Joint Opposition front-liner Dr Bandula Gunawardena has protested against the purported decision by the Government to permit private schools to open five branches, each claiming that the decision would be detrimental to the free education.'
MP Gunawardena who is also a former Education Minister under President Mahinda Rajapaksa is of the opinion that Government’s move would encourage the private education in the country and that would ultimately lead to the death of the free education in Sri Lanka.
Theoretically, he was correct. Encouraging private education institutions to thrive, while neglecting Government schools would lead to the silent death of free education.
But why do people choose to admit their children to private schools paying thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of rupees, when they can send their children to the Government schools without paying money, one may gullibly ask.
MP Gunawardena says that parents opt to enrol their children to private schools because of the poor facilities in State-owned schools.In fact, this is a tip of the iceberg of a bigger problem.Dr Gunawardena refers only to one issue - the facilities. But there are more issues from the beginning of the education of a child.
Besides, the issue of facilities is not a common problem for all Government schools. There is a vast difference between urban popular schools and the majority of State-run schools across the country.It is a well-known fact that there are schools with swimming pools, whereas a large number of schools in the country, do not even have drinking water or toilet facilities.
The pathetic situation of many of the school buildings in the country was well manifested by an incident in March last year where eighteen grade five students of Sririmalwatte Navodya School in Wattegama, Kandy had been admitted to the Kandy Teaching Hospital when a part of the roof of their classroom collapsed on them due to the heavy rains experienced in the area.
Not only facilities but the entire education system is also in disarray. Parents’ have to resort to corrupt practices if they want to admit their child to a school with somewhat common amenities and competent teachers, a rare thing nowadays.
They have to prepare fraudulent documents such as land deeds, water and electricity bills, even before the birth of a child and pay a colossal amount to the school as “donation.”In fact, it is not a donation but a bribe, which is widespread, despite the denials and warning of Principals by Education Ministers for the last two decades.
Last week as well, a Principal of a school in the south was arrested for allegedly soliciting a donation/ bribe of Rs. 100,000. While the right to education is ensured by the Constitution of the country, the children who have never seen a school have to face an interview to get the admission to schools.
Do not those children who fail the interviews have the right to education?It is justifiable for the parents then to argue as to why they should pay the bribe and go behind politicians when they have an option in the private sector to study in English, paying the same or a lesser amount legally as admission fee.
After admission to the government schools, the parents are occasionally summoned to shramadanas for cleaning and colour washing of the schools.
The education in Government schools above year nine is almost privatized.The students of year 10, 11, 12 and 13 even in the popular schools largely depend on private tuition classes.Dr Gunawardena who was also a tuition teacher would admit that some tuition classes are now open at 4 a.m. and close after 11 p.m.
Some popular tuition classes have more than 300 students for a session. After all, these ordeals a majority of students of Government schools, especially those who studied in Sinhala and Tamil in schools with fewer facilities, numbering hundreds of thousands are left stranded owing to the limited number of university seats and the stagnant economy that does not offer more economic opportunities for them.
This situation is not new, the former Education Minister might very well know. No Government in the past or present seemed to be keen on taking action to remedy the situation. In fact, the situation is getting worse by the year, paving way for more private schools.