“An invaluable addition to the scholarly literature on Sri Lankan social development” says Emeritus Professor Laksiri Jayasuriya, University of Western Australia; Foundation Professor of Sociology and Social Welfare and Dean Social Sciences, University of Ceylon, Colombo; and author of ‘Taking Social Development Seriously: The Experience of Sri Lanka’ and numerous other widely recognized publications.
“Taken in its totality, it brings out two irrefutable phenomena in the field of education policy formulation and implementation in Sri Lanka” says Deshamanya K.H.J.Wijayadasa, former Secretary to the President.

About the Book

The post-colonial period in the history of education in this country can be considered to have commenced in 1931 with the introduction of the Donoughmore Constitution which brought us a large measure of self-government. The first few decades after 1931 saw us seeking to introduce a national system of education, as given expression to in the Report of the Special Committee on Education chaired by the late Mr. C.W.W. Kannangara. This attempt met with only partial success as would be evident from the literature available in respect of this period to which reference has been made elsewhere in this publication. It is also borne out by the fact that one of the terms of reference of the Education Commission appointed in 1961 was on the need to establish ‘a unified national system of education’ and the Government’s White Paper that followed in 1964 had as its title ‘Proposals for a National System of Education’.

Such a system did not see the light of day even until the first youth revolt of the JVP struck us in 1971, and the events that followed in the field of education are described in the very first essay in this publication. The second JVP insurrection which swept the country in the late eighties was even more horrendous than the first and brought home the fact that there was a need to arrive at a broad consensus in crucial areas of public policy, made somewhat difficult by the party system that we had adopted in 1947 as an essential part of the parliamentary system of government. This pressing need was given expression to by the Youth Commission of 1990 when it said that “many crucial problems and issues are truly national, transcending party politics and every divisive factor………… and there needs to be a national policy in regard to each of these problems and issues, applicable for a reasonable period of time – with a degree of certainty and continuity, so as to ensure that plans and programmes of action will not be affected by political changes in government”.

The Youth Commission identified education as one of these areas and the opposition ranks in Parliament joined hands with the government of the day in a rare display of unanimity to pass an Act of Parliament in 1991, for setting up the machinery to formulate a National Education Policy based on some sort of consensus across the political divide. Thus came into being the National Education Commission (NEC) headed by the Chairman of the Youth Commission himself. There is very little published material available to the general public or the serious student of education policy and its implementation on whether we were able to formulate such a policy and, if not, why. Whatever information is available is shrouded in a lot of political propaganda, and I have attempted in Essay 2 to disaggregate rhetoric from reality and place before the reader the factual position covering the period 1990-2005. One fact that stands out is the gradual marginalization of the high profile institutional mechanism established in 1991 to formulate a National Education Policy above partisan politics, with early signs of it getting politicized too! 

The brief newspaper article I wrote in December 2012 and included here as Essay 3 shows how a committee was appointed in 2007 for making policy proposals for a new Education Act, which in effect meant a new education policy, under a former Director-General of the National Institute of Education with the Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the NEC as mere members!  NEC’s growing irrelevance to the policy-making process was further highlighted by it being allowed to ‘function’ (for lack of a better word!) without a Chairman and other members for about one and a half years from April 2011. 

Although the committee, referred to above, had submitted its report in 2009 and a Parliamentary Advisory Committee is said to have met 30-40 times to consider its proposals, there has been no concrete outcome as yet from these deliberations. In the meantime, important changes in education are being brought about by the Ministry of Education on a purely ad hoc basis and announced to the public through the media or from public platforms.

My main purpose in putting together this publication is to draw the attention of the public and the higher echelons of government to this sad state of affairs and the need to take early remedial action in the interest of our younger generation and generations to come. In doing so, I have not hesitated to call a spade anything but a spade, a quality I said I valued in the distinguished educationist Prof. J.E. Jayasuriya, in delivering the 13th Memorial Lecture in his honour in February 2003 (vide Part 1–Addendum 2: Some Reflections on Policy Making in Education).  

”This study surveys the post 1970 education policy reforms which were a sequel to the landmark radical Kannagara Reforms of the 1940’s, the lynch pin of the Sri Lankan welfare state. In evaluating these policy developments the author draws pointed attention to the achievements and shortcomings of recent educational policies by exploring the underlying socio-political dynamics of these reforms. There is no doubt that this is an invaluable addition to the scholarly literature on Sri Lankan social development ".

-- E/Professor Laksiri Jayasuriya

“The book is both inspiring and enthralling. Taken in its totality it brings out two irrefutable phenomena in the field of education policy formulation and implementation in Sri Lanka. First, the democratically fruitful consensus approach which enabled the successful implementation of the very productive pre-independence Kannangara Reforms. Secondly, the incredibly authoritarian line-of-command approach of the post independence period which did not permit any meaningful educational reforms to see the light of day. It evokes contempt of self-seeking politicians and bewilderment at their political gamesmanship.” 

--Deshamanya K.H.J. Wijayadasa


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