Posted on August 27th, 2010

Sarath Wijesinghe LL.M (London) Solicitor-Attorney-at-Law “”…” Ambassador of Sri Lanka in the United Arab Emirates)

KNOWLEDGE IS POWER –Knowledge is power which is derived from Education. Education is any act or experience that has a formative effect on the mind, character or physical ability on an individual. In Sri Lanka parents invest on children by educating them. As a result education has become so competitive that there are instances where children attend private tuition classes day and night by making major contributions to “Tuition Culture” created by overenthusiastic misguided parents duped by attractive advisements of errant tuition masters and their agents. Parents spend Rs5.8 billion per year for tuition alone making tuition masters milliners.

 Right and freedom to education is guaranteed by the constitution in Sri Lanka and European Convention of Human Rights in addition to the international grantee in Article 13 of the International Convention on Economic Social and Cultural Rights. Free Education was initiated by o Hon C.W.W. Kannangara with best of intentions to the benefit of the ordinary man. Free Education and “Swabasha” policy certainly paved the way for a large segment of the ordinary man to educate their children. Universal franchise was granted to Sri Lanka in 1931, and initial stages of free education in 1938 mooted by then minister of education Hon C.W.W. Kannangara. University system in Sri Lanka dates back to 1921 when University College affiliated to University of London was established. University Still disparity continued as English Educated and Children from privileged Government/ private schools in Sri Lanka and abroad continued to provide the educated and the upper strata of the educated and powerful society. There fore free education did not mean equality on education as the educated in control of the power was not necessarily form the ordinary masses. There was free education but not freedom of education in a chosen language and a chosen institution of ones choice.


 In Sri Lanka only a small fraction of the qualified students will be allowed to proceed to University Education. 131000 AL students pass out of 241000. Only 20% will get a place in a university. 10,000 will go abroad using our much needed foreign exchange to universities which are sub slandered. Even at the end of university education employment prospects are not guaranteed. Drop outs that are nearly qualified find their way to universities abroad by spending billions of foreign exchange. 131000 students pass out from 241000 A/L students out of which only a small fraction is selected to Sri Lanka Universities. Around 7000 students go out of the country for studies and the rest are liabilities as our education is not job oriented. Parent’s mortgage or sell the entire wealth for tuition fees and other expenses and in many occasions they become pray for unregulated and errant immigration consultants and agents of foreign schools. One of the solutions is to equalize the opportunities by giving freedom of education to all by allowing private universities. Currently majority of Universities worldwide has branches in Sri Lanka via their agents and colleges. There is no resistance for equality of education opportunities except from the JVP affiliated misguided student unions for personal reasons and sheer jealousy in the guise of saving free education. How could the free education be affected by private universities? It will enhance free education by eliminating those who could afford in private universities allowing more intake for the less privileged in the government sector.


 English is a world language and a mode of power derived from the language ability spoken as well as written. Sometime ago it has been considered a tool of the upper class to be a part of the privileged society. Today the vengeance against “Kaduwa” (English) has disappeared and there is a craze to learn English. English is an official language and English medium classes are conducted in remote villages with the blessings of parents. Despite incompetent English tutors and so called international schools spread over the island, the need and craze for English is ever growing. It has become a necessary tool for employment higher education in Sri Lanka and abroad. English programmes launched by the Presidential Secretariat and the schools programs at the British Council are commendable and has brought positive results proving English education too is a center for power. The programme English as a lifeline launched by the Presidential Secretariat is timely and effective and should be expanded. English is a fine language easy to learn. If one masters to handle and manage 200 words properly, it is ample to conduct affairs in English.


 There is a grave need to improve language education in Sri Lanka considering the economic benefits in the education and employment sector which brings the major income to the nation. Knowledge of Arabic will benefit the Middle East Employees remitting a sizeable part of the main income of the government coffins. Chinese, Japanese French Spanish are other leading languages to learn and we suggest setting up an “International Language Centre” either in one of the universities or the Presidential Secretariat linked to the centre for English as a lifeline.

