It is no exaggeration that the state of education continues to deteriorate despite the persistent loud cries of the students, parents and teachers who are stuck in a labyrinthine tunnel with no light. Even though the repercussions of the deterioration are often blamed on the education authorities and the two ministers who hold crucial portfolios, the beneficiaries of the free education are equally responsible for the apparent downfall.
Free education implemented by Dr. C.W.W. Kannangara has undergone drastic changes in its journey to the present. Its priorities have shifted from the value-based objectives to those of knowledge-based; thus fuelling the iniquitous stratification of students according to the schools they attended. What is more infuriating in the current context of school education is that, those that are declared free come with exorbitant price tags and what starts off as non-obligatory charity turns into obligatory taxation.
Fund raising for various development activities in state-owned schools had been nothing new to the students and parents. These activities have been justified on the grounds that the money allocated by the central government/ provincial council is not sufficient to meet the growing requirements of the schools. When swimming pools, fully-fledged auditoriums and gymnasiums become the in-thing, the impression is created that until they are added to the school structure, the image is incomplete. No doubt, it is none other than the children who benefit from such additions which would give an extra boost to their esteem towards school.
Yet, with this comfort comes a high price.
Whenever a fund-raising activity is conducted in a school; be it a simple distribution of raffle tickets or organizing a grand carnival, the parents are compelled to contribute lest their children are sidelined due to their inability to afford such expenses. Leave alone the children from low-income families who enter these urban and semi-urban schools on their grade 5 scholarship marks, with the spiralling cost of living, even the middleclass families with more than one school-going child will find it difficult to cope with such extravagance. Besides, at the beginning of every year, a facility fee, assigned and approved by the Ministry of Education, is charged from every student in the school. Whatever that succeeds in the course of the year is spurred by the school development societies and past pupils' unions whose notion of development seems to be all about adding up more buildings to the school structure.
Moreover, with the parents paying a good portion of their earnings on private tuition, it is worth questioning as to what part of education is true to its label and comes free of charge.
Robbing the already oppressed parents for decorative purposes is a trend that needs immediate discontinuation. It is not the buildings that makes a school; but the quality of education and values inculcated by it.
It is a choice between the content and the container. After all, even the most tempting packages can carry spoiled goods.