When I was Minister of Higher Education I tried through that Ministry to work in areas that I had earlier suggested, following the Review, to the Ministry of Education, but I was not there long enough to set things going and the Cabinet Ministers had no interest in the Cabinet Papers I produced for the purpose.

The pictures are of three Ministers, amiable but hopelessly incompetent, who did little for Education or Vocational Training or National Languages and Social Integration.

Student needs ignored

I also suggested to Anura that he should build on the suggestion in the report that ‘At least three IC and/or IAB schools in a Zone should conduct classes for students who could not continue studies for whatever reason so that they can come back to school to learn employable skills when the school is not in regular session’. This is such a self-evident necessity that I am astonished that those in charge have not thought about it. At the very least it seemed to me that better use could be made from the project the Ministry had undertaken to provide several schools with multiple computers, to provide training outside hours for practical purposes.

But in fact the computer project was not for students at all. It had involved vast expenditure, to put up buildings and buy computers, on which doubtless commissions were obtained. And then most of these remained shut until political capital could be gained by opening them before elections. By dint of making a big fuss at the Education Consultative Commttee in Parliament I managed to shame Minister Bandula Goonewardena to open a few earlier than had been intended, but in general the callousness and waste continued.

I suggested not only to Anura but also to several MPs in the area that they should think of replicating my scheme, of starting vocational training centres in schools. And I also suggested to one MP I thought keen to work for the people but with no idea how to do it that he might like to finalize decisions on how to spend the funds currently allocated to you for development purposes on the basis of consultations, using the mechanisms now set in place by the Ministry of Public Administration. You could therefore ask for written proposals based on the discussions at the Civil Defence Committee meetings at Grama Niladhari level, which have now been formalized through the recent circular sent out by the Ministry. If suggestions were prioritized then, and submitted systematically through the Divisional Secretary, it would be easier for the Development Committee to make decisions.’

In writing to Skills Development Secretary Wijeratne to urge follow up on our meeting the previous month which Minister Dullas Alahapperuma had finally arranged after failing to get any action from his previous incompetent Secretary, I also suggested expanding the scope of training, since ‘given the increasing problems created by monolingualism, developing language / translation courses would be immensely helpful. Perhaps you should work together with the Ministry of National Languages and Social Integration in this regard.’ I wrote too to Vasudeva Nanayakkara, who held that Ministry, and who had suddenly woken up to my existence and asked me to join his advisory board, to suggest he push this idea.

But Vasu, though he had been very cooperative about the efforts Vasantha Senanayake and I were making to stir the President into moving on the reforms the country needed, was not good at ensuring action and this idea was forgotten.