering the Rich.
    Napoleon Bonaparte.

  • 0
    0

    It is not cabinet but bothal kade. What good can you expect?

  • 1
    0

    Admission criteria for grade one-admission looks very complicated and could be interpreted to suit the interest of the particular individual.

    Whenever and wherever there is control, it is bound to be broken.

    Infallible controls are impossible.

    The rich and political stooges could always find a way out to fulfill their selfish interests.

    What is the remedy to have equity in education?

    Standardization of schools is a dream that could never be achieved.

    The other alternative is to simplify the criteria and minimize the possibility of fundamental rights litigation.

  • 2
    0

    There’s so much more to be said here, but only three days more. Insha Allah, I shall return here. Education is a devilishly difficult subject to deal with; one reason is that most adults carry within them a rosy picture of a remembered past. Unfortunately, at that time when they formed impressions, their judgements were not mature. So when a VishramikaGambadaIskoleMahaththaya like me, who has managed to learn a bit of English says things people can’t even understand what I’m talking about.
    .
    Education is indeed a mess, but I can hardly prescribe remedies. So huge are the problems.
    .
    Panini Edirisinhe

    • 2
      0

      I would have said much more already, had the site been updating regularly.
      .
      Let’s remember that it is OUR site. We’ve got to protect it in time of trouble.
      .
      Comments on this can’t be off the cuff. I’ve got stuff saved on my Hard Disc, but at 4.30 am I can’t process it all.

  • 1
    0

    I’m writing this in a hurry, to beat the cut-off deadline :
    .
    From the article itself:
    .
    “Naturally, parents wish to admit their children to good schools at the Grade 1 level itself so that children do not have to change schools later.”
    .
    We’re talking about the requirements of five-year olds – perhaps upto age ten, but we talk about schools classification which depends mainly on requirements for University Education! What a world of difference. What matters in the Primary School is the relationship with the teacher and with playmates! He should be telling stories (not about Vijaya, Kuveni and Dutugemunu, please!). The kids should be playing, just for enjoyment, not competitively.

    .
    Classification of Schools:
    .
    https://edu.cmb.ac.lk/nerec/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Chapter-04-Providing-Equal-Opportunities-in-Education.pdf
    .
    4.6 Differences in Achievement by School Type In Sri Lanka, there are five main school types: 1A schools in which advanced level classes are held in all four streams, Arts, Science, Commerce and Aesthetic subjects. The availability of student hostels is another criteria (sic.). In the school type categorized as 1B, there are no student hostels though there are the four main streams for higher studies up to advanced level.
    .
    tbc

  • 1
    0

    Continuing:
    .
    The most notorious bit of discrimination related to Visakha Vidyalaya Grade 6 Admissions in 2008:
    .
    https://www.linkedin.com/in/nethmi-lavanya-6627ab136/?originalSubdomain=lk
    .
    There was much more on the Internet upto about 2010. This kid was denied admission (with Minister Susil Premajayantha actually stating the reason) because she had a Tamil surname: Yogaraja? I think that she had to fight her way in via the Supreme Court. Mind, she had the Second Highest Marks in the District for the notorious (much decried by Educationists) Grade Five Scholarship Exam. Obtained in the Sinhala Medium. The clincher!: The father (maybe mother, too) a Practising Buddhist, and the girl was tested in Buddhism!
    .
    Now for something different: Present proposals:
    .
    Government to provide English Medium from Grade One to A. Levels in schools
    .
    http://www.colombopage.com/archive_21A/Jun05_1622917453CH.php
    .
    Sounds utterly unworkable to me!
    .
    http://colombotimes.net/government-plans-to-introduce-english-stream-in-its-schools/
    .
    I languished in the Education Ministry for 29 years (thanks for the pension!). Administration seems almost designed to create chaos. National Schools in Uva: One for Tamils in Passara; One for Muslims in Gurutalawa. At least fifteen Sinhala Medium – influence of Minister Loku Bandara.
    .
    National School transfers are done from Isurupaya, Battaramulla; the Provincial Director almost helpless.

  • 1
    0

    Everybody in Lanka now wants English. But there are two worlds of English: three Universities insist on First Language Standards. Look at the two Qadri Ismail articles; compare what you see there with what passes for English Education in the rest of the country. That contrast makes me agree with Burt, above.
    .
    https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/in-memoriam-qadri-ismail-limitations-of-sri-lankas-nationalisms/
    .
    I’m too tired to continue. Comments on this article will soon close. Let me affirm that persons like the admirable Parvathy Nagasunderam at SJB got wonderful courses going to cater to the needs of those whose families have never had much English, but much of that good work has been swallowed up by politics – some of it communal politics – and not from those “red-brick universities”! I may be able to put a little more into the Qadri article, and into Jayampathy Wickremaratne’s sequel to this. I’ve lived almost my whole life in Uva (where I was born), but when I began working again in School Education, the Director/ NIE discovered my “better class” and that I wasn’t KGB. Curtains for me.
    .
    There’s a later article by the same author dealing with tertiary education: companion pieces:
    .
    https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/university-admissions-treating-students-from-unequal-schools-equally-violates-equal-protection/
    .
    Panini Edirisinhe

  • 1
    0

    These responses shouldn’t surprise readers:
    .
    https://www.themorning.lk/?s=english+medium
    .
    However, please note that for the first time in half a century we have an outstanding scholar as the Minister of Education. The problem is that nobody seems by now to trust Professor G.L. Peiris to act consistently with the high standards that he espouses.
    .
    Sandwiched between the State-run Vidyalayas and the “for-profit International Schools” are the 72 Government-recognised “Private Schools” which are expected to follow certain guidelines set out by the Ministry of Education.
    .
    The doings of Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, and Bishops Shantha Francis, Daniel Theagarajah, and Dhiloraj Canagasabey, was hardly such as to inspire confidence. I can’t pretend to know all that goes on in those but someof it is as bad as what you get grom “Athana Methana Rathana.”. I try not to talk about what I know at first hand.
    .
    Please google these two words, to attain enlightenment in this area: “Thomian Pharisees“.

    • 1
      0

      Bonus PART A (It is late morning, but comments seem to be still allowed):
      .
      Please forgive the obvious misstatement in the penultimate paragraph, above. What I meant to say is that I assert as fact only what I personally know to be true.
      .
      My father was one of Keble’s earliest teacher recruits to S. Thomas’ Bandarawela, and actually was Acting Headmaster for about two terms when the perceptive Englishman left for Canada in 1956. I was born in the school in 1948. Like Barack Obama, I can’t remember the momentus event but it is clearly stated in my Certificate of Birth.
      .
      About 2010, (I have made more definitive statements elsewhere, but does anybody care even to read?) the Education Ministry began to implement (in Swabasha Medium Schools) a system of Bi-lingual Education. In keeping with its broader aims, of promoting friendship and unity among the different Lankan communities, schools where it was implemented were also referred to as “Amity Schools”. It had huge appeal for me.

Leave A Comment

Comments should not exceed 200 words. Embedding external links and writing in capital letters are discouraged. Commenting is automatically disabled after 7 days and approval may take up to 24 hours. Please read our Comments Policy for further details. Your email address will not be published.