 There was an era when foreigners came to Sri Lanka for education as the standard to education was of such a high standard. Today we transmit billions of rupees in other developed and underdeveloped countries for higher education of their children. It is sad to note our students are sent to less developed countries not maintaining standards for higher studies spending enormous sums. This is a crime as we are equally or more competent to conduct our own universities better. Do we really enjoy free in education in Sri Lanka today? The answer is unclear. Parents spend the income and savings for tuition and higher studies investing it on children.  


 At last it seems that we are in the correct tract. Minister of Education has agreed that English Language should be given priority in education and as a link language and the Minister of higher studies have agreed in principle setting up of private universities which is a long overdue requirement. These decisions should have taken long ago, but it is never too late as the country has tacitly consented and encouraged both moves which are a very encouraging sign on the right direction. Improving the knowledge or a foreign language by no means disrespect or undermining our culture or education. It improves and enhances our cutler and development my intermingling and assimilation of the knowledge of other great languages and cultures.

 Private and higher education bill by the Minister of Higher Education is timely and long overdue matter which should be pursued with no delay. Professor Gamini Samaranayaka the Chairman Grants Commission has made a revolutionary statement that it in now necessary and inevitable to set up private universities. Minister Dissanayaka says that at the moment 78 foreign universities is functioning which is substandard and needs regulation and monitoring. The time is running out and the nation needs the drastic changes as a matter of urgency. Amount of national wealth drained out of the country and barriers for the developments in order to achieve the targets of the government and the President should be cleared forthwith. There is hardly any resistance for this process for which the academics, students and parents are awaiting to embrace as main receptions of the innovative and progressive educational reforms keeping pace with the modern trends and the needs of the nation.


 In the United Kingdom free education is available up to University level. Thereafter either the students should obtain a bank lone to be settled at later stage in life or seek the help of parents.  Others have ample avenues in technical colleges, trade, business and many other vocations. It is well planned and established. Every student is not seeking a place in a university. Education is linked to development. In USA too the system is the same. In USSR and socialist bloc education is well planned with the development. In all the countries mentioned the University education and the research is linked to development, companies, and government institutions linking research development and education. It is sad that our education is geared to produce arts graduates who are suited only for teaching appointments. Their English and IT knowledge is minimal. Those who were given basic education in “International Schools” are able to find employment in the private sector when arts graduates wait years and years in job queues. Education should be linked to development, professional skills, agriculture and industrial developments and advancements. Medical colleges are linked to Hospitals and in the same way agricultural and industrial related faculties should be linked to respective development projects. Japan spends large amounts on research and students in the west in order to acquire knowledge and experience through students and scholars. In Dubai Knowledge Village is open to the world Universities and the students all over the world for higher studies at a price. UAE is focusing on research and is moving steadily increasing the student intake. Dubai knowledge universities are being established as a multi university complex on 2.33mmillian square meters in the heart of academic city in Dubai. “Jebal Ali” Free Zone in UAE has outlets of most leading companies and Universities worldwide.  It is easy to set up a company and an outlet in the Free Zone and Knowledge Village for any government or a private body. This is where we too could learn a lot from the 5th richest today a desert full of camels 60 years ago. Heritage village opens out their history as a lesson and gratefulness for the vision of His Highness who brought the UAE to limelight. This writer in the capacity of the Ambassador met His Excellency Humaid AI Qutmai the Minister of education, who holds a master degree in Administration from Western Michigan University and holding various high positions in the government to discuss matters of mutual interest  including granting opportunities for Sri Lankan to learn Arabic Language and for the Police officers who cater 250,000 Sri Lankans to learn Sinhala and Tamil and many other projects. His Excellency is one who loves and admires Sri Lanka and Sri Lankans and indicated the intention to visit Sri Lanka for her beauty and natural and historic resources and to help us in various ways.


 We have won the unwinnable war that engulfed our nation for three decades in a  short span of three years  with the determination and vision of His Excellency Mahinda Rapaksa to whom the people of Sri Lanka has given a mandate to make Sri Lanka the Wonder of Asia. We need power to achieve this goal through the power of education which is the centre of power. As mentioned at the outset knowledge and education is power and it is time for us to divert all over knowledge education and resources in this direction.


