By Amali Wedagedara, Lakmali Hemachandra & Niyanthini Kadirgamar –
Public education has been at the centre of many struggles in Sri Lanka. While images of the brutal attacks on the HNDA student protests are still fresh in our minds, another budget has been presented to us by the Government. Increases in the allocations for education was announced as a highlight of the 2016 Budget. As a sector that has a widespread interest among the people, this Government’s policy direction for education proposed in the budget has generated much debate.
The expenditure increases for education have to be situated within the broader economic policy direction set by this Budget, which is an intensification of neoliberalism in Sri Lanka characterised by the power of business interests. Indeed, there are concerns as to whether the Government is investing in the education sector to develop it as a revenue making business in the future, instead of investing in education with the purpose of raising the social wellbeing of the people.
Education Budget for 2016
There is considerable confusion regarding the education budget figures. Although it was widely reported in the media that the allocation for education is 5.4% of GDP, the total government spending on education as stated in the budget is Rs. 461 bn, which is 3.7% of GDP.
However, a significant portion of this education budget amounting to Rs.121 bn is for “capital carrying costs” of the government, a new budget item included for the first time in this year’s budget. No explanations have been provided as to how such a major allocated line item will be utilised. It is perhaps merely a fictional figure based on creative financial engineering that has been added to education and health totalling Rs.139 bn, which is counter-balanced in the revenue side by a new budget item called the “notional rent income from land and building.”
The proposed education budget for 2016 makes up 2.72% of GPD when the controversial capital carrying costs are removed from the calculations. Regardless of such confusion, there is a significant increase of 31% in allocations for education compared to the 2.07% of GDP in 2015.
A larger portion of the education budget is allocated for physical infrastructure investment, for construction of school buildings, universities and vocational training institutes. Indeed, addressing the need for basic facilities, such as toilets, drinking water and electricity for all schools and upgrading of plantation and rural schools are much needed investment the government has committed to undertaking in this year’s budget. However, investment in teaching capacity, including in teacher training initiatives, salary increases and for uplifting the quality of education is lacking.
Although Sri Lanka boasts of having a free education system, parents bear additional costs for the education of their children. According to the Household Income and Expenditure Survey 2013-12, the average cost borne by a household in Sri Lanka for education is Rs. 1,448. It is also noteworthy that this amount ranges between Rs. 2,762 in urban sector and Rs. 532 in the estate sector. Apart from miscellaneous expenditure related to education spent on stationary, transport and tuition fees, parents pay additionally for the cost of school maintenance. There are no clear provisions in the education budget to lessen the burden placed on parents by these additional costs.
Educational investment has to be contextualised within the broader economy, and the particular problems facing education, for example, of rural schools and students. Indeed, the crisis in education is worse in the rural areas with higher drop-out rates. In this context, it is a positive development to see allocations for Education (Rs.339 bn) surpassing Defence (Rs.307 bn) and Highways (Rs.150 bn) this year. However, Agriculture (Rs.62 bn) and Fisheries (Rs.5.85 bn) continue on the dismal trend of lower spending when compared to the large population of people who are dependent on these sectors for their livelihoods. Disparities in education levels at rural schools are interlinked with the crisis facing the rural economy. Therefore, a programme for improving standards of rural schools should be accompanied by investments to uplift the rural economy.
Struggle for increasing education allocations
The decreasing trend in government spending for education over the years was brought into public focus by the Federation of University Teachers’ Association (FUTA) during the launch of the trade union action and campaign to safe-guard public education. Government spending dropped to a low of 1.63% of GDP in 2012. In this context, the demand for the allocation of 6% of GDP was popularised, which was the recommended state expenditure in education by UNESCO.
Recognising the demand, the present Government promised to achieve the 6% allocation target in five years. Thus, the increase in the education allocations is in line with the FUTA budget proposal for an increase of at least 30% in the education budget each year, assuming a linear increase education expenditure over 5 years, in order to achieve the target of 6% by 2020.
Given the increase in the education budget this year, how does one understand the outcome? Is it an outcome of students’ and teachers’ struggles over the years against reductions in public expenditure on education? Or is it a sign that the government has understood the vitality in increasing public expenditure in order to enhance human capital which is linked to economic development? Has there been a change in the mind-set of the Government’s thinking on privatising education which led to the brutal repression of protesting students just a few weeks back?
