20 September, 2020

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My (Typical) Pera Story: A Response

By R.P. Gunawardane

Prof R.P. Gunawardane

I was alarmed and deeply concerned after reading Mr. Sarath Bandara’s (typical) Pera story about his difficult path to become a doctor in Sri Lanka. He says typical probably because this is the normal path taken by most of the students in Sri Lanka. His article highlights general issues regarding getting a good school for secondary education, university admission process, and particularly the delays in each step from O/L exam through university admission, internship appointment and beyond. In my response, I will deal only with the delays in each of these stages. All these delays are avoidable if suitable action is taken by the Ministry of Education, the UGC, universities and the Ministry of Health.

Due to the current set up in Sri Lanka, bright students like Mr. Bandara would have wasted about 7-8 years of his prime time between O/L exam and beginning of his internship in the medical career. Even after that he has a long way ahead to become a medical consultant. In Mr. Bandara’s case, he will be 32 years old when he starts his internship. Then there will be another waiting period for his post internship appointment, followed by exams and foreign training. Even after foreign training component, he may still have to wait for a considerable period for his consultant appointment. By that time, he will be around 40 yrs. of age having only 20 years to serve the nation, after nearly 35 years of continuous school education, university education and professional training. This is a pathetic situation prevailing in Sri Lanka today.

In most of the other countries such delays do not exist. As such even our students with best A/L results tend to go abroad if their parents can afford it. For example, in USA most students enter universities when they reach about 17 years. In USA, most professional programs are conducted at graduate level. For instance, medicine, dentistry, veterinary science and even education are conducted as postgraduate courses. In the case of medicine, you need to follow an undergraduate program which includes pre-medical requirements prior to admission to medical school. Then, they should pass MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) to apply for a medical school. Total period of the first degree and MD program is 8 years. Thus, they will be about 25 years when they complete MD. Their internship is combined with specialized training to become consultants. This training lasts for 3-5 years depending on the specialty, except in highly specialized fields such as cardiac surgery, neuro surgery, plastic surgery etc. which may take 6-10 years. For example, one can become a consultant physician at the age of 28 years and a consultant dermatologist at the age of 29 yrs. The situation is similar regarding the average ages of the medical professionals in most of the other developed countries and even in some developing countries. This means that Mr. Bandara from Sri Lanka spends over one decade more than an average medical professional in any other country to become a medical consultant!

As mentioned earlier, such long delays do not exist in most other countries. As such there is a greater tendency now for our students with even the best A/L results try to gain admission to foreign universities for medical degrees provided their parents can afford it.

In most countries students apply for admission to universities in their final year in the high school so that they do not lose time. Similarly, medical students apply for internship and specialization programmes in their final year in the medical school so that they can start combined internship and specialization immediately after graduation. They have a highly organized and coordinated systems with a fixed calendar to administer these activities annually.

During the period 2000-2004 some concrete measures were taken to reduce waiting times of students at different stages (see this author’s article on “Why GCE A/L Exam should be held in April?, Colombo Telegraph & Island, October 28, 2016), and to minimize delays in release of exam results in Sri Lanka.. Action was also taken at the same time to expedite and synchronize university admissions. Since then this aspect has been completely ignored and no coordinated action has been taken regarding this matter during the last decade.

For medical graduates the delays occur in the following stages without considering delays arising due to strikes and other disruptions in the university system:

  1. After GCE O/L exam and before A/L classes begin (9 months)
  2. After A/L exam and before the selection to university (1-2 years)
  3. After selection and before actual admission to the faculty (1-2 years)
  4. After Final exam and before internship placement (1-2 years)
  5. After internship and before permanent appointments (6-9 months)

At least in No. 5 above the officers are paid their salaries during this period, but their professional advancement is delayed. As in Mr. Bandara’s case the total period of delay from numbers 1-4 listed above is about 7-8 years.

It is a national crime to waste many productive years and precious time of our most talented young generation due to inaction of our authorities. Thus, it is absolutely essential to implement an action programme to reduce this time lag to a minimum without any further delay. A dedicated and a highly coordinated effort is need in this direction with the active participation of Ministry of Education, Ministry of Health, UGC and the universities. Furthermore, it is also essential that all the medical faculties have the same fixed academic year so that internship appointments can be streamlined and expedited.

