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A National Education Policy and the new Minister

Writing to The Island on 26th May, Mr. Premasara Epasinghe, Private Secretary to the former Minister of Education, has pointed out that "every Education Minister from the late I.M.R.A. Iriyagolla to Susil Premajayantha started with good intentions of defining (sic) a definite National Education Policy relevant to the whole country" and that their good intentions did not bear fruit. He has welcomed the appointment of the new Minister, and congratulated him for realizing the importance of formulating a National Education Policy as one of his first priorities.

Mr. Epasinghe had, however, told us as Media Consultant to the previous Minister in March 2007 (through the columns of this very paper) that "the revamping process of the entire education system is taking place presently to suit modern trends". One cannot think of a revamping process on such a complex thing as an education system without a carefully formulated policy, by whatever name called. It would, therefore, be helpful if he were to clarify whether there was in fact such a policy and if so why it failed to bear fruit, particularly in view of the renewed interest on the need for a National Education Policy after the appointment of the new Minister.

As for defining what a ‘National Education Policy’ should be, I wish to point out that the Youth Commission headed by Prof. Lakshman Jayatilleke (1990) provided a reasonably good definition by describing it as a policy "applicable for a reasonable period of time – with a degree of certainty and continuity, so as to ensure that plans and programmes of action will not be affected by political changes in government". Elaborating further, the Youth Commission said: "What is required is not an inflexible policy, but one which will be liable to necessary alteration as changed circumstances may require, and as determined through national consensus, but not a policy to be affected by the vagaries of transient political majorities".

This is what we have failed to achieve despite all the tall talk that all governments and Ministers have been indulging in ever since these words were written, and a high-powered body called the National Education Commission appointed under a special Act of Parliament (1991) specifically for formulating such a policy. I wish the new Minister of Education finds out what went wrong with previous efforts so that at least during his period of office this country will have a national education policy which will be "applicable for a reasonable period of time – with a degree of certainty and continuity, so as to ensure that plans and programmes of action will not be affected by political changes in government". The Island itself has carried many articles pertaining to this failure, over the last decade or so.

From the country’s point of view, it is absolutely essential that Minister Bandula Gunawardena succeeds where "every Minister from the late I.M.R.A. Iriyagolla to Susil Premajayantha" failed!

EJ

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