By Harshana Rajakaruna –
Education has a crucial role in advancing the values of justice, democratic life, and their broader dissemination in society. Although meant to deliver “free education for all,” Sri Lanka’s government’s schools structure functions as a filter for certain social classes and an engraver of tribalistic attitudes into youth’s minds. An unwarranted scheme is schools’ admissions that deter access for all social strata to equally standard education. Unlike in the West, the standards among our schools drastically differ. Thus, an apparent uncontested reality is, the ‘bigger’ a school, the more affluent its parent bodies and alumni associations are. The ‘bigger,’ meaning the popularity in the society, is the school’s ‘superiority’ as a measure of acceptance of its labeled-products by higher and professional societies in the country as fit to their respective classes and value systems.
How does a school maintain its superiority in a community of mixed social classes when the distance-to-school from home is the key criterion for selection as the rule of law? The superior schools voluntarily break the law by gatekeeping admissions as ‘closed-shops’ for kids from lower-middle and working-class families. This is done by letting institutionalized, systematic hacking of the admission process by the ‘abled-classes’ filtering out the ‘non-ables.’ These able are the socially connected people from the middle and upper classes. In such a way, the kids recruited to superior schools through hacked admissions ensure that their background and the bearing are ready to take up the membership handed over to them by the upper-class shopkeepers. Selecting the right raw-material in such recruitment makes it easy for the schools to keep their products not finishing up in ‘inferior’ vocations for the shopkeepers’ standard-maintenance. In such a way, the superior schools’ class-consciousness is fed into cycles of generations of recruitment, unchallenged, impeding the poor’s social mobility, denying them access to high-standard education needed to climb up the social ladder. Although a people-powered socialist system, our “free education” in superior schools is not apparently meant for the working and lower-middle classes. How socially just the government lets the ‘able’ in society piggyback the ‘free education’ at the expense of the marginalized and the poor while amassing all other benefits from their wealthy alumni and parental associations?
It is not merely hypothetical, but witnessing the truth, on the outset are the kids wearing sleepers and ragged clothes, carrying school books in ‘siri bags’ in mediocre schools. Whereas in superior ones, kids wear designer shoes and carry books in designer backpacks. They all attend schools in the neighborhood on the same ‘government-funded’ schools network, sharing the same fences often, thus witnessing the impossibility if the schools’ selection criteria were anything other than poverty. It was not shocking that there were 5000 human rights violation complaints filed in 2018 against school selection boards at primary school admissions.
The poor have no strength to form a formidable force to reckon with, to fight back the social injustice imposed upon them by the upper classes. Here, I suggest a democratic structural intervention in the school system to bring fairness to all people.
A model in place for herding poor kids to mediocre schools
Currently, herding the marginalized kids into lower-grade schools is mechanized through a system of geographical-placing of lower-grade schools among the superior ones (see Appendix.) For example, popular boys’ and girls’ national schools, called ‘colleges’ or ‘vidyalayas,’ in any big city, are often placed neighboring the lower-grade ones, predominantly mixed-gender. Such schools’ placement conveniently accommodates the ‘left-over’ kids of marginalized families, failed admissions at superior schools, herded into the neighboring mediocre ones functioning as “dump yards,” or ‘a- place-to-go’ for the poor. Interestingly, superior schools, which are single-gender, either boys or girls, have these neighborhood ‘drop-boxes,’ the mediocre ones, mixed-gender, to naturally direct the poor. Such makes the hacked favored admissions by discriminatory gatekeeping, conveniently unchallenged by the failed poor masses. Despite the low standards of education that mediocre schools have to offer, the poor receive the promised “free education,” authenticating the notion.
Superiority creates tribalism
The kids recruited to superior schools by the social class also set the foundation for the schools to engrave their respective ideologies into kids’ minds, in identifying themselves with schools’ strong beliefs and values, unquestioning their polarities, as “the most superior.” Kids living in a long psychological association with such a school’s ideology naturally get drilled in by which. In such conformist confinements, a closed-community brought up with limited exposure to other societies makes factory-produced minds, resonating despicable tribalism of being “us” being separated from “them.” Such social anti-progressions can damage democratic values in a diversely cultural company concerning people’s approval of people outside of their social circles. The extent to which some look down upon the inadequate or impoverished schools in the neighborhoods as ‘worthless’ makes some poor kids’ sir’ their neighboring fellow students, not out of mutual respect, but to show subordination in class-consciousness, despite all of them receive equally ‘free’ government-funded education.