We have seen the rapid increase of waiting period and the delay at the different stages of medical training during the last decade. It has now become a very serious issue affecting our young generation and the whole nation. Many generations of our highly talented young medical students have gone through this painful process without much protest. Even a very active trade union like GMOA has not taken this matter seriously. Probably they have taken it for granted without realizing the gravity of the situation. Thus, it is high time for the civil society activists and particularly trade unions like GMOA and FUTA to take this matter up with the authorities and see that appropriate action is taken by the relevant authorities (Education Ministry, UGC and Health Ministry) without any further delay. Considering the plight of Mr. Bandara as a general situation, there is a strong case for extending the retirement age of medical consultants to 65 years as in the case of university academics. Although many generations of medical graduates are already seriously affected, immediate and effective remedial action coupled with a possible extension of retirement age will benefit many future generations of our medical profession.

*The author is a Professor Emeritus, University of Peradeniya, formerly Secretary, Ministry of Education and Higher Education and Chairman, National Education Commission, Sri Lanka

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  • 5
    0

    Dear Prof:
    It looks like, you have missed some important facts that cause the delay from OL to the university entrance and from undergraduate to a professionally qualified medical practitioner.
    1. As you have mentioned, always there is a delay between, after OL exams and before starting AL.Why is it?
    Not like in USA or England our AL students are given three opportunities to sit for AL exams. Out of these three two chances are given by the school. Therefore until AL students leave schools have not enough classrooms for newcomers. However since private tuition classes for AL courses start right after the OL examination, so there is no such delay occur literally.

    2. Again, since AL students have three opportunities to sit for AL exams and because of the complexity of the selection criteria which is totally decided by Z score and district basis system, there is no way to start university courses within two or three months after results were released. I think you can remember your own experience about university entrance which had been total different, before 1970. AL exams were held in December and practical examinations were done in April. Then the results were released between May and June, and university started in August.

    3. Since 1975 to date, due to dirty politics, that invaded into our university education system, immense number of hours have been wasted by both students and the staff. As a result , all undergraduates have to spend extended period in the universities.

    4. With reference to the medicos, don’t forget that internship is also counted as their service despite it is a probation period.

    5. Finally I would like to remind that doctors continue their profession even after their retirement. So it is no need to extend the retirement age beyond 60.

    • 4
      1

      Dear Prof R.P. Gunawardane,

      RE: My (Typical) Pera Story: A Response

      Thanks for your write up, and exposing the problems the students face.The problem is system-wide, and the students, SAITIM, the people and the country are getting a very bad deal here, and the castists in GMOA and SLMC are only concerned about themselves and their hegemony.

      1. “For medical graduates the delays occur in the following stages without considering delays arising due to strikes and other disruptions in the university system:”
      ” 1-4 listed above is about 7-8 years.”

      This is the case if the student gets through each stage on the first try.
      For second try and the third try, add 1 year each.

      Besides, the re is no intelligence test for admission to the medical school and the university, only subject tests,. Many students pass by memorizing and cramming over a 2, 3, 4 or 5-year periods, a study that should have been completed in 2 years.

      2. “It has now become a very serious issue affecting our young generation and the whole nation. Many generations of our highly talented young medical students have gone through this painful process without much protest. Even a very active trade union like GMOA has not taken this matter seriously. “

      Why? Because GMOA and SLMC are more concerned about their cast-ism, hegemony and the advantages and privileges it brings in than the interest of the people, students and the nation.

      SAITM, despite the protests by the castists, GMOA and SLMC, partially overcomes these delays, due to the market forces of supply and demand.

      3. “Considering the plight of Mr. Bandara as a general situation, there is a strong case for extending the retirement age of medical consultants to 65 years as in the case of university academics. “

      Why not use the experienced consultants, to set up more private medical schools so that the Sri Lankan medical schools can gradate students when they are 23 or 24 years old? GMOA and SLMC cast-ism and hegemony.

      • 1
        0

        Dear Prof R.P. Gunawardane,

        RE: My (Typical) Pera Story: A Response

        Q.. How to bust GMOA, SLMC Cast-ism and hegemony.

