HEALTH, EDUCATION, AND YAHAPALANA Part 6
Posted on September 19th, 2019

KAMALIKA  PIERIS

HIGHER EDUCATION (QUALITY ASSURANCE AND ACCREDITATION) ACT

  Yahapalana announced In August 2019 that is was planning to introduce a Higher Education (Quality Assurance and Accreditation) Act. This Act would create a national authority for Quality Assurance and Accreditation of higher education.

This National authority” turned out to be nothing more than a Commission. This Commission is to be the apex body for Quality Assurance and Accreditation of higher educational institutions at the national level.  It is expected to “maintain high standards of quality of educational qualifications in higher educational institutions.”

The draft Act said that the Commission shall be composed of persons who have academic qualifications, knowledge, experience and who have shown fluent capacity in quality assurance, educational, professional, commercial, management, industrial, scientific, legal, or administrative field or any other relevant field said the Act.” This is a very loose definition said, critics. 

The Commission will have 13 members. Four ex-officio and a further nine members who will be appointed by the President from a panel of 15 persons nominated by the Minister. Five of these 9 members will be full-time members of the Commission, with one of them chairing the Commission.

The quorum for any meeting shall be five. Therefore, out of 13 members, less than 50% of attendants are sufficient to take decisions, said critics. Also, by setting the quorum of meetings conducted by the Commission at 5, the Bill allows the five full-time members, who are political appointees, to make any decision related to the Commission.

These provisions give considerable power to the Minister of Education. It is the minister who decides the suitability of candidates. At the same time, the nine persons to be appointed by the President could be anybody who could be influenced by the minister.

The powers of this commission are very extensive. Here are some of them.

  • The Commission has the power to formulate, implement, and update Sri Lankan qualification framework.( Section  9 a)
  • Commission has the power to revoke provisional accreditation or full accreditation granted to Higher Educational Institutions and Programmes conducted thereof that are not keeping up with the required quality and standards determined by the Commission.”(sec 9f)
  • Evaluate foreign degrees, diplomas and other academic distinctions for the purpose of recognition or accreditation of such degrees, diplomas or academic distinctions in consultation with the relevant professional or statutory or regulatory body or foreign academic institutions where necessary.( sec 9h)
  • Notwithstanding the provisions in the Universities Act No 16 of 1978 relating to Quality Assurance and Accreditation functions, the Commission shall discharge the functions in relation to Quality Assurance and Accreditation pertaining to Higher Educational Institutions established or deemed to be established under the Universities Act No 16 of 1978 and Institutions recognized under section 25 of the Universities Act No 16 of 1978 (section 55 (c) (ii)

These provisions indicate that the functions presently carried out by higher educational institutions and professional institutions, will be taken over by the Commission. Eventually, the powers vested with the University Grants Commission will also be taken over by this Commission, said critics.

This draft Bill has been strongly opposed by many in the Higher education sector, including the Federation of University Teachers’ Associations (FUTA), Medical Faculty Teachers’ Federation. It has been criticized by many University Vice-Chancellors and Student Unions.

FUTA President said The Bill would end the GCE Advanced Level examination as a qualifying examination to enter State Universities. Those with money will be able to gain entry to State Universities through lateral entry. The Bill allows for students to move between HE institutions under ‘cross mobility.’ This is allowed through the Sri Lanka Qualification Framework (SLQF). This could force State Universities to allow multiple entry points in their Degree programmes for students from Private Education institutions,” he observed.

The Bill would take away accreditation powers regarding higher education institutions currently vested with the University Grants Commission and entrust it to this new Quality Assurance & Accreditation Commission, he continued. FUTA was not opposed to Accreditation & Quality Assurance of Private Education institutions. But we see no need to do that to State Universities, which already have a mechanism to ensure this.

Further, the proposed Bill will seriously undermine the state university system. The Bill would essentially place the State Universities and Private Education institutions on an equal footing. Private Education institutions operate on a platform based on profit-making, while the State University system is based on social justice. You can’t equate the two. FUTA President said.”

