(4) Educational Reform PDF Print E-mail

Education is one of the most critical areas for reform. There are clearly two principles that must be followed in any educational policy. The first is that access to education be available to everyone, and secondly that educational excellence should be pursued. Unfortunately in Sri Lanka this last has been forgotten, so that education now no longer deserves the name unless supplemented by tuition..

Changes to the system have been proposed and some are being successfully implemented. However it should be noted that such changes have been proposed and implemented often in the past. That education continues in a mess leads to the conclusion that it is the system itself that is at fault. In fact it is in education that we see most obviously the effect of Hayek’s principle that, given human fallibility, a state monopoly is almost guaranteed to fail, as compared with a situation where alternatives exist.

This is true at all levels, and the higher one proceeds the more tragic is the waste. Strikes in the universites, closures during which vast amounts of public money are wasted, the postponement of examinations, delays in admissions, are all symptoms of a situation in which public funds are squandered without proper accountability. The level of absenteeism in schools, the failure rates all over the country in the subjects most necessary for productive employment – English, Maths & Science – and the proliferation of tutories, all make clear the bankruptcy of the system. What is needed therefore is a conceptual change that recognizes that decisions need to be taken locally, with full accountability, rather than by a distant and detached bureaucracy.

The Liberal Party therefore advocates the following measures –

  1. A restructuring of the school system so as to make educational zones autonomous. Resources would be provided through the Provincial / Pradeshiya Sabha administration to allow self-sufficiency with regard to cadres, buildings, equipment and materials.
  2. School administrators to be given much wider financial powers, subject to accountability through the preparation of work plans and financial records, and to transparency before local school boards. They would be responsible for the maintenance of buildings and equipment, and would have effective decision making powers in areas of immediate concern to them.
  3. Each zone (or group of zones in a district) would be required to establish at least one state run English medium secondary school with admission based on performance at primary school. Private English medium schools would also be encouraged, with the proviso that a fixed number of places be made available to students on scholarship. Provinces will also be able to establish special schools for higher level training in particular subjects. Apart from the block grant as allocated by the Provincial Assembly, Provinces will be able to raise funds from aid agencies as well as by other means to develop educational facilities.
  4. Measures such as the above will be taken to include students of different races and religions in the same school. Where this is not possible, mechanisms will be developed whereby they can meet at extra classes and extra-curricular activities.
  5. Training of primary and secondary school teachers would be undertaken at Provincial level, subject to accreditation by the Centre. The Provinces may provide scholarships for teacher trainees, but employment would be on a competitive basis, with teachers able to shift between provinces on conclusion of their contracts.
  6. Library services would be made a priority, with provincial and local authorities required to provide students with a range of materials to encourage self-study, information gathering and project work.
  7. The basic curriculum for schools to be formulated at national level, with provinces allowed to adapt as appropriate and produce different materials. The final school leaving examination would be conducted nationally and test initiative and flexibility as well as core knowledge and competencies.
  8. A range of vocational training centres would be established at provincial level. These would also provide training in English, Accounts, Computing and Management. At the highest levels these institutions would be entitled to award degrees for such courses provided general training in academic subjects such as the above was also provided at standards acceptable to regular universities.
  9. The private sector would be encouraged to contribute to the development of educational facilities, subject to financial transparency and accountability, and the provision of a proportion of scholarships.
  10. While payment to teachers is inadequate at present, other conditions are not in the interests of students. Some teachers function for fewer than 150 days a year. Given also centralized recruitment procedures, a great deal of what should be school time is spent on travelling, before and after weekends or on official business. This is as unfair on the conscientious teachers as on the students. Conditions of employment should therefore be redrafted to ensure proper pay for proper work, with zones responsible for the recruitment of teachers under the supervision of the provincial authorities. A system of incentive payments based on results will also be introduced.
  11. The system of examinations and the release of results will be streamlined to avoid long periods in which students are left unoccupied. Admission to universities will take place within a year of the final school examination. During that period remedial teaching in subjects such as English and Maths will be provided in schools.
  12. Universities would be granted autonomy, with the University Grants Commission acting purely as a funding body. Funding to be based on criteria related to efficiency as well as the employability of graduates. Universities would have to function in accordance with a fixed calendar. Administration at universities will be rationalized to encourage efficiency, with teams of budget holders having local autonomy subject to regulations and accountability. Senior administrative posts will be filled by election of academic personnel, and decision making bodies at universities will be collegiate bodies made up of representatives of the various interests concerned.
  13. In addition to block grants from the UGC, universities would receive funding from provincial administrations in proportion to the number of students admitted from each province. Universities cited within any particular province may develop professional relationships with the provincial administration, though they shall not be subject to political controls. Universities will decide on admissions themselves, except that for professional courses such as medicine and engineering a centralized admissions policy will be administered by the UGC.
  14. The present grant received by students at university should be raised but rationalized to take the form of an interest free loan, repayable on attainment of appropriate employment. Universities will be responsible for such loans and, in order to receive funding for prevalent student numbers or to expand, will be required actively to assist students in finding employment.
  15. Private tertiary level institutions would be licensed, subject to monitoring procedures. They would be encouraged to offer sandwich and part-time courses, and to offer accreditation for students within the state system, so that interaction and interchange would take place.
  16. In-service training programmes will be conducted for school teachers at Provincial level and for University and other tertiary level staff at national level. Proficiency tests and interviews will be conducted at prescribed intervals, and increments and promotions will be subject to satisfactory performance at such.