Colombo Telegraph

My SAITM Story

By Sahani Koralage

Sahani Koralage

Laying their life story bare in public in order to urge a government to take a policy decision is not something any student, studying anywhere in the world should ever have to face. In the face of wholesale lies that’s been spread around, We; the long suffering students of SAITM had no choice but to do this. This post has absolutely no intention of seeking public sympathy and I humbly request all who are prejudiced otherwise, to kindly not read any further.


I was born as the first child in a middle class family. Luckily enough, to a father who’d do anything in his power to give his daughter the best life possible and to a mother who’s enlightened thousands of students including me in their way forwards in the academic world.

Both my parents being government workers, their collective salary rarely exceeds 60,000/= lkr per month.

I went to a private Montessori (1996-1997) (fee levying) before starting school in 1998. With utmost difficulty my father managed to enroll me in a then prestigious government girl’s collage. For thirteen years since then, I enjoyed ‘free’ education at Viharamaha Devi Balika Vidyalaya, Kiribathgoda. 
Was it entirely free of charge? No. My father had to spend for various stuff each year.

My parents strongly believed against tuition during the period of my primary education so, as a consequence, I was blessed with the best imaginable childhood filled with storybooks, fruits off the trees I used to climb, skinned knees and a bunch of friends to go crazy with. Up until I finished grade 5 scholarship exam (2002) my parents never made me sit and study anything unless I did it on my own. Having scored 135 where the pass mark was 134, I remember my father doing his first serious talk with me the night of the results day ,amidst the hype of receiving phone calls( 90% of them starting with “අයියෝ අපරාදෙ ටිකක් මහන්සි උනා නම් කොළඹ ඉස්කෝලෙකට යන්න තිබුණා” ) 
[Which I find strangely similar (and just as disgusting) to “අපරාදෙ තව පාරක් කලා නම් medicine යන්න තිබුණා” that I get from many even today ]
But my father told me , “This mark is 100% yours and you have done well. Don’t compare it with anyone elses’ cause your circumstances and theirs are not the same. Just remember a scholarship exam is by no means decisive of your capability. ”

With that planted strongly in the back of my mind I started my secondary studies in the same school in English medium. We were the first batch to face O/Ls under the new syllabus and the second batch of the school to face it in English medium. Teachers were fairly new and for some subjects we didn’t have a teacher for a whole year. I faced my GCE O/Ls in 2008 December and got my results ( 9As) on April 4th 2009 (Yes. After four months, cause our system is ‘that’ efficient.)

By that time I was set up on doing Biology for A/Ls just because I was fascinated by science, specially human anatomy since I was 12 and I loved making my own notes, referring books that were meant for people much older than me. My father wanted me to do languages (Apparently because I kept on scribbling ever since he can remember and managed to secure all island merits in literature and composition) but didn’t force me in to anything. Only thing he said was, “don’t do bio just because you fancy a steth around your neck” which was fine by me since I never had a doctor fantasy ever in my life. My father made me look at it like just another job which is falsely glorified in the Sri Lankan context. I’d rather fancy being a scientist, I told him.

My school started classes for A/Ls in 2009 August (four months after O/L results) I was set to do my A/Ls in English medium as well.(despite the lack of resources in my school) because I was so used to referencing and making my own notes , that it drove me crazy trying to adapt to Sinhala specially when it came to Biology. (by this time, I’ve tried a month of Sinhala medium classes with no luck.) Again we were the first batch to face A/Ls under the new syllabus so our teacher’s guides and curricula came sickeningly late. ( just how efficient the free education system was) To be exact, the chemistry curriculum only came out six months before the exam.

For my A/Ls I never attended a mass tuition class. For two reasons 
1. There were no proper tuition classes in English medium in my area. 
2. I was making my own notes based on the teachers’ guides and curricula.

