Sri Lanka: Whither Free Education — Crying for justice

Education is a right and not a privilege. This country is said to have a free education system. If so, how come this kind of gross discrimination against the underprivileged children has come to be taken for granted? There is nobody to safeguard the rights of the students who cannot even enter the science stream for no fault of theirs.


by Prabath Sahabandu

( February 13, 2017, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) A female student, who secured distinctions for all three subjects at the GCE A/L examination in the Arts stream from the Moneragala District in 2015 has been denied university admission. She was seen on television struggling, in vain, to hold back her tears rolling down her youthful cheeks on Saturday. R. M. Saumya said the University Grants Commission (UGC) claimed that it had not received her online application for registration, which she had sent through a cyber café in a nearby town as she did not have Internet access at home or in her village. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

Minister of Higher Education and Highways Lakshman Kirielle has said he will ensure that justice is done. It is incumbent upon him to honour his word without delay because the newly introduced online registration scheme has caused numerous problems to rural students. Government politicians are living in cloud cuckoo land. They are talking of Google balloons, free Wi-Fi zones, tablet PCs for students in Grade 12 and 13 and relaying market data to loincloth-clad farmers via mobile phones. But, many students who pass the GCE A/L examination are without facilities for online registration.

Some ultra radical elements successfully used slogans such as ‘colombata kiri, gamata kekiri’ (‘milk for Colombo and melon for the village) to tap the pent-up frustration of the rural youth and brainwash them into sacrificing their precious lives in the name of liberation. Even these self-proclaimed revolutionaries are silent on the despicable discrimination against the underprivileged children in the field of education.

Saumya’s plight has come to light at a time when university students, academics, politicians and some civil society activists have taken up cudgels for the rights of medical undergraduates in state universities. Children of the rural poor are in this predicament owing to a glaring urban bias in the resource allocation for education. It needs to be added that even in the urban areas only the privileged schools are on the radar screen of the powers that be and the education high-ups; there are many neglected small schools in Colombo and its suburbs.

Many students like Saumya, in rural backwaters, would opt for the GCE A/L science stream if the required facilities were available at their schools. Their parents help maintain medical and engineering faculties by paying indirect taxes, but their progeny cannot at least enter the race for admission to those coveted institutions.

Education is a right and not a privilege. This country is said to have a free education system. If so, how come this kind of gross discrimination against the underprivileged children has come to be taken for granted? There is nobody to safeguard the rights of the students who cannot even enter the science stream for no fault of theirs. It is reported from time to time that some of the bright rural students who succeed in realising their dream of entering medical and engineering faculties, amidst difficulties, drop out, unable to follow lectures in the English medium.

If all people are equal and there is a free education system in this country, then each and every student should be able to gain access to a school where the subject stream of his or her choice is available. Visionary statesman, worthy of holy veneration, C. W. W. Kannangara, set up the Central Colleges as part of a strategy to help every student regardless of his or her parents’ station in life to receive a decent education. Had successive governments followed his progressive policies, sons and daughters of the rural masses would not have been in this predicament today.

When state power was devolved to the periphery through the provincial council system, people at the grassroots level were assured that they would be given a better deal. But, their lot hasn’t improved in any way as evident from the plight of Saumya and others like her. Their schools remain underdeveloped while provincial politicians are preoccupied with national issues and lining their pockets.

Saumya is certainly not alone in this predicament. There must be many other rural children dwelling among the untrodden ways, suffering in silence. Who will fight for their rights which are being blatantly violated?


The writer is the editor of the Island, a Colombo based daily newspaper where this piece was originally appeared. 


 

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