Sinhala  Tamil    Seperate    
Governtment of Sri Lanka

The Care of Children 1 - Children’s Homes - 20 Oct 2012

A few months back, at the suggestion of the Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies, we arranged consultations on Human Rights at the Reconciliation Office. The invitees were a number of governmental and non-governmental agencies that had significant roles or interests, and the discussions proved extremely productive.
This preparation was helpful when the Minister in charge of the Inter-Ministerial Committee on the National Human Rights Action Plan appointed me to convene the Task Force he established to expedite activity in this regard. Though we have no powers, the discussions we held have shown both the keenness of most government institution to move forward, and the need for better coordination to ensure productive action.

Meanwhile we continued with informal consultations so as to get maximum input from the non-governmental sector too. But partnership with relevant government agencies is however essential to promote both understanding and action, and I have been deeply impressed by the systematic way in which several agencies have laid out current positions and steps they are taking to improve the services available.

The Care of Children 2 - Protecting Children brought before the Courts - 26 Oct 2012

Following the consultation at which the Probation Department produced an illuminating note about Children’s Homes, members of the contract group worked out suggestions to prevent what might be termed SECONDARY VICTIMISATION OF children brought before the courts. Though procedures have been laid down, they are often observed in the breach, as with the failure to specify and enforce limitations on those deemed to need care and protection.
This is unfortunately not unique in Sri Lanka for similar things happen with regard in general to those who are remanded, and in particular women arrested under the grotesquely outdated Vagrant’s Ordinance. This has been noted and a few years back reports were commissioned to proceed with reforms. But not all the reports were handed in, and they seemed to have been long forgotten, when we brought the matter up at the Parliamentary Consultative Committee.
One report that had been completed, characteristically, was that of ShiraneeTilekawardene, and it made some excellent recommendations with regard to children. However, again perhaps characteristically, it has not been acted upon systematically, one excuse given being that the Ministry was waiting for all the reports to come in.

The Care of Children 3 - Children’s Clubs - 1 Nov 2012

While going through the schedule of projects implemented by Non-Governmental Organizations in the north, in terms of the task I was given of coordinating assistance to make it more effective, I found a number of different projects to establish Children’s Clubs, with a sum of Rs 1000 granted for each Club. I was surprised by this, and even more surprised when I found that the Divisional Secretaries concerned had no idea about these allocations.
However, following a helpful report I received from the Divisional Secretary of the Vavuniya Town Division, I asked others too for records of Children’s Clubs in their areas, and found that a number had been set up. I also found errorneous my initial assumption that the projects were not very coherent, and could not serve any great purpose. I had asked Save the Children, which had been instrumental in developing one Project to establish Children’s Clubs, for details, and received a very clear exposition of the initiative. While clearly there needed to be better liaison with the Divisional Secretaries, this had in fact been envisaged in the Project, as was clear in the note Save the Children submitted on the subject, making clear how important the concept was. 
Most of what follows is taken from that note, which Save the Children, which had been the international NGO Representative on the Civil Society Partners for Reconciliation that has been meeting in my office over the last year, kindly supplied at my request. It was entitled Children as Agents for Change which indicates the importance of providing space for children to enjoy themselves whilst also learning to take on responsibilities and care for their own lives. 

The Care of Children 4 - Children’s Clubs and the role of Schools - 11 Nov 2012

The note that Save the Children kindly prepared for me on Children’s Clubs also noted the Objectives of the National Children’s Council, viz
  • To promote the discipline, protection, development and participation of Sri Lankan children
  • To ensure that Sri Lankan children  are equipped with creative skills and would shoulder the national development.
  • To create a patriotic, morally sound, healthy and joyful generation of children.
While this may seem a catch all process, the note went on to say that ‘Children representing the National Children’s Council have also been consulted on various  issues that affect all Sri Lankan children  such as physical and humiliating punishment  and violence against children both at national and international levels. 
A Report on children’s clubs is being prepared by the DPCS  to be presented to  parliament in a bid to ensure all children’s clubs in the country are registered under the Divisional Secretary and the Child Rights Promotion Officers will have a overview of all clubs in the division. 
Children promoting and Protecting Child Rights 
‘Following the signing and ratification of the UNCRC by the Government of Sri Lanka in 1991, many organizations  supported the government’s responsibility of making the UNCRC known to children and adults. Information about children’s rights were disseminated through children’s clubs. Subsequently some children started peer to peer promotion as well as protection of rights of their friends, turning their CCs to Rights Based Child Clubs.’
The note mentions the work of three agencies, beginning with Worldvision Lanka -
‘Worldvision has over 900 child societies spread across all our programme areas with over 55,000 children who are active members. Its Director Advocacy says that of all the activities of World Vision, Child Societies is the most popular among children. Children learn about their rights and duties and learn new values and life skills. In here there is space for every child to express their opinion, develop their talents, support each other and be empowered. Isolated children find friends, backward children discover hidden talents and they are moulded to become confident leaders of tomorrow.

The Care of Children 5 - Supplying teachers to rural schools: the need for alternative systems of training and deployment - 18 Nov 2012

I have been deeply upset in recent months, at meetings of Divisional Secretariat Reconciliation Committee meetings in the North, at the continuing failure to address the problem of teacher shortages in key subjects. While there is heartening appreciation of the rebuilding of schools, at much better levels than ever before, I am constantly told that there are insufficient teachers for English and Maths and Science. Of course I know this is a problem elsewhere in the country too, but that is no excuse. Given that it is those in rural communities who suffer most, I can only hope that those concerned with basic rights will at some stage institute legal action to ensure equity in education, and force government to look at alternative systems of teacher training and teacher supply, instead of sticking with the statist centralized model that has so signally failed for so long.
Significantly, I am rarely told about shortages of teachers for computing, but this does not mean that they are available. This was brought home to me graphically when I was discussing plans for use of some of my decentralized budget for education in Rideegama in Kurunagala. While I have over the last few years used part of the budget in the North, for entrepreneurship training for former combatants and this year for Vocational Training in Mullaitivu, and the rest in Ratnapura, where we concentrated on school education and English, I thought I should also do  more further afield, given that the Liberal Party has a couple of Pradeshiya Sabha members in Rideegama.
I had wanted to do English classes, and these will now be conducted in three GN divisions, through the Sabaragamuwa English Language Teaching Department, which had done the teacher training in Sabaragamuwa. But to my surprise I was also asked for computer training, in particular for Ordinary Level students, since there are hardly any computer teachers in the schools in the area.

