What is a collection of fantasies called?
Fantasy is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as “….Imagining impossible or improbable things”.
But what is a ‘collection’ of such imaginations called? Here in Sri Lanka it simply is a Budget.
The latest budget for 2019 now debated in Parliament proposes to give full scholarships to fourteen (14) students who come on top at the Advanced Level examination this year.
All island firsts in all five streams and the first in all nine Provinces are offered scholarships to Harvard, MIT, Oxford, Cambridge etc.Next year the numbers will be increased to 28 scholarships, the Parliament was told.
“The only condition is, they will have to return to serve the country for 10 years,” said Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera.
The first lie in this is, for such excellent achievements, all these universities offer international scholarships and the SL Government does not have to fund them.
Apart from the fact that this would in no way help improve the quality of education in Sri Lanka, it also proves, this Government knows little about our education.
How would they choose the all-island top five students for this Scholarship for Educational Excellence (SEE)?
Would they be the top five in Sinhala medium? Aren’t their firsts in Tamil and English medium as well?
There is an all-island first in every stream in all three media of education and therefore the number would be 15 (fifteen). To say the first from the nine Provinces are also eligible for SEE, proves neither the Minister nor his advisors know that in all nine provinces students sit for the same A/L exam which is a national exam.
Therefore, in every province, there is a first in each stream and in all three media of education.
It would be 135 firsts from all nine provinces.
At every A/L exam there is always a total of 150 firsts.
This in a way shows the dominant Sinhala mindset, that decides everything Sinhala as National.
Most of the people forget that national education in Sri Lanka is provided in three media.
What do these miscalculations in a Sinhala mindset say?
It says the government is not serious. It doesn’t don’t have to, for the budget is about rattling out fantasies.
Rattling out what people want to believe as good for them.
The SEE was one such fantasy on education, middle-class spoke well about. One Sinhala FB post liked and shared by hundreds, introduced it as unseen side of the budget concluding by saying, the best in the budget.
None ever wondered why old American and British universities were used to market the proposal.
Those who drafted the proposal are way behind time.
Those universities do have very rich histories. But what these advisors here do not know is, there are many competing universities in our neighbourhood that now stand as equally or even more recognised than those Ivy League universities and are certainly very modern.
The Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT), the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and the prestigious Chinese Tsinghua University are ranked among the best in the world.
A study compiled by PitchBook Data, US-based private equity and VC Research firm says:
“IITs are ranked fourth (just ahead of Harvard) in a new ranking of the top 50 universities that have produced venture capital (VC), -backed founders.”
And the study that sifted data and information over a period of five years from 2009 to 2014 goes on to say why IIT products are in demand.
“They have one of the toughest entrance-exams in the world and possess a close alumni network. Their top tech talent has been emigrating to the US for over three decades, they have a globally recognised brand name, and their students are entrepreneurial and risk-takers.”
All other proposals on education are no better. The budget allocation for education and higher education totalled at Rs.344 billion for 2019 says, “Envisaged education reforms will help nurture the analytical and creative skills required to thrive in the modern economy”.
What these “education reforms” are and who formulated and decided them is unknown.
We need far-reaching Reforms in education no doubt, but not a few bamboo sticks for a broken barbed wire fence to lift it from here and there. We need a White Paper on reforms for social discourse before they are tabled in Parliament.
These reforms the 2019 Budget is talking of are perhaps foreign-funded projects and would not have the rural poor within delivery range.
Those reforms apart, the budget proposals say,
“Rs.16 billion is allocated to upgrade overall school facilities including laboratories, libraries, classrooms and sanitation facilities.”
For most urban children, a water bottle has become an integral and important inclusion with the heavily loaded school bag. Schools don’t have drinking water. In the vast majority of rural schools, water is a major issue.
"The first lie in this is, for such excellent achievements, all these universities offer international scholarships and the Sri Lanka Government does not have to fund them"
So are toilet facilities.
