18 May, 2022


Sobering Reflections On Our Education System

By Uditha Devapriya

Uditha Devapriya

Uditha Devapriya

A few years ago, Vasudeva Nanayakkara mentioned something about the state of education in this country. He is reported to have said that the conflict between the government and the Federation of University Teachers’ Association (FUTA) reminded him of the conflict between the biological and the foster mother in Brecht’s Caucasian Chalk Circle. That was apt. Spot on. But hardly consoling.

Nanayakkara was a Minister at the time. He isn’t any more. But what he said stands. Big time. What he said applies equally to every aspect of our education sector. Indeed, what he said applies no matter what the government in power is. It’s perhaps a sign of our lethargy or the lethargy of the powers that be, but we have institutionalised the defects in our education system to such a level that removing them would be, if I am to be liberal here, most difficult.

Let’s face it. Governments can do only that much. But this doesn’t license lethargy. The problem is that it took two insurrections, both by the JVP, for reforms in education to be looked into. The problem also is that while these reforms began with zest, and while everyone, whether in power or in the opposition, promised change, they didn’t deliver it the way we wanted. What we got, sadly enough, were a bunch of scuttled, half-hearted reforms. Not much, you must admit.

Mind you, there’s much to change. But where do we start? The schools, of course. Our schools, to put it mildly here, have become all but completely divided. We have institutionalised what I like to call the “popular-outstation syndrome” to such a level that we can’t really unshackle ourselves of it. We have managed to deter some of our brightest students from displaying talent with an admission system that favours political or religious patronage over anything else.

SwabhashaThis isn’t all. We have ensured that as much as a “national” school system ought to favour the “national” part to it and facilitate inter-ethnic reconciliation, what we have today is a system where privilege and elitism reign supreme. We live in a time, after all, when even our schooling subtly imparts a culture of patronising the local and privileging everything else. Yes, it’s that bad. Statistics might not attest to this. But we’re not talking about statistics here. We’re not talking about census data. We’re talking about mindsets. About mentalities.

If it’s about reform, this is where we all need to begin.

When both Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s and her daughter’s governments began reforming education, no White Paper was issued. Civil society was not consulted. That’s bad. A government is accountable to its people, not the other way around. To rush through reform or delay it for expediency is not the way forward. As Rajiva Wijesinha has noted, while we have every reason to be proud of our education system, disparities remain. Starkly. It is these that reforms must attack. And it is exactly these that they do not attack.

There are other things. Other issues. Like how deeply we’ve divided our schools based on race and religion. Or how we’ve politicised Year One admissions. Or how unholy the alliance between the so-called “tuition mafia” and the Examinations Department has become. Or how fragmented the “language divide” has become within the school itself.

Yes, we are in a sorry state. Is it too late to amend? I don’t think so.

I am a writer. I can’t offer solutions. I can only generalise. But let me try. Some commentators have championed secularising our schools. That’s the magic formula, for them at least. Laudable, but hardly practical. The truth is that do away with any religious background in our schools won’t be easy. A compromise, therefore, must be struck. But where? And how?

The key word isn’t secularism. The key word is multiculturalism. All too often, however, commentators have mistaken the one for the other. Where the focus should really have been on engaging different faiths together, we have tried to do away completely with any form or religious instruction. We have substituted faithlessness for multiculturalism. At a time when reconciliation is needed more than ever before, we need to accommodate. Not strip away. Throwing baby with bathwater, after all, is not the solution, and inasmuch as I am opposed to the sort of religious indoctrination which certain (faith-based) schools indulge in today, I must say that removing it completely isn’t the answer.

There’s more, by the way. There’s that ever present issue of English. As Professor Carlo Fonseka pointed out about three years ago, when our leaders decided to go ahead with “swabasha” and removed the “colonial tongue”, we managed to divide the haves (who could learn that language on their own) from the have-nots (who couldn’t).

What happened (and Professor Fonseka puts it very honestly here) was that for the next few decades, these have-nots built up a (false) sense of superiority that managed to (erroneously) look down on English. This led them, in the end, to what the Professor refers to as “equality of degradation”, where they became hell-bent on preventing English being implemented at all.

What’s the solution? We don’t really know. There are mentalities that need to be changed. There is that popular-outstation divide that needs to be got rid of. Perhaps these are our starting points. We can’t be sure. Not yet. But if it’s about reforming education, reforming the state of English would be top priority. The popular-outstation syndrome has anti-swabasha (on the one hand) and anti-English (on the other hand) lobbies that are equally to be frowned upon. We need to get both out. Not easy, you must admit, unless total commitment is given from every quarter.

