Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Intransigence by the Ministry of Higher Education in refusing to believe that there is a serious flaw in the A level results

Despite overwhelming evidence of a complete breakdown in the reporting systems in the issue of the A level results issued of Christmas day of all days, there is a complete lack of acceptance that there is something wrong.

There was initial acceptance that some errors had been found in the District and National ranking systems which had been subsequently corrected. However it appears that the problems with regard to the difference in the results as submitted to the school Heads and that in the Internet along with the fact that many students received results from subjects they did not sit have not been resolved. The Ministry Secretary and the Commissioner of Examinations dispute there is a problem, and the Minister in order to cover himself has said that there could be isolated instances of anomalies, but overall the results stand not requiring them to be withdrawn.

I maintain that the results MUST be withdrawn forthwith, and investigated and the new set of results for ALL students reissued once the problems have been ironed out. I do not believe the problem is isolated and am in the process of gathering data to present to the authorities and the Media so that they can judge for themselves if what I am saying is systemic or isolated.

Imagine if you are an A level student expecting the results or the Parent of one. How would you feel? I would not like to be in the shoes of one of them. I will not know if the results will be cancelled owing to the growing challenges from all parts of the country. Therefore the results I have received will not be believable either even if they are good or even better than I expected. This is a serious indictment of the Department of Examination’s inability to do their job properly.

In short there is a cock up of incredible proportions, and no one least of all the relevant Minister is willing to accept blame. Heads should roll, but it should begin with the Minister. I cannot understand why he nor the President who has not commented on this as he was partly to blame by forcing the Examinations Commissioner to release the results before he was ready. Only he and not the Minister is able to judge if they are ready with all the facts prior to releasing the examination results.

If this is any indication of how the Education and Examination Departments work, I dread to think how they will implement the new Education Policy the government is about to introduce with new syllabuses and subjects. Further the Private Universities Bill will be another example of a badly drafted one full of holes!!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Private Universities Bill to be presented in January – the Suspension of Student Unions

The march from Peradeniya to Colombo, planned by the Peradeniya University students against the Private University Bill has been prevented by the Govt. and all the existing Student Unions have been suspended at that Campus.

Why are these students against Private Universities? Their main concern is that this is a back door method to gradually remove Free Education from Grade 1 to University in Sri Lanka. Are there grounds for concern? Yes definitely as the current education system in Sri Lanka has failed both the student, who cannot find a reasonable job upon graduation, but also the Country as the system does NOT produce graduates of a caliber that the Motherland wants.

The problem is not wholly of the University system, it is of Education in general and must be tackled at all stages, beginning at Grade 1, and a new thinking based on a realistic assessment is badly needed. I will not go into this broad subject and will concentrate only on the Private University fear. I understand that even the lecturers have lent their support to these students for this agitation.

In a private public instance, we already have sufficient examples with private schools and the issue is no different. The private sector can by definition offer attractive salaries, terms and conditions to draw the best. There could be a drain of teachers from the public sector further eroding the standard of instruction at University. This problem is there any way as there are hundreds of academics who have gone to overseas countries for Post Graduate and doctoral work and NOT returned to the Island, causing a shortage in the teaching cadre. On the flip side we must understand that our home grown talent can remain at home, rather than leave for pastures anew in foreign lands. The answer is to increase the pool of teachers to replace those who leave, rather than worry about the fact they leave. The other solution is to increase the salaries of the University Dons that has already been promised by the govt. to reduce this brain drain.

An environment with competition from the private sector is healthy in forcing the public sector to improve its quality of service delivery, which in this case are employable graduates. This is true the world over. One must remember that the government uses this premise as another reason not to spend more on education and instead gets the private sector to take the slack. Again, a case in point are the 500,000 students who pay for their schooling, which automatically reduces the strain on the state sector in educating them. This same principle no doubt guides the thinking behind private universities as that will reduce the burden on the state.
The fact that more funds may be required to keep up with the private sector both for quality students and quality teachers, may reduce the available free places for less well off kids to get into the State University system. On the other hand it will permit students with lower A level results to enter the private university system, creating an element of distrust where one with 3 A’s cannot get into the public university, whereas one with 3 C’s can do the same course in a private one. That I fear is a valid point that needs to be debated, but currently they go overseas.

