Sinhala  Tamil    Seperate    
Governtment of Sri Lanka

Education and Reconciliation

( Created date: 13-Nov-2012 )

At every Reconciliation meeting at Divisional Secretariats in the North and East – and I have attended over 50 thus far in the course of this year – problems crop up with regard to education. Some of them relate to physical needs, such as toilets and drinking water. Fortunately, given the concerted efforts made to improve educational facilities as far as infrastructure goes, such requests are few. But shortcomings in these respects are unacceptable, and should be attended to at once. If there are delays in Education Department inputs, Divisional Secretariats should prioritize these for governmental funding or other aid programmes.  
Then there are requests for playgrounds, which seem to me less urgent, in a context in which few schools have extensive extra-curricular programmes. For these I suggest shrmadana programmes, with support from the armed forces if available. I have discovered that this has been provided for such programmes already in many instances, though unfortunately there is little effort to give wider publicity to such support.
More serious are complaints that transport services are limited, and often do not cater to the needs of school children. Unfortunately there is little liaison between Education Departments and Transport Boards, and I suspect such liaison will not do much good, since we seem to have lost sight of the social aspects of transport services.
I have therefore suggested that responsibility for such urgent transport needs should be transferred to local communities, either the Divisional Secretariats or else the elected local officials. Transport fits in well with the basic responsibilities of such bodies, namely utilities and local roads and markets. Ensuring that children can get to school on time should be a local priority and, if ever we rationalize local government, such services should be performed by those most concerned. In Jaffna town I gather that the Municipality has taken on the responsibility, successfully it seems, so I hope the idea will spread. I should note though that most communities thought the responsibility should belong to the Divisional Secretariat rather than politicians, but that can be sorted out.
Finally, and most worryingly, there are continuous complaints of teacher shortages, especially for vital subjects such as English and Science and Maths. This is of course a problem all over the country, and I cannot understand how otherwise intelligent people assume the problem can be solved if the same systems of supply that have failed us for over fifty years continue as monopolies. Every Education Minister blames his predecessor for incompetence and assumes he will solve the problem, and fails, for the process to be repeated.
Given that some of them have been men of intelligence and commitment, it must be clear that it is not the incompetence of officials administering the system that is the problem, but rather the system itself. That needs radical change, but it is irrational to expect this to come from within the dispensation that has presided over the problem for decades.
I have therefore suggested that the Ministry of Education should be bifurcated, with the existing institution continuing to have responsibility for the bulk of educational work, administration, admissions, appointments (including transfers and promotions), infrastructural development, book production, uniforms, nutrition, examinations and so on. This is enough to keep even a workaholic happy. 
There should also be another Ministry then for Educational Policy and Reform. This could cover teacher (and principal) training and supply, curriculum reform and materials development, extra-curricular activities and school and student links. Given the importance of Education for Reconciliation work, and the need for ‘mixed schools serving children from different ethnic and religious backgrounds and greater interaction among students’ (to quote from the Action Plan for implementation of the Recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission), it would make sense for that Minister to work in the Office of the President. The concept of Ministers in the Office of the President (or the Prime Minister in a Westminster system) is something we should activate for national priorities – and the failure of the existing Ministry, despite a positive verbal response from the Minister, to approve twinning schools as requested by the Religion, Education And Pluralism group that meets in the Reconciliation Office, suggests that it is not likely to take things forward as a matter of urgency.
I have worried in the past about making such suggestions because the assumption will be that I am seeking a position for myself. Fortunately the President has already found someone with enormous commitment and drive, with even greater experience of educational management than I possess. Instead of the Hon Mohanlal Grero working within the existing Ministry of Education as a Monitoring Member – an inchoate position in which it is not easy to make changes unless you have stupendous drive and the Minister does not, which is not usually the case – it would make much more sense for him to have discrete responsibilities in the Office of the President. Certainly the manner in which he developed an initiative to provide support to small schools indicates that he could well fulfil the challenge of promoting equity and social interaction in the interests of Reconciliation.
One other area in which he could make a difference, given the superb record of the Lyceum schools in this regard, is that of promoting extra-curricular activities. These are limited in most rural areas, whereas we know that employers seek the skills associated with such activities more than academic capacity, once basic qualifications have been obtained. Ensuring that principals, and teachers, understand the importance of such programmes, and liaising with possible providers of personality development activities – Boy Scouts, Girl Guides, St. John’s Ambulace Brigades, Disaster Management Societies – is something that the education hierarchy now finds difficult, but education in the fullest sense demands such activities too. 
Radical measures of some sort seem a necessity then, if education is to fulfil the expectations of parents in our rural areas, and in particular in the North, where it has always meant so much to the community.  


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