Former Deputy Minister of Education Mohan Lal Grero will contest the forthcoming general election from the Colombo District under the UPFA ticket. In a candid interview with Daily Mirror, he explained his crossover to UPFA and of his contribution to improve the education system in the country. Excerpts:
QWhat was the main reason behind your decision to crossover from UNP to UPFA? Do you think that the constant crossover of politicians from one party to another can be approved?
I entered politics in 2004 with only one objective in mind. I wanted to become the Minister of Education and change the education system and provide better education opportunities to the children of this country. After about eight years of being in the UNP, I came to the realization that I have failed to achieve my goals. I also realized that some very important decisions were made regarding the general education system of our country by the UPFA government. For example, the 1000 School Project was one such initiative implemented by the former Government. I wanted to do something that would contribute to general education rather than sitting in the opposition and being criticized. That is the reason why I crossed over to UPFA. We were able to start the change and solve many problems faced within the parameters of education. I do not regret joining UPFA because I was able to contribute a lot after I joined that political party. Also I got an opportunity to work as the second in command in two important ministries; the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Skills Development. We started a huge project known as University Colleges. We started developing 25 such colleges. We have finished building six university colleges in Jaffna, Ampara, Kuliyapitiya, Matara, Ratmalana and Anuradhapura. Students in these universities will directly fit to the job market with the type of knowledge and skills that would be provided for them.
It must be noted that the minority government that has been established is not stable enough to incorporate all these plans into action although some have been implemented to a short extent. If a person crosses over for personal gains nobody can approve such behaviour. Likewise in a democracy, if you really feel that the political party you are representing is not acting according to your conscience then one should be able to crossover to a better party. If a person is crossing over with a genuine reason, then they should be given the right to do so although you rarely find such individuals.When the 18th Amendment was brought to the Parliament I was invited to join UPFA but I denied it since I was against the 18th Amendment. It was later that I crossed over solely to provide a better service in the field of education. I was instrumental in preparing and writing the proposals for the new Education Policy.We don’t have a proper Education Policy or Education Act; what we have is an Education Ordinance which was formulated by the British Government in 1939. It is high time we had a new Education Policy and an Education Act.
QCompared to the UPFA manifesto the manifesto presented by the JVP has a clearer view regarding the allocation of 6% of GDP for education. What do you have to say about that?
It is not practical for any Government to allocate 6% of GDP for education immediately without increasing the government revenue. The amount allocated for education by the previous government is definitely not enough. The most feasible percentage for the beginning is 3% of the GDP and if we can annually increase it in steps in par with the increment of the government revenue up to 6% within a period of five to six years. This would be a more practicable approach to the problem at hand. If we suddenly allocate 6% of GDP for education, it will approximately be more than five hundred billion rupees that will have to be spent for education. We don’t have the capacity or the human resources necessary to spend all that money in the field of education within a span of one year.
QThe UPFA majority Parliament was viewed by some critics as one of the worst Parliament with allegations of ethanol and drug peddlers and politicians with low educational qualifications amidst them. Are these allegations true?
My stand in this case is that until logically proven we cannot jump into conclusions. To my knowledge there are only allegations and nothing is proved. On the other hand, the new government is also pelted with many accusations. For an example take the case of ethanol. In 2014, the UPFA government has imported only about 13 million litres of ethanol but the new government has imported over 10 million litres of ethanol just within six months from coming into power. The number of licenses to import ethanol issued by the previous government were six but under the new government this has increased up to 20 licenses. On the other hand what about the allegations evolving around the bond scam? It is not just the old regime but the new regime is also plagued with numerous allegations and until proven guilty we cannot speculate or jump into conclusions about them.
QDo you think that electing candidates who are clean and competent would suffice to eliminate political corruption entirely?
Sometimes even people with good qualifications under good electoral systems tend to go the wrong way. The preferential vote system is something that is difficult for any candidate to handle because of the extreme demand of money required for campaigning. Automatically, a candidate may stand a chance to get exposed to corruption.
QAlthough we speak of free education, it is not freely available at some instances. From school admission to university, students are levied an amount directly or indirectly. Why does this prevail?
People pay through direct and indirect tax and this is utilized for free education. Many don’t realize the value of free education. The amount of money allocated is not enough mainly because of the civil war during the past, and there were many other expenses that came along afterwards. Therefore the amount spent on education was not sufficient. At least we should start by three percent of the GDP and gradually increase it within a span of four to five years up to six percent. I don’t think initially any Government would be able to increase it up to six percent as the Government revenue is only 12 percent of the GDP. So we can’t demand the Government to spend half of its revenue or six percent instantaneously for this purpose.
Q: Why don’t all students have equal access to receive education from the so called “Prestigious schools” in the country?
We have 10, 000 schools in the country and out of them only 56 are really popular. We call them popular schools since they have all facilities and are popular for their past history. When I was the Deputy Education Minister we commenced a project known as developing 1000 secondary schools and 5000 primary schools. We introduced the 1000 Secondary School Project which we hope to develop to the level of any other popular school providing them with all facilities and human resources so that after eight years we could reach our target of developing them to the level of any other prestigious school. Each secondary school is connected to five primary schools and these primary schools acts as feeder schools to the secondary schools. The students of the feeder schools are eligible to enrol to their attached secondary school after grade five irrelevant of their scholarship results. This will solve the competitiveness of the grade five scholarship examinations and give every child an equal opportunity to study in a good school. The value of the grade five scholarship examinations will diminish and ultimately face a natural death. It was noted that 72 schools lacked the facility to teach Advance Level Mathematics and Science streams. We decided to provide such schools with qualified 4000 graduate teachers and technological laboratories.
QThe education that students gain through educational institutes does not very often tally with the requirements of the job market. Why?
The mismatch between the job market and the general education is the main reason why it is tough to secure a job. Our education system is an examination oriented education system. This provides them with a sound knowledge but they lack the practical experience. They don’t have the hands on skills that are a pre-requisite for the job market. The lack of soft skills like communication and computing skills also has affected school leavers. Students must get actively involved in theory as well as the practical activities that have been incorporated into the Teacher Instructor Manuals. Knowledge, skills and attitudes are the key elements that must be inculcated in our students since this is what would aid them to secure a place in future in the job market.
Q: According to your opinion what are the other drawbacks in the education system and why has the Government failed to address these issues?
We have problems in the area of training principals and teachers. We don’t have proper human resources since those possessing soft skills do not get involved in the field of general education due to low income. To retain capable professionals in human resource development in the field of general education, we have to pay them a proper salary. We can see under qualified people coming to the top level so that their product is also of low quality. We have to change the whole system and make sure that the Government allocates more money to pay higher salaries and get more qualified people to the education field. When we were young our education professionals were highly qualified.
Q: What kind of message do you have for the voter population of the forthcoming general election?
People must ensure that candidates with dignity, integrity and those who could contribute towards the productive development of the country are elected to the Parliament.
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