On the other hand, employers are wise to the employability of graduates, and for that purpose, the University, private or public is on notice to produce what the market requires. If their quality is poor, then fewer students of quality will want entrance at that institution. What better way to weed out the good from the bad? The bad if it does not improve their performance will have to close down, just like so many schools in the rural areas.

I am not too concerned about the quality of the Private Universities as it is up to the entrant to do the necessary homework to check on their suitability in terms of repute before seeking admission. So this usual complaint by students opposed to the private sector can easily be relegated to one that is superfluous. Of course the state will in its Bill propose a means of ensuring quality control. Why this is necessary is beyond me as students attend so many private universities overseas, without them having to be regulated by anybody, least of all from Sri Lanka.

The main point which I would therefore raise is the guaranteed amount of free places available to local students, so that a minimum cost would have to be borne by the state for their education, anything less will be tantamount to an abrogation of the rights under the Free Education promise.

A further guarantee of a limit to the paying students should also be made, as the government now intends to get paying students to the State University sector to subsidize its cost. I do not know why they have restricted it to overseas students. Is it because they want them to pay their fees in foreign currency?

Further, I understand that minimum percentages of places must be offered at Private Universities as scholarships to students who excel on some criteria, this too should be included so that the quality of the intake at these places is also improved.

All agitation should be limited to what is reasonable in light of current conditions without compromising Free Education principle for the masses in as much as it is applicable today bearing in mind the amount of private tertiary education available.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The ‘Complete Mess’ in the published A level result – just issued

The disgrace of a Government that issued incorrect A level results last morning knows no boundary as the fallout MUST result in the rolling of heads!! Beginning with the Minister responsible, namely the Minister of Higher Education, under whom the Commissioner General of Examinations operates. The latter and the Secretary to the Minister of Higher Education are now entangled in a fight as to how to resolve the issue, who to take responsibility and realistically reject the results and reissue them once they have identified and rectified the problem.

It appears that by design or by coincidence there has been some internal computer glitch that resulted in a wholesale issue of results, that have nothing to do with reality, causing untold misery heartache, and breakdown amongst a whole host of young people who have been awaiting their A level results with anticipation and trepidation. For them to be fooled by a cruel joke of this magnitude, without first being spot checked for accuracy is an indication of the incompetence of the officials handling this area.

I am given to understand that a new Commissioner General of Examinations will take office on the 1st of January 2012, and in that regard the present holder of that office will be retiring. Is this a parting gift from him as he has nothing to lose? I wonder if we will know the answer to that. If he has some grudge against the Minister he is more than capable of putting his minister in the spot. However I seem to have seen that the Minister in his manner of making light of things is proclaiming a computer ‘gilmart’ for the fracas and refuses to accept blame.

From what I understand at the point of writing, that the Z scores as it relates both to country and district rankings have been rejected, but not the overall results. Even here I believe there are anomalies as there are many students who have results for subjects they did not answer at the examination throwing coals into the already raging fire. It is time that the whole result is immediately withdrawn.

The President had forcibly intervened and asked the Commissioner General of Elections(CGE) to release the results, even though he had expressed some concern over some of the bases of calculation of the Z scores as there are two sets of syllabuses, whose results are released. So now it is a black mark on the President’s edicts too as one could blame him for interfering in a process that is none of his business. It is up to the CGE to determine when he is ready to release and not the Head of State. It is time someone takes responsibility and the Media fairly criticize this action, so the General Public can be made aware of the MESS in the first place

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Senior Ministers – Who are they and what do they do for an extra Rs300M?

Sri Lanka has in its own unique way created a category of Minister from TEN aged MPs known as seniors who have been given responsibilities over and above those allocated to MP’s. The extra cost is in addition to the cost of an MP that include income, allowances, perks along with the 24hr MSD security that comes with it.

I believe it is an unnecessary and superfluous expense where the money could easily be spent in more productive ways to improve the economy. It is a way to give jobs to their staff which amount to about 275, many who are relatives and friends of the same ministers. The rough breakdown is approximately Rs20M per minister and a further Rs100M to keep the Administrative Secretariat functioning.

