18 April, 2024


Higher Education In Sri Lankan Universities Today

By Rifai Naleemi –

Dr. Rifai Naleemi

Dr. Rifai Naleemi

I happened to read two articles, written about Sri Lankan universities, in Colombo Telegraph, recently.  One was written by Darshani Wimalasuriaya and other by Hema Senanayake.  Both articles were written objectively, with good intentions of evaluating and gauging, the progress and development of our universities, in Sri Lanka.

I believe this is a timely topic to discuss, in the best interest of future generations of Sri Lankans. In this regard, Sri Lankan academics, living abroad, who may have an interest in higher education in Sri Lanka, should contribute their views to this debate, and share their thoughts on this subject.

We are all, morally and ethically obliged, to support our higher education system in Sri Lanka. As Sri Lankans, we owe it to our nation. We should not shy away from this subject, but should, objectively discuss the status of our universities, in Sri Lanka. We should do this, devoid of any political bias. Objective self-criticism is not a bad thing, at all.

Today, observing, monitoring, and evaluating the progress of any higher education institute, is an integral part of a modern higher education system.  Western universities have developed some distinctive methods, and techniques to gauge the progress of learning, and teaching in higher education institutes.  Teachers are accountable and responsible, to the intellectual development and progress, of each and every student in the class.

Heads of department have rigorous methods, to evaluate the teaching and learning process. Lecturers are required to give progress reports, for each and every student in the class, annually. At times, progress reports are written, each and every term.  Students are requested, to comment on the quality of teaching, and they have the right to remark, about the quality of teaching in the universities. Students have the right, to make any complaints, if the teaching standards of lecturers, are not good enough.

Universities, in the western countries, may sack lecturers, if they do not perform well, in their teaching and research activities.  Nonetheless, we in Sri Lanka do not have, such rigorous mechanisms, to observe, monitor and evaluate the progress of learning, and teaching in our universities.

We do have some formal systems, but yet, the quality of teaching in the universities, are not rigorously monitored, by universities, or UGC in Sri Lanka.  It is left to the Lecturers, to decide what to teach, and how to teach. Some hard-working and dedicated lecturers, with their exceptional talent and academic merits, teach efficiently with modern teaching pedagogies. Yet, many others, do not deliver, their teaching efficiently.

Most Sri Lankan academics, who work abroad, agree that our universities are way below international standards. I agree with Darshani, that our academic contributions and role are meager, today. In the early years of university education, Sri Lanka produced, several talented academics, in all fields of education, and most of those early generations of eminent academics and professors, have either died or retired.

Today, we do not have the caliber, of such high level academics. Our universities don’t appear to be producing, internationally reputed scholars in many areas, except for a few.

I would like to share some thoughts, about the numerous challenges, that our universities in Sri Lanka are faced with, today.

1)  Pedagogical challenges in teaching and learning in our universities:

Today many modern, and innovative teaching pedagogies, have been introduced to teaching, and learning, at all levels; primary to postgraduate levels. Teaching itself is an art, and it is considered to be one of the most demanding jobs, in the West.

Some dramatic and revolutionary changes have been taking place, in the field of education in the western counties, particularly in teaching and learning methodologies. But sadly, what we see in our universities today, are the same archaic traditional teaching and learning methods, practiced.

Creative thinking, and evidence based rational and logical queries, are greatly encouraged, in the western philosophy of education. They apply, empirical and experimental teaching and learning methods.

Teachers are regarded as facilitators in the class rooms. But in Sri Lanka, both school and university teachers, have an authoritarian attitude, and act like dictators or indoctrinators.

Most of our lecturers, still dictate from old notes. These notes may have been passed down, by teachers, of the late 70s and 80s. And still, these notes are copied, by generation after generation of students. This traditional method, of teaching, and learning have been questioned, by many modern educationalists today, internationally.

Two of the most famous educational theorist, are John Dewey (1859 -1952 and Paulo Freire (1921-1997).  They contend, that teaching and learning, is a collective endeavour, between teachers and students and includes wider society around us as well. They argue that “teacher-centered” teaching, and learning practices, should become “student-centered” teaching and learning practices.

Paulo Freire is a Brazilian educationalist, who wrote his books on education to depict educational conditions of his society, and yet, some of his observations and criticisms, are still valid today, in our education systems and methods in Sri Lanka.  Paulo Freire is regarded, as one of the modern educationalists, who revolutionised, the learning and teaching practices, of modern times.

Indeed, his theory of learning is regarded, as one of the most effective critical theory, of pedagogies. His book “Pedagogy of the Oppressed,” is a text book on modern methods of learning, and teaching.

I shall refer to some of his ideas, to illustrate, how our universities still follow, outdated teaching methods. Although I have great respect for my teachers back home in Sri Lanka, yet, I should remind them, that some of their teaching methods are outdated, and we should have the courage, to renew our teaching methods, in all our universities in Sri Lanka.

Paulo Freire, proposes a new theory of interactive relationship, between teacher, student and society.  The most important aspect, of his theory, is that he vehemently rejects, old traditional methods, of teaching; he referrers to it as a banking model, or banking concept of education.

In this old model of teaching, students are treated like empty bottles, to be filled with knowledge. These descriptions, rightly apply to our lecturers, in our universities.  Most of our universities lectures, are still dictating from their note books, and some dictate from memory.

