21 April, 2019

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Open Letter To All Parents: For The Sake Of Quality Education

By Nedra Karunaratne

Prof. Nedra Karunaratne

Today this country is facing a dilemma over education at all levels. The universities have been closed for over three months due to the academic staff strike. Previously it was disfunctional for a month because the non-academic staff staged a strike. The students have been at home for more than four months. The clock is still ticking the hours away wasting the lives of thousands of young adults in their prime. Nero fiddled while Rome burned. Who is fiddling while the long established successful education system is showing signs of bursting into flames? What measures are needed for reforming the system to re-establish the once hallowed portals of learning? As a parent, how much do you know and what do you feel?

Primary education

It is known that the primary schools in most rural areas are running at bare minimum. The most affected are the rural poor who do not have the means of sending their children to schools with better facilities miles away from home. When the Grade V scholarship results were released, it was heartening to note that the first place was shared by a rural child from the hill country with a more privileged child from a prestigious school from down south. The hardships this rural child had borne to access a school from her home is unthinkable for those used to a comfortable city life attending city schools within their reach (2 miles or a few school van miles away!). That too, in order for this girl to attend the closest school and not a National school that many fight to get their children in. The proud parents of the child from the city school had the opportunity to get an audience with the president. What of the poor child from the village? This is a good example of the privileged having facilities and the means to attain their objectives, while the poor are left to wonder where their next meal is coming from.

In the process of writing this article, the sentiments expressed by Prof. Carmen Wickramagamage regarding scholarship examinations grabbed my attention. “A tale of two kids and future of free education in SL” in the island of 3rd October 2012 is a story relating the anguish of both parents and little children subjected to a useless process in the name of education. It narrates the two cases where support (pressure exerted in many cases) given by parents in the case of the child from the city and the natural ability of a persevering and enterprising child from the village had yielded the same result. The question here is why parents take such pleasure in advocating excellence at this young age. The inherent abilities and creativity are suppressed with no room for free thinking when examinations dominate the life of the child. The blame should partly go to the education ministry for making this a compulsory examination. It used to be optional and only for the purpose of selecting the bright from underprivileged areas for better educational facilities in the cities. In todays context where no child who fails in a class from year 1 to year 10 is kept back, why subject children to this unnecessary exercise depriving many of a happy and carefree childhood. This is the only period in our life time that we can really say we had no burdens to carry. But can the children of today anticipate happy childhood memories? Parents please do not deprive your children of their fundamental right to a hassle free acquisition of knowledge useful for their future life. The Grade V examination does nothing to enhance useful knowledge or inculcate character traits. On the contrary, all it does is to create a hostile environment between class mates and over ambitious parents.

Secondary education

The education ministry cannot be proud of the secondary schools in that many are ill equipped in teaching staff and resources. The number of secondary schools that can provide a good science based education is only a small percentage. Parents with the facilities to get their children into such schools are fortunate that their children can strive to become doctors and engineers. One can argue that science is not the only subject in the curriculum that needs to be available in all schools. True if an adequate number of schools with reasonable facilities are available. However, free education does not only mean that no fees are paid, but more the freedom for a child to pursue his desired discipline. Therefore concerned parents should be aware that our free education system is not free in the true sense. The question is- why are parents silent when schools are neglected and many shut down by the education ministry. Those who protest are few and far between and generally tend to be voices in the wilderness.

The recent happenings at Vidyaloka Vidyalaya in Galle leaves much food for thought. Do parents and children have the right to protest against appointments of educators? The extent to which the attack on the principal was carried out appears that it was pre-planned. According to the editorial in the island on the 3rd October 2012, the old boys of the school and a political monk are responsible for the dastardly act. A spate of such violent agitations have been reported in a number of schools. What are the moral values that parents teach their children by instigating violence in schools? These children will believe that rioting and vandalism is a normal form of protest. Parents who are quick to protest at little things like appointment of a principal fail to show their strength on more serious issues which affect their children. Everyone wishes the best for their child, but rules should not be violated and justice must prevail. In an earlier article which appeared in the Sunday island of the 5th August 2012, I had detailed the issues that affected our education system. A radical change in teacher attitude as well as reforms in teaching policy may be the only solution.
Of late, the rejection of newly appointed principals by parents and teachers has spread over several schools. This is a problem for the education ministry to solve and protestors must express their concerns if any in a more civilized manner. What is the purpose of schools and education if no learning in any sense happens there?

Tertiary education

This week, Minister Sarath Amunugama expressed his concern regarding the current situation in the schools and universities. He stresses that reforms are needed and a rehauling is a must to get us out of the mess we are in. This is mainly in response to the crisis in the universities. In my opinion, the present deadlock between FUTA and the government can be easily solved with a little intelligent discussion and sound judgement. We would probably not be in this predicament if the correct choice was made in the appointment of the minister of higher education. The need for change is evident. Changes in school curriculum for the worse over the years, and the changes in the A/L syllabus many times with no apparent purpose has precipitated much heartache for students, parents and educators. Thus reforms are most welcome in this sphere and minister Amunugama, the man with a vision, mission and dedication (as claimed in his website), could well be the muscle needed for the execution. Certainly in the settlement of the Z score issue which still is an unhealed wound, the fears and anxiety of parents and candidates have not been allayed. Reforms to prevent such fiascos need to be established.