The Government has articulated its position on education in the budget speech and the economic vision statement, with proposals that can eventually lead to commodification of education. Excessive emphasis placed on enabling the capacity of education to meet labour market demands (articles 98, 214 & 343), reforming university education to suit the needs of the labour market as well as the private sector (articles 325 & 328) and recognition of education as an industry (article 214) treats education as a commodity with an exchange value in the market. Further, the emphasis being made on market oriented learning, raises the question whether education is dictated by business interests (Mahapola University). While discarding functions of education as means to intellectual enrichment of students and enhancing of capacities such as critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, team work and personality development, the government is catering to the limited perception of education as merely serving the demands of the labour market.
On the side-lines of the discourse on commodification, the government is proposing to replace the provision of school uniforms with a system of vouchers (article 321). More alarmingly, it suggests to generate revenue with collaboration of the private sector by cultivating unused land available to schools (article 317). Instead of putting forward a plan to utilise available school properties for enhancing education, such an agenda points to the commercialisation of public school land and buildings. The shift in thinking on education as a public investment, to viewing schools as cost centres (article 320) is in the Government’s proposals. The education sector being transformed into a money making business for either the government or the private sector is a contradiction as well as a threat to the idea of free education that is a hard won right by our society.
The commercialising logic of education reflected in the tone of the budget proposals, clearly shows a move towards the merging education and business. Inter-linking education with market terms and values suggests that for this Government, investments in education are also investments in business. Thus, there are fears that the increased budget allocations for education are linked to commercialising education and preparations for take-over by the private sector in the future.
Looking towards the future
The struggle to safeguard free education, we believe, has shifted centrally to school education. As the backbone of the education system, any attack on school education can cripple the entire education sector. It is often quoted that our country is well ahead of the regional giants in terms of education indicators for literacy and the education of girls. Our public school system has played an important role in raising the living standards of the most vulnerable sections of society, through cultivating the values of education and equality. Reforming the schools in line with those values instead of transforming them into institutions to enhance business indicators should be the way forward. How can we resist the process of merging education with business? The increase in the 2016 Budget allocation for the education sector reflects the crucial importance of collective struggle, and those involved in the education struggle – students, teachers, lecturers and parents – must now rejuvenate their strategy and struggle for safeguarding public education.
*The authors draw from several discussions organised by the Collective for Economic Democratisation (www.economicdemocratisation.org) of which they are also members.
Vibhushana / December 15, 2015
What happened after the socialist revolution between 56-72 was a large chunk of the GDP was pumped into education and health.
So education and health scored very high almost to a level of a first world country. Although there was no correlation between education and wealth. The wealth did not increase.
What usually happens is after people are educated they cannot find work. The funds have been used for these Socialist projects. There is hardly any funds left to build infrastructure to attract investments.
This “neo-liberal” you blame adjusted the scale somewhat. If that did not happen you’d still be queuing up for bread even as a university graduate.
Money do not grow on trees. Someone has to make it for you to spend it even if its for these noble purposes.
The idea should be not to increase spending for education per se. Although use the money already allocated in more smart and prudent ways. So for example find the needy, and the smart kids who will most likely to add value to the economy and invest in them rather than blanket spending.
ibadun / December 15, 2015
The author key on safeguarding schools and money but never think about the out come and performance. schools are performing worse then worse where just 40-50% only get in to A/L (including pending results, without maths) and we are experience numerous social issues where school are failed to address. in western countries almost all get higher education so how? is that money always?
Regarding FUTA they only knows 6% and 99% of it members never know about what is GDP and how to see 6%. and FUTA never issued or talked about why they demand 6% and they never put any proposal how 6% should be utilized.
FUTA and author collectively should produce in public what can be done with 6%.
Also in 2012 it was dropped to 1.63% on GDP but author has failed to give growth in GDP and in actual count more money has allocated. everybody can compare how was education in 2000 and how it was in 2012 absolutely better then better. so more money has allocated in 2012 but due in rapid increase in GDP the % has dropped.
Harami / December 16, 2015
“Capital Carrying Costs”
of the government, a new budget item included for the first time in this year’s budget.
One of the great advantages enjoyed by many `cyber stores` is the lack of carrying costs- its a % of overall cost. Get the jest what it means??
Cancel Christmas Cronies – Coo-coo for Co-Co Puffs
Spring Koha / December 15, 2015
Sorry to poop, but this continuing talk of ‘free’ education gets on my wick. The ‘free’ education those in the state sector get is based on what the government can get away with. It is a nonsense, when one sees the vastly varying levels between schools and between regions. Sub standard teaching means that parents are forced to either send their children to private schools, or, more likely pay, through the nose for their child to be in with a chance at exams, and then life. There are still far too many soldiers overpaid for prancing about – even if some actually sweep parks, run little ‘business’ and the like. The Defence figure should have been reduced by another 20%, at least, by now.
