20 August, 2019

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Education: The Elusive & Much Maligned 6%

By Harini Amarasuriya

Dr. Harini Amarasuriya

Dr. Harini Amarasuriya

The eagerly anticipated 2016 budget has already given rise to much discussion, debate and controversy. Trade unions including the powerful Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) and the Sri Lanka Administration Services Union (SLAS) are threatening strikes mainly over the withdrawal of duty free car permits. A no confidence motion signed by 44 parliamentarians against the Finance Minister, Ravi Karunanayake has been handed over to the Speaker. Opposition MPs have been threatening to make sure the budget is defeated. My intention in this article is to consider some of the implications of the budget on the education sector and to try to understand what this budget suggests in terms of the government’s overall approach to education.

One of the ‘promises’ made during the election campaigns this year from all the different political groups, was increasing the allocation for education to reach 6% of GDP. This was a direct result of the very successful campaign led by the Federation of University Teachers’ Associations (FUTA) in 2012 to increase state spending on education. During the FUTA struggle of 2012, there were actually two slogans that spearheaded the campaign: one, was the 6% demand, the other was the demand to protect and strengthen state education. The 6% slogan became the more popular of the two slogans, with most of the imagery and discussions about the struggle centering around the 6% campaign. Yet, from the point of view of FUTA, the two slogans were equally important and in fact closely linked. The demand for 6% was made in the context of a clear shift by successive governments towards the commodification of education. That is, the idea that education was simply another ‘good’ that could be regulated by the market. This shift was evident in many ways: the growth of private educational institutions was the most obvious, but there was other equally if not more serious developments. These included, the massive growth of the private tuition industry, almost to the point of making schools irrelevant; increasing demands on parents time and money for filling gaps in schools facing severe financial constraints due to funding cuts; introduction of fee-levying courses in state educational institutions, especially universities often in parallel to non-fee levying courses; and the gradual redefining of the goals and objectives of education as simply a means of preparing human resources to serve the market. This redefinition of the goals of education, were often presented as needing to improve the quality of education in order to increase ‘employability’ or the oft-repeated mantra that there was a gap between education and the demands of employers. This was how the ‘crisis’ in education was defined.

FUTAIt is important to note that FUTA’s campaign in 2012 was articulated in an effort to highlight these issues in the education sector and to draw attention to the very real problems in education as a result of inconsistent and ad-hoc policy changes and initiatives. It also wanted to generate a broader debate on the crisis of education so that interventions to resolve the ‘crisis’ were not simply in terms of increasing employability or making education more market oriented but taking into account broader development goals. Therefore, any increase in the allocation for education, needs to be assessed in the broader context of the government’s policy on education: whether the government has shown any signs of actually understanding the crisis in education in a more holistic way.

In the first instance, however, there are serious doubts as to what the exact allocation for education is and how much it has increased. For the first time, the 2016 budget includes an item called the ‘Capital Carrying Cost of Government’ in the education section. This new item amounts to Rs. 121,000 billion out of Rs 167,613 billion allocated as ‘ Recurrent Expenditure’ (Note prepared by the Collective for Economic Democratisation, on 25th Nov 2015). It is not clear what this budget item actually means. Also, although the budget includes increased allocations for things like teacher training, teacher deployment, improving science education, it is not clear how this money is actually going to be used. In the section on higher education, a considerable amount has been allocated for the establishment of an extremely oddly named ‘Mahapola University’. What this university is about, no one seems to really know except that it is to honour the founder of the Mahapola Scholarship Scheme, the late Lalith Athuladmudali. So, although there are indications that the allocations for education have increased compared to previous years, how this increased allocation is going to be spent is unclear. According to the budget analysis carried out by the Collective for Economic Democratisation, with the inclusion of the mysterious capital carrying costs, the allocation is around 3.7% of GDP. Once the capital carrying cost is removed, the allocation is 2.72% of GDP. Even 2.72% is an increase from previous years – however, what is of concern is that the government is attempting to show this increase as more (a clear attempt to mislead the public.) This is an extremely worrying indication of how this government deals with the public: mainly through lies and manipulation of figures. This was precisely the kind of political culture that Sri Lankan citizens hoped to change this year. What the Finance Minister said in relation to education also requires attention since it represents the government’s policy priorities.

