It was reported in the press that opening of
private universities has been proposed which, no doubt, is
another move towards the privatisation policy and practice that
would lead to the eventual elimination of the free education
system of our country.
How would the proposal, if implemented, affect
the future generations, especially the poor sections of the
society which constitute the vast majority of the population?
This question cannot be left entirely in the hands of the
There is, it has to be conceded, no perfect
education system in our country. We have been experimenting but
without any substantial improvement to meet the country’s needs
for national consciousness, unity and development. The system
therefore needs change and should continue to be changed as and
when the need arises.
Any changes in the education system should
however be introduced only if such changes suit the economic and
social structure of our country. There has not been an effort
made to study those aspects realistically. If any study was
undertaken the proposals have not been made public. Hence the
proposal is nothing more than an attempt to expand the
privatisation process to the education system without the
slightest concern for the country’s needs on a long term
Resources, capital, machines and labour are
instruments of power which could be acquired and used in a
practical and purposeful manner only through education.
Education, as such, being part and parcel of economic and social
development, schooling is an investment contributing to the
wealth and well being of a nation. It is these reasons and the
necessity to make opportunities for education available to all
alike without discrimination on the basis of wealth, class or
creed that the right of education has been included in the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The United Nations Convention against
Discrimination in Education asserts the establishment and
maintenance of separate educational systems or institutions for
persons or groups of persons which are not of equivalent
standards as discriminatory. This would mean that the
maintenance of educational institutions which help the richer
sections of the society to steal a march over the rest of the
community or the maintenance of schools of unequal standards for
the rich and the poor, is discriminatory.
Education therefore has to be based not only on
equality of opportunity but also on equity, if we are to more
towards social equity and economic development whilst adhering
to ethics and standards as proclaimed by the United Nations. We
should not permit international money lenders and their agents
to undermine or override those lofty ideals taking advantage of
our yearning for foreign loans and investment.
Our education system, even as it is, on the one
hand, does not meet our national aspirations whilst on the other
falls short of the UN Convention provisions.
There is no national system of education that
suits our culture and society that meets our needs for economic
development. Discrimination in education exists and persists.
The village school is without good and
specialised teachers, and is often under-staffed. The facilities
there cannot be compared with those where the affluent have
access to. The denominational schools, though not open to other
beliefs on the basis of merit, receive government grants over
and above what is given to rural schools which procedure does
not exist even in the western countries, which standards we aim
We have been led to treat the English speaking
gentry as the educated elite. The swabhasha (Sinhala &
Tamil) educated do not come within that parameter. Those from
the so-called prestigious schools and others from the rest of
the schools do not mix. This then is a division based on the
discriminatory system of education that exists, which certainly
does not help foster national unity and amity.
What need to be done therefore, is to change our
education system to remove the voluntary and involuntary
discrimination that exist between the rich and the poor, the
rural children and the urban children and different religious
groups. The tragedy is that, whilst no measures have been
adopted to remedy the situation, discrimination has been
permitted to become more and more deep rooted.
Our education policy followed since 1943
requires the schooling of a child in the mother tongue. This is
the policy followed in other countries too - developed or
developing, rich or poor. Accordingly the medium of education in
our schools should compulsorily be Sinhala and Tamil. The use of
any other language is contrary to this policy, illegal and
However, the International schools, where Sri
Lanka children study, have English as the medium of instruction.
This then is a serious violation of the country’s education
policy. Yet the functioning of these schools have been permitted
and those institutions carry on with impunity.
Would any other country allow a privileged
section of the children of that country to be educated in a
foreign language especially when the elementary and secondary
education is concerned? Will America permit Arabic or Sinhala to
be the medium of schooling for her children or will Saudi Arabia
permit English or Sinhala to be the medium of schooling in that
country? No country will tolerate such flagrant violation of her
education policy though we have allowed.
What are the Implications of such alienation of
our education system?
The alien culture based education imparted in
the International Schools, will to a larger extent, prevent our
children attending those schools from acquiring social values
and the ability to live with others, learning, customs peculiar
and essential to our country. The children passing out from
those schools will from a new social class with snobbish values,
and will be inclined to consider themselves as a superior lot
who have received the best education and even look down upon
those educated in the swabasha or government schools. Can
we permit such an education based class division which is not in
the national interest? It goes further.
A news report published in a newspaper recently
quoted a student attending an international school as having
said. "Who wants to learn Sinhala? What can you do learning in
that language ? Can you get a job with a good salary?" This then
is the thinking —practical, no doubt.
The international Schools will certainly provide
the opening for the children of the elitist class to secure more
lucrative employment here and abroad leaving the lesser jobs for
the not so fortunate children educated in the swabasha.
With the privatisation programme in full swing
it will be English medium educated children of the affluent
class who will reap the harvest. That in turn will pave the way
for future class conflict and even an upsurge of violence.
It is a pity that there has been no public
outcry against this dual system of education, which is in
operation against the national policy. Perhaps the masses have
still not had the time and the opportunity to analyse and
understand the implications of the system, as the issues have
not been placed before them in its correct perspective. And the
educationists, surprisingly have continued to keep mum.
It could be argued that education in the English
medium is nothing new to us and that it has helped the country.
English was imposed on us during colonial times and with it came
the spread of the western culture as well. English and
westernization at the expense of our own language and culture
were thought to be good at the time and this thinking and
practice continued long after independence. This is because of
the dominant part played by our political elite that sprang from
the westernised English speaking fraternity, throughout.
English no doubt is a world language and it is
in our own interest to get our children to learn the language.
However there is no justification to permit the monied class to
adopt English as the "mother" tongue in respect of their
children for the purpose of economic expediency and social
upliftment to the detriment of the vast majority of the
population. The people will not endorse the replacement of
Sinhala and Tamil with English as the medium of schooling in our
country. If they do then that will be fine. Otherwise we have to
teach English as the second language only and that should apply
to the entire student population. Without exception English
should not be the adopted mother tongue of a selected lot only,
weather they be Sinhalese, Tamils or Muslims as long as they are
The private universities proposal, besides being
a move to commence the process of privatizing education
institutions, helps the stabilisation of International Schools
as an integral part of the education system.
If a private university comes to be established
it will be an English medium run fee-levying institution. For
whose benefit will that be? Exclusively the rich, no doubt.
It is therefore a subtle move to introduce an
education system that favours the rich. Perhaps the permanent
establishment of an English educated ruling class obedient to
westernised mannerism is the ultimate aim.
Education should help students to get at the
good things in the world materially, in intelligence and in
knowledge. That possibility should not be made available to the
privileged only. It is, in that context, not fair or proper to
allow the advantages of education to be reserved for the rich
and the powerful only.
Our education system needs change. It is the
responsibility of the educationists to take the initiative to
propose necessary changes, with the advice and guidance of the
economists, sociologists and the politicians.
The people should ever be vigilant, oppose and
stop the imposition of any system that does not suit our culture
or meet our national aspirations.
What is required is the strict implementation of
a national education policy.