The JVP held a press conference via the internet presenting several proposals regarding issues that have surfaced in the country’s education caused due to CORVID-19 pandemic. The National Organizer of the JVP Comrade Bimal Rathnayake speaking at the conference held at the head office of the JVP yesterday (17th and) broadcast live online said, “68 days have gone by since schools and universities have been closed down. The Minister of Education has said there is no possibility for schools to function immediately. As a result of schools being closed for nearly 2 ½ months, there is intense pressure on students who expect to sit the GCE (A/L) and the scholarship examinations. The pressure has been felt by students sitting the GCE O/L examination as well. Comrade Nalinda Jayatissa wrote to the Prime Minister regarding this issue. There is tremendous complexity and uncertainty among parents and teachers whose children and students are lined up to sit these examinations.
As such, we requested at the beginning of May to appoint a committee consisting educationists, teachers, university dons as well as parents to find solutions after studying moves carried out by countries confronted with similar situations. However, there hasn’t been any definite view expressed other than an inconclusive explanation from the Ministry of Education. The uncertainty has put children under massive pressure. Not being able to cover up A/L syllabuses is a serious issue. Whether we agree or not, private tuition classes are an important avenue that helped students to cover their syllabuses. There are a considerable number of students who want to change their subjects when sitting the A/L exam. As a result of closing down schools in haste, the students who were boarded had not been able even to take their books and notes with them. This issue is very serious in the North and the East. We request that the time the students lost due to the pandemic should be considered when holding examinations.
The Minister of Education himself had said 532 schools do not have water, and 800 schools do not have toilets. 8% of schools not having water is a good indication of the gap of physical resources in the country. I asked several university dons and teachers how fruitful would be ‘online teaching’ in such an environment. Even in Colombo Zone, only 60% of students have the equipment to carry out their online education. There is no facility to have online education in many houses. Also, a large amount of money has to be spent to get the internet facility. Having to read and follow large tutorials and lessons in a mobile phone, low connectivity in rural areas, limited internet coverage in areas such as Jaffna, Killinochchi are factors that obstruct meaningful learning.
The teachers are massively pressurized as they have to complete syllabuses once children start school again after several months. Teaching online is not a simple affair. We come out with these factors not to reject online teaching. What we say is do not use online teaching as a means of covering syllabuses. Only 60% of university students, including students in medical faculties, have internet facilities. It has been confirmed in a study by university teachers. Out of the students who have access to the internet, only 30% could afford to spend on such facilities. Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, has recently said the existing gap in education would widen due to online teaching. He states this not considering the situations in Sri Lanka or India but taking into consideration the conditions in countries such as the USA. The seriousness of this statement is clear. What we say is education authorities should not take credit for covering syllabuses by using the internet. It seems that certain teachers, as well as certain parents, have not considered the creation of serious inequality in education due to the use of the internet.
About 98% of children in our country have their education free in government schools. The rest have their education in international schools. The salaries of teachers in international schools in the private sector have been slashed since April. A severe tragedy of children in private schools who have not been able to pay monthly fees not being allowed to follow online lessons exists. The benefits of free education, protecting it, allocating funds and struggling hard to preserve it are clear to all at times like this. Though governments that are expected to be in charge of the education have violated the education act and have given preference to private education, it is the Ministry of education that is responsible for the education of our children. We call upon the Minister of Education to intervene regarding international schools that have denied the opportunity for online education due to nonpayment of fees
We have a series of proposals to solve the issues that exist in the education system in our country.
• Maintain online teaching only as an auxiliary system
• Maintaining online teaching without burdening children with extensive workloads.
• Reducing fares for internet facilities, making available data remaining from
‘Day & Night Internet’ packages to be used for educational purposes during
• As there is no definite decision regarding the opening of schools, a meaningful discussion should be held regarding the education of students below GCE O/L
• Popularize alternative educational programmes using the internet and TV
• Making available ‘Mahapola’ and other students’ aids to university students as well as facilities for their online education.
It is necessary to express a view regarding what the President had said regarding education when he convened vice-chancellors of universities recently. Temporary moves that are being taken due to COVID-19 pandemic and matters we temporarily accept need not be allowed to be generalized. It is so with health as well. The moves taken under COVID-19 pandemic need not be made compulsory moves later. The President, at this discussion, had said the degree syllabuses in our country should be tailored to suit the job market. This is an old idea. The job market in Sri Lanka is a reflection of our economy. Our economy is not a developed one. Many syllabuses will have to become diploma syllabuses to prepare degree syllabuses to suit the job market in Sri Lanka. For example, Engineering syllabuses are required for countries that have large scale industrial productions. To follow the President’s vision most of the engineering syllabuses have to be changed to diploma syllabuses. The job market in Sri Lanka has less demand for an engineering degree. For, production in Sri Lanka is low and the market is weak. This is indeed an attempt to slash the education in the country.
The production sector in our country has been severely weakened as our economy has been trapped in a World Bank and IMF snare. The standard of higher education in our country has been protected for some extent though. However, these proposals would expose higher education and allowed it to be slashed. We ask educationists not to slash education according to whims and fancies of the rulers. Also, it should be said that there is no demand in the market for every job. It is important to restore a large number of ruins in our country. For this archaeologists are necessary. However, there is no demand for archaeologists in the job market. There are many mental patients in our country. Which company in our country asks for the services of psychiatrists? The environment in our country is being destroyed. However, the job market doesn’t demand environmentalists. However, a large number of such jobs are necessary to maintain society and a state. Regrettably, our rulers do not understand this fact.”