Organization of Professional Associations (OPA) also objected to the draft Act. OPA President Nissanka Perera stated that their organization was seriously concerned that the proposed Quality Assurance & Accreditation Commission will be a politicized body, given that, so many members can be appointed from outside.

 We acknowledge there is a need for Quality Assurance & Accreditation in the HE sector. However, the Bill, in its current form, is extremely dangerous. The OPA strongly feels that the Bill should be withdrawn and views of professionals obtained on the matter,” OPA President said.

FOREIGN SCHOLARSHIPS

 Yahapalana government announced, through Minister  Mangala Samaraweera that Yahapalana has decided to send 14 top performers in the Advanced Level examination to foreign universities for undergraduate education at taxpayer expense. Nawam Mawatha had a  large billboard advertising this in September 2019.

Critics promptly calculated the cost. The annual fees for a top US University are around Rs 9.0m. For 14 students the annual school fees alone will be about Rs 126m. The four-year bill will be about Rs 500m. Travel, books, etc. will cost an additional sum. Without adjusting for inflation, the university fees for 14 students in a US university will cost 3% of Colombo’s annual budget, said, critics.

 It is possible that foreign universities may offer scholarships to reduce the cost to the government. What happens when very good students privately apply to such universities. But the government making arrangements to send the best students abroad makes little educational sense, critics said.

The move could be interpreted as an admission that the state does not believe that the universities which it runs are good enough for the best students in the country, said critics. The Rs 126 million can be used to award generous scholarships so that more students can enter local universities. There are many other ways by which this money can be spent to help cash-strapped local state universities,  said, critics.

Those who go on these scholarships will have to sign an agreement to return and serve the country for 15 years, said Yahapalana. That is unlikely said critics. The students who are selected are the very people who will move on to postgraduate studies soon after undergraduate studies, and thereafter to careers abroad.

TABLET COMPUTERS

 Yahapalana put forward a plan in 2017 to distribute  234,321 tablet computers in three stages to school children and teachers in the Advanced level classes. Around 77,309 students and 12,221 teachers in national schools will receive 89,530 tabs. Other schools will receive 47,872 tabs for 39,091 students and 8791 teachers,   said Yahapalana. Steps would be taken to block access to data outside educational matters.

The ministry planned to distribute 96,919 tabs at a cost of Rs.4,000 million in August 2019, in the first phase. The second and third phases were scheduled to take place in 2020. President Sirisena  had intervened to say that any money left over should  be used for other shortcomings in schools such as desks, chairs and other equipment.

Since Advanced Level students and teachers will receive about 100,000 high-quality, brand new  tablets with a three-year guarantee, to start with, said Minister Kariyawasam.  It will be unnecessary for the government  to print textbooks  for Grade 6 to Grade 9 thereafter. With tablets, the use of written documents and taking down notes in exercise books will be minimised.

“Tablets will be first given to GCE AL students of National Schools and then to AL students in schools with Wi-Fi facility. In the third stage we will identify schools without the Wi-Fi facility and give the Wi-Fi as well as tabs,” said Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in July 2019.

This was promptly contradicted by President Sirisena. .Cabinet approval had been granted for the programme to provide tab computers to G.C.E.Advanced Level students on condition that it is first implemented as a pilot project in national schools, he said. The next stage would  depend on the success of the pilot project.

The tender for the purchase of  tablet computers ran into trouble. It was not done in a straight forward way. Procurement Appeal Board  told the Presidential Commission of Inquiry investigating corruption in the  Yahapalana  administration, that the government’s allocation to procure the tab computers was Rs. 5 billion . Technical Evaluation Committee (TEC) however, awarded the tender to Metropolitan Computers  for a model that would  cost the government Rs. 7.4 billion. TEC had rejected all bids except the one by Metropolitan Computers

 Seven rejected bidders had  lodged complaints with  PAB and   PAB had  conducted an investigation and found the following. PAB   found that  TEC has not adhered to the procurement guidelines. TEC  had not given exact specifications to suppliers.  Only TEC knew what the specifications were. For instance they had merely given a photo of what the casing should look like, nothing else.