        SAITIM? Learn from the Caribbean countries. An example, just one example.

        A Commitment to Academic Excellence
        Saba University School of Medicine stands apart
        with a long-established reputation for academic
        excellence that started with our first class over 20
        years ago. Today, our students have a 99% first-time
        pass rate on the USMLE and consistently earn
        outstanding residencies at medical centers across the
        U.S. and Canada including Albert Einstein and
        Maimonides in New York, Dalhousie and McMaster in
        Canada, Cleveland Clinic, Mayo Clinic, Yale and many others.

        http://learn.saba.edu/get-information-international#getStartedNow

    • 0
      0

      Kanthi Peris,

      your argument is completely wrong. Calclulate the time gap between O/L and start of A/L classes. private tuition should not counter. It is not a solution of time delay.

      Second, it is right that students get three opportunities, but forget about those these and think the time gap between A/L exam and entering the University.

      Internship doesn’t count as service.

  • 2
    0

    This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2/

  • 3
    0

    Prof. Gunawardena says “………Thus, it is high time for the civil society activists and particularly trade unions like GMOA and FUTA to take this matter up with the authorities and see that appropriate action is taken by the relevant authorities (Education Ministry, UGC and Health Ministry) without any further delay. …”

    These days GMOA as well as FUTA themselves contribute to the “delays” by their strike and protest actions

    • 4
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      B Perera

      “These days GMOA as well as FUTA themselves contribute to the “delays” by their strike and protest actions”

      It is about their cast-ism and hegemony, and not about the people, or the country.

      The idiots at JVP do not understand that.

      Were they bribed too?

  • 3
    0

    “In most of the other countries such delays do not exist. As such even our students with best A/L results tend to go abroad if their parents can afford it. For example, in USA most students enter universities when they reach about 17 years. In USA, most professional programs are conducted at graduate level. For instance, medicine, dentistry, veterinary science and even education are conducted as postgraduate courses”

    What will be the response to the above factual statement of Professor Emeritus, University of Peradeniya, formerly Secretary, Ministry of Education and Higher Education and Chairman, National Education Commission, Sri Lanka, BY THE POLITICIANS , even though such a system is truly need for a country, truly on a developing path? For our politicians Development is in almost all cases just a quantitative propelling than of qualitative remodeling or revamping – lamenting financial restrictions; Sri Lankan students should be able to finish A/L by 17 years.
    First of all the authorities should practically absolve from categorization of schools as under-privileged, privileged, and super privileged ones. All schools should be equal carrying equal resources!
    This is the worst practice responsible for the entire illness of education system!

    • 0
      0

      Sri Lankan students should be able to finish A/L by 17 years.

      How it is possible to finish A/L by 17 years when they have to finish 13 years of schooling and have to be 5 years old when are middted to the grade 1 ?

      Are students given promotions to comphensate for preschooling ?

      • 1
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        13 year education is not necessary, !2 years is more than enough as earlier education system. 1-12. starting school at 5 years, finish by 17. In develop counties students can enter into University right away after AL exam.

  • 4
    0

    Dear Readers: Please listen to the song titled “RAJA MADURAKA” sung by Late Malini Bulathsinhala. The starting words of that song are: “Raja Meduraka Ipadee Sitiyanam, Numbath Rajeki Puthune”….. (Son, if you too were borne in a Palace of a King, you too would be a King). That song, very heart burning explains the whole truth of the present system of every matter including the Education.

  • 0
    0

    Sri lanka afew politicians for each ministery and if there is a ministe rin charge he is not qualified. the maximum qualification is probably the law degree.

    So, education is in shambles.

  • 4
    0

    Dear Prof R.P. Gunawardane,

    Let’s hope that the urban kids who have had far too many rude things to say about the efforts made to educate all Sri Lankans, read your account of how delays in qualifying through the State System have got ever worse. Even more than lack of funds allocated has been plain unconcern about what’s going on.

    The need for English is being stressed. It has to be taught in the early years, but in 1999 a special effort was made to teach it in the A. Level classes to ready students for University education, much of which is again in English. Let me not dwell on that.