Rizwan / December 16, 2015
The government should not be in the business of education.
Harami / December 16, 2015
There is no money for anything because you folk elected an `inside outside`regime of Warlords- Your presidents and former presidents are quarreling for their increase in pensions and army from 500 army and 200 police each.We don’t have that in the west and will not tolerate it.
When Cameron was leader of opposition he used to travel by Bicycle, even Boris- though Cameron and his wife are related to the Queen who is the commander in Chief.
No one can teach but one has to learn.!!!
WW1 and the rise of the refugee Jewish population at London into banking finance and management is a phenomenon.
Consider the evolution of the human mind. Our mind was originally an organ for sensing danger and preserving life. That this mind eventually came to appreciate logic and a correct math formula I consider a mere accident. It was created for sniffing food, it can also sniff an abstract math formula, that’s all to the good.
Neither Gates nor Zuckerberg graduated and they are not unique to USA
Zuckerberg invested about a Billion $$ in a public school program experiment that failed.
Unfortunately, the money went straight to the schools where it was mostly frittered away by hopelessly inept, bumbling bureaucrats.
“Come down from world beaters to like Zero casualty.”It is often quoted that our country is well ahead of the regional giants in terms of education indicators for literacy and the education of girls. “”
You Are Naive: Hindia follows American standards at Uni not British Trade union std.
August 4, 2015: They show that with 68 million graduates and above, India still has more than six times as many illiterates.
Only 8.15% of Indians are graduates, Census data show 1.2 billion population.
UK: In 2013 there were 12 million graduates in the UK.
Only 20.5% of UK are graduates, Census data show_ 61 million population
Understand why you send housemaids and live off women (garments/tea/Sex)
not Hindia which is the call centre for US/UK
NO politician is EVER…EVER well-meaning.
IF YOU believe that, then you are very naive.
Money, power, and ulterior motives are the ONLY things that
drive a politician to get out of bed each morning.
The bane of all suffering is religion Sinhala Buddhist and Muslim.
1968 South JVP= Free education and the farmers son lifted the gun because he wanted 8-5 job- Stupid education
Same time North had a double whammy Standardisation and import of onions and chilies.- remote bombs 1983. Stupid.
The bane of all Lankan suffering is religion Sinhala Buddhist and Muslim who hijacked our independence.It can only get worse into a big storm- the west is full of cultural shock knocking at its doors and we have solutions to keep you away and feed you while you are there but you have to work.
Don’t let trade Unions ruin your life- young as 13 start off enterprises from their bedrooms by application of what is in demand and what can be substituted.
Even at University professional courses anyone scoring between 60-70 enters the profession and does well while the distinctions end up teaching and entering politics.
Chinese don’t drink milk and eat cinnamon only Muslim commerce thinks they do.
Ranil Wijeyesekera / December 16, 2015
Commercial interest gain by increase in education budget. They should take part in educating and training and retraining their employees. The labour market should be freed to meet the changing job requirement. In a fast changing world this is essential.
Jim softy / December 16, 2015
Sri lanka education needs a real restructuring beginning from, I suppose, the Free school stage. Sri lanka should take examples from western education which has now failed too.
Education, at first, should prepare people for the society and to live a very basic life as better as they can live.
Those who are successful in primary education should go beyond that on to specific subjects areas important to the country in various ways.
Sri lanka does not promote original thinking. that is needed.
Sri lanka also can not provide education free in every aspect that the country needs. So, there should be private education too. On the other hands, Medical doctors get education and leave the country. So,the country must use medical education for business purposes. I heard, right now the private medical collage is only for children and wives of politicians and their capable friends.
Secondary education should be multidisciplinary in order to succeed in the modern world.
There should be tertiary or on going education while people are working in order to raise their capabilities. but, Sri lanka is centuries away in that I think.
Another thing is, if people are capable, if people want, the system should allow people to get degrees in different fields, Double PhDs, or degrees in completely different subjects.
Fedrick / December 21, 2015
This is real truth in Sri Lankan Public University system inside: You need to sack all fake profs and follow international criteria to appoint them: 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 (Husband gives PhD to wife and girlfriend/mistress getting PG degree, sons, daughter and son-in law and daughter- in-law). MY3 clean University system and sack fake professors and University mafia system. Some Dept are family trees. 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.