TEC had changed criteria for the project on a number of occasions and  adequate time had not been given to the bidders to make adjustments to their bids. They were only given 12 days to comply. Usually, we give them 28 days even when it’s a domestic bid. But in this case some bidders had to communicate with computer manufacturers from foreign countries and bidders said that they needed about eight weeks for this, said PAB.” Lastly,  TEC had   rejected bids  which did not have FCC safety certificate, though Telecommunications Regulatory Commission had advised it to accept both FCC and CE certification.

The rejected bidders said they did not know why their bids had been rejected. PAB  got the TEC to reveal the reasons for their rejection. Once that was done, we asked the bidders to re-present documents,  said PAB . TEC had rejected a number of bids, stating that there were ‘major deviations,’ but PAB found that these   ‘deviations’  could have been sorted out. PAB cleared four bids rejected by the TEC for having ‘major deviations .

PAB  found that four bids, apart from Metropolitan, met the required criteria. Out of them, PAB decided that the tender should be awarded to  the Haier Tab Computer,  marketed by Abans, which met all the criteria, was the cheapest  and had CE certification.” Ministry of Education  instead, asked the TEC to re-evaluate the bid. Instead of purchasing the Haier product, TEC chose a Lenovo product offered by Abans.

Around May 2019, Ministry  decided that it wanted to  conduct a massive publicity campaign about the forthcoming Tablet project , costing  a whopping Rs. 55 million , obtained   as a supplementary estimate to the Budget. The Ministry said that a publicity campaign prior to the distribution of the tablets was needed to create greater awareness among the people on the educational and social benefits received by students by the use of tablets.

The ministry  planned to create an attractive publicity campaign using advertisements in the electronic, radio and print media,  in addition to hoardings.  Three advertising agencies which had submitted  proposals to the Procurement Committee of the Ministry were short listed. Cherry Isle  quoted Rs. 70.8 million, Media Solutions Rs.70.3 million and the CAPR 7 Media Pvt Ltd Rs. 55 million.   Due   to lack of time, the Ministry  wanted  to  bypass  the customary  open competitive procedures and award the publicity campaign to the lowest quotation.

SURAKSHA INSURANCE SCHEME

Several weaknesses of the Suraksha Insurance scheme emerged before the Presidential Commission of Inquiry investigating corruption in the Yahapalana administration. The idea of an insurance scheme for school children  came from Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and the Education Minister Kariyawasam, said Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe. These two presented a Cabinet Paper on Suraksha Insurance scheme without conducting a feasibility study.

The project was duly approved by the Cabinet, and the project was placed under the  Health and Nutrition Division of the Education Ministry. The Education Ministry had neither the jurisdiction nor expertise to carry out such a project. It should have been managed by the Health Ministry, said Wijeyadasa. 

The Commission was urged to look at the money allocated to the project. By mid-2018, students had claimed only about Rs. 160 million, but the Ministry had allocated Rs. 2.7 billion for the project.  Education Minister Kariyawasam and Petroleum Resources Minister Kabir Hashim had also re-insured ‘Suraksha’ with a reinsurance company in India, paying it Rs. 2,430 million, said informants.   Officials in the Ministry of Education had objected to this but the Suraksha committee had overruled them, saying this was the Minister’s decision.

The first insurance contract in 2018 was given to the state-owned Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation.  The next    contract for 2019 was given to Allianz Insurance.  Allianz Insurance Lanka Ltd is a fully-owned subsidiary of Allianz SE, Germany. Pannipitiya Private Hospital together with Allianz Insurance, decided to grant a 20% discount to students who own Suraksha policies when they take treatment at the hospital.

Technical Evaluation Committee (TEC) appointed to select the suitable bidder for 2019 did not have an expert on insurance though this was a requirement in the procurement guidelines.  Two TEC members had doubts about the no-claim payback of Allianz Insurance. They had not been invited to the last meeting where the final decision was taken. The Commission said that it looked as though TEC had deliberately attempted to ensure that Allianz obtained the tender.

