Sri Lanka: Admission to Grade One should be made purely on merit

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Thu Aug 16 15:11:37 UTC 2007

Admission to Grade One should be made purely on merit
Savimon Urugodawatta

DIFFERENCE: Students at an 'under-privileged' school. Aren't they
entitled to the same facilities as children attending popular schools
in the city? Education administrators, guided by politicians without
vision, carried out a number of operations in the body of education
from time to time, thereby bringing forth the predicament that
education has come to today. Some of the ill-conceived reforms carried
out can be enumerated as follows:

a) In the early 1950s, there were three compulsory subjects for the
Senior Level Examination, namely, First Language (mother tongue),
Second Language (English/Pali/Sanskrit/Tamil etc.) and Arithmetic or

Subsequently, these were reduced to two subjects, namely, the First
Language and Arithmetic/Mathematics. Sinhalese Language and Literature
(also Tamil Language and Literature) which were treated as two
subjects were made in to one, making the students neither proficient
in language nor in literature.

This has resulted in the decline of the Sinhala/Tamil language even
among the University Professors and Lecturers, leave alone teachers.

b) With the coming into being of the Provincial Councils (which had
only ruined the country and not even solved the problem for which they
were established), the education became a devolved subject coming
within the purview of the Provincial Councils.

However, successive governments established another set of schools
called National Schools administered by the line Ministry, without
establishing adequate machinery to administer them. Due to this remote
control system, most of the National Schools (including most Central
Schools) are being neglected and today some of them had become more
and more uncontrollable just as the Universities.

c) There is no transfer system for Principals and teachers in both
National schools and Provincial schools. Even if a Principal is found
to be inefficient and corrupt, he cannot be replaced or transferred
due to stringent procedures. If a Provincial schoolteacher wants a
transfer to a national school, he has to go through 14 steps.

d) In the days gone by, there were Boards of Survey carried out
annually in every school and Administration, Finance, Inventories,
methods of teaching, results at Public Exams, Sports, Environment etc.
were all checked by a competent team from the Education Department.

As far as I am aware, this vital aspect of education administration
has been neglected. I am aware of a school where the Principal of the
school has changed four times during a period of nearly 30 years,
without Boards of Survey being held.

e) The Navodaya Scholarship system which replaced the 5th Standard
Scholarship Examination introduced by C W W K, has created a system of
so-called Popular Schools, thereby uprooting the village children from
their cultural environment and exposing them to a cosmopolitan

This was running counter to the Kannangara system which brought up
children in their traditional environment. His vision was to develop
decentralised centres of higher learning spread throughout the
country. It is a well-known fact that most parents are only interested
in their children only up to Grade 5 and thereafter, their destiny is
left in the hands of the schoolteachers and Tuition Masters.

f) The tuition system, which has now become the canker in the whole
education system, has come into being from the time the school
curriculum and syllabuses were revised, leaving a gap between the O/L
syllabus and A/L syllabus, bringing forth a set of Tuition Masters,
who came in to fill in the gap, without which children could not
follow A/L classes.

In our days, there was continuity in the syllabuses of all subjects,
from 6th Standard up to University level. This tuition system has
completely negated the main purpose and objective of Education,
namely, moulding a child to be a good citizen of the country with the
appropriate skills and vision.

g) International Schools - Education, which was considered a sacred
subject from time immemorial, has now become a profitable venture as a
result of the neglect of English in the normal Government schools.

These schools, registered under the Company Ordinance or as BOI
Projects, bring up children in an atmosphere of an alien culture,
imparting knowledge in subjects relevant to British Education system,
much against the vision of Dr. C.W.W. Kannangara and against the
existing Law of the Island pertaining to education.

h) The underlying vision of these International schools was well
manifested when reading a news item that appeared in the Daily News of
February 8, under the heading '53 Lankan teens for 2007 Future Leaders

According to this news release, out of the 53 students selected to
represent Sri Lanka at this Future Leaders Summit to be held in
Washington D.C., 50 were from International schools and only three
from National schools (one from Nalanda and two from Royal).