Before allocations were decided the most important necessity was to have estimated the required toilets and washrooms for each school with children and teachers counted and separately for girls and boys in “mixed schools”. Wonder if the most important aspect with such facilities, a system for good and clean maintenance had ever been thought of. Mere talking of “upgrading” only proves the Rs.16 billion allocation if available, would be decided by the school Principal and the politician in how the money would be spent.
It was the same in the year 2018. Most have forgotten those proposals. There was a proposal to establish high end technical colleges with assistance from Germany and Switzerland.
Another above the cloud proposal was to introduce subjects like genetics, robotics and nanotechnology to the school curriculum to prepare students for jobs in the future.
Rs.750 million was allocated for the Smart Class RoomProject. They remain failed projects to date.
Introducing genetics, robotics and nanotechnology is out of reach for even most Colombo schools.
These highbrow subjects cannot be introduced to the school curriculum on budget allocations alone. They need carefully prepared syllabi and at least 200-300 trained teachers on the subject to begin even a pilot project.
Smart Class Rooms are also for popular city schools.
For schools that can afford to gather resources. This would further discriminate children in rest of the urban and rural schools leaving over 60 per cent of pupils from over 9,000 “Types 1C, 02 and 03 schools” aliens in a heavily city-oriented school system that caters to the middle class.
Another Rs.1.25 billion was allocated to establish medical faculties in Wayamba, Sabaragamuwa and Moratuwa universities. Special health insurance was proposed for university students. Vidhya Peeta (National Colleges of Education) students were provided with an increased stipend from Rs.3,500 to Rs. 5,000 per month. The status of these 2018 budget proposals is not discussed with 2019 budget proposals.
Nor does the present 2019 budget say, how those 2018 proposals would continue this year. They go without explanations.
This is one major reason the populist demand by FUTA for an annual allocation of 06 per cent of GDP for education, is irrelevant to date. In Colombo and probably in economically large cities like Kandy, Galle, Matara and Kurunegala the norm though not the rule is, Past Pupils decide and bring in funds for what they decide for the school; a playground, a tech lab, a swimming pool or a multi-storeyed building with classrooms for more intake at Grade I. Rural
schools depend on State allocations. How State funds are channelled to schools have no priorities and accepted criteria.
Very often around 4,000 “Type 03 schools” get overlooked. Allocations depend on how politically influential the Principal is and what interest the governing party local politician has in the school.
Politicians don’t go for the construction of toilets and no Principal proposes toilets for the school.
There is no glamour in declaring open a toilet as declaring open a playground, a laboratory or a two-storey building with a big engraved stone slab to unveil.
Yet, another serious issue with allocations is inefficiency and corruption in the State.
State institutes have no capacity to utilise allocations efficiently and within timeframes. There are instances where the second quarter allocation is not even asked for and often allocations stop with the third quarter.
If the Finance Minister can provide a breakdown of monies utilised from 2018 budgetary allocations, it would show how (in)efficient the State is.
That leaves all 2019 proposals as fantasies.
There is Rs.100 million for continual professional development for teachers. With what resources available is a mega question. Another Rs.500 million for Tamil teacher training.
Again, the same issue; resources for such training. Another Rs.1.1 billion for early childhood development with no indications of who is responsible and what plans there are to handle them efficiently and effectively. For universities, an allocation of Rs.25 billion for upgrading and improving facilities necessary.
There are many such proposals and the worst out of them is to have the military for petty skills development. No democratic government would use a battle-hardened military for civilian activities.
In fact, the LLRC concluded this country needs immediate de-militarisation for better and more space for civil life.
This proposal denies opportunities for civilians to develop and employ themselves in these trades and disciplines while allowing the military to decide what their impact in civil society should be.
That is what the budget 2019 is for parents, teachers and students. Fantasies for short term debate. With the approval of the budget comes the end to these fantasies.
And the urban, in particular, would move on, looking for possible presidential candidates.