Sri Lanka is said to have a free education policy, the state providing education at primary, secondary, and undergraduate levels free of charge. But is that really what is meant by the term ‘free education’ ? after all its Sinhalese equivalent is ‘Nidahas Adhyapanaya’.
Now, the word ‘Nidahas’ – as people who speak Sinhalese would know – is a reference to freedom and not price. (See Free Software for a similar analogy)
That, I believe is the spirit in which education must be approached in this country. Instead of focusing on the provision of education, the government must shift its focus on making sure that education is received.
Sadly due to visionless and insecure set of politicians, and an even more insecure set of ‘undergraduates’, the freedom to learn in this country – at least when it comes to higher education – is non-existent. There is no real ‘free education’ in Sri Lanka.
Each year more than 200,000 odd Sri Lankans sit for the cursed A-Level examinations, out of which a bit more than 50% of come out on top, all of whom are eligible for University entry. Yet the 15 state universities in Sri Lanka can only accommodate roughly about 16000 of those students. A pathetic 14 % of those who are eligible.
Few who couldn’t get into the 14% find places in the professional courses, or external degree programs. Those who can afford it go abroad, to US, UK, Australia, India, Malaysia and increasingly places like Belarus, Bangladesh and China (yes, china. we got so hooked up on blaming everything on the ‘open market’, that in some ways we are now more communist than china! take that.) Still others who could afford private colleges here attend them, severely limiting their choice of courses.
The rest of them are told to farm, the Mahinda Chintana would give fertilizer for 350. After all we are an ‘agricultural country’, our ancestors have been doing it for 2500 years, and it also boosts the ‘national economy’ and help our country become ‘self-sustained’ by 2010. Joy.
Reality though, bites.
Some time ago, I was quoted by a friend of mine on a Daily Mirror Article on Higher Ed. Reform (this is sort of me):
Now, I’m a tad bit misquoted here. I never mentioned BIT, which is an external degree. I also didn’t explicitly mention PPP’s, a conept I’m usually not fond of.
“I feel that you need to let private players into the market, and actively promote them via tax holidays, provision of land etc. I also feel a public private partnership model where existing public universities become affiliated with certain private colleges like the BIT system should be adopted. This is what's happening in India. Its win-win situations where more people get higher education opportunities.”
I am more interested in seeing existing universities (in addition what they are already doing) be accreditation bodies and award not external degrees, but internal degrees with no difference being made whether students are internally studying in the university or not.
That’s what’s happening in India and here in colleges like APIIT, ACBT, ANC, etc. with internal degrees of Monash, Staffordshire, and Westminster offered here. Surely that can happen for local universities, and if these institutes are able to measure up to the standards of say, Monash, they can’t be far off from say um, Sabaragumwa.
This I’m afraid is the only way of increasing access, we can’t wait for the bright day when ‘corruption would stop, mismanagement would stop, and state become efficient’ like quasi-socialists or people in the JVP-backed ‘Antharey’ feels.
Its time to step out from moronic idealistic beliefs and face reality – higher education in this country sucks. Not enough people can access it. Just ask the President and plethora of ministers who send their kids to universities in the UK.
I won’t quarrel with Kannangara, he made a policy that might have suited his time. What’s clear now is that it’s no longer suited, certainly not in higher education. Changes quite simply must come and if anyone (or any party) has the balls to make it an issue, I think it can be done.
Time to put 'freedom' back in 'free' education.