We Sri Lankans boast about a literacy rate of over 90%. Yes, statistically it’s true. But, just get out of your statistical frame of mind, and look at the stark reality. Most of our schools are not fit to be called schools in the true sense of the word.Those schools are so appalling that they simply cannot contribute towards sustaining a high literacy rate. Also, most students in these schools may be able to read and write, but can they do anything more, like solving a problem, applying what they have learned etc?
In Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia on the worldwide web, education is defined as encompassing teaching and learning specific skills, and also something less tangible but more profound: the imparting of knowledge, positive judgement, and well-developed wisdom.
Education has as one of its fundamental aspects the imparting of culture from generation to generation. Education means ‘to draw out’, facilitating realisation of self-potential and latent talents of an individual.
There are over 9,500 schools in the country. Of these, how many are contributing to national well being? Are the education and school authorities aware of their onerous task and national responsibility of ensuring that the schools throughout the country deliver quality education to all students? We have our doubts. Quite apart from imparting knowledge, are these schools inculcating the moral values that education must provide to all students?
Of the so called National schools, how many can proudly declare that they produce law abiding, morally sound, ethically upright students? The 500 odd National schools, if they are to continue as a separate entity, have to offer something better: they must produce the country’s intelligentsia, mould future leaders for all spheres, ensure that they contribute to the national well being, and provide the backbone to the national development efforts.
In reality, all our schools must be made “National schools.” Why step motherly treatment to a staggering 9,000 odd schools by naming them as Provincial schools? 13th amendment or otherwise, education is national as much as defence is.
Good, purposeful and forward looking education must be truly national if we are to benefit out of it. It cannot be just limited to Colombo and a few townships. Every child, wherever he comes from, must be able to receive a truly national education so that he or she can someday effectively contribute to the national well being.
Let us not leave it just only to the government of the day. All of us as responsible citizens must play a significant role in this most important aspect of our national development. There are numerous business and other organisations that are doing well; they are using as their human resource what our school system has produced.
People of this country have contributed to the free-of-charge education provided for the last 62 years by successive governments. Business houses benefit out of the sacrifices made by Sri Lankans, poor or rich. It’s time for those business houses to return the favour by nurturing some of our schools that are situated in the remotest rural areas.
Many schools in the urban areas have in the form of well wishers, their alumni, parents and large companies. Remote schools in the villages do not have anyone to look after; they are nobody’s baby. In fact, these are the very schools that need support and assistance to progress.
It appears that the Government is sincere and serious about reawakening the villages. At last, it has dawned on the rulers that our villages are the backbone of our survival and prosperity.
Improving the village schools is the best way to uplift our villages. Infrastructure development is well and good, but if our rural children are not given the best of education, how can we be satisfied with our village development initiatives?
What then should the Government do? Do not leave it exclusively to the Ministry of Education. The Ministry cannot, because if they could, why haven’t they done it during the last six decades? In the name of rationalisation, they have been closing most small rural schools (claiming its World Bank advice) in remote areas faster than Susanthika could do the coveted 100 metres!
There was a dedicated band of people with Prima Donna of Primary Education, Kamala Peiris leading it, keen to save our small rural schools. That had been many years ago and it is not known whether such a group exists in today’s education set up. No use appointing a commission to report on this. Such commissions will take at least 3-5 years merely to define what small schools are and then to compile a list of them.
President Rajapaksa with his rural touch and love for the rural folk must be the prime mover in this initiative.
He should ask the Divisional Secretaries and the District Secretaries to compile a list of all schools that do not have alumni or any other support from businesses or NGOs, but if some meaningful assistance is provided, could contribute to the national development through progressive student development. Also, these ground level officials could tell the President what schools could be amalgamated to provide a meaningful education.
There is clearly no point in having two schools within a short distance of each other, particularly when one is having only a handful of students. We might as well have one with good facilities and a full complement of teachers.
President Rajapaksa also must create a small group of people drawn from eminent retired public servants to coordinate the revival of remote rural schools. This could function under his Secretariat.
The President must invite willing but reputed business organisations to foster these schools that are identified. No commercial advertising or any other canvassing for products must be allowed in lieu of support. The businesses must do it as a Corporate Social Responsibility programme.
What could these business houses do? Provide many things that will improve education. That’s the objective.
They could build a small library with about 2,500 books and other reading material, provide a few computers with a resource person to orient children, pay for a good English teacher to improve the standard of English of the students, provide audio visual teaching aids with suitable learning material, improve the surroundings with landscaping, spruce up the buildings and help the school to showcase productivity. One can come up with a long list of things that could be done.
It would be a real public-private partnership that both the private and public sectors could be proud about. Companies that support schools well must be recognised by the Head of State. That will also give those companies valuable national level publicity thus helping them in their business activities.
It is critically important that the rural schools are vastly improved to provide quality education to rural children. We hope that the Isuru Schools programme envisaged in the Mahinda Chintana will be a reality.
It is one activity that the Government cannot afford to delay or mess up. Once and for all, we need to solve the ever recurring problem of lack of good schools for our children. Improving rural schools will minimise rural-urban migration and retain the rural folk in their salubrious habitats.
Let us be bold enough to admit that most teachers in rural schools do not care about their wards; they gossip, engage in private interests, or just go to the classroom and let the students do as they want.
As much as 15 -20 per cent of the entire teacher cadre is absent throughout the school system on any given day! There is ample evidence that teachers in most rural schools do not teach at all, because if most teachers in rural schools did their job properly, 49% of the school candidates couldn’t have failed the GCE Ordinary Level examination last year.
A detailed analysis of the results clearly shows that poor performers mostly came from rural schools, almost all managed by the Provincial Councils. If these schools that are expected to prepare students to pass their first hurdle in life in the form of a public examination cannot do that, then clearly we must reorganise these schools with a precise objective. That’s why we believe that education must be truly national.
Every time you stop a school, you will have to build a jail. What you gain at one end you lose at the other. It’s like feeding a dog on his own tail. It won’t fatten the dog.