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In discussions at District and Divisional Secretariat Reconciliation Committee meetings, one of the most common complaints is with regard to teacher shortages in rural schools. The lack of English and Maths and Science teachers is seen as deeply detrimental to the education of children in the area, but even though this is recognized at all levels of government, for decades little has been done to remedy the situation.

The complaints I hear come in many forms. In Cheddikulam it was said that, though the Division suffered from a lack of teachers, the Zone had more than enough – Vavuniya town being its principal component – so it was not possible to demand more. In Mahaoya the Zonal Director of Education said that his Wednesdays were full of parents coming to him to complain that their children had no teachers. In Batticaloa again there was a distinction between the town area, which did comparatively well, and the rural Divisions, with Grama Niladhari areas belonging to Batticaloa Town Division also suffering.

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The second area discussed at the consultation on women’s rights arranged by Oxfam was that of female participation in politics. The National Human Rights Action plan lays down as a goal an increase in female representation at all levels but, as was shown by the women’s organization that had prepared an excellent presentation on such representation, the percentage at present is painfully low.

This is in marked contrast with the high proportion of women in administrative positions. Indeed, as I have pointed out, the work of the Task Force to expedite implementation of the Plan is taken forward largely by women, three of whom are amongst the most efficient Permanent Secretaries we have – though, sadly, one of them retired last month.

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There has been much concern expressed in Parliament recently about the Right to Education, including through an Adjournment Motion dealing with university admissions. Opposition Members of Parliament have gone so far as to highlight the need for reforms on the lines suggested by the Minister of Higher Education when he initiated legislation to encourage and monitor alternative methods of provision, though sadly one cannot be sure that their leadership will back such measures.


Dr. C. W. W. Kannangara

Experience has shown that political expediency often trumps principle when such issues come to a vote, and I fear that those who have been forthright in their appeals for reform will succumb to pressure if there is a bandwagon to join.

With regard to education, we are still stuck in a mindset that confuses the Right to Education with a state monopoly. The fact that government must provide education to those who will otherwise be deprived of it for financial reasons is sacrosanct, and we in Sri Lanka must be proud that we have instituted this at all levels.

Less idealistic countries confine this to primary level, which is all that UN Conventions demand – though even this is not universal. Most countries manage also to provide secondary education free as their needs dictate, though sadly even those countries that pioneered free tertiary education have in some cases made adjustments that entail charges, of various magnitudes. One way of removing the injustice of this, in the Rawlsian sense of justice requiring level playing fields, is to provide loans to cover charges, repayable only when university education has led to a higher level job.

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  1. The government has agreed to receive a delegation by the Office of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to  offer “advice and technical assistance” to implement the US-backed resolution on Sri Lanka.  Does not that signal a change in the previously stated position of the government? (The government, earlier, rejected the UN resolution and External Affairs Minister G L Peiris said that the government had ‘taken a decision not to abide by the resolution irrespective of the result.’)

 You must ask the Ministry of External Affairs about the relationship between the various pronouncements spokesmen in this regard have made. As I have said before, there is a lack of professionalism in the way that particular agency of government works, as exemplified most recently in the manner in which it reacted to the email about which our former Representative, Tamara Kunanayagam, wrote to the Office of the High Commissioner. Though I gathered from Ms Kunanayagam that the President had been concerned about this email, the Ministry of External Affairs concentrated on letting Ms Kunanayagam down and forgot all about the email, and its contents.

I was in fact astonished to find that they had not even bothered to find out who the people were who had been acting as agents provocateurs and clearly exceeding their briefs. We know for instance who Cynthia is, and Chritoff Heyns is given his full name and designation. But can you understand a Ministry supposed to be in charge of External Relations that has not even bothered to think about who Richard and his team might be, who seem to have been busily preparing the ground for the Resolution that the Ministry tried to oppose in Geneva?

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Amongst the suggestions made at recent Reconciliation meetings in the North was that Divisional Secretaries should prepare systematic schedules of assistance that has been received in each Grama Niladhari Division in vital areas such as housing and livelihood. The first such returns have now come in, and will provide a useful planning tool for helping to ensure that assistance is supplied in the future to where it is most needed.

I am however also indebted to the Divisional Secretary of Vavuniya Town for initially adding on a page on Child Protection work, since that is an area of particular concern, and should be all over the country. Prominent on this page, in addition to Divisional Child Development Committees, were Children’s Clubs, which had only recently come to my attention. This was because, when I was looking through the schedule of aid projects, in a massive document that dealt with all projects in the North, I found several relating to the establishment of Children’s Clubs, with tiny amounts spent in each area, expenditure about which the Divisional Secretary concerned had no idea at all. This suggested that such projects were not especially useful, but when I questioned them I was told by the head of the National Child Protection Authority, which has been instrumental in promoting some packages that included these projects, that such institutions were essential.

They provided a forum for those concerned with the welfare of children to meet, and discuss problems and try to provide solutions. Such coordination it seemed had not been common previously. Indeed I noted that the membership did not in all places include all relevant personnel, but at least a start had been made in bringing together officials such as school Principals and Public Health Inspectors with members of Rural Development Societies and other community based organizations. Officials such as the Police and Child Protection and Samurdhi Officers were also included in different areas, and members of the crucial but much neglected profession of pre-school teachers. I was also glad that the unit of responsibility was the Grama Niladhari Division, since that is the best way of ensuring a sense of responsibility, although, as the reports noted, problems of any degree would need to be referred to the next level up. This is the Divisional Secretariat, which has better access to professional support services.I am however also indebted to the Divisional Secretary of Vavuniya Town for initially adding on a page on Child Protection work, since that is an area of particular concern, and should be all over the country. Prominent on this page, in addition to Divisional Child Development Committees, were Children’s Clubs, which had only recently come to my attention. This was because, when I was looking through the schedule of aid projects, in a massive document that dealt with all projects in the North, I found several relating to the establishment of Children’s Clubs, with tiny amounts spent in each area, expenditure about which the Divisional Secretary concerned had no idea at all. This suggested that such projects were not especially useful, but when I questioned them I was told by the head of the National Child Protection Authority, which has been instrumental in promoting some packages that included these projects, that such institutions were essential.

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After I had written my last piece on women, I attended a consultation organized by Oxfam to discuss two presentations by women’s groups. They were on very different subjects, but dealt with two vital issues concerning women and their empowerment.

The first was the impact of the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, which had been prepared in the days when Dhara Wijayatilaka was Secretary to the Ministry of Justice. Her removal from that position was a tragedy, for her commitment and her efficiency (qualities not always found in combination) were unparalleled. Fortunately, she continued to work on the subject, and a couple of weeks ago I was at the launch of her simple guide to the Act, which the Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Affairs had published.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

August 2012
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