The creative destruction of ‘closed-shops’ for a just society
Just-society is more equitable and respectful; it can also be providing equal opportunities to access an unequal reward structure. To overcome our issues and develop a just-society, giving all kids equal access to similarly standard free-education is to bring all schools to a standardized structural and functional level. Such could be done only through a ‘creative destruction’ of the current system, in my opinion, breaking and restructuring the system from scratch. (Schumpeter’s concept of creative destruction is an economic theory that explains traditional industries’ replacements in capitalist systems by those with entirely new break-through technologies or methods, making the markets turn more efficient, productive, and economical for the societies’ betterment.) For a radical reconstruction of our educational and school-placement structure with a new ideology, breaking the conventional mindsets that create and pamper social inequality through institutionalized access-denial for the poor by the monopolizing middle and upper-middle classes, we have three options.
(1) Structurally separate out, reorganize, or rebuild schools as junior, middle, and high, and manage them independently as stand-alone, making all schools across the nation similar in capacity (moderate-size); students, teachers, facilities, and resource allocations; most importantly, renaming them, plus the support received from school associations pooled and shared among all schools. This is similar in principle to the Canadian system (see Appendix). (2) Supposing a school decides to remain under the same name and run at the same capacity, with the support received from school associations non-pooled and non-shared; in such a case, the school’s management body bears all its operational and fixed costs by becoming financially independent, redirecting the government funds to other mediocre ones. This is the US system. (3) Adjoining adjacent schools or making satellite schools is another option.
The philosophy here is restructuring schools or pooling resources among all ‘government-funded schools,’ allowing all students to receive ‘free education’ and have equal access to resources, non-discriminatorily. Or otherwise, parents and alumni ‘bear all the costs,’ running as a ‘club-owned,’ supposing the school wants to stay the same and keep benefits from their associations to themselves.
The country’s ‘free education’ system is almost a hoax that systematically discriminates against the poor, limiting their access to equal and standard education, letting the ‘ables’ take advantage of institutionalized-hacking of the process in schools’ admissions. The concern is the marvel that ‘government-funded’ schools, meaning ‘free for all and any citizen,’ or funded by the people of the country as one community, both the rich and the poor, paid through direct and indirect taxes, are segregated by social classes; strictly, poverty as the criterion. Here, I suggest a way to change the status quo and create a progression in education-accessibility in the form of a ‘creative destruction.’ The grand aim is to facilitate social mobility for all, especially the under-prevledged lower-middle and the working classes, to have ‘free and equal access to equal education’ as a principle. It will loosen up the middle and upper-middle classes’ grip in controlling the poor’s access to superior schools’ promoting tribalism.
Let’s be committed to the ideals of social justice! Let’s not exclude the underprivileged and allow class-based differentials where education is made “free for all!”
The case of Canada
In Canada, for example, no one cares which high school anyone attended. Nobody bothers unless for the record. It is because no government school is any better or worse than any other. The education up to high school is government-funded, or ‘free,’ like that in Sri Lanka. Yet, all schools are very similar in size (capacity; students and teachers), resources, and facilities. They maintain the same standard of teaching of the curricula. Junior and high school teachers have a bachelor’s degree in their respective subjects of specialization and a Master’s degree in education. Private-tuition is prevalent among mostly immigrant families, but otherwise, the schools’ teaching suffices to be educated enough for a student to get qualified for higher education. Besides, the schools have no alumni to boost the school’s image because it serves no purpose or advantage for anyone. Children stand equal across a broader community, and the school they attend bears no value-addition. The prestigiousness differs from one to another at the university level because their entrance is based on students’ individual performances. A student’s access to any university remains unhindered by the student’s social tier but the smartness.