The Care of Children 6 - The need for leisure - 25 Nov 2012

In the few weeks he has been in office, the new Secretary to the Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Empowerment has shown himself as concerned as his predece

ssor to promote the rights as well as the interests of those entrusted to the care of his Ministry. He is also concerned with the wider dimensions of his responsibilities, as was seen when he decided to institute a campaign to ensure Sufficient Leisure for Children.

This was based on a focus area in the National Human Rights Action Plan which we had not concentrated on in discussions of the Task Force, concentrating instead on what seemed more vital issues such as the prevention of abuse. But the Secretary is of course quite right to look at all aspects, and in particular to worry about the ‘holistic development of children’ which is now adversely affected because of educational overload.

I am not certain however about one point in the directive he sent to senior officials of the Ministry to prepare ‘an enabling environment for children to enjoy leisure’. Amongst areas in which he sees overload are extra-curricular activities. My recent investigation during Divisional Secretariat Reconciliation Committee meetings of what goes on in schools in the regions suggests however that the real problem is the lack of extra-curricular activities. 
On August 24th the Secretary to the Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Affairs held a consultation on children’s issues which brought together the various agencies working on the subject in his Ministry, together with representatives of the Ministry of Justice and the Attorney General’s Department and the police, as well as some Non-Governmental Organizations that have contributed significantly to the promotion of the Rights and the Welfare of Children.
The purpose was better coordination, and the meeting followed on a request the Secretary had sent to his counterpart in Public Administration, requesting that he ask Divisional Secretaries to set up a Unit in each Division for Women’s and Children’s Affairs to ensure more coherent action. He noted there the various officials dedicated to this purpose, which include Women Development Officers, Child Rights Protection Officers, and Early Childhood Development Officers responsible to his Ministry. Others concerned with the issue include officials of the National Child Protection Authority, also under his Ministry, and Probation Officers who function under Provincial Ministries. The Unit would also need the close cooperation of officers from the Women and Children’s Desks that the Police have now established nationwide, effectively as far as the North is concerned, though I cannot speak for other areas. 
One of the decisions made at the Consultation was that clear job descriptions should be drawn up for all these officials, to ensure comprehensive coverage of all areas whilst avoiding overlaps. At the same time it was noted that ensuring comprehensive coverage at all levels would require a division of responsibilities on a geographical basis, with one officer monitoring activities in a particular area and reporting on these to colleagues.

The Care of Children 8 - Pre-Schools - 03 Dec 2012

The topic of education comes up at almost all Reconciliation Committee meetings at Divisional Secretariat level. I wondered whether this was because I am still thought of as an Educationist, but I suspect those who come to these meetings have no idea about my range of experience at all levels, and talk about education simply because they see a good education as vital for their children.
They are absolutely right, and the dedication of the many educationists who established excellent schools in many parts of Sri Lanka in the 19th century, the recognition by Buddhist and Hindu and Muslim social activists that they had to start their own schools, and then the comprehensive scheme developed by C W W Kannangara, did much to ensure social mobility for all segments of society. 
Sadly, when the commitment of both state and the private non-profit sector to supply a good education turned into the establishment of a state monopoly, a rot set in. The state simply could not supply enough, and maintain high quality, so we now have the ludicrous situation of additional supply being provided by international schools and by tutories. Unfortunately our doctrinaire statists object to the former, and allow the latter full rein, even though they disrupt the school system even more destructively, given that many school teachers give tuition and expect their students to come to their classes to get what is not given in school.
The international schools at least have some assessable commitment to standards, for they enter students for exams and have to show results – though I gather that, in some of these schools, the tuition culture has now set in and those who pay large sums for their schooling officially also fork out more for private tuition. In the case of the tutories there is no objective standard to judge impact, though of course they claim that they are able to get good results at public examinations. Unfortunately recent experience has suggested that these results sometimes spring from the corruption that has now permeated even the Examinations Department, which for decades was free of any suspicions in this regard.

The Care of Children 9 - The lack of guidance or alternatives - 10 Dec 2012

A friend from England who was visiting recently was surprised when someone of the same age, with a son doing O/Levels, just as her daughter is, was not deeply concerned about what the youngster would do next. I thought her concern excessive, until it struck me that Sri Lankans living in Colombo are as concerned as she is about the educational prospects of their children. It is the rural folk who think less about the matter.
Obviously this is not because they are less concerned about what their children will do. Rather, it is because there is no point in thinking. In the vast majority of rural areas, there are simply no alternatives for the children. They have to go through the school system for what it is worth, many of them without opportunity to do well in Maths or Science, so that they would have options as to careers. 
So they strive desperately to do well in their O/Levels, with the sole aim of going through to the next step on the ladder, which is A/Levels. Here life is even more competitive, and they strive even harder, with hours spent travelling to and from tuition classes where such are available (and sometimes whole days over the weekend spent in those classes) to qualify for university

The Care of Children 10 - Army support for rural education - 12 Dec 2012

In considering the crisis that has hit our education system so comprehensively in the last few months, I have begun to wonder whether we have not been the victims of our own success. We were doing extremely well with regard to mass education when we got independence 64 years ago, in part because of Kannangara’s visionary reforms, but also because he had a high standard to aim at through the private and public schools that were flourishing at the time - thanks to Anglican missionaries, Catholic educationists, and determined Buddhist and Hindu and Muslim social visionaries led by Colonel Olcott.
So we rested on our laurels, and thought the percentages in the education system, and our literacy rates, fantastic, and particularly so with regard to girls. We were far ahead of not only other South Asian countries in this regard, but of most Asian countries too. And though many have overtaken us, and the others are catching up, we still feel complacent.
The effect our initial success may have had came home to me when, in Islamabad recently, I was given a presentation on the system they have developed by the Pakistan Army Public Schools & Colleges Secretariat. They started by telling me that the army had decided to set up schools way back in the seventies because, in may areas in which they had stations, there were no good schools. Indeed in some areas there were no schools at all.