In his budget speech, the Finance Minister says that there are questions about the “relevance of local universities to private sector employability” and highlights allocations to provide incentives for courses that are directly linked to employment; endowments for research that adds value to the economy; to support the establishment of the Mahapola University to offer market oriented courses; and crucially agrees with the previous government’s decision to allow private universities to function and states its intention to continue this policy–except in offering medical degrees. This clearly shows that the new government intends to continue with the policy of ‘commodifying’ education – in other words, to define the purpose of education in extremely narrow ways.

What is ironic here (from a government that is openly supportive of the market economy) is that this completely misses the important point that the kind of innovation, creativity and drive that is required for a flourishing market led economy, cannot be generated through such an instrumental view of education. So even from the point of view of the kind of education that is required from a liberal economic point of view, the sentiments of this government on education as indicated by the Finance Minister are unimaginative and outdated. From the point of view of equity and social justice, it is clear that the assault on quality public education will continue under the new government. This assault comes primarily through continuing the policy of redefining education in narrow, instrumental terms where educational institutions are primarily expected to cater to the demands of employers. In an economic environment which is facing many challenges, this will essentially lead to the ‘dumbing down’ of education. If you take this thinking to its logical conclusion, Sri Lanka’s economy doesn’t require universities, but simply vocational colleges. It doesn’t require schools – simply tuition classes that prepare students to pass examinations.

So the crisis in education continues – and the crisis is not simply one of inadequate funding or resources – but more seriously – one of a severe lack of ideas, vision and imagination from decision makers and policymakers on the meaning and value of education.

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Latest comments

  • 4
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    Harini Amarasuriya

    ‘Education: The Elusive & Much Maligned 6%’ – The foundation is???????….. Minority hate politics of Sri Lanka that went to the extent of parliament passing the anti-Tamil Standardisation policy.

    The cost of this hate policy is the degeneration of Sri Lanka. Billions spent on war efforts, that has its roots in this statutory hate policy, could have been spent to build pioneering institutions to develop and strengthen talents and standards without fermenting communal hatred.

    The damage done by this damning policy is the deep down hurt, rivers of blood and evolvement of mammoth degradation on all spectrum of livelihood that is still haunting Sri Lanka and will haunt for many years to come.

  • 3
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    Harini,

    Sri Lanka suffers from highly educated monolingual job hunting graduates that are unemployable.There is harm in focusing on employability.

    Dont forget that our famed 7niversites are no 1000 in global rankinking.Ravi should close them down and start again with people who inderstand that the main reason that majorithy of Sri Lankan students enter university is to seek employmemt and improve thier economic prodpects.The only people who do not understand this are the self serving academics.

  • 6
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    There is much confusion in defining not only terminology in our teaching–learning sector, but also its objectives at different levels, Policy makers have lost sight of the meaning of the word education and its ultimate goal- to make a better man. We are trying to develelop a better two legged machine, at the cost of a better man. Harini Anarasuriya has with much erudition discussed issue and the crisis it has engendered. Should not a National Education Commision be appointed to study this issue in its depth and define national goals for imparting knowledge and culture; work skills; vocational training : develop a thinking, creative and ethical man and well formed Sri Lankan citizen?

    Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

  • 1
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    One is reminded of the wisdom of the Kural when the government’s dilly dallying over car permits is seen.

    “Deliberate well before taking a decision. Its a disgrace to waver thereafter”

  • 0
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    Bataland’s Budget is a bib Boo Boo … Isn’t it?..

    Forget about the Dalits who are destined for Economic extinction.

    Even the Rich & the Elite are getting frustrated, going by their outpourings..

    Young Doctors even copied Vellala Sambandan and are going to do non stop Hartals on our poor Dalit patients , who are struggling to survive even when the Doctors are around.

    Galleon cooking the books is understandable. Would he know any other form of Accounting?.

    But one time Dalit elected Chamapakaya to come out and defend Galleon is down right disgusting ,

    As the ex Prez said, Galleon has added the current Capital value of even old Olcot’s Schools ,which were built with Roubles donated by the Buddhist Russian Lady Philanthropist .

    That is how Galleon has bumped up his Budget allocation for Education.

    If not for Old Olcot and the good Russian lady, some of our Sinhala Buddhists who now parade themselves as Elites and support Yahapalanae, wouldn’t have got a job to start with..

