by Lalith Dhammika Mendis
The sensational revelation of the sophisticated scheme of cheating at the recently concluded GCE A/L examination speaks volumes about a deep-rooted socioeconomic ill prevailing in this country. There is much more than what meets the eye and what was unearthed could be much smaller than the proverbial tip of the iceberg. Authorities as usual will resort to all kinds of rigid measures to strengthen the entire gamut of controls put in place. This is to ensure integrity of public examinations to avoid repetition of similar incidents in future. Unfortunately any such control measures would only serve limited cosmetic purpose in addressing the root cause of the underlying rot that drives people to resort to extreme suicidal measures like what came to light.
Miscreant father who masterminded the scheme with the connivance of a Tuition master would never have had an iota of a doubt that the whole stratagem would come a cropper costing his son’s future in its wake. GCE A/L no doubt is one of the most of relentlessly contested examinations in Sri Lanka or perhaps in the world. It is the gateway to University Education and perceived as the divine stepping stone that paves the way for accomplishments. Sri Lanka has an unwritten rule to follow if one aspires to secure while collar job to be able to command standing in elite social circles.
The whole saga commences from the requirement of admission to a popular school or achieving success at Grade Five Scholarship exam to secure admission to a popular school followed by the indispensable need to succeed at GCE A/L to enter university to be eligible follow one a recognized stream of study leading to gainful employment.
The right to education is recognized in “International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights” adopted by the United Nations. Providing quality education without discrimination is one of the fundamental prerequisites to achieve inclusive growth. Education empowers individuals through necessary skills to be gainfully employed in the midst of growing competition.
Sri Lanka is aspiring to become a globally competitive Middle Income country. This requires Policy makers to envision core strategies to remodel the economy to address the demands of a Middle Income country, and makes it imperative to develop an export led economy fueled by diversified sectors to enhance productivity and growth which entail the indispensable need to shift focus from traditional agricultural employment to emerging sectors promoting export led diversification and growth.
For that purpose it is of fundamental importance to improve the service delivery system in education to achieve qualitative improvement in manpower. Although Sri Lanka has made advances in Human Development Index (HDI) at rank 73, progress has been very slow. One of the key components of the HDI is quality of the education and Sri Lanka’s performance on this score has surely been lacking.
Sri Lanka currently spends about 2% of the GDP on education, although promises were made during elections to enhance investment up to 6% of the GDP in line with the global norm to improve quality of education and widen its reach. Despite making lofty pronouncements obviously targeting electoral gains, budget for 2017 saw allocation for education being drastically slashed by nearly 60% from Rs 185.97 Bn in 2016 to Rs 76.94 Bn in 2017, a move that does not bode well for this vital sector. So it appears that highfalutin pronouncements about export led inclusive growth look”all lightening no thunder”.
Due to capacity constraints state universities are unable to absorb many students with adequate qualifications to pursue higher education. Moreover proper mechanisms could be developed to form Public Private Partnerships to establish institutions conducting study courses leading to qualifications and skills in a whole gamut of emerging sectors that offer attractive prospects for gainful employment in an economic model promoting inclusive growth.
Enhanced funding would enable improvement and expansion of infrastructure, provision of better qualified academic staff, well equipped laboratories, libraries and information technology labs, quality sporting gear, play grounds, facilities for aesthetic studies and last, but not least adequate and proper facilities for sanitary needs etc to schools that would support more and more children to be absorbed to engage in quality academic and extracurricular activities to enrich in a variety of skills. It is well known that many schools even in Colombo and suburbs do not have proper and sufficient facilities of acceptable hygienic standard for sanitary needs.
Due to longstanding inequality in allocation of resources and lack of a national policy to gradually eliminate the yawning gap between so-called popular schools and the rest in terms of the quality of facilities and standard of teaching people strive to securing admission to popular schools using every means fair or foul. Moreover measures been hardly taken by successive regimes hitherto to dispel the deep-seated social anomaly that persons educated at popular schools who form part and parcel of who’s who social circles in the society are of superior standard, which today serves as a crucial determinant in one’s ability to secure gainful employment. So the rat race fueled by the zeal to succeed at any cost begins at Kindergarten and keeps gathering momentum through various stages such as Grade Five scholarship examination and GCE O/L finally culminating in GCE A/L where neck and neck competition determines only the very best would succeed.
Despite many economic woes and fiscal issues affecting the economy funds are allocated for the purchase of super luxury cars, limousines and SUV’s for politicos, whilst vehicle permits being generously issued to afford them the luxury of super comfort conveyance. All this happens while common man who commutes by public transport has to periodically pay more out of meager earnings and contend with good-for-nothing services at the hands of reckless and unruly private bus operators. Has any politico demonstrated genuine concern about common man’s plight and shown austerity on his part in using public funds? Answer obviously is in the negative.
People of this country under successive regimes have suffered due to colossal blunders and profligacy committed by the rulers of the day. There are monumental examples such as southern port and airport, miles and miles of idling roadways without traffic, colossal buildings structures and conference halls with hardly any use, iconic structures such as lotus tower that don’t promise any economic gains and multi-purpose development project like Uma Oya which has ruined the day to day lives of people in the vicinity that have devoured huge chunks of public funds borrowed at exorbitant costs burdening the poor tax-paying majority. Funds have been generously allocated for such grandiose schemes whilst priority areas such as education and health being given step-motherly treatment. So it is doubtful if the Govt is truly acting in furtherance of the professed goal of achieving inclusive growth.
In the context of neck and neck competition at GCE A/L, burning zeal in people to see their offspring succeed to secure an opportunity for state funded higher education leading to recognized qualifications, people resort to all kinds of measures fair or foul to bring long held dreams to fruition. Many execute ingenious plans and modern technology no doubt comes in handy in such sinister schemes although such manipulations contravene morality and laws.
What lies before the public eye is a case of suicidal aberration to achieve success at any cost. It no doubt would mar the life of the youngster and attach an indelible black mark on him at the very onset of exuberant youth. So, it is essential that due process of law takes its course to get the right message conveyed to the society. However that alone would not address the longstanding socioeconomic ills that drive people to make such desperate moves, which still remain unresolved due to callous opportunistic politics predominantly practiced in post independent Sri Lanka.
The solution lies in curing fundamental ills to create wider scope of opportunities for advancement through multiple avenues through the implementation of sustained progressive goal oriented policy measures. People would fall in line and desist from violating rules when they realize that commitments would bear fruit not go waste and there are multiple avenues to achieve success.