Sunday Observer Online   Ad Space Available Here  


Sunday, 10 February 2013





Marriage Proposals
Government Gazette

Nation building - the pressing need to revolutionise the education system

'While in Islamabad, I visited the Army Public Schools and Colleges System Secretariat (APSACS). It is something we should emulate, given the continuing crisis today in education, with any effort to promote excellence and education in the fullest sense of the word being defeated by vested interests.

APSACS runs 146 schools all over the country, including 21 in difficult remote areas. They cater to the children of officers as well as soldiers, and allow entry to civilians. The schools have become increasingly popular since they were set up, and cater now to over 134,000 students.

We did not think of this in the past because our basic schooling system was good, but now it does not allow children in rural areas the skills needed for the modern world, particularly in Maths, Science and English. The APSACS schools teach entirely in the English medium. They prepare children for national examinations, but go beyond this where possible, with an emphasis on extra-curricular activities as well as Information Technology (IT).

They also solve the problem of teacher shortages by running training programs themselves, refresher as well as certificate and Diploma courses.

Political compulsions

I believe such a system could be replicated on a larger scale in Sri Lanka. Unfortunately, though no one else has the experience or skills in education, political compulsions mean that I cannot help in the general education system. I could, however, help with establishing a similar directorate for the forces, that could also then help transform the general system.

Two other areas where we could follow the Pakistani example are with regard to Vocational Training, and Cadet Schools.

The army has a couple of Vocational Training institutes of its own to cater to soldiers who will be retiring. It also runs Provincial Training Institutes for the various provincial governments, catering to civilians as well as military personnel. This system could be started on an experimental basis in Sri Lanka in selected districts that do not now have training centres. Cadet Schools are those which take youngsters around age 14 and train them for public examinations and also for possible careers in the forces.

Though stress is on officer material, these could also benefit those in remote areas who wish to join as privates, but do not otherwise have the required educational and personality qualifications.

Those I spoke to said the scheme is useful in areas of insurgency, to encourage bright youngsters to join the forces. They noted that this was what the British had done, and they should have done this sooner. It will certainly be useful for us in areas in the North and East where we need to develop public involvement in government institutions.

Team work

I believe, for Sri Lanka, such training will help in developing future public administrators, since the current education system does not provide training in innovation, team work and reporting that are needed.'

I am convinced that our current system is inflicting misery on students and disaster on the country and that remedial action is an urgent necessity. Since I came back from Pakistan I have been confronted, in the various Divisional Secretariats where I have attended Reconciliation Committee meetings, with a new phenomenon, namely hundreds of graduates who have been recruited simply to provide them with jobs.

Sri Lanka must be the only country which offers free education from primary level to university, and then has to create jobs for the products of this system because they are otherwise unemployable. So, we have already over-worked Divisional Secretaries spending their time finding work for the unemployed graduates who have been sent to them, and who are now determined to be given permanent employment, with little concern for what they might do and how they might develop the skills to do this properly.

There are cadre vacancies in essential positions in the government service, such as Women Development Officers and Child Protection Officers, but we have not thought of training programs to equip our graduates to fit into these positions or seek professional development, rather than just a salaried sinecure. I am confronted also with endless complaints about teacher shortages in essential subjects. Most recently, in Kantale, a mother explained that her children had to go to Advanced Level classes in Kurunegala or Anuradhapura because they were the nearest places where decent teaching was available. She was complaining not only because of the time and money wasted in having to travel so far, but also because of the social problems that arise because of the associations made at tuition classes and the opportunities for escaping the classes and indulging in the associations.

I am astonished that the government does not realise the damage done to youngsters by what seems a compulsion to spend a good proportion of their adolescence at tutories. Unfortunately, we hide problems and hope they will go away - or like ostriches we bury our heads in the sand and hope that, because we do not see problems, they have ceased to exist. I gather there were 3,500 teenage pregnancies in the Greater Colombo last year, and 35 in one particular school. I hope I am wrong, but my source is a reliable one, and the information was traced back to the Department of Social Services.

Efficient school

Coincidentally, shortly after the meeting at Kantale I met the Principal of Agrabodhi Vidyalaya, where I had run a pre-University General English Language Training Centre in the nineties, and which I had then thought a reasonably efficient school. But he told me that there had been nothing but decline since, understandably perhaps in the conflict period, but surely requiring rapid remedial action now. Unfortunately, this is not forthcoming, and our rural children, Sinhala and Tamil and Muslim, all continue to suffer.

There are exceptions, but we should not leave this to chance, the possibility that a dedicated teacher might be posted to a rural school and stay there, that a principal with capacity and courage will stay long enough in a rural area and be permitted to raise standards, that a Divisional or Zonal Education Officer will be aware of the need for holistic education and ensure extra-curricular activities instead of looking simply at examination results - results, I should note, that have become increasingly unreliable in the last few years, with endless leaks from tutories that seem to have taken full charge now of education in Sri Lanka.

The sheer horror of what happened at the last GCE Ordinary Level examination is still under wraps, and may continue that way given the disproportionate influence exercised by the tuition industry, but if the Government continues to tolerate this, it may as well close down schools and allow the tutories to take over - and they will naturally cease to spend time and money in teaching, when finding out the papers and disseminating them for one off payments is surely a more efficient use of their time and resources in a society that privileges money and paper qualifications.

No alternative

You can see then why I see no alternative to ensure reform except the involvement of the military. I will doubtless then be accused of encouraging militarisation, but that will be because those who will use any stick to beat the Government, and intelligent supporters of the Government, do not understand what militarisation means.

Unfortunately, those countries that use the military for many purposes encourage such usages, and the Government has hardly anyone with the intelligence or the capacity to respond forcefully, and with citation of appropriate examples from international practice, to rebut such charges. Militarisation in the negative sense means a takeover of decision making by the military, and the entrenchment of military controls. It does not mean instances in which the military, while subject to civilian regulations, contributes to the welfare of citizens. Cadet schools and other military training institutions that give much sought after places to civilians are found all over the world.

To cite an example I have always found ironic, even while we were being attacked by elements in the British Foreign Office during the dark Miliband days, the military attaché at their High Commission in Colombo was arranging courses for military officers to be trained in Disaster Management.And, perhaps most tellingly, we are accused of militarisation because the Governors of the North and East are former military officers. But they have retired, and using retired officers of proven administrative capacity happens all over the world - including in Israel, that darling of the Western World, whose every excess is excused on the grounds that they must all means at hand, and others that their devoted friends will give them, to defend themselves from terrorism.

To be continued



Destiny Mall & Residency
KAPRUKA - Valentine's Day Gift Delivery in Sri Lanka
Donate Now |
LANKAPUVATH - National News Agency of Sri Lanka
Telecommunications Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka (TRCSL)

| News | Editorial | Finance | Features | Political | Security | Sports | Spectrum | Montage | Impact | World | Obituaries | Junior |


Produced by Lake House Copyright © 2013 The Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd.

Comments and suggestions to : Web Editor