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Thursday, November 1, 2012

Educational deprivation and continuing neglect The Care of Children 15


Educational deprivation and continuing neglect

The Care of Children 15


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By Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha

At the meeting last week of the Muttur Divisional Reconciliation Committee meeting, the Chairman of the Mediation Board reminded me of a suggestion made by the school principals I met during my last visit to Mutur. This was in 2008, while the conflict in the North still raged, but the East was limping back to normality.

The principals were from a Muslim school, a small Tamil school and a very small Sinhala school, all of which suffered from teacher shortages. They asked with one voice why they could not have a single English medium school. Not only would that bring the children of a very fractured area together, it would give them all chances of a better future.

I pointed this out in a letter to the Ministry. I went further and indicated how it would help government by reducing costs, since far fewer teachers would be needed for one school than for three, each with few students. The teacher shortages endemic in a distant place like Mutur could also thus be reduced, with less headache for education officials who would have to fill up fewer cadres.

The Ministry did not deign to reply. In discussion I have been told, when urging that English medium be made available more widely, given the tremendous demand there is for it all over the country, that there are not enough teachers. No efforts have been made however to increase the supply of English medium teachers, or to think of new ways of producing them.

A group that was set up by the Reconciliation Office, to promote Reconciliation, Education And Peace, wrote to the President offering to help. The group consists of individuals concerned with education in schools founded by religious organizations. Obviously many ideas are provided by the Catholic Church, which has done so much for education in Sri Lanka, but we also have representatives of Buddhist and Hindu and Muslim schools, as well as the Warden of S. Thomas’.

The group was hosted by Tilak Karunaratne, who had provided many ideas to the Parliamentary Consultative Committee on Education, on behalf of the Old Boys of Ananda College. He is part of a network that encompasses other Olcott schools, which were the main instrument of the development of a national system of education that aimed at high standards of a universal nature.

Javid Yusuf contributed to the deliberations and the letter to the President on behalf of Muslim educationists. He has been Principal of Zahira, in addition to all his other contributions to national and social wellbeing, which led to his recently receiving a Sahabdeen Award for sustained achievements. Hindu denominational education was represented by Mrs Duraiswamy, who also arranged a well attended meeting at Hindu Ladies College to promote twinning with less fortunate schools in the North.

I had also invited Mr Swaminathan, not because he is a member of Parliament, but because I wanted a representative of the Ramanathan family and the Navalar schools that had been set up at the same time as the Olcott schools. He however has not attended and I gathered from him that unfortunately that trust is not active now. The same goes for the Theosophist society, which is why the concept of a union of Olcott schools is so welcome. In addition, though, the Mahabodhi Society too has shown itself deeply concerned with modernizing education and also bringing children of different communities together, and their enthusiasm too should be harnessed more effectively.

Sadly there was no response to our letter to the President. Even more sadly, the Ministry of Education has not, despite a positive verbal response from the Minister of Education, responded to a letter from REAP asking for approval for a schools twinning programme. We had hoped to bring together a school from the south with one in the north and to encourage not only student links, but also projects that would help develop less advantaged schools in the catchment area of the northern school.

The idea was that, while links between students are always to be encouraged, more lasting friendships will be built when they undertake joint projects. Working together for a much less developed rural primary school would develop initiative and confidence jointly in students in both the southern and the northern school that implemented the project.

There has been a stunning silence however from the Secretary to the Ministry of Education. The same goes for the Northern Province Ministry, even though the Governor was positive. The one bright spot was the prompt response of the Western Province Ministry of Education, but given that many schools in the West are National Schools (another absurdity that the looseness of the 13th amendment has perpetrated), this is not much use. And so an excellent opportunity for bringing youngsters together productively, encouraged by the Cabinet through both the National Human Rights Action Plan and the Action Plan to implement the LLRC Recommendations, bites the dust.

Given such contempt for what has been agreed as National Policy, I have decided that there is little point in continuing with meetings of REAP, since I feel a fraud for having encouraged idealists to come up with ideas which no one is interested in. After all, as the acronym was intended to remind us, you can only reap what you sow, and the lack of interest in reforms to provide better opportunities for our children means that there will be yet more youth unrest in the future.

The children of Mutur – and Morawewa and Poonakary and Pachchilapallai and Velanai and Kopay, to name only the Divisional Secretariats in which we had meetings last week – will continue to suffer. The fact that educational shortcomings figure large in the problems brought forward by people simply will not register with government. This is tragic, for the improvement in school infrastructure shows that some elements in government care. But their efforts will be destroyed by those who do not care.

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