Officials of the Ministry of Education are blatantly violating an existing court order and continue to force Principals of prominent government schools to enroll students especially to unsuspecting grades such as 3,4,7,8 and 9 in what has now been exposed as another huge money making scandal, Colombo Telegraph can reveal today.
As per documents released by a leading school in Colombo in accordance with an order given by the Right To Information Commission, a large number of such admission instructions have come from the high ranking officials of the Ministry of Education and addressed to the Principals to admit students in this manner.
Colombo Telegraph has in its possession copies of the issued Court Order and also several letters that Education Ministry Secretaries at the time, such as Sunil Hettiarachchi, Tissa Hewavithana and Padmasiri Jayamanne have rampantly issued for such purposes.
A Principal of a prominent school in Colombo when contacted and speaking on condition of anonymity said “We do contact the Ministry of Education for verification each time we are presented with such letters to enroll students in an ad-hoc manner. More often than not it is the Senior Additional Secretary of the Ministry of Education Hemantha Prematillake who always reconfirms these requests and pressurizes us to ensure that the students are enrolled. When we highlight that the classrooms are full. He always telephones us and tells us to admit the child and report back. They are our bosses so what can we do?”
As a country Sri Lanka has always been plagued by rampant scandalous and fraudulent acts where Government Officials attached to the Ministry of Education and certain Principals of government schools have always been involved in the yearly student admissions especially to Year 1 and Year 11.
However this new racket which has been identified is where Additional Secretaries attached to the Ministry of Education have found a loop hole in the system which has fast become an alleged money spinning business.
Ideally if any vacancies exist in any classes they should be filled with the ‘Appeals Waiting List’ that already exists relevant to the year one admission intake of the vacancy.
However after the dust settles after the ‘Year One’ admissions to prestigious schools takes place every year, numerous admissions to most other grades happen through the back door without much notice and attention of the public or stakeholders of the schools. There is no transparent procedure in place to fill vacancies that occur in these grades which can be construed as a violation of public interest and the fundamental rights of deserving applicants.
Earlier In 2011 the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka as per its order in Case No S.C.F.R. 235/2011 of 18-07-2011, determined the maximum number of students in a class should be finalized to have a maximum of 35 students from year 2016 onward.
This judicial order was issued on an undertaking given by the Ministry of Education.
The Supreme Court as well as the Ministry of Education was unanimous in understanding and accepting that the student to teacher ratio must be within a limit that permits a teacher to provide sufficient attention and time to educate a child in an effective manner in his/her classroom.
Though acceptable, even a figure of 35 students in a class per teacher, far exceeds the upper limits that are practiced in the developed world.
Most European countries and the UK have a legal cap of 30 students
Whilst exhibiting callous disregard to a Supreme Court order and blatantly demonstrating the highhandedness of the bureaucratic hierarchy within the Ministry of Education, the Principals of popular schools are pressured by ministry officials, to effect and report ad-hoc admissions, instructed in writing by the respective officials.
These admissions are now been callously implemented and rather rampantly done outside the circulars governing routine admissions to state schools.
Despite ceilings being in place to limit the number of students in a class, the overcrowding of students in classrooms lead to disrupting the conducive teaching and learning environment.
The learning needs of students vary from student to student with some needing special attention.
The class teacher is expected to pay special attention to all such students to ensure that they get a quality inclusive education.
In an overcrowded classroom it is impossible for a teacher to perform such a personalized duty effectively.
Every Sri Lankan child has the right to education that needs to be fulfilled through a system that offers equity in access, quality and relevance.
In Sri Lanka, primary and secondary education is essentially provided through a state run platform and conforms to the principal legislative enactment, the Education Ordinance No. 31 of 1939 and the Ceylon’s free education policy of 1945.
Every year over 320,000 new admissions take place to year one (grade 01 admissions) in state schools island wide. It is common knowledge that grade 01 admissions to state schools take place amidst a gargantuan demand with a host of irregularities and malpractices associated with the process.
What concerns most middle class parents seeking the state offered education, is securing a Grade 1 place in a national school or a school with a good record of educational progression and examination success.
A Parent’s passionate need to admit their child into a popular national school has created space for a host of fraudulent practices that exist with many parents willing to throw millions of rupees to fulfill this purpose.
It is not a secret that many Principals of the state education service have been found guilty of corrupt practices associated with school admissions of children.
Therefore, these autocratic actions of Education Ministry officials appear not only disruptive to the conducive learning environment the students are in but also a direct contravention of the order given by the highest court in Sri Lanka.
A country’s education system is the very foundation where a nation builds its tomorrow by educating its youth of today, where values, intellect and literacy is demonstrated by teachers and taught to students in their formative years.
However how could a country progress when the Ministry of Education, the very institution that is responsible to design, deliver and manage an effective education system shows callous disregard and also is in direct violation of an existing court order? (By Janaka Ranaweera)