The Care of Children 11 - The Parliamentary Consultative Committee on Educational Reform - 19 Dec 2012

As indicated in the suggestions I advanced in these columns for Parliamentacy Reform, I had had no great regard for Parliamentary Consultative Committees as they function now, because they rarely contribute to policy making, which should be one of their prime concerns. An exception initially seemed to be the Education Committee, which way back in 2010 began to consider the suggestions for educational reform that had been drawn up by a committee appointed for this purpose by the previous Minister.
Unfortunately, though initially the Committee attracted enthusiastic participation from several Members of Parliament, this tailed off as more and more stakeholders were brought to the Committee, essentially to say the same thing – that the situation was dire, and what had existed in their times was much better. The points made were usually admirable, but the Consultative Committee was not the place for them. They should have been asked to send in brief notes, and if necessary expand on them to the original committee, while a synthesis could have been presented to the Parliamentary Committee.
The Committee seemed by the end of the year to have meandered into nothingness, when it was given a new lease of life by the appointment of Mr Grero to monitor the work of the Ministry. He managed to synthesize very effectively, and a series of further meetings took place earlier this year, though unfortunately I could attend few of them because of other commitments.
There also seemed to be some confusion about giving us notice of these meetings, though I thought initially that perhaps I had been remiss in not noting down dates. However last week I was informed that the decisions had been finalized, and a consolidated draft had been sent to members for written responses, with a deadline of September 4th. I was told that no Members had responded.

The Care of Children 12 - Stakeholder Consultation on the Development and Protection of Children

Last week saw an extremely productive consultation on promoting the Rights of Children. Organized by the Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies, as decided at the meetings we have been holding over the last several months to better understand the problems and possible interventions, it was presided over by the Secretary to the Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Affairs. 
In addition to officials from different branches of his Ministry, we also had excellent input from the Ministry of Health, which is especially important given the gaps in the provision of psycho-social support nationwide that we need to fill. While delivery will have to be through various agencies – school counselors that the Ministry of Education appoints, Probation Officers appointed by the Provinces, Social Service Officers appointed by that Ministry – we obviously need better coordination as well as training, and this can best be provided by the Ministry of Health.
We also had representation from the Ministry of Social Services. The Secretary had not been able to attend, which was in part our fault because it was only after the meeting had been arranged that we realized the importance of her presence too. But she was enormously cooperative when we met her and, though committed to a visit to Japan – which is a model that we should aim at in the care it provides for the vulnerable – she has agreed to pursue cooperation in this field on her return.
In particular we hope that it will be possible for officials of that Ministry too to be part of the Women and Children’s Units that this Ministry will be setting up in Divisional Secretariats with the support of the Ministry of Public Administration. I am astonished at the speed with which this idea, floated only a few weeks back by the Minister and the Secretary, has been adopted, but I know that Public Administration too is seeking to improve efficiency, and this type of consolidation with clear goals for discrete units will certainly help

The Care of Children 13 - Transport for Children - 26 Dec 2012

At the debate on the FUTA demands arranged a couple of weeks back by Eran Wickramaratne, perhaps the most telling complaint made by the FUTA head was about children in a distant village clustering in droves before dawn to get the bus to a school far away. That anecdote seemed to have nothing to do with the FUTA strike, though it should have been if the demand for 6% of GDP being spent on education was about results, rather than simply sloganeering. The failure to respond at all coherently to Eran’s simple question, what should be done with the 6%, made it clear that policy changes which would lead to a better education system for all was not part of the agenda. 
This was sad, because I am sure that some at least of those leading the strike are idealists, not concerned with the massive pay hikes that are being demanded on top of already large salaries. But the failure to analyse the root causes in the decline of our education system that they have highlighted, and to suggest radical reforms that ensure greater accountability, simply plays into the hands of those in the government sector who are satisfied with the status quo. I assume therefore that the strike will soon be settled, with yet another salary hike on top of all those the current government has granted so readily over the last few years, with no effort to deal with the problems of children forced to travel endlessly, to distant schools and to tuition classes, to make up for the failure of government to provide decent schools even in small towns, let alone in villages. 
One of the reasons for this failure is the absence of coordination between the providers of the various services essential to a society committed to equal opportunities. Sadly it has not yet registered with our decision makers that good transport facilities are an essential component of a just society. It is useless providing schools and hospitals unless access to them is easy.
In the North it seems to me, from complaints at the various Divisional Secretariat Reconciliation Committee meetings I have attended over the last few months, that the biggest problem is with regard to transport. Of course there are complaints with regarding to housing and electricity and roads and irrigation, but in all these cases there is general agreement that the situation is much better than it was a couple of years ago, and also that it is steadily improving. While there is a case for ensuring more responsive planning, and better systems of information so that the people know when they can expect relief, I have also found that people appreciate what is being done, and that everything cannot be provided at once for everyone.

The Care of Children 14 - Formulating Policy, Ensuring Practice - 28 Dec 2012

The more one studies the 13th amendment to the Constitution, the more one realizes how completely potty it is. I am not sure though whether this lunacy is entirely the fault of J R Jayewardene, even though I have little doubt that his is the primary responsibility for the failure to consider principles at all in formulating legislation, and indeed policies in general. Highlighting process rather than principle however has been a feature of most constitutions based on the British model, perhaps because the British never had a Constitution, and have muddled along on the basis of practicality.
The particular genius of the British is that they did very well on that basis. Others came a cropper however when they tried to emulate them, which is why countries like ours should have rather studied the American Constitution. That was based on the most enlightened political principles, albeit at a time when social equity was not as well developed a concept as it became after industrialization.
The guiding principle of the American Constitution was that power should be limited to the purposes for which power is legitimately exercised. By legitimately is meant the promotion of the interests of the people, since it was at that period that the idea first developed, after Greek and Roman Republic times, that the state belonged to the people, rather than to a monarch. Thus the American Constitution sits well with the principle of subsidiarity, which is that power should be exercised in any particular respect by the smallest group affected by that power, to the extent that its exercising such power should not adversely affect others

