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I have spent the last few weeks looking at both our parliamentarians and the public service, and these are certainly areas in which reforms are urgently required. At its simplest, we need a public service that works efficiently for the public, rather than for politicians. We need politicians who understand what their responsibilities are, to constituents as well as to the country at large, and who fulfil those responsibilities efficiently and effectively.

But we also need citizens who can contribute actively both to governance and to the development process. For this purpose we need a radical overhaul of our education system, which according to recent studies

  1. is failing to develop the cognitive skills on large numbers of its graduates. It has also failed to impart several urgently needed technical skills such as the ability to write and communicate clearly in even the mother tongue, let alone English (a recent ILO report)
  2. At present a large number of students are leaving the school education either at or before GCE OL without obtaining proper knowledge, skills, competencies and qualifications necessary for their lives and world of work (Ministry of Education Discussion Paper 20160404 – 2016)
  3. not only the structure, but also the contents and delivery of curriculum should be reformed for better relevance to modern society, more focusing on nurturing ability to learn, absorb and apply knowledge rather than learning static knowledge itself (ADB comments on proposals for reform)
  4. mechanisms to ensure seamless transition between the different branches of education, and to increase the appeal of vocational training, have not been developed (TVEC Policy Paper)

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In the last couple of weeks I looked at current problems with regard to Members of Parliament and put forward suggestions as to how things might be improved. The meeting for which I prepared the paper that was the basis of my last article was most interesting. There were clear areas of consensus, in particular that we needed a new electoral system. Indeed one very pleasant interlocutor asked why we were stressing this since it had been agreed that a change would be made. Sadly he had not followed the manner in which, for the last two and a half years, the Prime Minister has blocked electoral reform, despite the best will of both the President and the Elections Commissioner.

Interesting statistics were put forward during the seminar, including the fact that 94 current Members had not passed the Ordinary Level Exam, and 68 had not passed the Advanced Level Exam. 38 had passed that, but gone no further, which means we have only 25 degree holders in Parliament.

I am not sure if those statistics are accurate, and indeed one participant noted that academic qualifications did not necessarily mean one made a good member of Parliament. That is certainly true, but that does not mean that Parliamentarians do not need intellectual and analytical capacities. Given that obviously these will be very different in different people – and as a recent ILO study put it, our education system has failed in the development of cognitive skills – there is clear need for training for Members of Parliament, even the graduates. This should be done by parties with regard to candidates, as well as the administration of Parliament following an election, but of course nothing of the sort happens.

Another question put forward was why the Sri Lankan public, which is comparatively educated, vote for those with less education than themselves. The answer of course is that they have to vote for candidates put forward by parties, and it is parties who are utterly irresponsible in their choice of candidates. Read the rest of this entry »

Rajiva Wijesinha

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