Kannangara's Vision

It was a visionary like Dr. C.W.W. Kannangara, whom we call the Father
of Free Education, who foresaw the problems the country would face
after independence and prepared the groundwork to place the country on
a sound footing. A few of the important reforms he carried out can be
categorised as follows:

1. Free education for all, irrespective of caste, creed and wealth
(and also age) so that children of all classes could gain knowledge in
the school and develop their brotherhood to become useful citizens of
the country.

2. His education system evolved from the Rural Schools he experimented
from Handessa in the 1930s and which were considered as a useful
experiment in education in the whole of Asia.

3. He established 54 Central Schools covering all the electorates of
the time and equipped them with good and efficient Principals and
teachers, hostels for scholars, laboratories, workshops, playgrounds,
etc., which were then confined to the Christian Missionary Schools and
a few Buddhist denominational schools.

4. He handpicked efficient and straightforward teachers to man these
schools and gave them every encouragement to develop them, keeping a
close eye on them. It was unfortunate that subsequently, such good
Principals were promoted to be Directors of Education without grooming
successors to take over. Such good and efficient Principals should
have been kept in the schools, giving them the necessary perks in the
school itself.

5. Kannangara brought the estate schools to the main stream of
education and looked after the estate children as well, which fact won
him the votes of the estate workers at Mathugama in 1947, whereas, in
other electorates they voted against the UNP.

6. He introduced science, agriculture, woodwork, pottery, leatherwork,
music and dancing, book binding, etc., into the school curriculum so
that children, after leaving school, could be gainfully engaged in
lucrative vocations.

7. He established Resident Training Colleges to train the required
teachers for the various subjects up to Senior level. These are non
existent today.

8. He streamlined the assisted schools belonging to different
denominations by paying the teachers' salaries direct to the teachers,
thereby doing away with mishandling of government funds by school

9. He planned to establish Practical Schools for those who failed to
go for higher studies and 8th standard selective test was planned for
this purpose. The succeeding Ministers did not pay any heed to this

10. He introduced the medium of the mother tongue so that children
could easily develop their thinking faculties, at the same time paying
due attention to the teaching of English and Sinahla/Tamil.

11. Thus, he laid the foundation for a classless and creedless
society, which was the aspiration of the progressives of the time.

School Admissions

Now, coming to the topic of the day, School admissions, we should
reconsider how CWWK evolved his decentralised system of education
based on the then electorates, establishing at least one Central
School for each electorate and developing feeder schools in the area
to impart Primary Education, within easy reach of parents and village
temples, thereby enabling social interaction and development of

At the same time, he established well-planned Training Colleges to
train teachers for Primary education, science education, handicrafts,
sports, English, aesthetics etc.

These trained teachers and graduates from Ceylon University, Indian
Universities and British Universities were engaged in the Central
Schools to provide a well-planned system of secondary education,
leading to University level, free of charge.

The curricula and syllabi were so prepared to enable a continuing flow
of knowledge, without leaving any gaps to filled by Tuition Masters as
happens today.


(a) What we have to do today is to prepare a school map and locate and
develop good Primary and Secondary schools based on the present
administrative divisions and direct children to the closest standard
school, irrespective of status of the child's parents.

Children from these schools can be selected for higher education
through a selective test and direct them to Central or Navodya or
National schools in the area based on their performance.

This selective test should concentrate on the intelligence and general
knowledge of the child, about his environment and society, and not on
a spoon-feeding system as happens today, where the child is groomed
for the 5th standard selective test from Grade 1 onwards.

(b) To accommodate the parents who aspire to admit their children to
the so-called Popular schools, about 5 % of those who score highest
marks at the Grade 5 Scholarship Examination in various Districts
could be given places in such schools according to their wishes.

Meanwhile, the Central, Navodya and National Schools should be
developed division - wise, and adequate resources given to them to
develop themselves on par with the so - called popular schools.

This should ultimately lead to a proper decentralization of Education
as envisaged by the 13th Amendment, with the line Ministry only having
the function of supervision to see that the moneys allocated are
utilized to the optimum, thus avoiding wastage. Parents and Past
Pupils should have a greater role to play in the development of the

Admission to Grade one should be made purely on merit and not on the
standing or status of the parent. The one mile rule should be strictly
adhered to.

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