EDUCATION  MINISTER’S PHOTO

A photograph of Education Minister Akila Viraj Kariyawasam was printed in the school textbooks for 2018/2019, along with a message. The Presidential Commission investigating frauds under the current administration focused attention on the costs incurred by this. The photo appeared in 18 million textbooks in 2018  and 39 million textbooks in 2019.

Kariyawasam had wanted a colour photograph, but education officials had managed to   get him to agree to a black and white photo.  Ministry officials did not approve the publication of this photograph. They thought it was unethical. It was the first time that a Minister had added his photograph to textbooks, they said. Minister Kariyawasam however said that the Ministry had assured him that  color photos of previous education ministers had been included in textbooks.

Former acting Commissioner of Education Publications, I.M.K.B. Ilangasinghe, who testified about the photo was transferred, on July 24, 2019 without a charge sheet,  to the Education Services Establishment Division pool. It was thought that this was because he spoke against Education Minister on the photo matter.

An earlier file against Ilangasinghe, which has been closed without any action was now dug out   and sent, with a note from Kariyawasam, instructing the Secretary to take action against Ilangasinghe. The government was trying to intimidate state officials so that they would not testify truthfully before these commissions,  said education officials. Critics pointed out that witnesses coming before the Commission could not be victimized in this manner. They were protected by several laws. The Commission ordered that Ilangasinghe, be immediately  reinstated.

In addition to school textbooks, the photograph of Education Minister Kariyawasam  was also printed on the school uniform voucher. Kariyawasam had instructed  Secretary, Education,  in August 2016, to place photos of the President, Prime Minister, himself and the state minister at the back of school uniform vouchers. This   was reported to the Commission. This is the first time that a photo of a politician was inserted into the school uniform distribution process, informants said.  Commission was told  by  Printcare Secure ,the firm which did the printing that the cost of printing  the vouchers could have been reduced by about 25% if photos of the President, Prime Minister, Education Minister and the State Minister had not been printed on the reverse.

SCHOOL BUILDINGS

 Yahapalana trumpeted on August 9 2019 that around 500 School buildings, built at a cost of Rs  10 billion over the past 4 years, would be declared open in 9 Provinces  on that one day. The new  buildings include, Science Labs, Computer Labs, Sports Complexes, buildings for Technical studies, Libraries, Principals’ and Teachers’ Quarters, Classrooms, improved Sanitation facilities and Supply of Electricity and Water. Of 18,600 projects, 15,000 were Provincial projects and about 2,000 were for National schools. Minister of Education said this was the largest number of buildings opened on the same day, for school related projects.

Ceylon Teachers Service Union said  these were  not 500 new projects as claimed by the Ministry of Education. In some cases, old buildings have  been re-painted and shown as new buildings. 50 of these buildings were only renovated and not newly constructed. Some buildings were not up to standard.  Principals had raised objections about the buildings, but the authorities had forced them to arrange for opening ceremonies

Derana News on 9.9.19 then showed the opposite. At Sri Siddhartha secondary school, in Dikkumbura, Galle, a three storey new building has been approved. The first thing  the builders had done was to break down the existing buildings. They broke down an entire  block of class rooms and removed the roof of another set of classrooms.  Then they   stopped  work and left.6 classrooms, the common room, library, staff room, and  deputy principal’s office  were  among the building broken down.

But the school is continuing to function. The principal told Derana that one class room is divided into two and classes held. Classes are taught in rotation.  We give leave on one day  to    grade 7 and get down grade 6,  next day get down 7, next day give leave to Grade 8 and get down 6,  and so on. Every day  around   300  pupils  are at home” We are studying under umbrellas when it rains.”  Derana television showed the  principal, staff and students busily engaged  in building a class room . We also saw the staff having their lunch under a staircase.

