Enter, the Smart Schools
Education Ministry goes beyond the elite school
circle in a new ‘equaliser’ program :
For a country already awash with ‘smart’ phones, the development of
‘smart schools’ islandwide may seem only an extension of the idea. The
Minister of Education, Akila Viraj Kariyawasam, is determined that it
should be much more. He wants to improve conditions and facilities in
State schools across the country so that a much bigger choice of schools
are available for children climbing the education ladder.
Today many parents and educationists complain that the skewed
maintenance of school facilities see a few elite schools in urban areas
receiving much investment for upgrade to ‘national’ school status, while
literally thousands of schools, especially in the remote areas, remain
with barely minimum facilities and weak teaching capacities.
Overall, this disparity of status between schools reflects the
disparity in economic life in the population and the reduced access to
quality education that separates the poor children from their richer
Minister Kariyawasam has now introduced a new concept known as ‘The
nearest is the best school’ for the benefit of new generation of
students. He says his concept aims at providing equal education
opportunity for all students. The concept is implemented by the Ministry
of Education through the ‘Nearest is the Best School’ Program office.
According to the program staff, as a step of implementation, two
schools have been chosen from each division. The Zonal Educational
Offices are given the responsibility to carry out the project by
evaluating the selected schools. Accordingly, there are 607 schools
selected for this purpose. These schools will be developed with all
required facilities as in leading schools and will be known as “smart
The entire school network will be re-structured to enable an
increasing number of schools reach the proposed ‘smart school’ standard.
The necessary facilities and all three language streams will be
introduced up to the G.C.E. Advance Level classes.
The final goal is to ensure that children are provided with equal
education opportunities. The Education Ministry believes that this
program will relieve the current stress faced by parents in selecting
the ‘best’ school for their children. At the same time, it will ease the
overcrowding in those few schools currently listed as ‘best.’
In the second stage, depending on the demand in each area, the number
of schools selected for upgrade in each Division will be increased up to
three. Information and Communication Technology will be introduced to
those ‘smart schools’ in order to increase the quality of education. The
students will be given an opportunity to select English or Tamil
language from Grade VI and one sports school will be introduced in each
education zone. The other features of the new program include science
laboratories, standardized three-storied buildings that would
accommodate a range of facilities such as aesthetics teaching,
auditorium and canteen, principal’s official residence, teachers’
accommodation, playground, sports grounds and a swimming pool.
A staff training program will be introduced and the principals and
teachers will be offered foreign training and named as ‘smart teachers’
and ‘smart principals.’
In order to administer the smart schools, facilities will be
installed to enable computer-based administration with an e-office,
e-library, e-evaluation and planning and research work.
The budget allocated for the first year of the project is a
staggering Rs.48 billion, according to the Education Ministry. A parent
from Gampaha, Fathima Azeez, said: “As parents, we heave a sigh of
relief knowing that the Ministry of Education envisions a project of
this nature – where the closest school will be considered the best
school. I welcome the project, but the inconsistencies in the past, such
as the uniform voucher initiative, make me doubtful.”
She said that the current mad race to send students to the most
popular schools (most of which are in Colombo, Kandy, Galle and Matara)
needs to end. This can be done if the closest schools are developed. “It
is a very simple strategy. The Ministry will need an elaborate plan and
a monitoring mechanism.”
According to M.J.M Hijas, Principal, Al- Manar National School,
Handessa, in Kandy, many students leave their local schools and rush to
join prestigious ‘city schools’ to have access to better facilities,
such as swimming pools, large classrooms and playgrounds.
Students have to dabble in extra-curricular activities because the
formal curriculum alone at cannot meet the needs of the job market. In
addition, the name of a child’s school affects the future career. The
private sector gives preference to recruits from elite schools.
“There are a small number of elite schools in cities in which large
numbers of children have enrolled. The diversification of schools of
quality will reduce such traffic flows, reducing road hazards for
children,” he said. At the same time, children who travel by vehicles
have breathing diseases such as asthma due to overexposure to air
pollution, a serious health concern,” he noted.
Hijas also noted that the ‘chosen’ schools in the Denuwara Zone for
this project (Uda Aludeniya Vidyalaya, Weligalla and Sri Pancharathna
Vidyalaya), excluded Tamil medium schools. “That’s discriminatory,” he
According to M.A.F Nuha, a teacher, the affection between the mother
and the child declined when the child is sent to a school far away from
home. This could be minimised if children are sent to nearby schools.
The most discussed issue in today’s world is child abuse.
It is hoped that, eventually, this school development program will
provide children with greater protection and that the parents will have
more time to spend with them, she said.
“Once the village students are sent to town schools, often they do
not get the opportunity to show their talents as they are socially
marginalised by the town children. They will not have enough time to
spend on their hobbies and will naturally not be very successful in
their careers,” she added.
Another teacher, Dhehura Beebi, noted that the nutrition level of a
child could drop due to lack of supervision. She said: “Parents must
bear in mind that health counts a lot in the education of a child. It is
easier to keep in touch with the school administration and teachers if
the child is studying in a nearby school.”
According to Dhiyana, a secondary school teacher, the output of the
teachers too will increase if the teachers are given appointments to
“When teachers travel from a long distance, the maximum teaching
outcome cannot be achieved. Teachers too will work happily to develop
their local schools, if this concept takes root,” she said.
Naturally, not everyone was happy with the new initiative.
Dhammi Abeysinghe, a teacher from the Kandy Girls’ High School, said
that the intended policy is a solution to the current demand to have
children admitted to popular schools. “This is a policy that is
implemented in developed countries. Policy makers should be cautious
when introducing new systems to prevent children from being victims of
‘educational experiments,’” she warned.
Every Divisional Secretariat area is to have two to three smart
schools. Does renaming ensure improvement? If foreign training is
provided to principals and teachers of a select number of smart schools,
what will happen to the other schools?
They will fall by the way side,” she critiqued. According to B. A.
Abeyratne, Principal, Royal College, Colombo, the new concept seeks to
introduce some equity. “It will eventually pave the way to end
discrimination between popular and less fortunate schools. The best way
is to develop the existing schools,” he said.
He noted that some schools in villages are abandoned as most of the
children are sent to town schools. “This is a strong step in the right
direction. Identifying the less developed schools and trying to develop
them is timely.”
New programs don’t necessarily mean success, specially when old
initiatives have proved less than successful, according to Secretary,
All Ceylon Teachers Union, Joseph Stalin.
“President Chandrika Kumaratunga had the ‘Navodaya School’ project.
Susil Premajayantha had ‘Isuru Pasal’ while Bandula Gunawardane had
‘Secondary Schools.’ Now we have the ‘nearest is the best school’
project. The question is: How far did they go?” He questioned the
prudence in developing a few schools, adding to the existing
disparity.Stalin also said, the first step should be to assess the
previous projects. “There are over than 10,000 schools in Sri Lanka.
Where is the guarantee that this project would work when all else
failed,” he asked.