Nevertheless for biology I had the help of this amazing lady Mrs. Kalupahana and for physics, that of very kind and dedicated sir from St. Thomas’ collage; Mr. Upali. 
I faced my A/Ls in 2011 August and waited for months before the release of results on 26th December, Which was without a doubt, the most epic fail in the history of all results’ releases. Fun fact- I have four different printouts from the website carrying four different sets of results in each. Amongst all the havoc, I applied for biology, applied biology and Indigenous medicine degrees offered by the state with the B,C & S I got that time since there were only two ways I could get where I wanted to go , one being a BSc in biology and a masters in molecular biology leading to a career in medical research the other being an MBBS which can directly lead to a career in medical research. For everything to get processed and for the system to take us in to universities it took forever! I’ve completed my second shy with BBC and CIMA (cert BA ) by the time University of Kelaniya offered me the BAMS degree for free. Even though I’ve already applied for a Russian scholarship for MBBS and for SAITM by that time, I thought I’d give this free degree a try since I loved the field and I could still go in to medical research with that. Got enrolled on 23rd April 2013 and spent three months in pure hell in the name of ragging where there was no freedom of education AT ALL. By this time I’ve received a vacancy for BSc in applied biology at University of Rajarata. I got enrolled there having left the hell hole in UOK and at about the same time I got called in for interviews at SAITM.

My father did his second serious talk with me that night. We’ve looked in to both the applied science degree and SAITM’s MBBS degree and my father was convinced with SAITM having talked to the professors and lecturers there, some of them being his own teachers. They had a fully functioning teaching hospital at the time plus MOHE and UGC recognition. Now there were three options for me at this point. 1. Continue the BSc and hope for the best to have a chance at being a medical researcher which was a very long shot. 2. Take the chance with the Russian schol which would cost less than SAITM but will require learning a foreign language, five plus years in an unknown land with no one to support me and still after all that, the uncertainty with the time factor when it comes to ERPM exams in SL. 3. Do a Sri Lankan MBBS at SAITM. After having looked in to all the pros and cons in All three options we settled for the third. Not because my father could afford the cost of 67 lakhs (as of September 2013) But because like all good fathers he wanted the best for his daughter (He had to sell his only inheritance; a land, in order for the funds to spend for my higher education)

I faced two Interview rounds at SAITM along with 200 odd other applicants and by the time of the third interview which was conducted by the UGC there were only around 150 filtered applicants. The UGC interview finalized the intake for 2013 September which was around 120 students. (Which has reduced to just 98 as of today. So yeah , just because we pay, there’s no guarantee we’ll get an MBBS in return.) 
We started semester 01 on 16th September 2013 and since then I’ve faced a countless amount of OSCEs, Bars, Credits, Semester ends, mids, year ends so on and so forth. (After the end of first semester only I got the rescrutinity letter which made the C a B, just to point out how inefficient and unreliable the system was to me.) Now I’m a 4th year undergraduate, having completed my 1st and 2nd MBs all on first attempt. 
4th is the year in which we start clinicals and as of today, I have spent 6 months in to the fourth year, completed my first internal medicine appointment along with some other short appointments.

I have seen live, walking, talking patients. I have touched blood, sweat, sputum and human excreta without flinching, held the hands of dying patients , gone through the pain of losing a patient and the euphoria of getting a dying one well and about. For the record, I’ve also used rubber models to practice before touching live patients, if that’s a crime as you #NoPMC fellows claim.

Finally, to the one question that I’m certain will pop up in the comments, “Why did you go to SAITM when the SLMC repeatedly put paper advertisements asking students not to?” Here’s why, According to the Medical ordinance under which the SLMC is supposed to function, it has no authority to put such paper notices against a UGC approved medical faculty without substantial allegations reported and proved to the Minister of health. This same SLMC turned a blind eye towards KDU which functions without a hospital of its own up until today. This same SLMC has given recognition to 222 foreign medical faculties while only 77 of them have been evaluated. I can go on and on about the hypocrisy and double standards here. 
The SLMC, if they’ve acted according to the responsibilities vested in them by the medical ordinance, and not outside them. I wouldn’t be here telling you my life story. Taking crap from clueless people day in and day out. Every time I’m called a failure by an ignorant, I have to remind myself of my father’s serious talk number 1 and them of the fact that the GCE A/Ls is , in essence a scholarship examination where a government with limited budget allowance for tertiary education selects 27,000 out of 100,000 to teach for free. Just because this country’s government FAILED to educate every deserving child who’ve secured the necessary qualifications for higher education it DOES NOT mean that child is a failure. Open up your minds just enough to let that sink in. Please. 🙂

This is my story. To everyone who asks me why SAITM? All I have to say is why not?.

May all beings be well !

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