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Politicizing Education, FUTA’s Trade Union Action and Government Spending

Uniquely as far as the developing world goes, and pretty much as far as the whole world too, Sri Lanka does not in theory permit private education. There are a few official exceptions that we all know about, namely a few private schools that are immensely popular. Then there are official exceptions in the form of paid postgraduate and diploma programmes which the universities run, and which continue to function with input from separately paid FUTA members even while the strike for undergraduate courses continue.

Then we have unofficial paid education, in the form firstly of what are termed international schools, some preparing students for international examinations, others for Sri Lankan exams in English medium. The whole country is dotted with such schools, and they have in fact a very efficient organization that prepares good textbooks, or procures them from international, mainly Indian, publishers. Secondly there are branches of a number of foreign universities, usually ones not well known in their countries of origin, though there are some exceptions. These prepare students for foreign degrees, and most can now cover the full course here, though in some cases students go abroad for one or more years.

Finally, most lucrative of all, we have tuition, which many students now consider essential to get through public examinations. In many cases, tuition is given in large tutories, in several of which serving teachers are stakeholders, and where they often teach. Sometimes tuition is arranged privately, often for teachers who explain to their students that such supplementation is necessary.

Checking with my students at university, I would find that, with one or two exceptions, all had gone for tuition. The idea that education was free was not something that they took seriously in their struggle to get into university. This is perhaps understandable, since when supply does not equal demand, then inevitably there will be alternative sources of supply. Ironically, those who argue vociferously that, to preserve free education, formal institutions supplying education at a price should be banned, pay no attention to the tuition industry which not only makes enormous amounts of money nationwide but is also deeply parasitic upon the free state system, in that those supposed to benefit from that system are providers as well as recipients. Read the rest of this entry »

Rajiva Wijesinha

October 2012
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