ith just three weeks to go for the crucial General Election on August 17, the United National Front for Good Governance (UNFGG) and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) in their policy plans or manifestos issued last week have pledged to change the structure and the mindset in the vital area of education.
The UNFGG led by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has pledged it will build a new Sri Lanka with a job-oriented education process whereby one million high income and highly productive jobs will be made available mainly to the youth in the next five years. The United National Party-led alliance has also pledged that it will double the budgetary allocation for education.
The JVP at a special convention last Wednesday pledged it will increase the allocation for education to as much as 6 per cent of gross domestic product. The party, which has generally attracted more youth than the two main parties, has also said that with a major restructuring of the education process, it will reduce the age of adulthood from 18 to 16 and give young people the right to vote when they reach the age of 16 so that the future of the younger generation could be worked out by educated and intellectual young people, most of them graduates. JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake, in the 100-page manifesto, has also indicated the party has no intention of resorting to any arms struggle as it did in 1971 and 1987. Though the JVP had only three seats in the previous parliament their exemplary conduct and substance-filled speeches have won the admiration of young people and that could be one of the reasons why the JVP wishes to attain its objective through good education and making the best use of the advanced high technology process.
The other major alliance, the United People’s Freedom Alliance is to release its manifesto on Tuesday amid growing concern that the alliance is emerging as a two-headed creature. President Maithripala Sirsena who is also the leader of the UPFA and its main constituent the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) has repeatedly pledged he will change the structure of the education process so that, as philosophers have said, there will be a fine balance between the education of the mind and the education of the heart. Mr. Sirisena has also pledged he will take effective steps to improve the standards of the thousands of rural schools and end the menace of the tuition mania, whereby many teachers do not complete the syllabus in the classroom virtually forcing children to come for tuition classes sometimes till late in the evening.
Veteran educationist Prof. Nihal Amerasinghe, the first Sri Lankan Managing Director of the Asian Development Bank and now the head of the Asian Institute of Management in Manila, has given some enlightened insights to students and told them, again in the words of a philosopher, that hidden meanings need to dawn in their readings. This is called X-ray reading.
Prof. Amerasinghe in a keynote speech at a dinner to mark the 150th jubilee of St. Benedict’s College, said that as we contemplate the future, the hopes of realizing the Asian Century are real and exciting. And Sri Lanka is now on the cusp of becoming an upper middle-income country. But nothing is pre-ordained.
We need to recognise our weaknesses in human capital in particular, and take appropriate steps on an urgent basis, lest we fall into a middle-income trap. The challenges in the education sector will cascade down to the schools and impact on our human capital development. There are several areas of concern, which require concerted action, Prof. Amerasinghe says.
Sri Lanka now spends too little on education. The country’s public expenditure on education has remained low at around two per cent of GDP during the past decade and a half, compared to an average of 4-6 per cent in the rest of Asia. The upshot of low investment in education means that school leavers are poorly prepared as they join the workforce or are unemployed. Albeit Sri Lanka has achieved high levels of literacy, it has not provided students with quality educational services such as – IT access, effective teaching, and better math and science education – to participate successfully in the knowledge economy of the 21st Century.
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