The agitation by Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs, Wayamba Development and Cultural Affairs Palith Thewarapperuma on behalf of ten children who had been denied admission to the Meegahatenne Primary School in Kalutara District for the past seven months was seen by many with amusement, despite the seriousness of the problem underneath the stunt the Deputy Minister had engaged in.
The pathetic situation of the students was turned into an amusing drama by Thewarapperuma by his ludicrous stunt to commit suicide by hanging on a fan at the same school in front of students, forcing the principal to admit the children to the school. Unfortunately, the media too forgot its basic ethics in handling the incident, apparently due to the competition within the industry.
Unfortunately, the Thewarapperuma saga was belittled just as a law and order problem and even those who fight against the SAITM in the name of free education do not seem to deem the issue of admission of children to government schools in general or the arrest of nine mothers in particular as a problem associated with free education
Thewarapperuma was much in the news ever since the Yahapalanaya government came to power in January, last year. Ten day after President Maithripala Sirisena took office, forming a UNP led government he assaulted an Agalawatte Pradeshiya Sabha member Murugan Pushpakumara and made him kneel down on a street in Agalawatte town. Later he had created news so many times by engaging in acts many of which were looked by many as stunts or antics, despite him being with the victims. Similarly, Deputy Minister Ranjan Ramanayake was also treated scornfully when he was pictured in the media carrying in his arms a boy who had also been denied admission to several schools following rumours that he had contracted by the HIV/AIDS virus, in spite of the Deputy Minister’s act being a strong message to society, whether it was a stunt or not.
Deputy Minister Thewarapperuma joined a fast by parents of students denied admission to the Meegahatenna Primary School on June 27 in front of the Matugama Zonal education Office and later, on June 30 forced into the school and attempted to “commit suicide” demanding admission for the students. Following this incident nine mothers of the said students were arrested on July 5 and remanded till July 7, on the charges of unlawful assembly and Thewarapperuma who had been admitted to hospital after his stunt was also remanded after surrendering to the police.
The same police did not oppose granting bail to Daya Master who had issued thousands of statements on behalf of the LTTE during the organisation’s heyday
The whole drama has eclipsed the main issue involved, the denial of opportunity for education, a universally accepted right, for a group of children. Though it is difficult to pass judgments on his real intention, Thewarapperuma’s action however has overshadowed the just struggle by the parents of the children who had already been deprived of six months of basic education, which might affect their whole life.
It is interesting to note that the police had been prompt in arresting the nine mothers and framing a charge-unlawful assembly- against them whereas they did not arrest former Tangalle Pradeshiya Sabha Chairman Sampath Chandra PushpaVidanapathirana for years,until Prince Charles intervened, for his involvement in the brutal murder of Khurram Shaikh, a British national and the gang rape of his Russian girlfriend in public. The same police did not oppose granting bail to Daya Master who had issued thousands of statements on behalf of the LTTE during the organisation’s heyday, on the grounds that they had not found any evidence to link him with the activities of the dreaded outfit.
The ten students in question are not the only ones who had been denied admission to schools this year. So many similar cases had been reported from various parts of the country. There were similar situations in the previous years as well. On June 8, this year Western Provincial councilor Ifthikar Jameel climbed on the table and removed his sarong while the council was in session to protest against the non-admission of a group of children to the year 1 class of several schools in his area, Beruwala. The incident followed by a heated debate among the councilors during which Chief Minister Isura Devapriya and Education Minister Ranjith Somawansa lamented that they also failed in getting admission for a number of children in various schools in the province. For the third consecutive session the council discussed the matter this week as well, with members in the ruling party as well as the Opposition accusing the officials of provincial education authorities for a highhanded attitude. The drama involving Thewarapperuma or the arrest of the mothers and the removal of a sarong by Jameel were manifestations of a larger issue that has prevailed for decades. There was a time some half a century ago when parents were able to get their children admitted to any school in the country, irrespective of their race or religion or the distance between the school and residences, provided they were affordable to do so with regard to the school attended by the students of affluent families. For instance, former minister the late Maithripala Senanayake had attended St.John’s in Jaffna and former State Minister of Media Imthias Bakir Makar studied at Ananda College, Colombo. There was no race differences then among parents in finding popular schools, which is a recent concept, for their children.
However, with the rise in the population, unemployment, disparity in facilities in government schools and the increasing political appointments of teachers, especially after early 1970s, competition among the parents to get their children admitted to better schools has gone drastically up. This on the other hand has paved the way for corruption in the education sector. The education has been one of the sectors that top the annual corruption index of the Transparency International (TI) for the past several years. On the other hand, successive governments have resorted to haphazard and ad hoc solutions to the problems in the education sector, including the issue of admission of students. They have been pretending not to see the larger issue, the ever increasing vast disparity in facilities between the schools attended by the students of affluent families and those attended by poor students. In Sri Lanka there are hundreds of schools without drinking water facilities while there are also schools with swimming pools. The disparity can be seen in other facilities- electricity, access roads, qualified teachers (especially for English, mathematics and science subjects), furniture, libraries, ICT and sports as well.
Unfortunately, the Thewarapperuma saga was belittled just as a law and order problem and even those who fight against the SAITM in the name of free education do not seem to deem the issue of admission of children to government schools in general or the arrest of nine mothers in particular as a problem associated with free education.