At the meeting last week of the Mutur Divisional Reconciliation Committee meeting, the Chairman of the Mediation Board reminded me of a suggestion made by the school principals I met during my last visit to Mutur. This was in 2008, while the conflict in the North still raged, but the East was limping back to normality.
The principals were from a Muslim school, a small Tamil school and a very small Sinhala school, all of which suffered from teacher shortages. They asked with one voice why they could not have a single English medium school. Not only would that bring the children of a very fractured area together, it would give them all chances of a better future. 
I pointed this out in a letter to the Ministry. I went further and indicated how it would help government by reducing costs, since far fewer teachers would be needed for one school than for three, each with few students. The teacher shortages endemic in a distant place like Mutur could also thus be reduced, with less headache for education officials who would have to fill up fewer cadres.
The Ministry did not deign to reply. In discussion I have been told, when urging that English medium be made available more widely, given the tremendous demand there is for it all over the country, that there are not enough teachers. No efforts have been made however to increase the supply of English medium teachers, or to think of new ways of producing them.
A group that was set up by the Reconciliation Office, to promote Reconciliation, Education And Peace, wrote to the President offering to help. The group consists of individuals concerned with education in schools founded by religious organizations. Obviously many ideas are provided by the Catholic Church, which has done so much for education in Sri Lanka, but we also have representatives of Buddhist and Hindu and Muslim schools, as well as the Warden of S. Thomas’. 
The group was hosted by Thilak Karunaratne, who had provided many ideas to the Parliamentary Consultative Committee on Education, on behalf of the Old Boys of Ananda College. He is part of a network that encompasses other Olcott schools, which were the main instrument of the development of a national system of education that aimed at high standards of a universal nature. 
Javid Yusuf contributed to the deliberations and the letter to the President on behalf of Muslim educationists. He has been Principal of Zahira, in addition to all his other contributions to national and social wellbeing, which led to his recently receiving a Sahabdeen Award for sustained achievements. Hindu denominational education was represented by Mrs Duraiswamy, who also arranged a well attended meeting at Hindu Ladies College to promote twinning with less fortunate schools in the North

In a week of much depressing news, perhaps the most depressing was that presented under what seemed intended to be a triumphant headline. The headline read ‘President resolves Uswewa Junior School teacher shortage’, and the story was about how the President took steps to fill teacher vacancies in a Junior School in the Hambantota District. 
Children from that school had been at Temple Trees, and one enterprising student had complained that there were no teachers for English or Science subjects. The President had directed the student to complain to the Southern Province Minister of Education and then issued orders to the Minister to take immediate steps to fill teacher vacancies in the school. 
Assuming that teachers have now gone to the school, and will stay there, we should rejoice at the news. Any step to improve the education provided to children anywhere is a positive measure. But it is clearly completely unacceptable that there should be teacher shortages that can be resolved only if a child happens to be at Temple Trees and complains to the President.
Shortages of English and Science and also Maths teachers are endemic in the country at large. I have noted week after week that this is a constant complaint of the people who come to Reconciliation meetings at Divisional Secretariats in the North and East. Principals – like the Principal of the Uswewa School – have complained to Education Directors, but nothing has happened. There have been schemes to recruit volunteers – and I should note that both Governors have understood the problem and tried to solve it – but these have run into snags. 
In despair I have suggested to the parents that they should send petitions to the President drawing his attention to the situation. I did this some time back, and mentioned it again in Morawewa when a dedicated principal raised the problem of a Maths teacher. It is clear that officials do not listen to principals, and it is only the President who can ensure action.
An important item on the legislative agenda over the last few years has been a change to the 1939 Children and Young Persons Ordinance. A few years back, when Milinda Moragoda was Minister of Justice, he had asked for reports in various areas where it seemed justice was not being served. Not all the committees appointed have reported as yet, and there seems to have been little concern to expedite these. However, the indefatigable Shirani Thilakawardhana headed the committee asked to report on children, and she did a typically thorough job. 
Unfortunately in the silly way we sometimes function, it seemed to have been decided to do nothing till all the reports were in, and so the proposed amendments have not yet come to Parliament. However the new Secretary to the Ministry of Justice understood the urgency of going ahead, and got comments from various urgencies, and has sent now sent what should be a final draft to the Ministry of Child Development for taking forward.
The new draft is certainly an advance on what we had before, and if we cannot improve on it soon, we should go ahead with it anyway, simply to get rid of provisions for caning, and the generally punitive approach taken 70 years ago to children in need. However it would be best if we had some intense consultation and produced something better, since this would also help with introducing some general principles with legislation. 

I have been wondering for some time about whether this column should also deal with the problems of university students. Last week, having found myself by far the oldest among the Sri Lankan delegates to a Conference on Indo-Sri Lankan relations held at Osmania University, and older too than most of the Indian participants, I realized I had to accept I was clearly of an age to think of university students, and indeed many lecturers, as children in need of care. 
This feeling was exacerbated by the excellence of the presentations by the younger participants at the Conference. Whilst some older lecturers seemed to content themselves with jargon, the session I chaired had two very bright girls from Jawaharlal Nehru University who produced excellent and very practical papers on the Sri Lankan diaspora. They however were postgraduates, and from a place I have long known as a centre of excellence, admission to which is highly competitive. To my surprise they were equaled by two undergraduates from Patna University, who did a precise and well argued presentation on Indo-Sri Lankan trade relations.
I cannot imagine many Sri Lankan students doing as well. This is not because they are not equally capable. The problem is that we hardly stretch them, with many lecturers in many departments thinking that reading out notes to be copied constitutes teaching. 