But there’s no real reason to fret. Or brood. We have achieved much. We have progressed with our education system. Now is not the time to think back and worry. Now is the time to look forward, to take stock of what has gone by, and achieve those half-hearted reforms we didn’t give much thought to all these years and decades.

The first step is that long overdue Education Act. That’s radical I agree. But needed. Without it, any reform or change attempted can be thwarted the minute a government changes hands. That, in the final analysis, will be detrimental to the spirit of education itself. All the way.

*Uditha Devapriya is a freelance writer who can be reached at udakdev1@gmail.com. His articles can be accessed at fragmenteyes.blogspot.com.

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  • 1

    Uditha Devapriya –

    Sobering Reflections On Our Education System

    “Let’s face it. Governments can do only that much. But this doesn’t license lethargy. The problem is that it took two insurrections, both by the JVP, for reforms in education to be looked into. The problem also is that while these reforms began with zest, and while everyone, whether in power or in the opposition, promised change, they didn’t deliver it the way we wanted. What we got, sadly enough, were a bunch of scuttled, half-hearted reforms. Not much, you must admit.”

    Establish the Base IQ of Students, and compared that in Future years, as they grow up and for new students and adults as well

    Remember the Average IQ of Sri Lanka is 79

    National IQ Scores – Country Rankings
    SOURCE: Richard Lynn, Tatu Vanhanen, Jelte Wicherts.


    ——– Country
    ———————– %
    1 Singapore 108
    2 South Korea 106
    3 Japan 105
    4 Italy 102
    5 Iceland 101
    5 Mongolia 101
    6 Switzerland 101
    7 Austria 100
    7 China 100
    7 Luxembourg 100
    7 Netherlands 100
    7 Norway 100
    7 United Kingdom 100
    8 Belgium 99
    8 Canada 99
    8 Estonia 99
    8 Finland 99
    8 Germany 99
    8 New Zealand 99
    8 Poland 99
    8 Sweden 99
    9 Andorra 98
    9 Australia 98
    9 Czech Republic 98
    9 Denmark 98
    9 France 98
    9 Hungary 98
    9 Latvia 98
    9 Spain 98
    9 United States 98
    10 Belarus 97
    10 Malta 97
    10 Russia 97
    10 Ukraine 97
    11 Moldova 96
    11 Slovakia 96
    11 Slovenia 96
    11 Uruguay 96
    12 Israel 95
    12 Portugal 95
    13 Armenia 94
    13 Georgia 94
    13 Kazakhstan 94
    13 Romania 94
    13 Vietnam 94
    14 Argentina 93
    14 Bulgaria 93
    15 Greece 92
    15 Ireland 92
    15 Malaysia 92
    16 Brunei 91
    16 Cambodia 91
    16 Cyprus 91
    16 FYROM 91
    16 Lithuania 91
    16 Sierra Leone 91
    16 Thailand 91
    17 Albania 90
    17 Bosnia and Herzegovina 90
    17 Chile 90
    17 Croatia 90
    17 Kyrgyzstan 90
    17 Turkey 90
    18 Cook Islands 89
    18 Costa Rica 89
    18 Laos 89
    18 Mauritius 89
    18 Serbia 89
    18 Suriname 89
    19 Ecuador 88
    19 Mexico 88
    19 Samoa 88
    20 Azerbaijan 87
    20 Bolivia 87
    20 Brazil 87
    20 Guyana 87
    20 Indonesia 87
    20 Iraq 87
    20 Myanmar (Burma) 87
    20 Tajikistan 87
    20 Turkmenistan 87
    20 Uzbekistan 87
    21 Kuwait 86
    21 Philippines 86
    21 Seychelles 86
    21 Tonga 86
    22 Cuba 85
    22 Eritrea 85
    22 Fiji 85
    22 Kiribati 85
    22 Peru 85
    22 Trinidad and Tobago 85
    22 Yemen 85
    23 Afghanistan 84
    23 Bahamas, The 84
    23 Belize 84
    23 Colombia 84
    23 Iran 84
    23 Jordan 84
    23 Marshall Islands 84
    23 Micronesia, Federated States of 84
    23 Morocco 84
    23 Nigeria 84
    23 Pakistan 84
    23 Panama 84
    23 Paraguay 84
    23 Saudi Arabia 84
    23 Solomon Islands 84
    23 Uganda 84
    23 United Arab Emirates 84
    23 Vanuatu 84
    23 Venezuela 84
    24 Algeria 83
    24 Bahrain 83
    24 Libya 83
    24 Oman 83
    24 Papua New Guinea 83
    24 Syria 83
    24 Tunisia 83
    25 Bangladesh 82
    25 Dominican Republic 82
    25 India 82
    25 Lebanon 82
    25 Madagascar 82
    25 Zimbabwe 82
    26 Egypt 81
    26 Honduras 81
    26 Maldives 81
    26 Nicaragua 81
    27 Barbados 80
    27 Bhutan 80
    27 El Salvador 80
    27 Kenya 80
    28 Guatemala 79
    28 Sri Lanka 79
    28 Zambia 79
    29 Congo, Democratic Republic of the 78
    29 Nepal 78
    29 Qatar 78
    30 Comoros 77
    30 South Africa 77
    31 Cape Verde 76
    31 Congo, Republic of the 76
    31 Mauritania 76
    31 Senegal 76
    32 Mali 74
    32 Namibia 74
    33 Ghana 73
    34 Tanzania 72
    35 Central African Republic 71
    35 Grenada 71
    35 Jamaica 71
    35 Saint Vincent and the Grenadines 71
    35 Sudan 71
    36 Antigua and Barbuda 70
    36 Benin 70
    36 Botswana 70
    36 Rwanda 70
    36 Togo 70
    37 Burundi 69
    37 Cote d’Ivoire 69
    37 Ethiopia 69
    37 Malawi 69
    37 Niger 69
    38 Angola 68
    38 Burkina Faso 68
    38 Chad 68
    38 Djibouti 68
    38 Somalia 68
    38 Swaziland 68
    39 Dominica 67
    39 Guinea 67
    39 Guinea-Bissau 67
    39 Haiti 67
    39 Lesotho 67
    39 Liberia 67
    39 Saint Kitts and Nevis 67
    39 Sao Tome and Principe 67
    40 Gambia, The 66
    41 Cameroon 64
    41 Gabon 64
    41 Mozambique 64
    42 Saint Lucia 62
    43 Equatorial Guinea 59
    North Korea N/A

