Two little ones cling on to their mother and father happy as ever on their way to school to begin their new lives, while two other little ones remain in their homes yearningly looking at the former, after their hopes of attending a new school almost shattered.
These are twins. Their father is a teacher. He laments and questions whether his children failed to get a new school because he was a teacher. He directed this question to the Sri Lanka Human Rights Commission after anxiously waiting for five months expecting that his daughters would gain admission to a school.
By this time applications for admission of children to Grade One next year had been issued, but however as appearing in the preamble there are children of school-going age qualified for admission in January, still waiting for admission to schools.
Our story began with twins, who are from Gampaha. They have qualified for admission to a girls’ college in the Gampaha town but in vain. Their woes of not finding a school should be inquired as similar situations had risen in many parts of the country.
The Circular No. 17/2016 relating to the admission of children to Grade One in 2017 was released by the Secretary to the Ministry of Education on May 16, 2016. According to which applications had to be called, interviews held and mark-lists and waiting-lists exhibited. The Appeal Board meets thereafter. This is the procedure that is being followed every year.
With the overwhelming rush for admissions to popular schools every year, fraud, corruption and irregularities take place. Only a few get caught for these crimes.
It seems that flouting all regulations politicians had taken over the admissions of children to schools into their hands. Instead of the quotas for the members of the Security Forces, MPs lists seem to have become the order of the day.
There is a quota for the children of the members of the Armed Forces and the Police, who were in active service or presently in it, under which five children can be admitted to a class.
In a school where four sections exist at the rate of five students per class, twenty children are allowed to be admitted under the Active Service Quota.
When sufficient numbers are not available under this quota, there is no definite indication in circulars prior to 2016, as to how the shortfall is to be filled up. Sources said this is where the politicians interfered.
Prior to the Circular No. 17/2016 covering admission of children for 2017, the Circular that governed the admission of children to Grade One was Circular No. 23/2013 and Circular Nos 2013/23 (1), 2013/23 (11) and 34/2015. Admissions to Grade One was done in accordance with these circulars. By December 2016, interviews had to be completed, Appeal Boards conducted and final lists decided upon and admission of children completed in January.
When arrangements were in line for the usual balance available for the Active Service Quota to be filled by political lists, the Secretary to the Ministry of Education issued another circular in April 2016, laying down further instructions. It detailed how the vacancies that had originated from the balance quota of active services to be filled up.
With the issue of this circular, political lists had no more say on this matter and the balance vacancies were distributed among the other categories.
By May 2016 admissions of children to schools in the Western Province had been completed and the Zonal Directors confirmed that there were no requests from any children deprived of an admission to school. While this was so on July 25, 2016, the then Zonal Director of Education Wimal Gunerathne received a letter from a responsible politico in the Western Province.
Which read that, “In the admission of children for Grade One in the Western Province, in some school class rooms are full and with many children seeking admission, the Ministers of the Western Provincial Council members are requesting me in this regard.
“According to circular regarding the admissions to Grade One the number of students in a class should not exceed 40. In those schools there is a provision for an additional class to be set up in selected schools.”
A list of schools had also been appended to this letter.
The schools mentioned therein were regarded as popular schools. Not stopping at that, a list of names of children, who should be admitted to these extra classes, was also sent by the politico’s
Coordinating Secretary to the Western Province Education Director. The schools are:
Malabe Boys’ Model School, Kottawa Dharmapala Junior College, Nugegoda Samudra Devi Girls College, Piliyandala Somaweera Chandrasiri College, Rawatawatte Methodist College, Avissawella President’s College, Padukka Siri Piyarathna College, Sangamitta Girls College Colombo 08,Fathima Muslim Girls College Colombo Central, Ashoka College Colombo 10, Al Khariya Muslim Girls College, Gampaha Yasodhara Devi Girls College, Attanagalle Ranpokunagama College, Biyagama Sapugaskanda Vishaka College, Mahara Dammadassi Maha Vidyalaya, Panadura Agamethi Girls College, Panadura Royal College, Kalutara Gnanodaya Vidyalaya, Darga Town Gnanissara College, Horana Thakshila College and Matugama St. Mary’s Maha Vidyalaya.
