One of the issues that comes up again and again in the Human Rights Action Plan is the need for reforms in education and training. This is obviously connected with the ‘variance in the quality of education’ in different areas, which entrenches iniquity, but in addition there are several instances in which the Plan notes the need for different and better training, so as to produce personnel able to promote rights based action.
That the public at large understand this issue became clear to me when I participated in a workshop organized by the Young Liberals. This was a satisfying experience because, after some years away from teaching, it was refreshing to have a range of young people addressing issues and ideas with enthusiasm and keen interest. I should note that I have felt a similar satisfaction at the openness with which participants at our Divisional Secretariat Reconciliation Committee meetings raise issues, but the additional bonus of having fresh ideas from youngsters on an intensive scale was particularly rewarding.
Hearteningly, the participants from the various Ministries who contributed to the meeting were in fact full of ideas. We were helped by having the Hon Mohanlal Grero present, tasked as he has been with several new initiatives. This was an inspired idea of the President, since the problems of education are so massive that they need to be divided up, with special responsibilities allocated to individuals to ensure action. In any case I believe we do not sufficiently understand – even in political negotiations – that if you break up big problems into little ones and address these separately, you will find that the big problems become easier to resolve. But education certainly is a case of the trees becoming indistinguishable because we concentrate too much on the whole dense forest.
An obvious example of the ineffectiveness of trying to do everything at once is the delay in formulating and adopting a new National Education Policy. When I first joined Parliament we were given a draft, which was by and large very good, though obviously some things could have been improved. New innocent MPs such as Mr Grero and myself went enthusiastically to the meetings and contributed ideas, a few of which were taken on board. But then, rather as when J R Jayewardene ruined the All Party talks in the eighties by deciding that everyone in the world should participate, the Ministry decided to invite what they termed all stakeholders, many of whom said the same thing. Much that was said was very sensible, but the result of all this consultation has been endless delay. The principle of asking for a brief list of ideas, which need to be expanded on only if they are not clear, is not something known to our administrators.
What is particularly irritating about this is that all this plodding around in circles ignored the very simple solutions that the President had already suggested for perhaps our biggest problem, the absence of teachers in rural schools. He has spoken about the benefits of school based recruitment, and this has also been the subject of an Adjournment Motion in Parliament. But nothing has been done about it and, as I found in my visits to the North, where the beautiful new schools that have been constructed in the Wanni are many of them without English and Maths teachers, the transfer system means that schools are denuded almost as soon as appointments are made. Psychologically too, the possibility of a transfer means that teachers will not settle down in places to which they have been appointed, so there is constant travel and late arrivals and early departures.
Participants at the meeting were unanimous then in urging that school based recruitment should be instituted. They also suggested that alternative methods of teacher training should be encouraged. It was heartening in this regard to be told by the representatives of the Ministry of Higher Education that they had already prepared a proposal for universities to begin teacher training courses for English and Maths and Science. I hope these begin soon, but meanwhile it was also suggested that the Kotelawala Defence University be requested to begin such courses, since it will be able to move more quickly given its administrative structure. Since it now offers courses in a range of subjects, there is no reason that it should not also contribute, in its customarily effective way, to current national needs – and its products would also be able to supervise extra-curricular activities, which are woefully inadequate currently in many schools.
Also contributing to the meeting was the Organization of Professional Associations, and they were requested to make proposals for filling gaps in areas where there are crying needs. An enterprising lady at the Nannathan Divisional Secretariat meeting noted the need for training in marketing, since now outsiders rather than locals benefit most from the abundant harvests the farmers have produced. But there are few opportunities for training in such fields, and food processing and other value addition mechanisms, which is where the OPA can play a significant role. Promoting equity, a fundamental aim in the plan, requires training, and if we do not supply it soon, there will be demands for state financed equality, which will be disastrous.