The President’s Budget Speech had a lot of innovative suggestions about education. This is just as well, for this is an area in which we must move swiftly, if we are to reap the full fruits of development.
A balanced but trenchant criticism I heard recently of current economic policies is that, while infrastructure has been developed effectively, human resource development has lagged behind. That must be remedied for we must ensure equality of opportunity, even while promoting the private sector as the engine of growth. 
In this regard, the example of the Ministry of Economic Development, entrusted  to someone with no previous Parliamentary experience, but with a track record of proven practical capacity, suggests one way forward. Sri Lanka has not yet recognized that an Executive Presidency demands technocrats at the helm in areas of urgent concern. We suffer from a preposterous constitution, the only one in the world that confuses an Executive Presidential system with the Westminster model of government that abandons even any pretence of the separation of powers. However, the institution of a Ministry devoted to development has permitted concentration on results, without the need to work also on parochial political concerns in a particular area.
Something of the sort with regard to Human Resource Development seemed on the cards when a Senior Minister of proven competence was assigned responsibility for that subject. However coherent action is simply not possible with the current administrative structures we have, though we can hope that the policy document that has been developed in this regard will improve matters. 
The outcome of an informal consultation on promoting the Rights of Children held recently, with the Secretary to the Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Empowerment in the chair, was a discussion document to assist with the formulation of policy in this field. The care of children must be part of a comprehensive programme with the basic goal of empowering all elements in society that need protection and additional support.
Though Sri Lanka achieved great success in providing universal health and education at the period of independence, social services lagged behind. They were provided in terms of the patronage approach that governed Poor Law in Britain in the previous century. The vulnerable were treated as a species apart, with institutionalization and punitive measures being implemented instead of rehabilitation. This last is needed to develop the potential of those who had suffered from lack of equitable opportunities. 
To ensure comprehensive and positive coverage of vulnerable sections of society, coordination between the Ministries of Social Services and of Child Development and Women’s Empowerment is essential. This also requires regular consultation with local professionals, as well as the informed involvement of provincial agencies in terms of their responsibilities, to develop a truly national perspective. Women and Children are amongst the most vulnerable sections of society and mechanisms to ensure a level playing field for them are an essential part of the social services government should provide. Interventions for other vulnerable groups will also involve services that are particularly important for women and children, ranging from counseling to employment policies based on equity and furthering the talents and capabilities of all.

I was involved last week in a Round table discussion on Education for All - Challenges in South Asia, organized by Aide et Action, an NGO which implements excellent vocational training programmes in the south, and more recently, in the north of Sri Lanka. Its programme is entitled ‘ILEAD’, and is based on the assumption that students need to be empowered, not only with skills, but also with the confidence to take initiatives on their own. 
Earlier this year I was privileged to attend an Awards Ceremony in Ambalangoda, along with the French ambassador, since the NGO is in France though it is now  internationalized. The enthusiasm of the students, and also their commitment – in donating a computer to the Centre – was remarkable. More recently I gather  the Centre in Vavuniya has had such a positive impact that the Commissioner General of Rehabilitation has requested their assistance for programmes for former Combatants too.
Their characteristically comprehensive background paper had a section on Sri Lanka, which deserves citing in full. While they make no bones about laying the blame for the breakdown in education in the North, and the consequent suffering of children, on the LTTE, they also describe clearly the problems that remain, and which it is the responsibility of government to resolve.
Thus the report makes clear that, while government has done much for the children it rescued, many are still not accounted for. Given the horrendous figure of children out of school in 2003 , when the LTTE was in full control of the area, it is obvious what was being done to them, but we must now check on what happened, and ensure psycho-social support both for those who survived and for the parents who still grieve for those taken away from them.
One of the main problems faced by officials involved in the care of children is the lack of precise structures with aims and reporting mechanisms. The task of the NCPA and the Probation Department, whether they are combined or simply work together coherently, involves several dimensions. They must  deal with the real needs of children and families instead of being governed by archaic concepts of control. They must understand their responsibility for policy, and ensuring accountability, without dissipating energies on service delivery, which should be left to local officials.
For this purpose they must ensure structured linkages, with other central ministries as well as provincial bodies, and promote multi-disciplinary networking, This requires strong community representation and linkages, withe staff employed on the basis of appropriate skills, with mechanisms for constant training. 
The other institution within the Ministry of Child Development is the Children’s Secretariat. Currently this concentrates on children under 5, but its responsibilities should be extended to cover all children. Though other government agencies will provide education and health etc, the Secretariat should promote children’s rights in the fullest sense, and ensure holistic development. Its officials should liaise with officials at Divisional level to monitor progress and satisfactory delivery of services, and conformity to national standards. They must liaise with officials of the Ministries of Health and Education to develop guidelines for action and appropriate areas for intervention.
All agencies should recognize that the family and the community are central to the wellbeing of children. Involvement of the community in child protection and development must be encouraged, with constant consultation. Space must be provided for the relatively deprived to meet, analyse issues and identify solutions. Alternative service provision should be pursued whilst ensuring conformity with national standards. Local family support measures like fostering, day care and other ways that the community can help each other to raise children must be promoted.

The Care of Children 23 - Expediting urgent reforms in  - 22 Jan 2013

The Secretary to Parliamentary Consultative Committees sent me earlier this month the latest Report of the Special Consultative Committee on Education, asking for observations. This had happened previously, with the previous version of the Report, but they forgot to write to me. I did respond hastily, when I got that Report, only to find that I was the only Parliamentarian to have done so. However, since other Parliamentarians told me they had not got the Report at all, I am not sure that I can fault my colleagues.
Be that as it may, I thought I should this time write comprehensively, welcoming the many positive suggestions in the Report, and noting other areas where further reforms are desirable. I will begin here with the first schedule to my reply, which looks at areas in which the Report suggests excellent measures which should be implemented as soon as possible. They represent a consensus of all Parliamentarians, so there is no reason for diffidence or lethargy.
I hope therefore that all those interested in education and the need to provide better services to our children will take up these proposals and urge swift action. I should note, since I am sure many will be concerned with other areas that are equally important, that the Report covers much ground, and they will find that other areas are also addressed. The classic vice of belittling some benefits that seem less important should be avoided, though there is every reason also to request action with regard to benefits that seem more important.  
I mention here therefore only some proposals that seem to me most welcome. The first highlighted sentence notes what the document has proposed, and in each case I have fleshed out the suggestions in a way that I hope will make them even more productive. 