When the year is about to end what is the urgency in increasing the number of classes is any body’s guess. As this was illegal, the Education Director of the Western Province kept opposing it.
On August 1, 2016 the Secretary to the Governor of the Western Province inquired from the
Education Director of Western Province on increasing the number of classes, and in his reply the Director had submitted a comprehensive report.
In his reply he pointed out that it is not practical to increase classes considering the facilities that are available at schools. The Zonal Directors had confirmed that there were no children without schools and it did not warrant opening of additional classes.
Zonal Director Wimal Gunerathne’s stern objections costed him his post. He was removed from the post of Provincial Director of Education.
With his absence additional classes were established in some schools. However, children were not admitted in the proper manner. As indicated earlier by us, Gampaha Girls’ College was also one where an additional class was established. Teacher Associations criticised this act.
How the selections were made, were the children qualified, who interviewed them, if they had been victimised, did they approach the appeal boards were some questions that begs answers.
An investigation would bring more to light. This is only one story about Grade One admissions.
The teacher who couldn’t gain admission to his two daughters to Grade One at the Gampaha Girls’ College applied under three categories.
Under proximity he applied as all requirements had been fulfilled. He also applied under Education staff, and well-knowing that he would have to present at interviews on all categories mentioned by him. But it did not happen that way. He was called for the interview at the Gampaha Girls’ College only under the close proximity to the college. According to the Circular the distance to the College from the residence should be calculated overland, it has been calculated based on the walking distance and as an excuse the interview board had said “The child is not going to fly here, but walk on the road, and therefore, we have calculated the distance the child has to walk.”
This shows the lack of basic knowledge of interviewers.
His daughters had also obtained 95 marks. But surprisingly when the pending-list was published their names had been omitted and children who had got lower marks had been selected. Their names had been included in the waiting-lists under number 13 and 14.
While all the conditions had been fulfilled and the application was forwarded under fewer than three categories, the interview board had called under one category. When inquired about this matter the Principal of the school failed to reply. The responsibility of calling applicants for interviews as per the circulars rests on the school Principal. The parent was later requested to appear before the appeal board, but again the appeal was considered under the proximity category and not under education personnel category.
The appeal board was chaired by a school Principal of another school in the area. There had been two others, who were in the interview panel, and lacked the presence of persons who were mentioned as eligible in the circulars. The appeal board took into consideration all facts and rewarded 80 marks. However, when he met the appeal board he was informed that the children of the applicant cannot be admitted.
The chairman had reportedly accused that there was a change in the name of the father.
The applicant, being a teacher himself, had then produced all documents pertaining to the name change to prove it had been done legally. Proving his position only earned scant regard from the chairman, who made a remark on the application that the documents in support were ‘incomplete.’ Under the proximity category these two children obtained 95 marks, but children who had obtained only 91 marks were selected for admission to the school. Despite these facts, (and being children obtaining 80 marks under the education staff category) they were disqualified and children who had obtained 63 marks had been considered.
The father then approached the Zonal Director for admission in any school, but all his attempts failed and finally he had to appeal to the Sri Lanka Human Rights Commission.
Why these two children were refused admission still remains to be answered. Is it to pave the way for the children of political henchmen?
Admitting children under the Security Services quota itself is a problem, sources said. It is a ruse used by many Principals to admit children through the back door.
The following is a report of an unqualified child gaining admission to the same school. The latter does not come under the restricted area and therefore cannot be summoned for an interview and no question arises about an appeal. From the records available this child’s father was born in or about 1982. They were not called for the interview and hence no invitation followed from the appeal board.
The address given is the address of a Kapurala of a Devale. A lease-hold deed, purported to have been executed in 1994 was produced as proof of residence. No official verified the claim. Despite inadequate documents, the child was admitted.
In our investigations we found four more children had been admitted to this school despite them having not fulfilled the conditions.
A few months ago seven members including a school Principal and teachers from another school, who constituted the appeal board of the Royal College Colombo were interdicted and while the investigations by the Public Services Commission was ongoing they were reinstated. If this trend is not stopped now it could pose greater issues in the future. Aggrieved parents could seek redress under ordinary laws or complain to the Bribery Commission or to the Police Fraud Bureau.
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