    The General English Book was written by three Dons (now two Professors, and one Late Prof). It was different from all others – and has remained in use (as have the books for Grades 3,4, and 5!) all these years. That shouldn’t be, of course. A new book is due in August 2017 – that I know because I had to “polish” the Teacher’s guide in November and December – for a not yet thought of book!

    We were supposed to give the theory – in terms of “can do” statements. Some guys at NIE had worked it out clearly and well, but they realised that themselves that they should be asked to do the actual book. For me a Teachers’ Guide is essentially an “Answer Book” that makes life easier! That was going to be decided “higher up!” I don’t know what’s happening – none of my business! I can assure you that the personnel handling English are nice people, and quite bright – but what can one do when decisions are made elsewhere?

    I was never allowed to contribute what I could have because the lady boss prided herself on introducing “Sinhalakama” in to the NIE. What to do? S. Thomas’ was saying that I was too concerned with “ordinary guys”, and in both places my concern for “suffering Tamils” did not go down well in those War Years.

    Yes, my pseudonym was chosen to provoke, and then proclaim that I’m no racist. I’ve digressed, but really, we’ve got to be conscious of where all this elite education for some began.

    This may be a bit of a hodge podge – but “what to do?”

  • 2
    0

    Dear Prof.
    It has utter failure of Sri Lanka educational policy makers to update and upgrade sri Lankan education in all fields. Do you know that still some lecturers in some subject in some of famous univeristies in Sri Lanka dictate in their class rooms as primary school teachers do ..there is no innovative or pedagogical change in teaching and learning..some lecturers managed to buy PHDs from abroad ..quality of some univeristies has gone down…universities in SL are going day by day down in the quality ….
    As for GCSE…annually 250.000 sit for GCSE O/L and 150.000 are qualified to do A/Ls and at 20.00 get univeristy admission and nearly 80% students are dropped out and go abroad for odd jobs. Yet, educationalists have no good policies to help these drop outs …Do not Blame politicians..people like you should have courage to make a difference and should guide and direct politicians…politicians may not know all these but people like you should guide them

  • 1
    0

    Dear Professor,
    Can you state the reasons why SAITM was allowed to function as a Medical School without even a hospital at the beginning, and even after a “hospital” was established, lacking in many departments, is being allowed to function as a “teaching Hospital”.

    Who made the decisions, how and why?

    • 0
      0

      SAITM teaches medical students, though was robbed of the govt. non teaching hospitals given to it for training medical students. NFTH is used to train doctors, and has professorial units for final year appointments. What else are professorial units for, if not for teaching. All this mud slinging by GMOA is because it its bankrupt and has no valid arguments. So they lie to MPs and people, saying lacking departments etc. Anyone is allowed to believe any lie of GMOA as SAITM believes in the judicial system to give them Justice to receive internship training and get on with their lives. Not all can live on streets.

  • 1
    0

    Prof R.P. Gunawardane

    We have seen the rapid increase of waiting period and the delay at the different stages of medical training during the last decade. It has now become a very serious issue affecting our young generation and the whole nation.

    What you are saying is not a burning issue in Sri lanka.

    If Sri lankan universities are lethargic, politicians children go to foreign universities. they get funds form President’;s funds.

    Sri lanka’s issues are Rajapakse needs to be the prime minister or president again. Ranil has to beat Rajapakse some how and that is why he needed Central Bank money. Maithripala sirisena’s problems are rajapakse making him annoys and becoming a pest. Parliamentarians need money to go the next elections. so, they need tax free cars irrespective of Sri lanka becoming junk yard with rusted metal and colomba is foggy with air polution and increased no of cancer cases.

