Politicians are multiplying like rabbits. If one kicks a bush, so goes a saying, ten politicians will get thrown out. The Cabinet of ministers has ballooned to such an extent that it looks as though we were moving towards a Parliament of Ministers. We already have a government of politicians by politicians for politicians. They are feathering their nests at the expense of the public purse. An overstaffed public sector is also bursting at the seams. Its raison d` tre has apparently become the provision of jobs to henchmen of politicos and the misfits churned out by the university system. Perhaps, it may be no exaggeration that most government officers have a worker for each file.
While there is such a massive surplus of labour in the state sector, disturbing news comes that schools are experiencing a dearth of 8,500 principals. Most schools, it is reported, are headless and the Education Department is only making do with acting heads sans proper authority to run institutions under them. These ad hoc measures are said to have led to chaos. The Education Ministry has said those vacancies will be filled with personnel selected on the basis of the results of a competitive examination held in 2006. We have a very `promising` Education Ministry!
Our preoccupation with politics, war and cricket seems to have blinded us to an insidious decay in the education system. Neither politicians nor teachers seem to care a damn about it.
One may not see eye to eye with Western Province Chief Minister Reginald Cooray on many things but one cannot but subscribe to the rebuke teachers got from him the other day in Bandaragama, as we reported on Saturday. He lashed out at the teacher unions for making all sorts of demands without discharging their duties properly. He urged them to take up issues affecting education as well. We only hope the Chief Minister will demonstrate how considerate he is by taking up the issue of lack of principals.
The teacher unions had chutzpah to threaten, the other day, that they were capable of crippling schools on July 10 in support of the JVP-led one day strike. They must be ashamed of themselves! Instead of striking work, it behoves them to give some extra lessons to children to reduce the GCE (O/L) failure rate which stands at nearly 50 per cent and impart a decent education to the GCE (A/L) students so that they will attend school willingly without being forced to do so by the Education Department. This country spends only 2.5 per cent of the GDP on education. Has any teacher union campaigned for an increase in this amount? Even the much maligned international lending institutions have stressed the need to allocate more funds for education!
The shortage of principals at issue will make an already bad situation worse. The worst affected are presumably the underprivileged schools where the voiceless children receive education. It is not possible that the popular schools experience any such problem as the existing principals are falling over themselves to serve there.
The government is busy with preparations for oil exploration. That, no doubt, should be a national priority. But, equal heed must be paid to developing education, which, former Director General of the National Institute of Education Prof. Jagath Wickremesinghe has told the Sunday Divaina of July 06, lacks a goal and a vision. No amount of oil will help a nation of nincompoops, which we are fast becoming, to achieve progress in the modern world.
Where has free education taken us all these years? True, our education system has produced some men and women who have done the country proud. Some have become world class professionals. But, the fact remains that the country has come to depend on the less fortunate others for survival. The national economy is still being kept afloat by a not-so-educated work force slaving away in West Asia, garment factories and on tea and rubber estates, the vast majority of them being marginalised women! Isn`t this enough proof that education has not paid enough dividends despite the colossal investment we have made. Nor has it contributed to social wellbeing, it may be argued, if the high incidence of crime, conflict and suicide is any indication.
Problems in the education sector have the potential to plunge the country into chaos, unless they are sorted out urgently. A dearth of principals and attendant administrative problems may render schools rudderless and children easy prey for anarchists on the prowl looking for an opportunity to unleash havoc. They have already turned universities into an academic wasteland and fertile recruiting ground. Schools must be prevented from going the same way.
It is high time the government stopped papering over the cracks, addressed the issues in the education sector and took steps to solve them. They are far too serious to be tackled with dilatory tactics and political sweet-talk or coercion.