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Sunday, 12 September 2010

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Knowledge is power:

Education the right of all

Knowledge is power which is derived from education. Education is an act or experience that has a formative effect on the mind, character or physical ability of an individual. In Sri Lanka parents invest on children by educating them. As a result education has become so competitive that there are instances where children attend private tuition classes day and night by making major contributions to the "Tuition Culture" created by overenthusiastic misguided parents duped by attractive advisement of errant tuition masters and their agents. Parents spend Rs. 5.8 billion per year for tuition alone making tuition masters millionaires.

Right and freedom to education is guaranteed by the Constitution in Sri Lanka and European Convention of Human Rights in addition to the international guarantee in Article 13 of the International Convention on Economics, Social and Cultural Rights. Free Education was initiated by Hon. C.W.W. Kannangara with the best of intentions for the benefit of the ordinary man. Free Education and "Swabhasha" policy certainly paved the way for the ordinary man to educate his children. Universal franchise was granted to Sri Lanka in 1931, and initial stages of free education in 1938 mooted by the then Minister of Education, C.W.W. Kannangara. University system in Sri Lanka dates back to 1921 when the University College affiliated to the University of London was established. Disparity continued as the English educated and children from privileged Government/private schools in Sri Lanka and abroad continued to provide the educated and the upper strata of the educated and powerful society. Therefore free education did not mean equality on education as the educated in control of the power was not necessarily from the masses. There was free education but not freedom of education in a chosen language and a chosen institution of one's choice.

University education

In Sri Lanka only a small fraction of the qualified students will be allowed to proceed to university education and 131,000 students pass,out of the 241,000 students who sit the A/L exam that is only 20% will get a place in a university, 10,000 will go abroad using our much needed foreign exchange to universities which are sub standard. Even at the end of university education, employment is not guaranteed. Dropouts that are nearly qualified find their way to universities abroad by spending billions of foreign exchange.

Around 7,000 students go out of the country for studies and the rest are liabilities as our education is not job-oriented. Parents mortgage or sell the entire wealth for tuition fees and other expenses and in many occasions they become prey to unregulated and errant immigration consultants and agents of foreign schools. One of the solutions is to equalise the opportunities by giving freedom of education to all by allowing private universities. Currently the majority of universities worldwide has branches in Sri Lanka via their agents and colleges.

There is no resistance for equality of education opportunities except from the JVP affiliated misguided student unions for personal reasons and sheer jealousy in the guise of saving free education. How could free education be affected by private universities? It will enhance free education by eliminating those who could afford in private universities allowing more intake for the less privileged in the State universities.

English language

English is a world language and a mode of power derived from the language ability spoken as well as written. Sometime ago it has been considered a tool of the upper class to be a part of the privileged society.

Today the vengeance against in the "Kaduwa" (English) has disappeared and there is a craze to learn English.

English is the link language and English medium classes are conducted in remote villages with the blessings of parents. Despite incompetent English tutors and so-called international schools spread over the island, the need and craze for English is ever growing. It has become a necessary tool for employment, higher education in Sri Lanka and abroad.

The English programs launched by the Presidential Secretariat and the schools programs at the British Council are commendable and has brought positive results proving English education too is essential.

The program English as a Lifeline still launched by the Presidential Secretariat is timely and effective and should be expanded. English is a fine language easy to learn. If one masters to handle and manage 200 words properly, it is ample to conduct affairs in English.

Language centres

There is a grave need to improve language education in Sri Lanka considering the economic benefits in the education and employment sector which brings the major income to the nation. Knowledge of Arabic will benefit the Middle East Employees remitting a sizeable part of the main income for the Government coffers. Chinese, Japanese, French, Spanish are other leading languages to learn and we suggest setting up an "International Language Centre" either in one of the universities or the Presidential Secretariat linked to the Centre for English as a Lifeline skill.

There was an era when foreigners came to Sri Lanka for education as the standard of education was high. Today we transmit billions of rupees into developed and underdeveloped countries for higher education of their children.

