By Rasika Jayakody –
W.A. Wickremesinghe, Principal of Pangnananda National School in Raddolugama died while undergoing the physical training designed for principals of national school. The 52 year old Principal died of cardiac arrest after he was hospitalized by the officials of the Rantembe camp. This physical training is provided as part of the newly started programme to offer military ranks to principals. Although it was started with much media fanfare, the objectives of the programme are still obscure. Some, including the trade unions of teachers and principals , argue that this programme aims to militarize the entire educational system. In a counter-argument, the Education Ministry and the architects of the programme say that this will restore ‘discipline’ in schools.
It is obvious that discipline is rapidly eroding not only at the school level, but also at various levels of the society. When a society as a whole loses its order and discipline, it is naïve to believe that ‘Schools’, one of the many entities of a society, will remain intact, in isolation, against all odds. Having said that it is also important to understand that even at the school level there are various internal factors that create further frustration and disappointment among students and teachers, resulting in further deterioration of order and discipline.
Several years ago, when this writer was a journalist covering the Education Ministry for a national newspaper, a report came from the ministry stated that nearly 1500 schools across the country were on the verge of closure. This situation has now been deteriorated with time and more schools have been added to this list, reflecting the state of affairs in the educational system. The sole reason for this is highly asymmetrical distribution of resources and infrastructure, thanks to the flawed policies of successive governments and their incompetent policy-makers.
This asymmetry has hurled rural schools from frying pan into the fire while creating an elitist circle of schools that enjoy seamless benefits, resulting in a rat-race among students, parents and teachers. Only the crème de la crème is entitled to the benefits of education while the rest is destined to fall by the wayside. It wouldn’t take an Einstein to notice that this has mounted immense pressure on the entire educational system and all its stakeholders.
Discipline and order at the school level erode as a result of this excessive pressure and it is, needless to say, a systematic process. Without identifying the root cause and without viewing the big picture, any isolated attempt to address this matter will end up being an act of walking in the dark. That is where the attempt to provide military training (or whatever you may call it) to school principals falls short of the target.
It is true that the present asymmetry cannot be rectified overnight with a magic wand. That is where the national policy of education comes into play. The present government’s educational policies, such as establishing 1000 secondary schools and setting up 10,000 odd more ‘Mahindodaya’ IT labs in schools island wide, did not take off the ground as national policies. The moment a new minister takes over the ministry or a new government comes to power, sooner or later, such projects will be the first to hit a snag, as has been the case for the past 35 years.
It is an undeniable fact that School principals in Sri Lanka in general lack managerial skills, fresh-thinking, efficiency and correct approach. But the pertinent question is whether such qualities can be injected to principals by making them quasi-Colonels of the Army. For that, the educational system needs to resort to a comprehensive plan as far as training of principals in concerned.
It is true that over the past several years, ‘Military’ is the only entity in Sri Lanka to have produced desired results, whether one likes it or not. The government has failed in addressing many burning of the country while the government service has failed miserably in showing efficiency. Treasury is in doldrums and the health sector is plagued with endless issues, ranging from bribery and corruption to lack of competency in battling dengue. But the Military, on the contrary, won the war and eradicated the LTTE militarily, from the soil of Sri Lanka, the task which they were entrusted with.
But the fact that Military won the war does NOT mean that military theory can be applied everywhere to produce better results!
The Principal of Pagnananda National School in Raddolugama , however, has died. The military training for principals may or may not stop as a result of his death. But this tragic death of the Principal has opened a window for us to take another look at our flawed policies and rectify them. It also urges the government to do away with funny PR exercises and address the core issues comprehensively.
*The writer may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org