Issue of Grade One School Admission has taken an unexpected turn against the evolution of the education policies of Sri Lanka. Although there is a Supreme Court ruling, every one including the judiciary is not above the ‘Law of Justice’. Justice should prevail in any court or any judgment. By granting the fundamental rights of a few elites, the court is denying the fundamental rights of the ordinary citizens of the nation. This event is in the making of history in Sri Lana’s education.
Sri Lanka’s education system is one of the best performing systems in the world and much appreciated in all quarters because over the years the policies protected the child’s equity rights to access to education at all stages. Free education policy ensured the fundamental rights of the less affluent children. One should not forget that those who are elites today were perhaps not necessarily the elites, if the free education policy was not in place. Global perspective has changed and there are more opportunities for the children of the elites, similarly the fundamental rights of every child is protected by the ‘Child’s Rights declaration. The private sector opportunities are plenty, and the affluent can afford those. The less affluent cannot afford those. The affluent cannot and should not dictate terms for the state sector which holds the prime responsibility of protecting the rights of all.
For the state every child’s right has to be ensured and a child of the elite is only another child. There should not be values attached to parent’s affluence, money, education, caste, creed, ownerships etc. Even in the United States, a child has to be admitted to the nearest public school and cannot choose public schools. Of course the parents have the freedom to admit a child to any private school anywhere, paying fees. The public education has to protect the fundamental rights of all, and in the welfare states a government’s bigger responsibility is to protect the rights of the less affluent children who are often pushed-out, outlawed and discriminated by the elite forces. The court case is a classic example to illustrate this and perhaps will be soon quoted in international law journals on a classic legal case. “Should Sri Lanka allow Elitism to Prevail”?
How can we ignore the National Education Commission which formulates policy? It is the policy arm of the government of Sri Lanka to formulate policy. It should not only summon the past students of the elite schools, maybe the Ministry should ensure that the ministry invites more of the past pupils of the smaller rural schools to formulate policy to be consistent with the court’s request and to do justice to all children.
I am happy to see that all political parties are together on this issue to resolve it. They should act together in the parliament and on urgency basis pass a new law and take quick action to enact a new law to ensure the rights of children of the non-elite are protected and democratic practice of education is preserved. The reversal discrimination has to be stopped.
It is important to know that these have happened even in US in recent history. The U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Brown vs. Board of Education (1954) claimed that practice of segregation, de facto or de jure, created a psychological hindrance for minority children, due to the inferiority of predominately minority schools. The ambiguity of the federal case allowed lower courts and policy makers the leeway to desegregate schools by “any means necessary.” However, the court ruling led to historical riots in Boston. In this case judiciary actually ensured the fundamental rights of the less affluent, yet created a chaos, disturbing the entire schooling system in Massachusetts. I am afraid that in Sri Lanka delays would lead to a similar chaos and anarchy and deny the timely admission of children to grade one.
The elites do have many other options, whereas the vast majority of the less affluent and the unfortunate have only one option, the government’s free education. The equity and equality are fundamental rights of all citizens. A parent’s affluence has nothing to do with it. There is no way that Sri Lanka at this stage could take the Intelligence Score (IQ) of the child to account for schools admissions as there is no reliable standardized intelligence test in Sri Lanka that suits the assessment of a five year old child. I can say this without any fear because I am a Ph.D. in Psychometrics from one of the prestigious American Universities.
Other than in the private schools that are catering to the elites, no where in a public school is parent’s education i a factor of selecting a child to a school? It may be a renowned public school, yet those are run with public funds and the poor man’s indirect taxes paid for a kilogram of rice and dhal is a part of that. Their rights should not be denied. Public schools cannot promote nepotism. Of course reasonable shares of admission of children of the past pupils who are with minimum satisfactory qualifications are accommodated. This system prevailed in Sri Lanka for a long time and this tradition is good for the development of the schools and establishes its identity. Yet, we must not forget that OBs and OGAs do not own these schools. As educated people we must realize that rule of justice is more important than our personal identities.
I served as an adviser to the Ministry of Education a few months back and developed the ‘Education Sector Development Policy Framework’. Together with the Ministry of Education we had a one – day workshop at BMICH with the Minster of Education and the Cabinet Consultative Committee Members, all Governors, Chief Ministers, Provincial Secretaries and Provincial Directors of Education and Secretary of Ministry of Education and the Senior Staff of the Ministry where the following recommendation was placed and discussed and agreed:
4To detach all primary
sections from ‘Type A’ schools
4 The ‘Type A’ school’s admission to be done at Grades 6, 9 and 12 ensure equitable entry to Lower Secondary, Secondary and Higher Secondary levels;
4 Grade 6 admission to be based on the performance at ‘Grade Five Scholar ship Examination’; keep ing a quota for the children of the past pupils of that school giving them a chance to admit their child to the school that they studied if the child has passed the scholar- ship exam with the mini mum marks.
4 Make the Grade 5 Scholarship Examination mandatory to all Grade 5e students including the pri vate schools.
4 Ministry to develop a Grade 8 National Assess ment Test, to further fa cilitate the admission of high performing students in Type ‘B’ and ‘C’ schools to seek admission to Type ‘A’ schools at Grade 9.
4 Ministry and the Provincial Councils to en- sure that every education division to have at least one type ‘A’ school to ensure access to all across the country.
In our estimates by these policies 300% more children will have the opportunity to receive entry at Grade 6 to secondary education in a ‘Type A’ school. This will further expand equity and justice to all, particularly to the children of the less affluent.
Further, by detaching the primary schools from the ‘Type A’ schools, the current crisis of closing down of small schools, due to the lack of students, will reduce because parents are assured that there is better opportunity for their children to get into a better school at grade 6, even if the child is now admitted to a smaller primary school. The school rationalization and Grade 1, Grade 6 and Grade 11 admissions must be sorted out ensuring the fundamental rights of every child, not only the rights of the few who could afford to go to courts, hiring high profile lawyers, has to prevail. What justice prevails thereby allowing a child of an affluent to have an affluent school? Right to education is for all, and it is to assure social mobility and sustainability of all investments towards a better world for all.
This is not a case of an individual, it affects every child. In the name of justice the decision has to be reverted. In the name of justice doors should be further opened to the less affluent. The only way forward is for the parliament, the law makers, on urgency basis to adopt a motion to overrule this unfortunate situation and introduce more justified rules and procedures. This is an unfortunate situation for all children in Sri Lanka.