    Chopping off the thousand Mahindodaya Vidyalas and culling the Year 5 scholarships must be to make us the high income Nation which Batalanda Ranil reckons will dawn in 2035.

    How cool…

    May the old Colonel and his Russsian Lady friend attain Nibbana if they are not already there, for making our Sinhala Buddhists literate so that they can read and write.

  • 1
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    First the number of recruits needed to fill vacancies must be ascertained.

    Then ascertain retraining of manpower to suit the changing market.The key here is employability. First a survey must be made to ascertain jobs ne. Market forces only can not be trust d. Many people get into the debt trap to educate their children. There sacrifices should not be in vain. High interest rates create depression. Farmers are forced to mortgage crops not even sown on behalf of children. Education of children on scholarship in town create debt. Something must be done now. school going children are a big burden to parents.

  • 5
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    Dr Amarasuriya has shone a light on a very big problem, but in the end this is yet another plaintive cry for help on behalf of those battalions charged with delivering what passes for our higher education. Yes, 6% was the minimum asked, but FM Karunanayake is a dab hand with smoke and mirrors, and believe you me, it will be easier to grab a slippery hoothambuwa in the dark than to pin down his base figure.

    How long are we going to chant paeans to ‘FREE’ education? Just as there is NO free lunch, let us come to terms that there is NO free education. The fact is that the government will give for ‘FREE’ the cheapest it can get away with; and it has over the years. That is why our government schools are crammed with high levels of time-serving sub-standard teachers. That is why desperate students and parents have to resort to the now ubiquitous tuition class in order to have any chance of success in our competitive examinations. That is why, in the end, the schools produce neither fish nor fowl, and their output struggle to compete in the jobs market against those from the private school sector who pay for a more rounded education that will give them the edge at interviews.

    The Higher Education sector has its own problems. Appointments of cronies and a dose of nepotism has ensured that the burden is heavier for the true professionals that remain in academia (the best will make their excuses and leave for better rewarding pastures).

    As for “”the sentiments of this government on education as indicated by the Finance Minister are unimaginative and outdated””, surprise! surprise! The higher education of the children of our politicians, their hangers-on, and the high and mighty of our communities are catered for by foreign universities. They care a hoot for the rest. Just like with health, we will all see a major change in the allocation of resources if the ‘privileged’ had to rely on our state schools and our public hospitals.

    The State and Higher Education sectors are long-overdue for a root and branch reform but the boo-boys will not allow it. There is too much shit and corruption to shovelled out even before a start can be made. It is NOT going to happen soon. Don’t hold your breath.

    Dr Amarasuriya, you asked us to think. Well, Sri Lanka with its 23 million souls, does require good schools, good universities, good vocational colleges and good, quality apprenticeships. Most of all it requires Good Governance. Get the last right and the rest will bloom like the delightful flowers of our blessed land.

    Meanwhile, nothing much will happen any time soon; the GMOA will keep its stranglehold on the medical schools, and the lucky ones will keep fighting for their duty free permits.

    • 2
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      I could not have said it any better.

      You got to nub of the problem that ails the nation, and that is why true Good Governance is the essence of the solution to all these issues that have plagued this blessed but ransacked nation.

  • 0
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    [Edited out]

  • 2
    2

    First sack fake jokers (Professors) from University system.In order to be a real international professor your PhD from world top 100 University, minimum 20 articles in ISI/SCOPUS indexed journals, 10 text books with international publishers and three countries have to appoint you as a Visiting professor. But all these Sri Lankan Professors are jokers and more than 40% University Lecturers are relatives to each others and they give degrees to each other. MY3 clean University system and sack fake professors. Some Dept are family trees. Colombo University Econ Dept example. Grandfather Emeritus and all others are relatives, henchmen, lovers, pimps, etc. We well know how they recruits and promoted in University Mafia. First find a person and then advertise according to his/her requirement and send aboard for their friends’ places for PhDs. Go beyond Sri Lankan airport and see International job market. Even in Middle East job market, without PhD from accredited Western University you cannot become even Assistant Lecturer. But in Sri Lanka more than 80% professors do not have PhD. The countries they (University teachers) go to do higher studies, no person is going to studies: China, Malaysia and India.