The Care of Children 24 - Tuition and Ethics - 24 Jan 2013

At two recent meetings of Reconciliation Committees in the Eastern Province, the question of tuition came up. In one place I was asked to suggest to the President that tuition on Sundays be banned, because it took away from religious education. In the other I was told that students – from Kantale – had to travel to Kurunegala or Anuradhapura to have any hope of passing their Advanced Levels, because the quality of Advanced Level teaching was so bad.
Soon after that I was told, in Colombo, that even in S. Thomas’ sports meets had to be held in school hours, otherwise students would not be present since they thought tuition classes more important. The idea that, even in a fee levying school, extra classes for which payment must be made are mandatory bemuses me. But, such being the situation, I suppose it is not surprising then that parents who do not have to pay for education accept that they must fork out for tuition, as happens in the majority even of prestigious government schools for which parents sometimes pay through the nose for entrance.
I was pleased therefore that the lady from Kantale who spoke up plaintively objected to this sort of expenditure. But it was not only the expense of the classes and the transport that she mentioned. It was also the bad habits, as she put it, that children might pick up, on long journeys, and during long hours spent in large groups. She added that her son was not a problem, but with girls the situation might be different. I should add that the increase in teenage pregnancies, mentioned in most of the 80 Divisional and District Secretariat meetings held over the last year, is also related to the tuition culture.

The Care of Children 25 - Guidelines for Women and Children’s Units - 26 Jan 2013

What I think of as the brilliant idea of the Secretary of the Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Affairs to set up Women and Children’s Units in Divisional Secretariats did have a precedent in what were termed Social Care Centres. These were set up in tsunami affected areas to coordinate the work of all agencies concerned with social service. Though they were comparatively few in number, and some have ceased to function, the successful coordination efforts that many brought to bear would provide useful lessons for the new Units. Indeed, in recent visits to the East, I have found that some still function, which will facilitate the coordination needed.
They had developed an operations manual that can be used to develop procedures, bearing in mind the difference between the DS Office and the SCC in fulfilling the needs and the rights of the people. Joint ownership of this model between the Ministries of Social Welfare and of Child Development should be developed, with officials of the former also being active members of the Units. 
The resources the Government can make available must be known by the community, and these should not be diminished. Technical gaps with regard to delivery should be narrowed by developing models and setting up partnerships between academics and practitioners. The model must also be promoted and officer profiles developed so that working in it will be attractive to diploma holders and graduates of social work. The public image of the social work professional must also be raised.  
Amongst the most important needs at present, and not only in the North, is Psycho-social support. Providing this must be a primary responsibility of the Women and Children’s Unit, working together with the Ministry of Health. 
We need better counseling mechanisms, which need to be coordinated, preferably by the Ministry of Health, which should allocate responsibility for coordination of work in each Division to the Medical Officer. For this purpose, as well as for better coordination in general, it would make sense for the Health Ministry, and the Education Ministry too, to ensure that areas of responsibility for local officials were commensurate with those of other government officials, on the basis of Divisional Secretariats. 

The Care of Children 26 - Further proposals for Education Reform - 28 Jan 2013

I wrote some weeks back about some welcome proposals for Reform decided on at the Parliament Advisory Committee on Education. I will now look at some other proposals that are also welcome, though I have written as follows to suggest they should be fleshed out in an imaginative fashion to ensure effectiveness.
a.  1.2.9 & 7.8 – The Principal is the backbone of the school, and should be empowered to decide on expenditure. Strengthening Principals and allowing them to run the school without constant reference to Education Offices is vital. However this should be accompanied by clear guidelines as to administration and accountability. Appointing an Administrative Secretary (4.2.4) to each school is an excellent idea, but there should be very clear job descriptions, and performance contracts for both the Principal and the Secretary.  A strong School Development Society should be established, but with strict provisions against financial involvements, with heavy penalties to prevent contractual connections. Accountability should also be increased through reports to Grama Niladhari headed committees and through these to the Women and Children’s Units of Divisional Secretariats.
b.  1.2.15 – Private sector participation in education is desirable, with appropriate quality controls. This should be encouraged at all levels, including the training of teachers. The opportunity to teach in state schools should be subject to certification through state evaluation, but private and non-profit agencies should be encouraged to set up teacher training institutes, in particular for Science and Mathematics and Languages, and for English medium teaching. 


The Care of Children 27 - Nation Building and Revolutionizing the Education System - 30 Jan 2013

I was asked last week to speak at the first national seminar arranged by the Officer Career Development Centre at Buttala. I have been familiar with the place for twenty years now, for it is situated in what used to be the Buttala Affiliated University College, in the days when I coordinated English programmes at all those Colleges. The site had been developed for the 1992 Gam Udawa, and my involvement with the place helped me to appreciate President Premadasa’s vision in having such events. 
Though some elements in both national and international media mocked them as the world’s most expensive birthday parties, they provided a focus for development, with infrastructure that would be of lasting benefit to areas that had not had such concentrated attention before. The present Government is engaged in something similar through its Deyata Kirula celebrations, though this is only a supplement to the wider development in the regions which is its flagship.
I much welcome the establishment of the OCDC because its Mission and Objectives indicate a clearer understanding of our educational and training needs than I have seen in those formally responsible for education. It is true that glimpses of what is needed can be seen in the pronouncements and efforts at developing policy that the various agencies responsible for education have come out with, but given the chaos of our administrative structures and the difficulties of taking and implementing decisions, I am relieved that a more efficient and clearsighted body has also entered into the field.
Amongst the objectives of the Centre is ‘to assist schools, universities, government institutions, corporations and provide institutes in developing leadership traits and social skills’. These skills are vital for students and student groups, but our education system pays little attention to them. Though at last we have convinced the Ministry to make extra-curricular activities compulsory, I fear that implementation of that provision will take ages, and there will be no proper effort to encourage and sustain it.

