Sri Lanka: Education, headache of parents

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Wed Jul 18 14:02:35 UTC 2007

Education, headache of parents

L. M. Samarasinghe

TUITION FEES: My neighbour one day stated that he was paying Rs. 1,000 for a
visit to a teacher who comes to his house once a week to give tuition to his
son studying for the G.C.E. "A" Level.

This teacher spends about one hour with the student. This neighbour had
related this story to another person who had two children studying for the
"A" Level and he was paying Rs. 3,000 for each visit to the teacher who
comes to give tuition to the two students for a period lasting about one and
a half hours.

The tuition story is similar to this all over. All students are encouraged
to seek tution. This is not only for students at the "A" Level. But for
children in lower grades as well. Very often the parents have to run around
taking their children to Tuition classes at various locations much to the
inconvenience of the children and the annoyance of the parents.

When students get home in the afternoon or evening the parents have to
organise the visits to the tuition classes for their children. The Children
have no time to relax with their parents or visit friends or relatives. Does
this mean that the students attending school today are more knowledgeable
than the students who did not have to follow tuition classes a few decades

Inspite of the tuition the performance at Public Exams seem to be far below
the expected standard. Over 63 per cent of the students who sat the G.C.E.
'O' level Exam at the end of 1966 had failed in English and this is a
subject for which many students attend tuition classes.

In addition to the Tuition Industry the system of International Schools also
have made a major impact on the National Education system, The International
Schools were originally set up to provide education to the children of
foreign persons who are residing in this country.

In recent times some politically powerful persons decided to send their
children to the International Schools and had the gates opened for local
children as well. The organisers of International schools became quite
active and have set up a network of International schools throughout the
country. They teach the subjects in English and the students are quite good
in their English. They also prepare students for Exams in London (UK) and
Australia, Many of these students go abroad for higher education. The
command that these students acquire in speaking and writing English helps
them to get jobs in the private sector places too. The charges for a term at
the International School would be around Rs. 100,000 per student.

The money needed to meet the cost of the Tuition Industry and the charges of
the International Schools is available only to less than 10 per cent of the
total number of Parents of this country. Over 90% of the parents are
struggling due to the very high cost of living and are unable to find the
money needed to take advantage of the International schools or the tuition
industry. They depend on the National Education system. The authorities in
charge of this National Education system don't seem to know the realities at
the bottom level.

Around 1970 the Ministry of Education stopped teaching of History and the
students who came out of the schools during the last several decades were
denied the opportunity to learn the unique history and the amazing operation
of the Hydraulic civilisation that the ancient people of the country had
built up without any parallel anywhere else in the world. In the USA the
study of their history is compulsory even for medical students. Students end
up their school education without an adequate command of the English
Language, English is important not because it was the language of the
British Administration. But it is a global language and with a knowledge of
English it is possible to go to most parts of the world. Some of the
political leaders had their children educated in the United Kingdom.

Over three decades ago while this writer was serving in the Sri Lanka
Administrative Service the Head of an important Government Department
invited him to serve in a Selection Board to select persons for a particular
post. A Graduate of the Peradeniya University came up and the questions were
put to him in English and he answered them all in Sinhala. The Head of
Department who presided at the Interview Board stated that he needs persons
who had a fair command of the English Language and the Peradeniya Graduate
was not given that appointment. Students who enter the University are unable
to make good use of the libraries because the important books on most
subjects are in English and students are not in command of the English
language to take advantage of the libraries. There are some students who get
scholarships to the Lumumba University in Russia.

At that University they first teach the Russian language to the foreign
students and thereafter they study the subject in the Russian Language. Some
Sri Lankan students get scholarships to study in some of the Universities in
China. When our students go there they are given an education in Chinese and
thereafter they study their subjects in Chinese. Would it not be possible
for the Universities in Sri Lanka to give the graduate students an education
in English so that they could make use of the Libraries. Free education and
the 55 Central Schools that were set up in all parts of the country by Mr.
C. W. W. Kannangara, the then Minister of Education in 1945 enabled a large
number of young students from the rural areas to acquire proficiency in
English and they achieved much success in the Universities and many of them
ended up holding high positions in the Public Service of this country.

This position does not prevail any longer. Graduates who come out of the
universities fail to get jobs in the private Sector because they are unable
to speak or write English and all of them come from the families that belong
to the 'not so rich' 90% of the families in our country. The prevailing
situation today is positively more unfavourable to the rural poor than the
position that prevailed during the British Administration prior to 1945. The
missionary schools and the BTS schools offered certain concessions to some
of the rural families to enable their children to take advantage of certain
concessions under their education system. The Principal and some Senior
Teachers of the Buddhist Theosophical Society schools in certain areas spent
a considerable part of their vacations to visit rural areas and meet the
parents and encouraged them to send their children and offered concessions
at BTS Schools to get an English Education.

At the present time there is a common complaint that there is a dearth of
qualified Teachers. During the earlier times there was a system of having
training Colleges where teachers were given professional Training and they
built up a large Cadre of qualified and competent teachers. It is said that
today they depend on the Diploma in Education that graduate teachers are
expected to acquire. The Diploma in Education does not compare well with the
two years residential Training that the Training Colleges provided earlier.
It is also quite sad that many politicians show a tendency to capture the
schools and teachers to support their programs and be loyal to them. This
unfortunate process leads to bad consequences that damage the National
Education System.

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