The media reported in May 2019 that the staff residential  quarters at Tunkama Maha Vidyalaya, Embilipitiya,  were in dilapidated condition. The tutorial staff of about 40 teachers, attend to about 1500 students in this school. Most of the teachers are from distant areas and the majority reside in Embilipitiya. The existing quarters have not been used for about 2 years, due to the lack of repairs, and the teachers’ requests to the authorities to renovate them, had fallen on deaf ears, the media said.

SCIENCE TEACHING ( 1)

The General Certificate of AL Bio-Science stream syllabi will be modified as the subject content is changing with new discoveries taking place in the world, Education Minister Akila Viraj Kariyawasam told Parliament  in August 2019.  Prof. Jayadeva Uyangoda has been tasked with modifying the Bio-Stream syllabi, he said.   Jayadeva Uyangoda retired as  Professor of Political science in the  University of Colombo. He is not an expert in bio-science.

SCIENCE TEACHING ( 2)

With 2 weeks to go for the 2019 GCE Advanced Level exam, students complained  in July 2017  that they were unable to obtain Sinhala/Tamil Resource books on Science subjects because the printing has been delayed.

The National Institute of Education responsible for the printing of these books, said that, due to its involvement with the main task of designing and developing curricula it had failed to get the books printed on time. The Resource books, a new concept introduced last year, is an additional responsibility to our main tasks, they said.  The material for the books is in English, and have to be translated into Sinhala and Tamil. However, the contents of the books have been published on the Internet and students could log on to the NIE website and download the material.

SCIENCE TEACHING ( 3)

A petition has been filed in the Court of Appeal  in August 2019, complaining that the Biology teachers are deprived of proper course material for the Biology New Syllabus and thereby they are unable to properly and effectively guide the GCE A/L students. It says that the GCE A/L Biology students are deprived of proper course material. Hence a grave injustice would be caused to them at the GCE A/L examination.

The petition said that the Biology New Syllabus introduced with effect from 2017 was amended from time to time, without due notice to teachers and students.  Also there is a wide discrepancy between the New Biology Syllabus in English and the one in Sinhala. The petitioner wanted Court to restrain the Education Department from conducting the Biology examination, scheduled for August 5, 2019.

TEACHING STAFF (COMPLAINT NO 1)

Many newly appointed graduate teachers, at Provincial Council level, had been recruited to teach subjects they had not studied in universities and were therefore finding  it difficult to teach these subjects, reported  the media in June 2019.

TEACHING STAFF (COMPLAINT NO 2)

The Ceylon Teachers Union (CTU) claimed that the   postings  granted to 4,286 new teachers  in May 2019 has created a chaotic situation and  has failed to clear the teacher shortages in rural schools. Ministry of Education has assigned the majority of the teachers to the 353 National schools, while ignoring the over 9,800 Provincial schools, which are experiencing a severe teacher shortage.

These teachers were recruited under Section 6.1.1 of Gazette notification No.1914 where, Advanced Level students from difficult areas were selected to the National College of Education  despite their lower Z-scores, because they were willing to serve in rural areas. Those with high Z-scores from urban areas were ignored. They may be appointed to National schools only if there are no vacancies in the Provincial schools. But there are vacancies in Provincial schools.

Secondly, teachers have been posted in a haphazard way. Teachers of the Uva Province were appointed to the Eastern Province, those from the Northern Province to Sabaragamuwa Province and teachers from the North-Central Province to distant areas.

TEACHING STAFF (COMPLAINT NO 3)

In late May, 3,850 UNP henchmen were appointed as school sports instructors. “Even Governors of the provinces opposed these appointments. The qualification of some instructors has been taking part in tug of war contests and this event is no longer held in schools, reported the  Ceylon Teachers Union (CTU. The basic qualification for this position is passing the GCE O/L examination and at least the third place at a district level schools sports event.

In July 2019, the CTU complained that the Ministry of Education would appoint another 510 UNP henchmen as school sports instructors  despite the overwhelming opposition to such political appointments by the education sector trade unions. The appointments have been made according to the lists given by UNP MPs. “This is a part of the government’s strategy to stuff the education sector with UNP henchmen, said CTU.  By entrusting schoolchildren to such mediocre individuals, there will be  serious concerns about the safety of the children.