  • 3
    0

    Sri Lankan University problems are beyond your Pera experience. First Sri Lankan Citizens get together and check public University system professors’ and Lecturers’ qualifications and publications list rather SAITEM case. Recently I checked Management faculty Professors and Lecturers list in public Universities. I was shocked to see that none has PhD from AACSB accredited University or world top 100- 300 university list or any single publications in ISI and SCOPUS indexed journals. Then how can we get quality guarantee about these undergraduates and PG products they produced. They are just giving piece of papers as a degree without proper training. Many professors even do not know what are ISI and SCOPUS indexed journals and Google Scholar, citations etc. Rather giving them salary increments their salaries must be reduced and fake professorships must be cancelled. Sri Lankan citizens never accept Professor Title given by the so called local Universities based on outdoor connections. Before you say professor to anybody first check they have PhD from the recognized world class University and ISI/SCOPUS publication list (minimum 15) with Google scholar citation and research gate data page. I guess under the Right to Information Act now citizens have right to ask credentials of public sector Universities academics because it runs through poor tax payers money. If you carefully check you will see all the problems with public University system not with SAITEM. See how they give PhDs in local Universities. Today the most important thing not your PhD but where it comes matter. The countries they (University teachers) go to do higher studies, no person is going to studies: China, Malaysia and India. Now you see SAITEM is 100% better than local Universities.

    • 0
      0

      Binoj,

      According your argument, Admission to world ranking universities are not easy. especially first 100 or 300. if someone enters to good university for PhD, they are not returning to Sri Lanka. This is the truth.
      You are promoting SAITM, you are indirectly promoting it and you compare management faculty and medical faculty. your sample selection is wrong. You are talking with SCOPUS, unfortunately, you don’t know how to select the proper sample.

      Still sri lanka doctros returning country after their post graduate training, not like other profession because their income is good from private practice.
      This is a simple answer for all your scopus and all.

  • 1
    0

    Strikes by medical students delay further their career commencement. That’s of their own doing. There is no need to extend the retirement age since they can engage in PP till they die.

  • 1
    0

    We don’t have any policies with regard to any discipline. To have policies, we need educated, qualified politicians. When rusty brains are appointed to manage education, the results are self explanative. Let a professional statutory body be created to do the managing of the education sector sans political interference, then results could be felt.

    • 1
      0

      Adrian:

      That is why Sri lasnka should back to the system we had earlier. Ministry Secretary or the Deputy minister should be a professional who is not affiliated with political parties.

      Minister’s job should only to evaluate the political repurcussions and not to make the outcome politicized.

  • 2
    0

    Take a different look at the problem. Mrs. Bandaranayaka said that she will give the same education she gives her children but sent Chandrika to Paris and Anura to London. President Premadasa sent Sajith to London.Most of the politicians send their children overseas for studies.They can afford it. Sale proceeds of one duty free car will cover the cost. We the farmers laborers and small timers are not that privileged.So the problem lies in that our politicians are not simply interested since their children do not encounter this problem

  • 1
    0

    I am a final year student from peradeniya medical faculty and Ilike to inform all the readers that There is no one called sarath Bandara in our batch or any of the other batches.This story is a nicely created lie.Our pera stories are much more different from what he says .Our faculty is 100% rag free like most of the other medical faculties and I’ll be only 26 when I pass out.No one will be in a state medical faculty till 32 years old.Please dont be misleaded by this kind of cheap attempts by SAITM supporters.thank you.

  • 0
    0

    Prof. Gunawardene, are you supporting SAITM? And is that why you wrote this response?

    It seems that there is no student called Sarath Bandara at Peradeniya.

    But even before this ‘fact’ came up, I wondered about the story; for which student from the ordinary walks of life, and one who depended on scholarship exams etc, would be able to afford the exorbitant fees dished out to a private medical college? \

    the story did not ring true.

    First, the shooting and then now, this!

    if you are an interested party, personally, politically or ideologicaly, I’d like to ask you to own upto them.

  • 1
    0

    The root cause is free tertiary education , the destructionor the decline of university education is the result of government is pumping money and neither students nor lecturers take any responsibility. It is the high time government devise a scheme to provide soft loans to students and recover the loan progressively upon employment as done in many countries. This will create competition among the universities and demand for academic courses.

    As SL is now indebted free education is not sustainable, further lacking of standard framework, and the politicization of monitoring institutions have caused our universities to go below 2000 in world ranking. I have seen some of the institutions who have been elevated to universities is very much better than our prestigious Peradeniya and Colombo universities.

    This a very sad situation but the politicians and other organizations, GMOA, SLMC , STUDENTS UNIONS fight for their supremacy.

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