This method of teaching is still applied mostly, in Arts and Humanity subjects, in our universities. In some cases, students are not allowed to question their teachers, thus teachers cannot be challenged by students.

Our students are made to listen and obey, rather than question, debate and challenge lecturers, in the classroom. Fearing repercussion and revenge, at examinations, students blindly obey lecturers.

This is the reality, of our learning environment in Sri Lanka. In sharp contrast, students in western universities, debate and challenges their lecturers, with logical and rational evidence, during their arguments. They do not take whatever they are taught blindly, as our students do.

Paulo Freire,   further argues, that teachers and learners, should be co-creators of knowledge.

Do we have such a collective learning process, in our universities, to generate knowledge? It is argued, that student interaction should be encouraged more, in a modern ‘student-centered’ learning process, but, what do we have in our university system, but mere dictation and listening.

This method of teaching is described by Freire, as the concept of banking education. In this system of education, the students are regarded as empty bank accounts that should remain open, to the all types of deposits, made by the teachers.

He argues, that it is wrong to de-humanise, both the teachers and students by this system of banking education. What more is he argues that students’ freedom of thought, is oppressed by this system.

Pualo Freire, in his book Pedagogy of the Oppressed (P74), vividly depicts our system of education in Sri Lanka. He argues, in this system of banking education, creativity, invention and continuity are dead. This is exactly what has happened, in our university system in Sri Lanka.

There may be some exceptions, in the faculties of science, engineering and medicine, but yet, in the faculties of arts and humanities, we have not seen much progress and development, in recent times.

Pualo Freir further illustrates this banking concept of education, in the following way, and most of them apply, to the teaching methods in our schools, and universities.

1)   The teacher teaches and the students are taught,

2)   The teacher knows everything and the students know nothing,

3)   The teacher thinks and the students are thought about,

4)   The teacher talks and students listen- meekly….

5)   The teacher disciplines and the students are disciplined,

6)   The teacher chooses and enforces his/her choice, and the students comply,

7)   The teacher acts and the students have an illusion of acting, through the action of the teacher,

8)   The teacher chooses the program contents, and the students have to  adapt to them,

9)   The teacher confuses the authority of knowledge, with his or her own professional authority,

10) The teacher is the subject of the learning process, while the pupils are mere objects. (Paulo Freire. (PP.75-76)

*To be continued next week


1)   Paulo Freire.  Pedagogy of the oppressed. The continuum Publication. London. 2008

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Latest comments

  • 0

    It would be nice if a verse or two were quoted from the Quran.

    • 4

      ah, FU-k-U-Shima, you are back, I though you were dead ! How come, even HELL didn’t want you ?

  • 1

    I agree with the author when it comes to micro setting of the universities around the world.

    Together with all of the above the critical area lacks within Sri Lankan Universities are the driving forces to have such a vibrant system as of international universities.

    There are two main driving forces

    1. Deliverables in terms or research finding,

    2. Attracting international students for conducting the target quality research as well as revenue generation purpose..

    These two driving forces motivate the international universities to ensure the modern management techniques are being used as much as possible and maintaining a forced staff turnover to induct quality teachers.

    Unfortunately in Sri Lanka quality and deliverables demand do not exist and therefore the university system is an extension of school based learning.

    This is my humble opinion and we have to discuss this heavily and work within in order to transform in to a dignified institution for the generations to come.

    • 0

      Muslim contribution to the research that would go against the creation is simply in decimals.

      That also should be changed.

      Otherwise, muslims stay dumb for ever about the universe and they would think Wahabism is the only way to live and Seventy two virgins are waiting for them when they kill non-believers.

      • 3


        You are talking out of the subject. Percentage wise Muslims are more educated than Buddhists in SL. But off cause Christians are educated than all.
        You should read the History, insist of your non-sense comments. We know that you are one of the foolish BBS servant, but you keep your image as human being.

      • 2


        If all u have is hammer…everything would look line nails…

        All U have is hatred towards Islam and Muslims….

  • 1

    Nice piece…even SL higher education institutions focused more on ROTE learning…I presume Jim Softy and Fukushima have come through this systems…Coz they just read one book…That is ‘BOOK OF HATRED’…..

  • 3

    We thought Jimsofty is already dead: here again creeping in like a snake : he puts his Norse in every article like unwanted guest: what is wrong with him

  • 1

    Universities should create new knowledge not just give whatever existing subject matter into undergraduates. It is true that Sri Lankan universities provide hardly any new knowledge except in Engineering and Information technology fields.

    Changing traditional education method in Arts and Humanities courses is extremely difficult. Funding is less, there is the lack of human resources and infrastructure. I think we need to focus on the quality of Arts and Humanities by streamlining the curriculums. Don’t forget that highest number of unemployed graduates from from those fields. Redesigning education system may cost less than providing jobs for unemployed graduates.

  • 0

    In the modern world every university is just a manufacturing plant for the same product and no difference of one item from the other.

    In other words universities are not producing intellectuals. Universities are producing the same item.

    I don’t know how RIFAI NALEEMI is labelling only the Sri Lankan Universities.

    Universities are making a difference only when they do research and find some thing really new. Even in the developed countries many university academics are wasting money saying they are doing research. IT is simply THE OLD BOYS’ CLUB WASITNG MONEY.

    Compare the number of inventions per every million DOllAR the govt spend on these research. ALL CRAPPY WORK and WASTING MONEY.

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