A large number of students awaiting correction of their A/L papers, the many students who still have not been selected pending the Z score settlement and all the students who will sit for the A/L examinations in the coming years are affected by the delay in the commencement of negotiations. Closure of higher education institutions for too long is detrimental to development. The reforms necessary for these institutions could be ironed out amicably if both parties thrash out the issues and do not rest until an agreeable solution is found. Now that the High priests of Malwatte and Asgiriya chapters have agreed to mediate, both parties should take this opportunity to resolve the problem and get our graduates back to where they belong. News reports that the partly successful bargaining between FUTA and the Minister of Economic Development and Dr. P.B. Jayasundera would begin shortly. The entire academic community is waiting in anticipation for the end of this saga. How much longer is the country going to be held in ransom?

In conclusion I quote from the editorial which appeared in the island of 4th October 2012: “The FUTA has not walked away from negotiations with the government or refused to talk. It has shown flexibility and the government should reciprocate by resuming talks with the strikers and going on negotiating as a national priority until a solution is found. It should desist from driving the university teachers to extreme action and labeling them as traitors. That is the only way to bring about a win-win solution in keeping with President Rajapaksa‘s thinking or Mahinda Chinthana”.

Parents isn’t it time that you reactivate your exuberance displayed in the primary education of your children by lobbying the authorities responsible to expedite a speedy settlement towards the tertiary education of your children?

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Latest comments

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    Another day, another dollar! The same words, different name!Basically, the message is, unborns, tots, teenagers, parents, grandparents please walk with us, get the government to pay us more if you want the universities reopened, because we need money to send our kids to foreign universities. Until that happens, this intellectual intimidation will continue to roll on under different names.

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    This article re emphasises what had been said over and over again by intelligent people who feel for the future of the younger generation responsible for the future of SL.Editorials on this subject had been written in almost all the so called national news papers.But it is to no awail because the priorities of the Govt is not education of the young but amassing wealth out of showpiece projects like the Nelum Tower.There has to be a visionary leadership who possess a sincere commitment to the future of the country and it’s people.What todays anguished parents and well meaning intellectuls are doing is asking the tortoise for wings.There is no way other than getting rid of this family power entrenched for the next few decades.

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    As the Buddha taught, reflection (contemplation) on what is observed is the key to understanding. Others (Minister, FUTA or anybody else) can only point out their views on what is happening. When I reflect on what I see in my home town area, I am convinced that primary and secondary education is in trouble. Something has to be done.

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    We have a duty as parent to read news items from- even glass house pundit who write from their AC rooms regarding our education. I was a barefoot school boy more than 11 years until I finished my AL at my rural hamlet. Per day walking more than 16-18km. After started my employment in state organization the worst agony I faced was mistreatment injustice caused to by my graduates colleagues in my profession who always thought they are superior to us and we from the Mars. Main reason was I am a “ranker”. Though I could not get university education, I did work for a university. I did see what happening there to my naked eye. Presently I am working in country where they recognize not only paper qualification but also “ what you can deliver” too.
    When our country on war on many front(not only NE)me and wife thought this way- we cannot educate our children in this environment and removed from state school and started private English school education. Today my both elder sons age 23 and 21 qualified professionals working abroad.
    My decision to take away my kid from state school was an uphill task for us but even with difficulties we had to do. Not only I hate our politician but our educational sector planners and administrators too. My opinion is “we need not produce thousands of Doctors, Engineers, Accountant etc. but produce a work force who get through 6 O/L subjects with English and Mathematics where these people can earn more than former. Then they can go anywhere in the world and find a job. We have messed up our educational sector beyond easy repair. It will take long way to correction. We can keep on writing Dr.CWWK and sing and dance but this caravan will go on.

  • 0
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    See This idiot Rubert Vanderkoon is everywhere. His job is to counter attack the FUTA. This guy is paid for it.

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    Paying the highest possible amount of salaries for academics is still useful for the country. Others may feel jealous about it. It is true that money goes to their pockets but it encourages brilliant academics to remain in the university system. This will create a competition to become an academic. Finally the best will be in university system. Otherwise, if the country wants all useless people in the academia try to breakdown the FUTA struggle. The useless politicians can play with useless universities.

  • 0
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    The very fact that we are exchanging views in english shows that english is the key to knowledge and progress.
    Every child must learn english and one other language from the first form. This is the desire of every parent too.
    If there is political will,this will happen.

    • 0
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      This is very true Justice. Our politicians should shape up lanken education system so that lanken children are taught atleast two foreign langauges properly. In Switzerland, learning two langauges is must beside to their mother tongue. This is the same with Germans depending on the province. Scandinavians learn several langauges in the school. This should be the case with ours too. I have the feeling that the youth today in SL cant speak even good sinhala, so the level of the education have reached to that low level…

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    Education is a universal right of every human being as enshrined in the United Nations declaration and charter that should not be compromised at the behest of a governing authority, teachers, bureaucrats or pundits of sorts.

    Parents therefore have a responsibility to ascertain if their child is given full access to a healthy primary, secondary and tertiary education devoid of political patronage or expediency. Collectively they should expend their effort in ensuring this is achieved.

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    Until we have people in power who are educated, we cannot get a level of commonsense education into the syllabus and good teachers to take the students to the heights they are capable of.

    Qualifications do not make a person educated, only common sense can. When we prioritize matters that do not make common sense it is education that suffers.

    Until we have visionary leadership in place who are really committed to education we will be in the wilderness. It is apparent that the Govt. in power stays in power by keeping the people like them uneducated. The moment the people are really educated the present Govt. will out like a flash and perhaps when justice prevails will be doing time in jail.

    So let us agitate to throw the rascals out, each and every one of them!

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