  • 2

    Mr Devapriya

    Thank you for highlighting the ills of our education

    I agree for the promotion of multi culturism in schools. Extreme example of this is a ban on religious teaching in certain parts of India. Segragation among language and religion need to be alienated.

    I think educational act and white paper are progressive steps in improving education. Tuition mafia and exams dept are sadly are a reflection of our society. These are hard to change.

    I thank you for bringing this in to this forum

  • 2

    One key issue to address is how do we ensure that all religions are taught in schools.

    We cannot have Buddhist only or Christian only schools. We must insist that schools such as Visaka and Ananda teach Christianity and Islam if there are students of such faith.

    Similarly we must insist that schools such as St Joseph’s and St Peters teach Buddhism and Islam.

    • 0

      To be fair by them, Catholic schools do teach Buddhism and Islam. But there is systemic discrimination against them in other forms (eg: the 1% Buddhists policy that supposedly is there because the school is Catholic, a stupid argument given that a higher ratio of Islamic students are taken in – the policy smacks of ant-Buddhism). Buddhist schools on the other hand don’t teach other faiths at all – because other faiths AREN’T taken in (which is horrendously bad).
      You raise a very frank and pertinent point there btw. :)

    • 0

      Structural changes needed to address the problem:

      ‘’Education must rise on the agenda of peace building. We know the wrong type of education can fuel conflict. The use of education systems to foster hatred has contributed to the underlying causes of conflicts, from Rwanda to Sri Lanka, but also in Guatemala and Sudan’’ – Why education matters for global security, Irina Bokova(Director General, UNESCO), 1 March 2011, http://www.unesco.org/new/en/unesco/about-us/who-we-are/director-general/singleview-dg/news/education_and_security_dawn_pakistan_why_education_matters_for_global_security_234nextcom_nigeria/#.U1oX3vldVqU

      • 0

        ‘’Professor Obeyesekere’s letter urges President Rajapaksa: “another challenge for a wise leader and that is to bring back the universities to its early glory.’’ As the politicisation of the universities is part and parcel of the style of the present regime’s governance, a call to restore to the universities their past eminence, is no less than a call to restore good governance in general” – Fulbright Days And A Plea To Leadership, Emeritus Professor H.L.Seneviratne, 13 October 2013, https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/fulbright-days-and-a-plea-to-leadership-2/