  • 1
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    We should not continue to have a bias against private educational institutions. They do have a role to play. The very rich can afford to send their children overseas for higher education. What about the medium rich? Most of those students who go overseas remain there but those educated in Sri Lanka may tend to remain there.
    Sengodan. M

  • 0
    1

    Dr Harini, the state continues to produce mediocre graduates who are not employable in a competitive market. That is why most of them end up in government service. Academics like you are fully responsible. It is not a question of 6% or 60%. How many of you and your colleagues can hold your chest and say, we work for our salary. Most of you are more concerned about your private consultancies and not about your lectures. There is ab absolute need for state education to compete with the private sector, but you lot protest against it because you do not want to compete which will force you to work for once in your lifetime. All of you want to protect your boys/girls clubs. Read Hilmy Ahamed’s article about the plight of our medical students who are forced to leave the country because the Sri Lanka Medical Council refuses to recognize the private medical university. https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/medical-mafia-ethics-education/

  • 0
    0

    Fedrick:
    Harini Amarasuriya does not meet any of your criteria and is defeated JVP candidate!

    “[A] PhD from world top 100 University, minimum 20 articles in ISI/SCOPUS indexed journals, 10 text books with international publishers and three countries have to appoint you as a Visiting professor.”

  • 1
    0

    The duty free car permits,is the biggest legalised fraud committed by successive Govts:
    In which other part of the world is this privilege given to a select group?
    What is more preposterous is when they say.if you dont restore that privilege we wont work!

  • 0
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    Unlike the deluded author of this paper, most commentators here have got the problem right.

    First, we have a governance problem in the education sector, as elsewhere. What the country needs before it increases the education allocation is a new education policy with a clear commitment to be implemented. A policy that recognizes that Sri Lanka is a mixed economy and therefore the education sector should be as well. I believe that primary and secondary education in today’s world is a basic human right and should be provided free (though with options for those who want to pay for a different or better quality education) but not tertiary education. Tertiary education is and should be a privilege for those who have the aptitude and competence for it. A tertiary education needs to be provided to those who can serve the society with technical skills such as medicine, engineering, accounting, as well as those who provide political, social, economic and artistic services to the society (humanities, social sciences, fine arts). These require different methods of teaching and learning. One size does not fit all.

    Our state sector has proven beyond doubt that while it has a broad outreach at primary and secondary level, the quality of the education is not adequate. At the tertiary level, quality is abysmal. There is no question – the state should not be permitted to monopolize the education sector, which is currently also the only sector it monopolizes to this extent. There are more options for citizens even in the health sector. The private sector should not only be encouraged but provided tax incentives to invest in the education sector. The state needs a non-corrupt regulatory mechanism (this is where good governance comes in) to ensure that both public and private schools and universities are reaching quality standards. The supreme court needs to make a ruling that private education is a right any citizen can choose, at whatever level of education, so that fundamentalists, such as the JVP cannot block education reforms that include legitimate private universities. It is much better to offer qualified students scholarships and loans, according to merit and financial need, and let them choose the faculties/universities that they would attend, than increase subsidies to third-rate state universities.

    This takes us to the second important point. The current university system does not deserve a budget increase until it is totally overhauled. Ninety percent of university teachers should not be permitted to teach because they lack the qualifications for tertiary level teaching. The university system is controlled by a mafia, which includes FUTA and IUSF. FUTA like the GMOA only wants more money so that they can have more perks. FUTA so far only harks about the budget and free education, but has done noting to increase the academic skills and competencies of its members. Giving more money to the university system in Sri Lanka right now is like casting pearls before swine. Teacher, a little bit of more learning from the citizens of this country will do you no harm.

  • 0
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    No one has any disagreement with the author with respect to the Value of Education. However, she misses the point that the primary objective of any one in education is economy bound. No one is there to spend many years studying just to keep academics employed to end up a member of “The Association of Unemployed Graduates”. In a market oriented economy, the education essentially needs to cater to the needs of the job market. This is where the public educational institutes failed. There is no wonder the private education serves a better purpose in that regard, resulting in education becoming a commodity. So, the academics in the public educational institutes have a bigger role to play changing their education material and the ways they provide it to students in such a way that meets the market demand where the students are able compete with the products of the private education providers.
    Tuition is a different matter, again an economic one. With all due respect to those who do their teaching in a noble way, most of the teachers have the habit of directly giving their mobile numbers to parents at Parents Meetings to send the students for tuition.

  • 0
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    [Edited out]

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