The Care of Children 28 - Automatic transfers and their impact on rural schools - 2 Feb 2013

After speaking at the Officer Career Development Centre on revolutionizing the Education System, I went on to my father’s home village, where his family had many years ago donated land for a school. Vijaya Maha Vidyalaya had developed over the years, with support sometimes from the family, most recently when one of my cousins arranged a health camp there, along with a cricket match between the Colombo Medical Team and the schoolboys, which I was privileged to watch. 
Vijaya had been one of only two schools in the Hambantota District (the other was a Muslim school in the Tissamaharama area if I remember aright) to being English medium when we started it way back in 2001. The first few years had been very successful, and I would enjoy dropping in on the classes and registering the enthusiasm of the Principal and the staff and the students.
But hard times hit the school with the retirement of the Principal, who had been a strict disciplinarian even while devoting himself to the welfare of the students. The Vice-Principal could not be promoted because he was not qualified, and someone was brought in from outside, and factionalism it seems broke out.
Subsequent Principals were not able to correct things, and indeed they were only Acting Principals, not Principals, for some problem about an advertisement has meant that there was a legal bar on new appointments to the Principals’ Service. Though I gather the latest Acting Principal is a good disciplinarian, I don’t suppose there will be a reversal in the trend whereby school numbers have practically halved over the last five years. Though it is a National School, Vijaya now has fewer than 400 students in attendance.
This number is likely to go down still further because a number of teachers have recently been transferred. This is in line with the policy the Ministry of Education has decided not to follow, of transferring teachers who have served in a particular school for over ten years.

The Care of Children 29 – National Languages input into Education - 8 Feb 2013

Last week the Parliamentary Consultative Committee on Education met to finalize the Educational Policy reforms that have been discussed over the last nearly three years. Apart from myself, one member of the Consultative Committee and two other Members of Parliament had sent in suggestions, and a few others contributed verbally at the meeting.
I have previously described my suggestions, which were to flesh out the generally very positive approach of the final document that the Ministry team had put together. Though we had seemed to get bogged down in circling discussions, the appointment of Mohanlal Grero as Monitoring Member with responsibility for finalizing the proposals had been an inspired decision and the penultimate document and now this one will help to revitalize the education system and bring it closer to satisfying the aspirations of parents.
Perhaps the most important new suggestions were those put at the meeting by the Minister of National Languages and Social Integration, following a decision of his Consultative Committee on the previous day to encourage the Education Ministry to take on a more proactive role in pursuing the government’s Trilingual Policy as well as Social Integration.

The Care of Children 30 – Initiatives in the North for the young - 16 Feb 2013

Amidst a number of meetings of Divisional Secretariat Reconciliation Committees in the North last week, I also had a number of interactions with children, and with persons working with children. Two instances were serendipitous, but I was privileged to participate actively – and indeed exhaustingly - on one occasion. This was when I conducted, in a small school near Nedunkerni, one of the games that the former combatants had delighted in, during my first visit to the Rehabiliation Centre for girls in Vavuniya three and a half years ago. 
The laughter of the girls on that occasion still illuminates in presentations of the Rehabilitation Bureau, as I saw last month at the Officer Career Development Centre Seminar at Buttala. In Nedunkerni the children were younger, and even less inhibited.
I had come across well over 50 of them in the playground of the school at 5 pm, which was heartening. I have long argued that we need to ensure that schools are centres of community activity, but all too often schools are deserted after 2 pm. Here however, in addition to attractive new buildings, the school had quarters for the Principal and several staff. They too were in the playground, encouraging the activity and joining in.
The school had teachers even in subjects such as English and Maths and Science, as to which there had been complaints about shortages in almost all Divisions I had visited. Whilst obviously we need to increase supply, the situation here showed that one needs to provide decent facilities to ensure teachers will stay in remote areas to which transport is difficult. The youngsters I saw playing with the children were from Jaffna, but seemed quite content to stay in the school and participate in student life in the evenings. Almost no one had taken more than a day’s leave thus far in the year.

The Care of Children 31 – Clarity as to procedures and processes - 8 March 2013

Some heartache has been roused by the detention of a young girl for supposedly stealing coconuts. This is as it should be, but it should also be realized that this is not an isolated case. A few months ago, as I have written previously, a boy in Anuradhapura was punished for having supposedly stolen a pigeon. 
The indignation expressed at this by the then new Secretary to the Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Affairs is what made it crystal clear to me that government had chosen the right person for the job. Sadly I saw little similar emotion in others. I find this difficult to understand, but I suppose many are now hardened to the suffering that is inflicted on children in so many ways due to the sausage machine mentality that informs so many of our laws and practices.
This mentality arises, as the very sharp, and equally admirable, Consultant on children who helped to draft recent legislation noted, from a continuation of old British Poor Law mentality – which the British of course have made advances on. This explains why the latest proposed Children (Judicial Protection) Bill combines procedures in Courts with processes for the care of children in homes. Though the present draft is much better than what we had before, the idea still persists that children who come in contact with the law need to be controlled, not that they should be supported. 
The same mentality informs the Vagrants’ Ordinance, which I seem to be fighting a lone battle against. I should register however my gratitude to the Hon Ajith Perera, who has supported my pleas at the Parliamentary Consultative Committee on Justice, more ably I should add, given his experience in the Courts. But the decision made there, that that Ordinance should be repealed, has not been carried out, and so we still function on the belief that women found in the street with no clear explanation of what they are doing should be punished rather than helped. Hence the 71 mentally deficient women at Methsevana, with no medical attention except from an attendant with hardly any educational qualifications. And the commitment of the Institute of Mental Health to visit them daily cannot be activated because government cannot provide transport. 

