“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.
Home ReviewsDrawing attention to a sad state of affairs

Drawing attention to a sad state of affairs

(Sunday Times-October 27, 2013 )

by Dr. Dayanath Jayasuriya, President’s Counsel

I first met Eric de Silva in the mid- 1970’s when I was in the Attorney-General’s Department and he was a Senior Assistant Secretary (Defence). Since that time he has held key positions in public administration as the Government Agent of Trincomalee and later as Additional Secretary to the President and Education Secretary. He had an impeccable record in public service coupled with a vision for the future and his services were soon utilised by various UN agencies In the early 1990’s we were both based in Bangkok, where he and I served as consultants to UN-ESCAP and the UNESCO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, respectively. It was during this time that we had occasion to meet more frequently and discuss matters of mutual interest. Several years later I met him in New Delhi when he was on a major mission to evaluate UNDP funded projects. I had served as the Regional Adviser for one of these projects and was interviewed by him for the purpose of the evaluation. The project on HIV and Development was of a path-breaking nature which blazed a new trail but the path was studded with pitfalls. His report was frank, analytical and concise. It brought out his extensive experience in public administration and inter-agency coordination as this particular Project was subjected to many UN inter-agency turf issues and political and other pressures from vested interests.

Politics of Education Reform and Other Essays covers an interesting range of subjects. Part one deals with the Politics of Education Reform. Chapter One covers developments in the 1970s and 1980s. Chapter Two is entitled “The Journey Towards a National Education Policy Fails and Politics Takes Over (1990-2005)”. Chapter Three asks the question where is the National Education Policy that every Government since 1990 promised. It also includes two papers on “Restructuring of Schools” and “Some Reflections on Policy-making in Education”, the latter being a Memorial Lecture he delivered in 2003. Part Two of his 221 page book takes a fresh look at the Kannangara reforms and on university education with a focus on the Peradeniya model and its demise.

In the Preface, he has narrated what motivated him to put together this collection of relevant and timely essays of his. He says:

“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 [a Parliamentary Advisory Committee having met 30-40 times to consider a report in 2009 without any concrete outcome] and the need to take early remedial action in the interests 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 Professor J. E. Jayasuriya in delivering the 13th Memorial Lecture in his honour in February 2003”.

The drama that the book unfolds is simply a sad story, indeed of a pathetic nature. Despite the proliferation of commissions with carefully deliberated and tailored recommendations, policy-making in Sri Lanka has not had a distinguished record. Whatever reforms that have taken place have been of an ad-hoc and piecemeal nature and subjected to the vicissitudes of politicians, bureaucrats and other vested interests. In the meantime, other countries have derived the best of the recommendations and adapted them – a classic instance is provided by the recommendations of the 1961 National Education Commission headed by Professor J.E. Jayasuriya, with C. W.W. Kannangara, as one of its 20 odd members. The famous Jacques Delors Commission set up by UNESCO many decades later has endorsed some of its proposals. The proposal of 1961 to have a system of compulsory education from grades 1 to 8 before deciding on the allocation to different streams has been a model adopted by a number of rapidly emerging economies. The Jomtien Declaration and Plan of Action on basic education too has adopted some of the recommendations in the Jayasuriya report. In fact, in an unprecedented gesture UNESCO dedicated its special Bulletin for the Jomtien Conference to J. E. Jayasuriya describing him as “an eminent thinker and educationist of international repute”. Even in other spheres, the situation is not different. In respect of pharmaceutical policy, for instance, the recommendations of the late Professor Senaka Bibile have been given due recognition elsewhere than in his country of birth, with policy-makers paying mere lip service and taking out of context some of his proposals.

Addendum One entitled “Restructuring of Schools” is a report of a policy dialogue held in 1999. Excerpts of the comments made by many specialists make this section of the book interesting reading for the wide ranging views which still continue to be expressed without grappling with the fundamentals. The gap between the affluent class and the not so affluent class will always remain; the solution is not to deprive educational opportunities to either class. The role of private education must be recognised and fostered, whilst public education institutions must strive to improve their standards and facilities. Education can be a great “equaliser” as evidenced by the remarkable performance of some who were the products of the Central Schools and scholarship schemes.

In his survey on university education Eric notes how Sir Ivor Jennings cautioned the then Prime Minister of possible problems in politicians getting involved in selecting his successor, a task vested by law in the University Court. He had stated that “…I do not want to see fourteen years of work in Ceylon destroyed by ‘politics’, in any sense of the word”. Chapter 14 of J. E. Jayasuriya’ s 1969 book Education in Ceylon Before and After Independence was entitled “Politics, Bureaucracy and Totalitarianism in Education”. It was a well documented scathing attack on bureaucrats who mislead politicians and stifle informed policy-making. Eric’s survey demonstrates what both Ivor Jennings and J. E. Jayasuriya warned about- informed policy-making being relegated to the background with bureaucrats maintaining their status quo. Living within the confines of their comfort zones, they prevent any meaningful dialogue followed by constructive action. Institutional mechanisms such as the National Education Commission, the University Grants Commission and the National Institute of Education have thus far failed to effectively address inequities and inequalities in the system. The most recent COPE report lists many universities among the leading loss making entities. Industry-university collaboration which can generate additional revenue to universities is virtually unheard of. Meanwhile, free education is blamed for all the ills and evils that bedevil the country’s economy. It is not free education per se which is the underlying cause but the perpetuation of a system that produces well qualified Advanced Level students who cannot be absorbed into existing universities, leaving a large cohort of unemployed teenagers. Human resource development planning exercises, which were partly pioneered by Harbison and Myers and were successfully adopted by a number of developing countries to prevent a mismatch between demand and supply have not been commissioned. The Dudley Seers mission report laid the foundation for a proper assessment system but no serious note was taken of the recommendations. The “Sussex Development Studies” group with Seers, Richard Jolly and others was instrumental in assisting a number of countries to promote education and social welfare policies whilst striking a delicate balance.

Eric de Silva’s book is a beacon call for sensible action even at this late stage for policy-makers to systematically address the educational needs of the country. The book needs to be translated into Sinhala and Tamil because of the dwindling population of English speaking influential policy- and- law makers. The relevance of the book, as a case study, has implications for other developing countries as well. In India, for instance, the Kothari Commission recommendations on the financing of education was considered by the powerful National Planning Commission but was implemented only in a piecemeal fashion. Some developing countries are increasingly treading a path studded with pitfalls; words of wisdom go unheeded and the wheels of administrative machinery move at a painfully slow speed and will eventually come to a grinding halt when dissent among frustrated youth will emerge as a powerful force to be reckoned with challenging the establishment. Countries like China, Republic of Korea, Malaysia and Singapore, just to name only four from this region, have made effective use of educational planning for accelerating the pace of socio-economic development. It is not mere promises and words that enable the great leap forward but meaningful action. In the 1960’s Sri Lanka’s educational system was considered by Gunnar Myrdal (in his “Asian Drama”) and other development economists as a potential model for other countries; the failure to sustain the momentum is ably documented and skilfully analysed by Eric de Silva in his thought-provoking and well structured book.


Courtesy : http://www.sundaytimes.lk/131027/plus/drawing-attention-to-a-sad-state-of-affairs-66831.html


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