The vision statement is ‘Sustainable National Development’ and the mission statement is ‘Co-ordinating and monitoring National Development Initiatives’ which are: 1 Good Governance and Infrastructure – Ratnasiri Wickremanayake
2 Human Resources – DEW Gunesekara
3 Rural Affairs – Athauda Seneviratne
4 Food Security – P Dayaratne
5 Urban Affairs – AHM Fowzie
6 Social Welfare – Milroy Fernando
7 Consumer Welfare – RMSB Navinne
8 National Resources – Piyasena Gamage
9 Scientific Affairs – Tissa Vitharana
10 International Monetary Cooperation – Sarath Amunugama

I let the reader judge what on earth we want to spend this amount for this kind of semantic exercise, when we have other priorities. I also wished to make the readers aware of this particular exercise in futility, as it is usually hidden from view. Another point of note is that while DEW Gunesekara was the chairman of the COPE committee looking into the expenditure of the public sector institutions, it does not come under the above criteria and is external to the above terms of reference. That in itself requires the full extent of a MPs time to wade through the smoke and mirrors, that one would not find time to add another responsibility called ‘Human Resources’ to him as shown above.

I know this is just a start of my investigation into the billions of waste of Government Expenditure, that our kids have to repay in the future as much of it is funded out of Debt when these erstwhile seniors have long left mother earth to places beyond, bless their souls and curse their silence. A suggestion, how about giving this function to opposition MPs, they can do a stellar job of overseeing!!!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Strike by the Private Bus Owners Association is imminent over route permits

The haphazard and highly politicized distribution of route permits causes enormous friction within the industry. In another example of the manner in which these route permits are distributed, sold, bribed away and auctioned, once again it has caused a problem leading to this action, in a very competitive industry. Not only do these operators have to compete with the state bus service SLTB which as we are told, is about to increase its fleet by leaps, and which is highly subsidized having on average 8 workers on the payroll for each bus that is roadworthy. The distribution on non-market criteria is a cause for dissatisfaction.

Put yourself in the shoes of a private bus operator. You have to face many severe allegations. One of overcrowding, of racing to catch the next customer, of treating the customers like cattle and being rude to them, permitting panhandling in the buses for a fee or a percentage of the takings and if that was not enough they have to bribe the minister to get the permits they want or even challenge the threat of losing the license over a non-existent or manufactured transgression.

Into all this comes the granting of route permits without due consideration to the supply and demand issues as well as the times allotted for the various buses both to provide a smooth service at regular intervals and be fair in the allocations so that a balance of peak and non peak services can be shared around. This is nevertheless a very thorny issue with no clear way of coming out with an acceptable compromise.

The government has masterfully led public opinion to the faults of the PBOA and not of the benefits of these buses. I do believe that 80% of the buses on the road are Private. So its contribution to passenger transport at reasonable cost is huge. Instead of using more SLTB buses to compete, the state should encourage more private buses, without recourse to selling route permits except to auction them under transparent procedures on certain routes that are particularly in demand.

I have advocated for a two tier fare structure on local routes for before 6pm and after so that the night traveler will also be better served, something the private sector at present has not been permitted to do. The state sector buses which are few and far between are asked to fill in the discrepancy in the later hours.

I believe that there is not enough research into optimizing the formula for the benefit of the public. I would like to see timetables using counting data under the auspices of the transport ministry, so that bus passengers are better served. This will hopefully take more people from personal transport into public transport.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Southern Expressway – What if provision had been made for a single line Electrified Rail Network leading eventually to Kataragama via Hambantota.

Just ponder! As part of the whole project to build an Expressway something that will just add to the air and noise pollution with fossil fuel burning vehicles, would it not have been visionary to have ensured at least a one line high speed rail network, preferably electrified, that would go to Kataragama in 90 minutes. Rail on a new line built from scratch can be designed for much higher speeds that vehicles.

This will also satisfy the environmental lobby. Four stops along the way including Galle, Matara and Hambantota will reduce current road traffic to all places up to and including Kataragama. Our rail network has been purposely left to decay in favor of road transport, which we now know has been one huge mistake. There have been no concrete steps to improve it except the rebuilding of the line to KKS, which I hope will be done so as to severely shorten the time at least from Anuradhapura to Jaffna.

The problem yet again in SL is that there are few if any who think outside the box and for the RDA to think in terms of anything other than roads was unthinkable. So we spent a colossal amount on a project that is only going to encourage those who have quality cars to make use of them on their way to town up to Hambantota, when the road is finally extended that far in a few years. Now that the Govt. is bent on finishing of the aptly named Mattala Airport, the muts should have thought of liking it directly to a high speed rail network to get to Colombo. Technically a passenger can get to Colombo faster from Mattala than from Katunayaka if the rail network from there was outstanding.

