Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Taking free education forward - Part 1

Sri Lanka is one of the few countries in the world offering free primary, secondary and tertiary education. The high literacy rate of 97.3% in the country shows that free education has worked out well.

The government, no doubt, is putting a lot of money every year in to the educational system to provide free education, but as it is evident, that money is not enough. Only 16% of eligible students get to enter the government universities. May be about 2~3% of the remaining get to obtain degrees from private institutes like IIT, SLIIT and APIIT. (Note almost all of them are providing IT degrees - leaving not much of a choice for students interested in other fields) Another 1~2% of students based on financial strength of their parents get to go abroad for their studies. Almost 80% of the students who qualify for tertiary education are deprived of their right.

Even though some students like the ones who are members of Inter-university student bullshit union do not appreciate the opportunity given to them for free education; depriving that from many others who would have embraced that opportunity; free education is still a good thing. It’s just that, if we can give that opportunity to only 16% of those who are eligible, selecting them through a competitive examination is not the best solution. That discourages the students in engaging in extra-curricular activities and essential personality building activities. From the 40 odd students who were in my advanced level class, those 2 or 3 who got through to the universities were the guys who had their heads buried in books 24X7 and didn’t had enough self-confidence to look someone in the eye when they were talking. That certainly is not the sample of academia we should have in a country.

Those who have seen class rooms and facilities available in international schools may attest for the difference in standards between them and an average school in north central province or central for that matter. Putting aside international schools, comparing leading schools in Colombo with schools in other parts of the country yields the same differences in available facilities and maintained standards. Moving on to universities; comparison between an average American university and the best universities of Sri Lanka shows greater difference in standards and available facilities than the above comparisons. Note that it is not money alone that has brought those institutes to the high standards; but also the will and expectations of the stakeholders involved, including pupils, faculty staff and of the government body.

So what do we have to do, in order to bring the standards of average schools to the same level as - say Ananda or Royal College of Colombo? And what do we have to do to get University of Moratuwa to the standards of Chicago state university - an average state university in America?