TEACHING STAFF (COMPLAINT NO 4)

Principals, teachers and Sri Lanka Education Administrative Service (SLEAS) officers, held a major protest opposite President’s House in Colombo in August 2019,against  a move to appoint a SLAS Class III officers to SLEAS Class 1. This would create a precedent, enabling Sri Lanka Administrative Service (SLAS) officers to cross over to the SLEAS cadre. The appointment of SLAS officers to the SLEAS will  cause a disparity in the grades and  create a vacuum in the number of Class 1 officers in the SLEAS cadre . 

 This  would create a mix and cause much disruption within the Education sector. SLAS officers will be allowed to get into the Education sector, while teachers and principals are not allowed to sit the SLAS exams. Southern Province Governor Keerthi Tennakoon, who had initiated this, said that  this Assistant Director posting to the Province was nothing new. It has been in existence for some time, and was vacant for the last 8 years in the SLAS.

TEACHING STAFF (COMPLAINT NO 5)

On June 26, 2018, the EUs representing the SLEAS officers, teachers and principals,  had planned a token strike protesting against the Government’s plan to grant 3,000 officials in the Education sector, concessions for being politically victimized. President intervened and directed the Ministry to appoint a 3-member committee to review the move. The committee was to review all files and the PSC was  to grant concessions to deserving persons, after discussion with the EUs.

Despite these, assurances  in June, that no officer will be granted appointments, promotions or increments on claims of political victimization, in August 2019, that the Ministry was planning to grant concessions to 1,028 ‘politically victimized’ SLEAS officers The CTU  says the  Ministry does not have the power to act for the PSC, which is mandated with all administrative work of public servants and  also that the education unions were not consulted .

TEACHING STAFF (COMPLAINT NO 6)

Retiring teachers in government schools have requested the Public Service Commission PSC to look into the new system imposed by the Pension Dept   for obtaining  their Widows and Orphans pensions. It is causing much  distress and hassle. In the new system  retiring teachers have to obtain all documents from the areas they have worked in, when preparing their WAOP fund documents.  Teachers have  also to submit certified documents of all deductions from the Zonal offices of the schools they have worked in. This means that a retiring teacher has to visit all Zonal offices of areas they have worked in, in order to prepare the W&OP for his/her family. A teacher who has served for 30 years, in schools, has to visit several Zonal offices in order to apply for his/her pension. Earlier, the files of all pensioners were maintained by the Pensions Department.  

 BIG BAD WOLF”

Big Bad Wolf  book sale of Malaysia  came to Sri Lanka for the first time after Yahapalana took over. There were two BBW book sales in Colombo in 2017 and 2018.The Big Bad Wolf Book Sale  is  a book sale held  primarily in Malaysia by  BookXcess” of Malaysia. This shop buys  up stocks of  unsold books from publishers, and makes them available for sale. ‘We buy the excess or remainder books from the publishers and keep them stashed away in our warehouse’  the firm said. This means that these are books for which there was no demand. By the time they re-emerge for sale  they will be even more out of date.

The Colombo sale had  1.5 million books of 20,000 titles. It was open 24 hours for ten days. Trade was brisk.  There were dozens of customers with packed trolleys. There were heaps of books for  toddlers and young children and  lots of  guides to learning English. There were  coffee table books and  cookbooks. I saw a huge cart containing dozens of copies of Volume One  only of Game of Thrones”. The books were unbelievably cheap. Books to the total    value of  USD 300 was picked up  by one customer for  a  mere Rs 8,700. However,  local booksellers  were not too concerned. They said that  Big Bad Wolf  did not have the books Sri Lanka usually reads.

Big Bad Wolf stated that it was supported by The Ministry of Education of Sri Lanka. And the sale was officially inaugurated by Education Minister Akila Viraj Kariyawasam. The support of the Ministry of Education for this   venture can be questioned.  ( Continued)

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