We must never forget that we are a small country in land extent. That is a huge advantage in many ways. I know that we can easily cover the whole country with cellular use which a vast country like the US cannot! We can therefore take maximum advantage of our size to make our travelling from A to B all the more convenient and safe by proper planning. Despite the doubling or tripling of vehicles into the country, which will one day block Colombo in a horrific traffic snarl up, where motorists will be stranded. We have not thought ahead from there. We are waiting for the crisis and we may then consider taking steps to spend a further 10 years trying to solve that problem AFTER we get to it.

It is important to plan. It is not a problem to predict our population and our living standards and make a proper accounting of it so that our citizens quality of life will in fact be enhanced rather than deteriorate under the current directions.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Suicide – the facts and figures are still startling – here are the 2011 figures

In the period January to June 2011 – 1529 Males and 449 Females committed suicide making a total of 1978. In the whole year 2010 – 2914 Males and 950 Females for a total of 3864 committed suicide. The main causes were of affairs of the heart and the predominant means was by way of consumption of pesticides.(source:Sunday Maubima – Dec18th)

I have done no research as to how it compares with other countries or whether it is relatively high, but I know it is preventable, as the main reasons are of a very fleeting or temporary nature that can be solved by intervention of a close confidante or relative. In my rajaratarala blog I noted a few months ago, how a person committed suicide on one of our properties, this too had to do with a relationship that went wrong, which then resulted in disposing of all possible items to imbibe in alcohol to numb the senses owing to this break-up.

I know there is some effort to dilute the strength of some of these pesticides so as not to make it so lethal, but that is a bandage that may or may not work and actually in the eyes of the user of the poison for the purpose to which it is was bought is now of no use anyway as it does not do the job it portends to.

The widespread use of mobile phones especially amongst the very young school children, is an added dimension, as these illicit romances are carried out behind the backs of the parents, who if and when they find out get uncontrollably violent or indignant, resulting in runaway kids who are not mature enough to manage on their own. Sometimes they make a pact when they see no option out of their predicament and with the need to be together having read about similar stories (last week an awol soldier and two sisters committed suicide by hanging in Eppawela) they do it together, not having made any effort to resolve it with consultation.

In Sri Lanka going to counseling is still not in the culture and also speaking frankly about one’s feelings is rare. Therefore this simple solution is not resorted to. I am sure that there are establishment figures who are also looking into this issue, and I would propose depending on the seriousness of this amongst teens and 20 somethings, to include this in part of an overall program of introducing social and soft skills in schools to make introduction into society a smoother one.

Death especially of the very young and promising is hard for us to accept, and if there is anything we can do to even prevent one loss of life we should. I am sure the statistics and the solutions have been discussed, so let us implement them soon.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

“JANAPRIYA” does not just mean POPULAR. It is wrapped up in deceit

Sri Lankans who are wary always look on the popular personality with some disdain. If someone is popular it is because he usually did not obtain it by example of piety or by leading an exemplary life. It is because he obtains it by giving something free to gain popularity or by using the media for personal gain and self publicity. So attached to the ‘popular’ person are dubious undertones.

To put this idea in context, let me remind the reader that the MJF Foundation is possibly the largest Charitable Foundation in Sri Lanka. Few in Sri Lanka have heard of it. Even at the entrance to one of its most expensive projects, being the building, maintaining and running of a school for children affected by ‘Down’s Syndrome’ there is barely a name board indicating its existence at the old Velona Factory Premises in Ratmalana. This is a case of doing things without seeking publicity for the acts of Charity. The founder of this charity has not even received a title of ANY sort, despite having distributed at least Rs5B for charitable causes.

Contrast this with Mr Sajith Premadasa’s Sasunata Aruna program, where he donates a Rs50,000 check each time to the head of a viharaya, church, mosque or hindu temple for their use. Almost every donation results in a political speech, that receives both TV and print media publicity. He gains popularity for this and possibly the word “Janapriya” ness for him increases. Do you know where he gets the money for this? It is certainly not his money that he has earned, as he does not do a business. It is possible that he lends the money that people give him and uses the interest to make this donation. After all he is well known to use his many connections to constantly plug them for funds to help him with his causes. The people who see his actions and increase both his name recognition and popularity do not know that part. To many of us it does not matter where the money comes from, even if it is stolen, as long as it is given for something we ask for. Then we extol the virtues of the giver as someone who helped us with this or that!!!

