Another "Scheduled Blow" to School Education

By Ramani D.Wickramaratne

School children and education in this country are in a pitiable plight these days with "the powers above" making them the target of quite many misjudgements -the latest being to cut down "school days per week to cut down on fuel consumption! If this sounds ridiculous, may it be so as it is truly a ridiculous method through which the Ministry of Education and GOSL hope to cut down on fuel consumption and expenses. Apparently, even a Cabinet Paper has already been submitted even without getting an all round consensus from Principals of Schools or Directors of Education throughout the country.

School education and our current students around the country, will one day hopefully become our leaders holding high and responsible positions to wield our country either towards prosperity or towards disaster which ever may be, considering the chances offered to them today. As it is, it seems we will be heading towards "disaster" rather than prosperity, given the fact that our children have been made to go through a tremendous amount of pressures in the recent past be it school admissions, public examinations and now, whether or not they have the right to have an unhampered school life at a steady pace for them to prepare themselves for Grade 5 Scholarship Exams, GCE O'Level and A'Level Examinations plus attending tuition clases & extra-curricular activities which enhance their character building and sense of responsibility.

Two articles which appeared in the newspapers recently one in the Sunday Times of 1st June 2008 titled "Ministry Considers 4-day School Week" and another in LAKBIMAnews also of 1st June 2008 titled "Fuel Fuels Schools Fiasco- Proposal to Slash School Week" seems interesting but certainly not funny for the poor students and the Staff/Principals of schools who will eventually be at the butt-end of the "hotch-potch "created by politicians and officials in the Ministry of Education and The Cabinet of Sri Lanka. The LAKBIMAnews article "The Cabinet is considering reducing the number of school days from five to four as a security measure and also in order to cut down fuel expenditure." In the Sunday Times article it states " A proposal to cut down on the number of school days to four a week as part of urgent measures to reduce fuel consumption is under consideration, Education Minister Susil Premajayantha said yesterday."

Whether fuel consumption is high or not, school children and education institutions must not have to bear the brunt of government mismanagements and misappropriations. By disturbing the school life of children, they are directly affecting the quality of student life which can be considered to be a national crime. If the GOSL is serious about cutting down on fuel consumption they can always find other solutions without affecting the education of our children. Cut down on the number of luxury vehicles being imported duty-free for politicians, cut down on official vehicles being used for personal & family matters where even holiday trips are at State expense, cut down on all government official vehicles being misused by family members of those officials, conduct a massive inspection of all vehicles operating and cancel the route/vehicle licenses of all vehicle unsuitable for use on roads which are belching black smoke heavily, and stop issuing more permits for importers to import light vehicles above 1500cc, stop imports of all luxury vehicles(because those are the vehicles that have high consumption rates), where 3-4 government officials are attending the same meeting or seminar/workshop request them to use one official vehicle for all to go instead of all 4 officials using 4 different vehicles because they consider it "infra-dig" to combine trips with others. All private buses which are not maintained in good working order should be removed from the roads because they consume lots of diesel which can be saved! Check and cancel all old goods lorries belching out black smoke and also bring about a rule that heavy containers/lorries transporting goods must restrict their activities to night travel so that traffic blocks and fuel consumption can both be reduced. Every ministry and department should take a consensus of all vehicles under their purview and introduce a regulation that each such institution carries on maintenance of vehicles in a proper and efficient manner without discarding them as "rejects" and purchasing new vehicles most often at the expense of projects with foreign funding having to supply each ministry with vehicles which are expensive and redundant but requested by every ministry when negotiating projects because officials wish to make maximum benefit from these. Most often project vehicles thus purchased are not even used on the designated project but by officials sitting in various ministries and departments! Our officials must learn to shed their "inferiority complexes" and work according to the necessities and austere nature expected of them as citizens of a developing Asian nation. Bullet-proof vehicles are not necessary for every Dick, Tom and Harry because such vehicles are exorbitantly expensive and unnecessary. For a poor/developing country like Sri Lanka, why would we need to import 3000cc vehicles into this country which is only with basic road width operational?

Just in case officials have short memories both in this government and previous ones, the need to use "School Service Vans" came into being during the UNP regime when Mr. M.H.Mohamed was Transport Minister when he intentionally allowed the SLCTB efficiency to collapse whereby School Buses were stopped and permission was given to private vehicle importers to import vans( presumably it benefited his own family most) and those were put on the roads as "Private Buses" and "School Service Vans" to transport people going back and forth to work and for school-going children to travel to their schools and return home. It is due to this action that we have today, a problem with too many "School Service Vans" entering the cities and a high fuel consumption as made out by the Ministry of Education. When we were schooling most of the children used the SLCTB "School Service Buses" which were efficient and punctual and the service and security guaranteed!

If the Ministry of Education and the Minister-in-Charge deem it fit to cut down on the number of school days from 5 days to 4 days, he must be conscious of the following issues that will befall on the shoulders of Principals, parents, staff and the children of this country: (1) students and staff will have to spend longer hours in school after which they will return home very late(those travelling from outside Colombo into Colombo, would get past 7-8.00p.m.); (2)extra-curricular activities of students will be greatly hampered;(3) tuition classes of children will get disrupted and they will suffer because most teachers do not perform their duties responsibly especially in Government Schools which necessitates students to have extra classes at their own expense;(5) children will become even more anaemic because their meal times will be disrupted;(6)parents who normally go to pick up their children from school using their lunch break, will no longer be able to do it which might require those children to use School Vans to get to and from school(increase in number of School Vans?); Principals and Teachers will have less time under more pressure to prepare school work and attend to administrative work necessary);(7)Principals, Teachers and students will all have less family lives and less relaxation etc. The end result would be a negative outcome on the overall quality of student lives!

From the side of School & Staff Van Services, the operators will get a lesser income per month for which we are not sure who is to be held responsible? Apart from school children who use School Service Vans, there is an equal amount of Staff Van Services operating in this country who are travelling back and forth to their offices on a daily basis. Does this decision mean that in order to cut down on fuel consumption of Vans providing transport for staff of Government and Private Sector offices, their working hours will also have to be increased per day and their working days will be reduced from 5 days to 4 days? In which case, what is the efficiency those offices can expect in the long-term? How can such offices coordinate their work with foreign offices with which they work?

Why then is the Ministry of Education considering affecting only the school children- make the same rule applicable to all staff both in the private and public sector organisations. The already dwindling efficiency will see a further deterioration of standards!

Decision makers need to be realistic and practical and not haphazard, when they make decisions which affect a large sector of society. Let not the school children, Principals and Staff have to suffer for the mistakes of politicians and officials who seem to be very short-sighted.

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