  1. sena Says:

    The article is well intentioned. However we have to remember the investment by public on higher education is to see a return in the form of developing a knowledge based economy, moving away from one that depends on menial labor. Alas we are having this endevor for more than sixty years but any contribution to the economy from these educated professionals are non-existence. At the time of independence our main source of income was palntations. Since then we have added tourism, expatriate labor (mainly unskilled and sadly women) garments and so called non-traditional exports like food, gems etc. These sectors do not need any input from professionals. Apart from shouldering economy, the war the writer talk about was won due to the sacrifices of rural people to the tune of 29k dead. The bottom line is educated and urbanites are free loading on the productivity of I should add non-English speaking rural people. And we have this misconception that learning English solve all the problems. On the contrary I think the social status given to English has contributed to the lack of creativity and entrepreneurship of our educated since ability to speak English trump everything when selection are made to important positions regardles of the technical, mangerial and planning skills needed. It is not a coincidence that the professionals in East Asian countries who do not care what lanuage they use are ghihly productive and have taken those countries to advance economies. The bottom line is regradless of where one studied the learnered shopuld contribute to the progress of the country rather than depending on the productivity of poor rural people. Also reminders to the sacrifice they made to free the country from terrorism as well as to carry the economy should be posted in every street corner to encourage others to work hard and make apositive contributions


    I agree largely with sena. However, I am a little confused as to his assertion about trumping the selection process and not being productive, although good in English language. I think the success of a community or country in this day can not be due to the ability of a single person or even a group. It has to be the country wide system and processes that provides the impetus to prosperity. Sena is probably thinking if Japanese and or Chinese in Asia can excel why cant we? I do not believe that is a credible line of thinking. I think the ambassador’s article makes immense sense. However, we must debate every step of our way through these changes. Then we have a better chance of filtering out ‘inappropriate changes’. Open debate on all these new ideas under ‘Mahinda Chinthana” should be encouraged. However, taking JVP and Sarath head-on might help.

  3. Raj Says:

    I agree with most of wahat both Sena and Priyan says, in particular ‘taking JVP and SF head-on might help’.

  4. Kamal Says:

    Not always, cunning is, and ruthlessness and selfishness is.
    Look at the Parliament, who is there?
    Who makes the decisions?

    University education is not important, is very important.
    It should also be universal, and free, I do not mean financially.
    Do we prepare our children to proper adulthood, good citizens?
    We like our children to go to the best schools, are all the schools good?
    Who gets the admissions to the good schools?
    Who bends the rules?

    Can all children go to the University?
    Do they all deserve the University education?
    Why do the go there?

    University education has to prepare a full person a mature person, a free thinking person who could make decisions.
    That includes proper language skills, mother tongue and a foreign language. One has to be honest, a good listener and a polite communicator.
    Then one has to be proficient in what ever he or she learns

    A university degree is important so that one could stand shoulder to shoulder with others in the world and to be counted. But the above basic factors are essential to get ahead. Do all our graduates fit into the above? I do not think so. Who is at fault?
    Is it the Government, University teachers or some one else?

    I think it is all of us.
    We teach them the rule bending from the very young days. Have you seen them walking on the roads to and from the schools? Have you seen how they cross the roads? Have you seen the teachers cross the roads? Have seen the parents cross the roads with children? I suppose not. Our people learn only to know their rights not their obligations.
    They behave the same way in the University too, unruly and demanding. Most of them forget why they are there for.

    Who decides the course of study? I suppose mostly parents. Do the teachers have a say? In The university de they get adequate backing? Do they have research facilities? Who gets the grants? Do the university teachers contact the industry for grants? Do the students get foreign travel or communication with their compatriots? Are the University teachers more interested in their advancement?

    I am not a pessimist but these are some of my observations. Look at the people who have succeeded in the world.

  5. pgwijeratna Says:

    inviting foreign universities may be good. There is another side to the coin. We may not save money because they take the profit away. They may not care about the standard because money making may be the interest. Otherthing is once they enroll the student the may make the easy passage for those who want to go abroad look for green pasture.How many people who qulified in uk and usa go back to work for your own country. Before you take hasty decesion you have to see the problem in all angles.

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