We need a sea change in attitude to value and respect the truly magnanimous. Otherwise when we follow false images meant to fool, we become the fools ourselves due to our gullibility. We must try to see behind the image portrayed, often there is something different. Those who we revere may have huge personality defects, whilst those who we revile may have even more redeeming qualities, which had we researched and found would completely change our attitude of them.

This is something that cannot be deduced alone. We must explain to our children how to think and why. The essence of ‘Kalpanakaranna’ BLOG is all about this.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

A photo of Nelum Pokuna (Lotus Pond) on opening night

We who were not invited had to stand outside on the 'other' side of the road to get a glimpse today. Even the pavement surrounding the Center was out of bounds!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Six Lakhs for up to 4 hours of Theater Hire!!! - Nelum Pokuna – Mahinda Rajapakse Theatre – - A white elephant?

I recently wrote a blog post on the above, which was also published in the Sunday Leader of December 11th 2011. However I had grossly underestimated the hire charges of the Theatre. Check the new website which was launched at Temple Trees by the President on December 12th for the details that completely blew me away.

There are various options, but in order to rent the Hall for up to 4 hrs is Rs600,000 and for a second performance for the same day for up to 4 hrs is, Rs450,000. Of course there are other charges such as rehearsal costs of Rs75,000 per hour up to 4 hours etc. Are they day dreaming?

As usual in true lack of journalistic form, our journalists just parrot fashion have reported on the impeding opening and the launch of the website without critically commenting on the contents like I have noted above. What is it with the lack of investigative journalists? Are they worried they will not get a Press Pass for the Opening on the 15th? Come on guys use a little bit of your common sense and start a campaign to say that for the first year in order to encourage its use, publicity, and grow an interest in the performing arts, a maximum of Rs100,000 per performance would be charged and to show the future charges to get people to realize the chance of utilizing this offer in the first year.

Is there no marketing skill in Sri Lanka? Why are there thousands doing CIM courses? Who are the CIM members? Are they brain dead without an ounce of innovative thinking which I am lead to believe is a hallmark of a great marketer?

These are the questions I would ask my journalist friends, as I am no journalist but a person who barely has time to write from my day job, but feel passionate about many subjects and in this case about the Performing Arts that need to be developed especially to make it accessible to the masses. My earlier article speaks for itself and I do not want to repeat the contents of it here.

I would ask the authorities to seriously consider my viewpoint, and determine that in the Arts it is not about dollars and cents and it is about sense! Few countries if any make any profit from the Arts, it is considered part of society’s duty to keep a country’s culture alive and resurrect dying art and dance forms. We have a once in a lifetime opportunity to contribute to the debate before we lose the chance for ever, and our contribution to posterity. We MUST take responsibility for endowing the future Sri Lankans with the “Heritage of the Varied Culture” of the motherland.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The New “Lotus Pond” Performing Arts Center opposite Vihara Maha Devi

I have passed the grand looking Chinese built and gifted Arts Center in the heart of Colombo, and wondered why it had not been opened as yet. It is being maintained by one arm of the Security Forces at the moment. I am not sure who will be responsible to maintain and run it, along with the Ministry under whom it will be!

I was told that they are either looking for an auspicious time for the President to open it or that as it was gift from the People’s Republic of China they are waiting for a date from the Prime Minister of China to come for the opening. Either way the announcement has been made, namely 15th December 2011. It is possible the Chinese PM will touch down to open it and be on his way.

I firmly believe ‘performing arts’ is a mark of the completeness of a society, and the ability to express oneself to others in that medium. We must encourage this expression of opera, dance, drama and songs in all forms, but can we really match the expectations? The issue as always is that the ARTS SUBSIDY is the first to be cut in a budget tightening mood. What is more, I was told that as the monthly maintenance of the Center is expected to be around Rs6M a month, that we will only be able to hire the Hall for performances at the rate of Rs300,000 per night.