It is sad to note our students are sent to less developed countries not maintaining standards for higher studies spending enormous sums. This is a crime as we are equally or more competent to conduct our own universities better.

Do we really enjoy free education in Sri Lanka today? The answer is unclear. Parents spend the income and savings for tuition and higher studies investing in their children.

Higher Education Bill

At last it seems that we are in the correct tract. The Minister of Education has agreed that English Language should be given priority in education and as a link language and the Minister of Higher Education has agreed in principle setting up of private universities which is a long overdue requirement. These decisions should have been taken long ago, but it is never too late as the country has tacitly consented and encouraged both moves which are a very encouraging sign in the right direction. Improving the knowledge or the standard of a foreign language among our students is by no means disrespect or undermines our culture or education. It improves and enhances our culture and development by intermingling and assimilation of the knowledge of other great languages and cultures.

The Private and Higher Education Bill by the Minister of Higher Education is a long overdue matter which should be pursued with no delay. Professor Gamini Samaranayaka, the Chairman of the University Grants Commission has made a revolutionary statement that it is now necessary and inevitable to set up private universities. Minister Dissanayaka says that at the moment 78 foreign universities are functioning which are substandard and need regulation and monitoring.

The time is running out and the nation needs the drastic changes as a matter of urgency. The amount of national wealth drained out of the country and barriers for development in order to achieve the targets of the government and the President should be cleared forthwith. There is hardly any resistance for this process for which the academics, students and parents are awaiting to embrace as main recipients of the innovative and progressive educational reforms keeping pace with the modern trends and the needs of the nation.

Education in USA, UAE and UK

In the United Kingdom free education is available up to university level. Thereafter either the students should obtain a bank loan to be settled at a later stage in life or seek the help of parents. Others have ample avenues in technical colleges, trade, business and many other vocations. It is well planned and established. Every student is not seeking a place in a university. Education is linked to development. In the USA too the system is the same. In all the countries mentioned, university education and research is linked to development, companies, and government institutions linking research development and education. It is sad that our education is geared to produce arts graduates who are suited only for teaching. Their English and IT knowledge is minimal. Those who were given basic education in "International Schools" are able to find employment in the private sector when arts graduates waste their time years and years in job queues. Education should be linked to development, professional skills, agriculture and industrial development and advancement.

Medical colleges are linked to hospitals and in the same way agricultural and industrial related faculties should be linked to respective development projects. Japan spends large amounts on research and students. In Dubai, the Knowledge Village is open to the world Universities and the students all over the world for higher studies at a price. UAE is focusing on research and is moving steadily increasing the student intake.

In Dubai knowledge universities are being established as a multi university complex on 2.33 million square metres in the heart of the academic city in Dubai. "Jebal Ali" Free Zone in UAE has outlets of most leading companies and universities worldwide. It is easy to set up a company and an outlet in the Free Zone and Knowledge Village for any government or a private body. This is where we too could learn a lot from the 5th richest today, a desert full of camels 60 years ago. The Heritage Village opens out their history as a lesson and gratefulness for the vision of His Highness who brought the UAE to limelight.

This writer in the capacity of the Ambassador met the Minister of Education, Humaid Al Qutmai who holds a Masters Degree in Administration from Michigan University and holds various high positions in the government, to discuss matters of mutual interest including granting opportunities for Sri Lankans to learn Arabic Language and for the Police officers who cater to 250,000 Sri Lankans to learn Sinhala and Tamil and many other projects.

His Excellency is one who loves and admires Sri Lanka and Sri Lankans and indicated the intention to visit Sri Lanka for her beauty and natural and historical resources and to help us in various ways.

Wonder of Asia?

We have won the unwinnable war that engulfed our nation for three decades in a short span of three years with the determination and vision of President Mahinda Rajapaksa to whom the people of Sri Lanka has given a mandate to make Sri Lanka the Wonder of Asia.

We need power to achieve this goal through the power of education which is the centre of power. As mentioned at the outset knowledge is power and it is time for us to divert all our knowledge, education and resources in this direction.

The writer is an L.L.M. Solicitor and Ambassador for Sri Lanka in Saudi Arabia.

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