    • 0

      Some countries teach only Religious Studies , not any religion in primary and secondary scools (Tertiary students have a choice among various subjects among which are specific religions):
      all students learn essential features about all religions. In many religions there are Saturday and Sunday schools to teach their own religions.
      There is an increasing number of people who are satisfied with religious studies and not details about religions as the number of people ”practising religion” is decreasing with increase in practising humanism – treating all human beings with respect is much more important to them than ”practising” any one religion. These parents would withdraw their children from any ”religion” classes.

  • 0

    Yes, we urgently need to talk about education:

    1. FUTA Calls For UGC Chairperson Kshanika To Step Down – many valid reasons are given: https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/futa-calls-for-ugc-chairperson-kshanika-to-step-down/

    2.A lot more reasons:

  • 0

    We have a long way to go:

    ”Building a consciousness of nationhood is not a responsibility that can be left to politicians and constitutional lawyers. …. It is pre-eminently an educational task, to be initiated at the level of our schools. It requires a new way of looking at history, and helping young minds climb out of the constraints placed on their understanding by the sectarian myths, legends, and memories that are embedded in their ancient chronicles, whether they relate to their Aryan origins or to their Dravidian origins. This does not mean that children should be ignorant of, much less that they should reject, their rich historical inheritance, but that they should acquire a more global view of history and be equipped with a critical sense that will enable them to stand back and look at their respective narratives more objectively. …. Unless and until Sri Lanka can produce leaders who can realize that truth, and are willing to act on it, it will continue to be dismembered by conflict, long after the LTTE and Pirabhikaran have passed into history ” – Why Sirimavo refused to visit Jaffna after 1964 cyclone By Neville Jayaweera, 18 January 2009, http://transcurrents.com/tc/2009/01/why_sirimavo_refused_to_visit.html

  • 0

    Militarisation of education in the North and the East:
    Hope all these will change now:

    Militarisation of educational administration:
    ‘’424 candidates who passed the education administration examination and were enrolled in the administrative service are being given military training at the Rantembe camp under the guise of ‘leadership training,’ Joseph Stalin , the secretary of the Lanka Teachers union revealed’’ – Sri Lanka heading for military administration ;424 education officers too given military training, 26 June 2014,

    Militarisation of educational facilities in the North:
    While the school children in the South have IT facilities in school curriculum, those in Kilinochchi have the *’mercy’ of the occupation army to give them a glimpse into IT on a Saturday:
    Kilinochchi Students Learn More About New Telecom Technology, 26 May 2014, http://army.lk/detailed.php?NewsId=7895

    Militarisation of teaching force in Tamil schools:
    ”As part of its community service initiatives the Sri Lanka Air Force opened a Pre-School in Batticaloa on 15th January. This is the first Pre-School operated by the SLAF where Tamil and English will be the medium of instructions. This long felt need was initiated by the SLAF Unit in Batticaloa. The Pre-School will cater to the needs of the children of the Tamil speaking community of the area. It is run by qualified personnel of the SLAF who have undergone specialized training in language and Pre-School teaching. These bilingual learning environments will create a better understanding between different communities and also help to inculcate good ethics within the children” – Air Force opens Pre-School in Batticaloa, 16 Jan 2013, http://www.defence.lk/new.asp?fname=Sri_Lanka_Air_Force_Batticaloa_Open_the_First_Ever_English_Tamil_Pre_School_20130116_04

  • 0

    not only should islam, hinduism, christianity be taught in schools in addition to buddhism it should be taught to all. I was schooled at St Anne’s College Kurunegala until the scholorship exam and then went to Ananda College in Colombo 10 thereafter. At Ananda, we studied only Buddhism though one of my very best friends at school was of Islam faith but there was no one to teach that in the school. Having worked in Europe and now in the Middle East post schooling my thought is that the teaching of religion should be completely changed such that all students should be taught the basics of all religions and be tested on these at O/L stage to ensure that everyone knows and respects all religions. Though I am a buddhist myself I do listen to the Sunset Call for Pryer these days and do have a Christmas tree and gifts on the 25th of december. We live in a multi cultural society and there is nothing wrong in trying to understand those who live around us and the best way to do that is to understand a bit about their faith.

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