In my opinion this is the death knell to performance before it even starts, as there is hardly anyone except those with deep pockets or foreign rock star performances that can charge entrance fees to cover this cost, in addition to the other charges for a performance. If one takes the example of an audience of 1500 then it works out at Rs200 each. Whilst that does not amount to a lot, for Sinhala or Tamil performances or those of the local dance and home grown productions, to get local audiences to pay an average of at least Rs750 per ticket to fill the auditorium is not an easy task, bearing in mind that it has never been done to date. We never had a place so large that could accommodate this number. The Lionel Wendt can hold a maximum of 650 including the 150+ in the balcony.

If the encouragement of the use of the facility is the goal, so that as many people in our country can enjoy the Arts, then I believe weekday charges must be capped at Rs100,000 and Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights to be at about Rs175,000 for at least the first year on a promotional basis. The supply and demand of this facility can then be determined at these price points. One must then recognize the need to subsidize the arts in order to encourage the arts, and the people’s appreciation of the Performing Arts. Prize Givings and Convocations can be held only during daytime at lower rates that allows multiday use to help further defray the costs.
The recently published photos showed a small open air theatre on the roof. I believe fringe theater must be encouraged there, with only a small charge for hire such as Rs5000 for the space, so that 200 to 500 capacity can be accommodated at a nominal entry fee to encourage participation of the general public and increase their appreciation of the facility and the performances they can appreciate.

We have now got a much needed performing arts center, so lets make maximum use out of it. Many of the facilities to date accommodated a rather upper middle class clientele. I would like to see a more varied distribution this time with access to most people. I remember going to the Bolshoi in Moscow and Kirov in Leningrad in the days of Communist rule, paying a few roubles entry, and foreigners like us were not charged extra, and further there was an allocation for foreigners that made it easier for us to go when compared with the locals.

It also must be appreciated that with this development, a public bus service catering to the theatre goers must be laid out on say about 10 bus routes to enable people to get home at reasonable cost. The current cheapest way to get home if one does not have access to private transport is to use a three wheeler, which depending on the distance to one’s home can cost anywhere from Rs100 to Rs500 for a relatively short distance, and needs to be added to the cost of the evening.

Taking account of the points I have referred to above, I sincerely hope the relevant ministry, (Defense! Culture is it? Is the Municipal Council that is physically close by completely out of the loop?) will take on these points in a constructive manner, and assign dedicated and knowledgeable staff to this task, to permit the public to enjoy this great asset in the heart of Colombo along with the related publicity to attract users to this facility, not just to gawk at a new building and satisfy one’s curiosity, but also to learn to appreciate drama, dance and related performing arts.

I used to pass by the place when it was covered by the galvanized roofing sheets all around, and the Chinese labor, some said they were prisoners, who worked day and night to build it and then give it to the People of Sri Lanka. We must express our grateful appreciation to all who helped build it and let us hope we can continue to maintain this to the best of our ability and not wait for the Chinese to come and repair the revolving stages if they break down, but be able to use our technical skills to ensure it is kept in daily working order so that all performances can go ahead without a glitch.

Let us hope we all have a chance to visit and be given a tour of its facilities similar to the recent tour given to the Press. It is still to be named wait for it!!....................

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

It is the quality of the Teachers stupid! Teachers please give me your input

No Education Policy can be implemented if the School Principal along with the teaching staff, do not work with one goal in mind to develop all the capacities of their charges so that they produce the ultimate product the country can be proud of.

It is just not the academic achievement of the child, but their moral well being. The example set by the teacher is one that is very powerful, and if the parents are found in want or lacking in some major department, the school teacher fill the void.

This is where the dedicated professional is worth more than the disinterested graduate housewife who today seems to be the major component of the teaching carder. To get the services of the dedicated professional, teaching MUST be elevated to the status of a Doctor at the very least in our society. In order to get that status a new class of teacher with a new name must be added with a different pay scale so the disinterested housewife also does not insist of getting the same higher wage.

It is important to understand that the teaching profession is seen by many as an easy means of income for a stay at home graduate women homemaker, once they have kids. She will get a pension, though the pay is not that great. She can conduct tuition classes at home and charge for them. She does not need to work excessively as their performance in not measured on results, so the pay is the same whether you are diligent or not. She finds an excuse as to why she does not need to help the students improve their knowledge or skills. I believe the criteria for entry into the profession has been wrong and it cannot be changed overnight. Of course there are always exceptions to the rule and I salute those teachers who are committed.

