O tempora! O mores!
Posted on September 27th, 2016

Editorial Courtesy The Island

In most action flicks, heroes and villains in flight topple trash bins without breaking stride so as to distract and obstruct their enemies in close pursuit. This modus operandi is, however, not confined to the celluloid world. Sri Lankan politicians who mismanage vital issues and get into hot water act in a similar manner in a bid to distract the public.

Education Minister Akila Viraj Kariyawasam, who is being troubled by many issues and pursued by the government doctors who want their children admitted to state-run schools, has done likewise. He is reported to have banned schools from imposing dress codes on parents. He has thus stirred up a real hornets’ nest with his backers and critics locking horns. The focus of public debate is likely to be on this issue for some time instead of the many ills the education sector is afflicted with.

The Education Minister has obviously got his priorities mixed up. There are many burning issues he ought to address as a national priority before taking up the cudgels for parents’ right to wear anything when they visit their children’s schools. The education system is rotten to the core, to say the least.

A few moons ago, no less a person than President Maithripala Sirisena lamented that there were many schools without toilets. A National Water Supply and Drainage Board survey revealed a few years ago that about 1,300 primary and secondary schools lacked proper sanitary facilities. Two NGOs have disclosed that there are schools where students are discouraged from drinking water for want of toilets and this has rendered those hapless children prone to renal diseases. Absenteeism is common among girls in such schools during menstruation, they have pointed out. This is a damning indictment on the two main parties which have closed ranks to (mis)rule the country jointly, having done so severally, ably assisted by their allies since Independence.

Rural schools are being closed down at a rate and underprivileged children are thus denied easy access to education. Many schools are faced with shortages of teachers for vital subjects such as mathematics, science and English. The state-run school system is not equipped to cater to the ever increasing demand for Grade One admissions, and private schools are mushrooming to accommodate children who are left out. Most government schools have outsourced teaching to private institutions for all practical purposes. Although education is said to be free, private tuition, donations to schools etc., cost parents an arm and a leg.

True, all these problems are not of recent origin. But, the incumbent government which came to power offering to bring about a change and to allocate as much as 6% percent of the GDP for education is duty bound to set off at a cracking pace to make good on its pledges and revitalise the education sector, the be-all and end-all of the country’s progress. The question is whether it is keen to make an effort to achieve this goal. If it had been really serious about developing vital sectors such as education it would have got very senior Cabinet members to helm the relevant ministries without turning them into playpens for politicians still wet behind the ears.

Meanwhile, what is this world coming to when dress codes have to be imposed on parents? Schools are places where the proprieties are inculcated in children and not their parents. However, they cannot be blamed for treating parents like children and telling them what to wear. Some mothers and fathers visiting schools look awful combinations of sartorial disasters and tonsorial misadventures; it looks as if they mistook all school events for fancy dress parades. O tempora! O mores!

Let such parents as well as politicians with a streak of infantilism be urged to grow up!

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