By Ammar Jawfer –
Why London Syllabus?
I am a proud product of Gateway College, Colombo. We were abroad as my father was working in the Sri Lankan Embassy, Riyadh, KSA. Therefore, I had already started my education at the Sri Lankan International School, Riyadh, in the Edexcel syllabus and therefore had to follow it when we returned to Mother Sri Lanka. One ought to bear in mind, that getting entry into international schools are not as easy as they perceive. There are waiting lists almost similar to getting into state schools and they also have placement tests for to sit for to get entry. Just walk into any international school in Colombo and you will understand what I am talking about. The false ideology where if you have money, you can enter into any international school is completely baseless.
I believe that I was blessed to have received my education at Gateway College, the brain child of late Mr. Alles, who was our chairman. He nurtured us to be great individuals and he repeatedly stressed the importance of giving back to this country as he has done so by example. He also encouraged us to become all round students, not just sticking to studies alone or sports alone but to be able to do both, to balance it and to then strive and achieve further. We followed in none other than that pathway and were able to reap various benefits as time went on.
I sat for ordinary level examination, 2 months after having continuously trained and participated in our Annual Inter-International Athletics Championship and managed to walk away with an Edexcel High Achiever Award. I believe that I was able to do this with the backing and guidance of our dear chairman, Mr.Alles and my teachers to whom I am ever so indebted. It wasn’t easy.
In 2011, for my Advanced levels, apart from the 4 subjects in the bio-science stream, I did 2 additional subjects, which were per my interest in them. I managed to get good results in that too and it was hard. With prefect ship duties, sports and other activities at school, time was the ultimate factor.
During this period, I was contemplating on my final studies. I had already decided to do medicine. I wanted to become a doctor and I had various reasons for that, which were mainly three. The first was the ability to serve people and not just people, but the people of this country. Another reason was my mother who is sick and suffering from a chronic disease. She has supported me in every juncture and I believe that I owe her as well as my father a lot for everything that I have achieved in my life as they are the 2 pillars of my life which I was blessed with from God Almighty. So I wanted to try and see if I can find out a way to find a cure for the people suffering from this disease as well.
The final reason is a personal quote and motto of mine,
“To make someone smile is something…
But.. to make someone smile and know that you are a part of the reason for that smile, is something words cannot explain”
I wanted to do medicine in Sri Lanka, so I checked out the state universities and there was no way that I could join them. I looked in to Sri Jayawardenapura University because if you had studied abroad you could enter through the foreign quota but I wasn’t eligible because I should have done my exams abroad for that. So although my batch mates who remained back at Riyadh, were able to get in to the Sri Jayawardenapura University having studied the same syllabus that I did, I wasn’t able to. I then looked in the Kotelawala Defence University but at that time, yet again, there was no entry method for a student who had studied the Edexcel Syllabus. The only option I had was to go abroad for to do medicine. We checked various places and the total cost inclusive of the tuition fee, travelling cost, food and other daily expenditure at a relatively good SLMC recognized university was roughly at a minimum of around 7 million Sri Lankan rupees. This was with the additional difficulty of having to learn the language of that country, to be dependent on translators, to be able to cope and live in different conditions as well. Having learnt from my friends and seniors that this wasn’t relatively easy and a simply fairy tale as some people describe it to be, I still wanted more options. And not to mention the fact that having studied and finished medicine abroad, one has to come back here and sit for the Act 16 exam at which there was a pass rate of 13%! What kind of a mental block is that with regard to spending so much money and coming back and not being able to pass this test and practice as a doctor in mother Lanka?
It was too much pressure and a decision that would affect a lifetime.
It was during this time that I heard about SAITM at an educational exhibition. I wanted to look into it further, so with a couple of other friends from school, visited this university to check it out. We were initially not very sure but they sat and explained the entry requirements, their progress and how they plan to further the status the university was in. In August 2011, they had just received the UGC degree awarding status. They explained that they had initially been given permission to use the Homagama Hospital but were unfortunately denied due to protests by the GMOA and that they had already started building our own hospital for our studies. The course fee was reasonable at Rs.6.6million when we were checking it out. So we thought about it further and the benefits that we had were many, we wanted to be able to do medicine here so that we have a firsthand exposure and knowledge of the health system in Sri Lanka as well the diseases that we have instead of learning of other diseases or illnesses that aren’t as commonly found in Sri Lanka, which would have been the case had we gone abroad. We were able to study it here while travelling from home itself or even boarded here in Sri Lanka, our own country which means a lot. Since the fee was comparatively reasonable, it meant a lot less burden upon my parents who had to find funds for not just my higher education but my brothers as well which weren’t easy. And last but not least, this was the ONLY place in Sri Lanka that offered a medical degree to a student who had studied the London Edexcel syllabus. So in the end, I ended up joining here in September 2011.