Each school I believe MUST have at least two “High Level” motivational teachers, preferably a Male and a Female. They have a huge responsibility. Initially due to the shortage of these professionals they may have to be assigned to all the major secondary schools that have more than 400 pupils and then to the 200+ size primary schools in the country. There must be a better system to measure the performance of these teachers, and reward them accordingly.

It is their responsibility to build the overall student, by instilling and assisting in discipline, motivation, vision, identity, creativity, intellectual curiosity, leadership, community service, and research that the student needs, also known as soft skills to develop the overall person so he or she knows how to get on in life after leaving school either at the O level stage or at A levels.
I turn to School Principals and the evaluation standards of the school. The Ministry of Education MUST change the way school performance is measured. First they should change from looking merely at the environment using 5 s scores to measure schools. A school in Ampara, where the Principal uses the students during school hours to clean up the school environment so that the school looks beautiful from the outside and so comes first, even when the students perform abysmally.

Performance measures can be set by using a base figure of a particular point say today, and then compare the improvement from that point. The buck stops with the principals and they MUST be more accountable. At the same time there must be some form of recognition of improvements to motivate others to perform.

It must never be forgotten that a school either Private or Public owes its success to the performance of the Principal. His part in building up the school through many odds that he has to face along with political interference for school admission and teacher transfers not-withstanding, is the mark of a top teaching professional. Good relationships with the local community will follow if his efforts are noticed by the parents. There are numerous instances one can quote where good schools fall of the map and are closed due to the change in Principals.

The trick is in being able to reward performance, without de-motivating those who do not come up to scratch. When a community realizes that a good school in their midst is valuable, as it increases property values and all round benefits begin to accrue then a need to improve and keep to a high standard will naturally happen.

Principals ask for items not provided by the Education Department. They can get these inadequacies from the community, who are likely to be more forthcoming when they see potential benefits. The TESP World Bank Aid Program, refers to community help in developing local schools. They acknowledge this synergy.

In addition there is a huge need for capital expenditure as the latest Budget allocates almost nothing for equipment like computers and teaching aids. The budget hopes that the Private Sector CSR programs will provide this shortfall. That will only happen in unusual circumstances. It will the exception rather than the rule. So more funds must be allocated for Capital Expenditure in Education as otherwise the goals of education will not be achieved no matter what other resources are provided to the running of the Department.

We MUST therefore concentrate on the above topics before any formal Education Policy is implemented. Otherwise it will fail.

Monday, December 5, 2011

National Education Policy! – Is there one? – Mohan Lal Grero seems to think there is!

In an interview in the Sunday Observer of 4th December, Mr Grero who just crossed over from the UNP seemed to give as his main reason, the fact he could be of positive use to the Current Administration, in implementing the National Education Policy, which according to him is similar to the proposal he had made to the UNP. He as a member of the Education Select Committee in Parliament had helped to refine the NEP after taking into account numerous experts’ advice.

I do not believe that the Policy they have come up with is correct and should be followed. He mentions the 5000 primary feeder schools into the 1000 secondary schools, which mean that each Divisional Secretariat area in the country will have about 3 secondary schools of a certain grade, so that parents will not have to compete to send kids to other more competitive schools. This is further reinforced by the US$100M World Bank Concessionary Loan program for this same plan, which in its current form will be completely wasted.

The approach is from the wrong end. They appear to have asked why the take up rate for vocational training has been so pathetic in Sri Lanka. I can vouch for that fact, where in my area the well equipped Technical Training College in Godagama, is almost empty and hardly used. However the answer is not to get kids at 13 or 14 to decide on the vocation they are to adopt and get secondary schools to prepare them for following specific technical courses if the A level route is not for them. We must go back to basics to understand the problem provide a possible reason!

I do not believe schools must take over parenting. We must however, understand that there are severe problems in parenting, which have not equipped students with any direction in life. One parent households are now the rule in Sri Lanka, if you include alcoholic households on the one hand and those where one parent has gone overseas to work. One must remember that in many households the bread winner does not live in the family home, as he is working in a job that requires him to live in close proximity to work. They then only come home once or twice a month.

It is therefore imperative that values and achievable goals are built at the Primary stage. We concentrate on teacher training for Secondary Schools, not realizing that the Primary stage is equally as important, and tools that teachers need to instill discipline and a work ethic are different. Just throwing unemployed graduates to the Primary school sector is wrong, as those graduates are also products of a failed system, following courses in the unemployable sector, not equipping them with the skills needed. Their worst ideas handed to their charges, who continue the cycle.
The problem in this NEP(National Education Policy) is that it has been devised by educators only, without reference to the raw material (students) themselves, looking at their backgrounds and the expectations that have been made for them.

