As an ordinary, reasonable citizen of this country with an average education thanks to the free education of Sri Lanka, I am really concerned about the short article published in “Daily Mirror” of September 2, 2017, especially because it claims that it is the opinion of some academics and activists connected to education, economy and social equity of our motherland in one way or another
I notice that some of the contributors to the said article represent university teachers for free education, education renaissance programmes, university teachers for social equity and also the alliance for economic democracy.
Going by their educational or academic qualifications alone, we the members of the society expect a great deal from them by way of unbiased and balanced opinion in order to get to grips with the problems faced by the society and get to the bottom of it before any interested party unduly influences our minds on the sphere of education specially when our motherland is facing a serious situation with regard to the free education issue inclusive of planning and spending public money on free education especially because the contributors represent free education, social equity and economic democracy according to what they claimed to be in the article and they are duly bound to come out with some positive alternative proposals without passing the buck and without leaving the people in the lurch.
At a time when all sorts of stake holders are trying to reach a compromised formula in settling the question of private medical education in the country though nobody or body of persons can wave a magic wand to solve the problem, we the citizens of the country expect much more from the teachers of the universities than highlighting the dangers involved in the proposals contained in the report of the subcommittee on higher education of the sectional oversight committee on education and human resources development, believed to be one of the stake holders.
The district quota system is one such ad-hoc decision in the educational sphere, which effectively shuts out some brilliant and eligible students who qualify to enter universities. That is in the name of doing Justice to students from rural areas
It is prudent and advisable to understand the real situation of the problem of private medical education in the country especially because two extremist groups are fighting on the same, adversely affecting the standard of education of the country, where on the one hand one group wants to close down SAITM forthwith disregarding the fact that it destroys the education of one section of the student population and on the other hand the other group wants to continue with SAITM disregarding the quality of medical education of the institute. Both stances are equally bad not only for education but also for the economy and free education policies of Sri Lanka. Be that as it may, it is still a burning issue and to put it into a nutshell there are a lot of pros and cons concerning the issue. That is why the normal citizen of the country needs proper guidance from personalities like academics, education reformists etc.
On the above premise, and in the light of the fact that some are trying to make use of this situation for their political agendas and some are making the maximum use of the situation for economic gains while the situation is causing an irreparable and irremediable loss and damage to the education sphere of the entire country. I appeal to academics and education reformists to consider this situation having the welfare of the society in mind and for the sake of the country, and the future of our beloved children.
It is a known fact that in Sri Lanka we do not have an effective national policy for any field, not even for very essential and sensitive fields connected to the welfare of the society like education, health, transport etc. In such circumstances it is natural for policy makers and/or bureaucrats to take ad-hoc, destructive decisions at someone’s beck and call leaving them to their own devices even on very important and sensitive matters unless and until the affected people or people at the receiving end raise objections.
The district quota system is one such ad-hoc decision in the educational sphere, which effectively shuts out some brilliant and eligible students who qualify to enter universities. That is in the name of doing Justice to students from rural areas. Another one is the disparity in allocation of funds and human resources to schools in the country which is also is in name of development of the education of the country. The more recent one is the opening of medical faculties in various universities without allocating necessary and adequate funds or staff, in the name of admitting more students for medical education. The above said ad-hoc decisions are carrying on even today unhindered by the Policy makers and bureaucrats without contemplating any long term plan to remedy the anomalies.
When the referenced article talks about ad-hoc policies it reminds me of a saying in the legal field which says ‘justice delayed is justice denied’ but ‘justice hurried is justice buried’. What it is meant to portray is that to any problem one must take timely action neither too late nor in haste. Our education system has been facing these problems like non- producing of required number of doctors to the society when there are eligible students unsuccessfully waiting to enter the medical faculties and at the same time there is a dearth of doctors in the country. This situation has been prevailing in the country for the last so many decades. In this backdrop, it is unfortunate to note that no stake holder (inclusive of university teachers) raised objections, or submitted a constructive criticism or forwarded alternative proposals to counter the said problems faced by the system of education in the country on the basis of ad-hoc policies being destructive as claimed by the said article.
So it is unfair by us, the citizens of the country, for anybody or any body of persons to say ad-hoc policies are destructive without submitting alternative proposals to resolve the issues faced by the free education on the country as a result of unsettled medical education problems in the country.
Therefore it is important at this juncture to reach a consensus on the matter in order to deprive the extremists of fishing in the trouble waters and come to a reasonable resolution among all stake holders of this country which claims to have a high literacy rate in the Asian region and boosting the free education system which we are proud of comparing to Bangladesh, India, Nepal and so many other countries to which our children go for higher medical education.
I reiterate that it is high time for policy makers to take necessary and timely decisions, ad-hoc or otherwise, to remedy this unfortunate situation in the sphere of education for the well being of the entire society and the common good of the country.
The boycotting of medical education inclusive of lectures by the government medical students has been nearing one full academic year demanding the closure of the fee-levying medical education institute known as SAITM. By their action, the government medical students not only lost one whole academic year of their careers, but have also effectively shut down the next batches who are eagerly waiting to enter the medical faculties. The sad part of this whole episode is that the boycotting or attending lectures by the government medical students shall in no way reduce the cost of the education bill shouldered by the tax payers of the country out of which almost 82% of the total tax income of the State is coming from the poor people of the country by way of indirect taxes. Therefore, I am appealing to our children in government medical faculties not to penalize the innocent people of the country for no fault of theirs.
Does this course of action by the government medical students help the principles of free education, a part of which is availability of chances and opportunities for the students to further their education? And will the closure of SAITM and deprivation of education of one section of the students alone help to uphold the principles of free education? I dare say that boycotting lectures or closure of SAITM will in no way uphold the principles of free education as the real issue is a larger one than portrayed by some interested sections of the society, as what is sauce for goose is sauce for the gander. Consider a situation where all the advanced level students of the country get together and organize to boycott classes demanding that the government medical faculties of the universities must give way for all Advanced Level students who become eligible to enter the medical faculties by virtue of their respective ‘Z’ scores without any barriers. The advanced level students also can come out with a very logical theory that their boycotting of classes is not for the purpose of obtaining benefits for them but for the benefit of the common good of the society and to uphold the free education of the country as claimed by the medical students. 1 therefore strongly believe that the boycotting of lectures by the government medical faculty students to influence the policy -making machinery of the government might cause a bad precedence in the future.
To remedy this unfortunate situation as I understand it, the time is ripe to initiate a dialogue with social justice and welfare of the students in heart, among all stake holders aiming at a reasonable and expeditious solution to the private medical education in the country without further delay. For a meaningful discussion it is important to have an in-depth knowledge of the relevant matters and stake holders must be devoid of political and other private agendas like money making and commissions because I know some persons are engaged in serious discussions with various authorities to make use of the situation for their monetary gains even at this decisive juncture.
It is advisable to look into all perspectives of private medical education in the country without limiting it to the mere question of SAITM and the medical education thereof as it is only a small part or portion of’ the core issue of private education policies of Sri Lanka.
Under these circumstances I very much appreciate the suggestion contained in the article about calling for a Public Commission to hear all parties of their respective stances in order to review the whole situation with a commitment to uphold the real principles of free education especially with regard to the medical education in the country as the same is on a knife edge and hanging by a thread, which message is loud and clear.
Writer is an Attorney-at-law and an Unofficial Magistrate