The Education Forum held the first of its discussion series on education (in Sinhala and Tamil) yesterday, Oct 4, 2007, at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute. The first featured presentation (Presentation_IUSF) was by Duminda Nagamuwa of the inter University Federation of Students. He gave a succinct presentation about the crisis in education cutting down an original 48 slides to 12 , respecting our request to limit the presentation to 20 minutes.
There was agreement that we have a crisis in education, although we did not have time to debate the statistics presented. More important was the lively debate that followed on the roots of the crisis. Duminda’s contention was that people are already supporting the state with their tax money and if we did not have so much waste and corruption we can go from less than 2% of GDP to a a 7% of the expenditure we apparently had in 1977.
Another argument was that by producing food that can be grown here and cutting down corruption, the money saved can be used for free education for all.
RMB Senanayake, Harsha de Silva, Luxman Siriwardena and others were up in arms about what they said were simplistic and even wrong economic arguments. RMBS made the interesting point that subsidies are funded not by direct taxes but by inflation which is a burden on the poor and a damper on growth. Another counter argument was that even with a different set of politicians and bureaucrats could not do a better job providing quality education for free because the principal-agent problem would always be there. One interesting feature was the generation gap between those presenting the two opposite view points.
The group of about 35 dispersed after deciding that the second discussion would be held nest first Thursday of the month (Nov 8th) in a panel format. Nishantha Kamaladasa proposed that we should address equity of access, quality of education and funding and there was wide agreement to the proposal.
There was also agreement that the proposed expert committee and their recommendation on an education Act can turn out to be joke like the National Education Commission’s recommendations on grade 1 admissions where the Ministry of Education did not back it up with the result that the chief Justice and the old boys doing whatever they pleased.
Stay tuned for the next discussion!