The project is likely to result in a further deterioration in the standard of Education. Without reference to overseas examples, we should concentrate on Public Free Education up to Secondary Level. Some arguments are similar to that of the Public Health Sector, where the considerable resources that go into the training at huge State expense are lost to the Private and Overseas Sector. The dynamic, quality and innovative teachers feel the public sector fails them, with politically motivated transfers, including unqualified Principals demoralizing the ambitious teachers.

The structure of politicization must change first, before we are able to get the best into the Teaching Profession. When a school dropout can join the forces at age 16 and receive at least Rs20,000 a month and be fed and housed to beat, where his whole wage goes into his bank account, when compared with a trained graduate teacher who at best gets the same but at age 30 after a 4 year degree and a further 2 years at teacher training, all of which he would have to find subsistence for, who would opt for the latter? Worse still this teacher would be assigned to a rural school with no facilities and difficult to reach, where the teacher would have to find accommodation, usually of a poor quality far from home. The incentive to teach therefore is secondary to wanting to go home to the kids each weekend!

Real life issues do not get an airing in Parliament Select Committee by Experts, who are cozily unaware of the ground situation in their ivory towers. Until wage anomalies are solved and the profession gains respect, much in the way it was over 50 years ago, nothing positive can come about. The recent budget highlighted the fact that the real wages of teachers have fallen the most, over 4% in the last year. The forces were given a 10% wage hike along with other government servants, which does not apply to teachers. It is true the quantity of teachers makes the teacher student ratio 20:1 which is excellent by any criteria, but it hides many ills, which are swept under the carpet just as the 95% literacy rate hides even more ills of the system. No person of ability wants to go into teaching under this background

We must face facts that the quality of Education in Sri Lanka has fallen to a new low and no amount of tinkering can raise it until the fundamental problems are even addressed let alone solved. I cannot see any solution in sight, and therefore I can only sadly conclude that Mr Grero the “Greate Educator” that he is, is falling into the same trap of convenience and opportunism, where he could have better fought the good fight for change from without, rather than from within.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Education a new dynamic! Is he a red herring? Should we take him seriously?

Mohan Lal Grero, the UNP MP for Colombo District and the Chief Organizer for Ratmalana, crossed over to the Government Benches on Wednesday November 30th the day after he had marched against the Government in Hyde Park with his people as part of the UNP rally. In his speech, prior to voting with the Government he specifically said that he was 55 and he wanted to serve the people before he reached 60, at which age he felt he was not useful for constructive performance.

The implication is that by crossing over he would get a position, most likely that of Deputy Ministe in Education. On 2nd December 2011 the President announced his appointment as a monitoring MP for Education, much the way Duminda Silva was for Defense. This does not carry with it any teeth or power, so I wonder whether this is till the new Cabinet of Ministers are announced after a reshuffle post budget.

Mr Grero has pledged to devote his wealth and capabilities for education. He is the owner of the string of Lyceum International Schools, and he is also being investigated for under reporting student numbers in his schools and accordingly is being investigated by the Inland Revenue for paying too little taxes. Undoubtedly this investigation will be held in suspense now saving him some worry from unreasonable tax demands which he can then instead directly donate to Education.

I then question whether he is the best person for the job, on the assumption that he will be given either the post of the Minister of Education or the Deputy. It is a different cry from running an International School to one of running the State Education sector which has a different set of problems. I do believe his level of knowledge is adequate, but his overall view on Public Education is compromised by him being an owner of hugely successful private education establishment. Mr Bandula Gunewardene also had a personal interest in Education in that he was a lecturer and owner of a Tutory providing the shortfall of the education sector.

I am not pessimistic about the prospects but I sincerely hope that the importance of Free Education is truly appreciated. Public Education in the primary stage for all who want it is the need of the hour. This sector to be successful should not require the services of tuition classes. If we can get the teachers and the students motivated to learn that which is required for the future, then I believe we can truly say we have entered into the realm of a country where all our citizens have a basic knowledge, enough to take us to the next level. It is my hope that those who truly value Education and know its benefits can impart the true trick of learning to the kids all around the country whose whole future can benefit by more knowledge.