Are budget proposals for education meaningful?
Posted on December 8th, 2015

By T. M. Premawardana Courtesy Island

Prior to the presentation of the Budget 2016, I put forward four principles on which the government’s planning and implementation of resolving the national education crisis should be based. They like the four wheels of a car should be activated simultaneously to function effectively. These principles, bound to our heritage of free education, are given below.

A. Every electorate or every divisional secretariat to have three categories of schools plus a vocational training school. (The three categories of schools are mentioned in the election manifesto.)

B. Teaching to be a respected profession of international standards.

C. A school syllabus that encourages good citizenship.

D. An allocation of 6% of national income for free education.

Now, we can inquire into the government’s commitment to these principles. This article will look into how the budget will affect, especially and only, the school education as it is the foundation on which higher education rests.

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The budget says, “Our strategy in education is driven by three strong pillars being improvements to the quality of teaching, to development of infra structure facilities of the schools and students and a practical school curriculum.” (305) The budget has also allocated about 2.8% of the GDP for education.

Categorization of schools based on

electorates or divisional secretariats

While keeping intact the present anomalous school system of ‘colombata kiri gamata kekiri’, Rs. 63,500 bn has been allocated for the development of schools’ and students’ infra structure facilities. Improving infrastructure without school categorisation based on the divisional secretariats has so far only made the anomalies worse. It will become still worse in the future. Doesn’t the government have a conscience to at least to get rid of the unjust treatment of children entering the year one class by having separate primary schools?

If the categorisation of schools based on divisional secretariats is accepted as a policy, first of all, the differences between DSs or electorates will have to be eliminated. Beginning from the electorates/DSs that have the least infrastructure facilities, the improvements will have to be given to all in an orderly manner. It will be a true change that people will see and feel. Thus, unjust differences between electorates/DSs will be eradicated. Then the differences between the urban and the rural schools will be gradually eliminated.

Thereafter, it will be necessary to get rid of the anomalies among schools. It cannot be done in the present school system to which they are endemic. For example the anomalies between schools of 1-5 and 1-13 can never be eradicated. But, let’s posit for a moment that there are three categories of schools 1-5, 6-11 and 12-13; then the differences or anomalies between them can be identified and solved systematically. Without such a categorization of schools we can never make ‘the closest school the best school’.

As the government budget has not accepted the categorization of schools based on electorates/DSs the allocation of funds for the development of infra structure is not meaningful. Invariably, we shall have to conclude that the hidden policy of the government is to continue the competition for popular schools. The government has quietly decided to carry on with the anomalous, unjust education system.

Under these conditions how can the government say “…we will make it compulsory that all students should follow an educational process that will go on for 13 years, either in schools or vocational training institutions.” (318) and make it a reality? In other words, where are the vocational training schools for more than 50% of the students who leave after the GCE O/L examination?

To make that promise a reality it is essential to have a system of school education and higher education as the diagram shows. But, the budget proposals certainly do not show such an intention.

A teaching profession of international standards

The budget has allocated Rs 1,000 bn for the full time training of teachers for two years within the first five years after they are employed by the state and state-aided schools. By this proposal the government has put aside the formation of internationally respected teaching professionals. The life of any education system is the professional practice by the teachers. Such a respected profession can be evolved not by training them after their enrolment but before. Only young men and women who are bright and who give priority to character must be enrolled. The full-time teacher training must be at least for 5 years. After the training they must be given a licence to teach. And for that there must be an Education Council similar to the Medical Council.

For example in Finland, where they have the best education system in the world, only the best 10% of the graduates can apply for teaching. The teacher training is for five years. The total expenditure for this is undertaken by the government. All the teachers are graduates with a diploma in education. There is no difference or competition among the teachers. Their salaries increase only according to seniority. The profession of teachers is similar in all respects to the professions of medicine and law.

If there is an honest desire to develop the country, first of all, education must be developed. That is because in any country the stable development of the economy always follows the human development there. Even a country like Cuba sends teachers and doctors abroad for work not mothers! Our country has the potential to move in that direction.

If we create an internationally recognised and respected education profession our teachers can obtain no pay leave for five years to work in developed countries and earn as much as Rs. 35 and 45 mn. Then the teacher can give up tuition while safeguarding one’s and profession’s respect and raise his or her own living standard. What is more important is the life experience the teacher receives abroad which will enhance the human development in his or her own country.

Looking at the budget proposals from the angle of education profession, the first impression one gets is that the strategy is like ‘the horse must clear the stile but it must also be cheap’. What has really happened is that the policy of creating an internationally respected profession of education has been rejected.

A curriculum that encourages

good citizenship

The budget has not allocated funds for the curriculum development. The curriculum is the road map of education. At present children compete for economic profit alone. It robs the children of their childhood and kills their humanity. It promotes selfishness and evaporates wisdom.

The results of which are the seven deadly sins that Mahatma Gandhi presented:

Wealth without work; Pleasure without conscience; Science without humanity; Knowledge without character; Politics without principle; Commerce without morality and Worship without sacrifice.

Sadly, these are becoming the much valued principles of many citizens of our country. If this trend continues it is difficult to imagine a civilized society in future where we can live in safety and peace. The government has not accepted in principle and as a policy the need for a curriculum that encourages and forms good citizens.

6% of GDP for free education

After a long time the government has increased the allocation for education by 30% relative to the previous year. It is a good trend to be happy about. But, it is not specified that these funds are for the improvement and development of free education. It is also not proclaimed that the government has accepted as a policy to set aside 6% of the GDP for education.

If the government had openly declared in the budget that 6% of the GDP for education was its policy and to reach that in a certain year annually so much would be increased then we would have known that the government was dedicated to this policy and committed to it.

If the government is not ready to implement the above it is meaningless to say, “Let me assure this house that our government will at no point compromise free education that is prevailing at present.” (333)

We have no confidence that the government’s dedication to our national heritage of free education is sincere. Ergo, it is definitely not possible to say that the budget proposals for education are meaningful.

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