The Care of Children 32 – Subverting efforts to make education holistic - 5 April 2013

A recent news item about what transpired at a meeting the President had presided over at the Ministry of Education seemed to me to sum up much that is wrong both with our system of education, and the manner in which consultations take place. No one listens to what others say, or rather they do so only with their own preconceptions in mind. Only this can explain why the very sensible ideas the President has advanced about education are utterly ignored.
This time round it was a very simple point the President made, namely that ‘some form of sport too has to be made compulsory in schools as most students suffer from some sort of depression due to lack of exercise to their bodies.’ The response was that ‘a Cabinet Memorandum has been prepared for the compulsory allocation of time in schools for physical exercises…new physical training instructors would be recruited to the Ministry to give children physical and theoretical knowledge to the students.’
Begging the question of what the physical knowledge to be given to children consists of, the reply suggests that the Ministry, in its wisdom, is going to introduce yet another item to the national curriculum. Given the way the Miinstry proceeds, we can expect children to do physical exercises for ten minutes or so, and then take down notes that explain why the exercises are helpful. Such theoretical knowledge will then doubtless be examined at length in question papers set by Provincial Education Ministries, and even by the National Department of Education, so that they can be duly leaked to the tutories. These last, it should be noted, will be much more adept than the Education Ministry at providing physical knowledge to the children, or at least facilitating this.

The Care of Children 33 - Providing education for all needs - 12 April 2013

J K Rowling of Harry Potter fame produced last year a novel entitled ‘The Casual Vacancy’ that is advertised as a novel for adults. Perhaps it is for adults, since it tells, with her usual skill, a very depressing tale, or rather several depressing tales. But to my mind it is very much about children, children presented as the victims of adults with a range of problems, who take them out, deliberately or otherwise, on their offspring.
The world of a small town in the West of England, where the novel is set, may seem miles away from Sri Lanka, but the difficulties the children face are not entirely dissimilar from those we face here. Though the world of drugs, and sex (and fantasizing about sex), and bullying may seem exaggerated, and is I trust an exaggerated portrait even of what goes on in England, the desperate situation of youngsters with specific disfunctionalities at home, and callousness based on generalizations at school, is something we should all recognize. 
How does one deal with all this, or at least try to put in place mechanisms to alleviate some of the problems? Though one hopes that many children lead relatively happy lives, and that schools provide them with opportunities to learn and develop socially, we must also realize that we need to prepare for the worst. We need monitoring systems to recognize when trouble is brewing, and support systems to provide assistance that is required.

The Care of Children 34 - Training for entering the world of work - 23 April 2013

Around a year ago I was appointed to convene the Task Force to expedite implementation of the National Human Rights Action Plan, a task in which I have not achieved as much as should have been done by now. Before that however, I had set up in the Reconciliation Office a consultative process to raise questions and assess and try to respond to needs with regard to Rights issues. It was through this mechanism that we arranged a visit to the prisons with the Human Rights Commission, a process which will I hope lead soon to more sensible measures with regard to remandees, and in particular the many youngsters now taken into custody for drug related offences.
In addition to questions of the laws’ delays and anomalies – and the irresponsibility of many elements in our judicial system – we concentrated much on issues concerning women and children. I was deeply impressed in this regard by the commitment of many social organizations, and only sorry that officials, even though often well meaning, do not respond quickly to the concerns that are raised. 
A couple of weeks back the Institute of Human Rights, which has been in the forefront of drawing attention to the plight of women and children committed into state custody and then neglected, raised the question of the reintegration into society, when they reach the age of 18, of children who had been placed in homes. 
The assumption is that, on leaving the homes, they are reintegrated with their families. But often there is no family that can be traced that is willing and suitable to take over the care of such youngsters. Though in theory adults, they need support and protection, and the State that had taken responsibility for their care when they were children must also accept responsibility for the transitional period. In the absence of this, it seems that such children sometimes end up almost automatically being absorbed into the religious orders that run the homes, whether Buddhist or Christian or Hindu. 

The Care of Children 35 – The importance of equalizing opportunities - 26 April 2013

A couple of weeks back I was told that I had been rudely attacked on a television programme by a member of the government, who had deplored what I had done in the field of education. I have not tried to find out the actual focus of the attack, because I have now got used to attacks from that quarter, which occur about once a year on some pretext or another. 
This time however there was an unexpected bonus in that several of my students from Sabaragamuwa wrote in indignantly, and some of them were actually stirred to write to the papers, in Sinhala and Tamil as well as in English. I was moved by what they said, not least because they suggested that my contribution to education was unique. They registered the fact that, despite what they described as my own privileged background, I had tried hard to provide similar opportunities to others. 
Obviously I have always felt that I was doing the correct thing, but given the larger canvas on which I am now trying to pursue educational reforms, and encouraging others to demand this as a right rather than a concession, it was heartening to see that people of different backgrounds registered how they had benefited. I decided then that I had been far too modest in the past, in tolerating the attacks on my social and educational philosophy of those who seemed to care nothing for the expansion of opportunities, so I asked several others I had taught to also set down their thoughts. 
What they wrote was a spur to urging action on education too on the part of those concerned with the protection of children in Divisional Secretariats. One former student noted that when I first started work in a secondary school, ‘it felt as if someone in the school actually cared about the scholarly pursuits of students and took a personal interest in the wellbeing of individual students’. A student at Sabaragamuwa wrote, with reference to students from rural backgrounds whom we permitted to follow a degree in English, ‘Prof’s meticulous feedback and relentless prodding to get everyone to speak in the class made them shed their reserves about the ‘alien’ language and made us all equals’.

The Care of Children 36 – The need for comprehensive care - 11 May 2013

Having written a column on the Care of Children for nine months now, I feel it is time to move on. This is not because the topic of the problems children face has been exhausted. On the contrary, these problems should generate ongoing debate of a serious and constructive nature. I doubt however that this will happen, given our capacity to forget problems after maximum emotion has been milked from them. 
But the recent crises, from abuse in children’s homes and the execution of a girl sent to work abroad when she was a minor, to the leaking of Ordinary Level Exam papers and the sad case of a child arrested for allegedly stealing coconuts to find money for her school, will I hope stay for some time in the public mind. In particular I trust it is understood now that the education system we have in place, developed by Kannangara to ensure opportunities for all children, serves now to oppress children rather than liberate their creativity.
The reason I wish to move on however, is to examine in depth, if the Editor will permit me, the crisis of governance that has affected us, which contributes to the plight of children as well as much else. We have over the years destroyed our administrative system as well as our administrators, by multiplying both entities and tasks without working out coherent systems.


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