Life at SAITM
We were initially explained of our syllabus, of how we have only 3 attempts at any final exam. To break it down would mean that initially we get our valid chance to sit at the final exam say anatomy. Then if we fail it, we get a repeat chance to do it. If we fail that, we are de-batched meaning held back and given a chance to do it and if you pass you continue in the lower batch. However if you fail that too, then you get one more final attempt after which if you fail it, you are then not allowed to continue to study medicine at SAITM no matter who you are or what you have paid because it is a way to maintain standards.
We started our first year with a total of 72 students as the 5th batch of SAITM and our medical life started. It was hectic, hard and grueling to keep up with the need of studying daily, being ahead and also trying to do a bit of sports on the side but we all managed to. We kept on getting through our exams but some faltered along the way and we are currently now 52 students in our Final year doing our professorial appointments at NFTH.
As though the pressure of our medical education wasn’t enough we are also burdened with the fact that we are continuously being unfairly called as under qualified to do medicine, incapable of studying properly and not being taught by qualified by proper teachers where in reality, it is the complete opposite. We are being taught by the likes of Prof.Neville Perera, Prof.Anura Weerasinghe, Prof. Deepthi and many other distinguished doctors and professors who are highly qualified and further to that is the fact that they have taught in most of the state faculties in Sri Lanka as well. So we are being taught by the same if not even better teachers than at the state faculties.
Obviously we too get scolded, we get shouted at and what not when we do not do speak up or get something wrong as is, per the teaching practices which generally occurs in our country in the medical profession. So we are not treated with any difference just because we are non-state medical students, all students are treated like students, nothing less or nothing more. In contrast, our professors and lecturers are more strict on us, as they was want us to produce the best doctors possible with the various qualities that need to be nurtured and practiced. And I personally believe that, we only but learn more and remember important life lessons each time we get scolded.
We have all passed our Advanced Level examinations, I can voice and guarantee that the entire 5th batch students were all interviewed by the UGC and that our results are with them as well, even as of today. We had all acquired the minimum standards set by the UGC, required to do medicine back then, which was 3 simple passes in the bio stream.
We are being assessed continuously in various methods ranging from random tutorials to set discussions and so on and so forth. We are very fortunate to be able to have almost direct access to all our professors and lecturers if we are in need to clarify any doubts we have.
The GMOA says that our hospital isn’t sufficient and that it’s nothing like getting training at a state hospital, but when we request for state hospitals for to train in, even while offering to improve the standards of these hospitals, for the benefit of the general public, they do not allow us.
So they want us to train in state hospitals, but they won’t allow us to train at state hospitals.
It’s quite an unrealistic and biased threat, as well as an unfair allegation to make when they are the ones withholding our education by doing so.
The sad situation is that is our very own brothers and sisters as well, out there who are also doing medicine and going to become future doctors, opposing us. And it’s quite sad to see how they are being manipulated by various parties only for their own personal greed. These students are missing their own lectures and classes and sacrificing their time for these purposes. It’s a known fact that studies in the state factor never finish on time and maybe on rare occasions does that occur, simply due to various strikes and what not. So in addition to that, they are getting further delayed by all these protests too. Of late, they are even being bombarded by tear gas and water cannons… but if you ask them, not even 90% of them know about SAITM, know exactly why they are on the road, and they do not want to close or prevent another child’s education but they are being forced to. That is the sad reality.
We at SAITM find it difficult to even participate in sports with our studies. I can only imagine how much the workload must be for the state faculty students when they are being forced to waste their time and effort on something they don’t want to.
I only hope that the small faction that are against us, will understand the need of the private medical education and the necessity for more children of mother Lanka who has studied in the London Syllabus for to be able to do medicine here in Sri Lanka and to serve our country without having to suffer and go through added burden of going abroad. It is a move that will be beneficial for the whole of the medical community, and for patients to be able to consult any doctor when and wherever they want. We cannot burden the government into providing us with everything. The government is already in debt, we are already having free education and a free health system at a quality which not many countries can boast about. We have to appreciate it and only try and help instead of failing it.
Small steps like these will help the future of Sri Lanka, it’s time we step out of the warp that we have been in all throughout the years of the civil war. We are at a time of development, a time to move forward and a time to learn. Our generation has to change, our people have to change and become less self-centered. The Sri Lankan culture, which has been instilled within many, is to look at our neighbors and complain, instead, we should congratulate them and try if we can to achieve our own. We have to develop as a nation. We can develop as a nation. We can even take on the world. We just need to set our priorities right, have practical targets and work as a family or a team. It’s high time the Sri Lankan flag starts to fly high in areas other than cricket alone. Let’s all unite and stand together for our education and for our country’s future.
I am Ammar Jawfer, a final year medical student of SAITM and this is my story.
I thank you profusely for taking your valuable time to read.