Girlfriend Inhales First – The Island
By Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha
Over the past few weeks, I have been going through the letters I wrote in 2014 to try to get productive action from the Rajapaksa government, as my wanderings across the country had made it clear to me that people were tired.
I annotated some of these letters on the Council for Liberal Democracy’s Facebook page, but was struck by the fact that the particular issues raised in one letter deserved a broader provenance. I refer to a letter I sent to the then Secretary of the Ministry of Education, Anura Dissanayake, a competent official who is now, in effect, Secretary to the Prime Minister, although he can do whatever whether at this post is a moot point. In 2014, he had to compose with Bandula Gunewardena.
I first referred in the letter to the Northern Education Sector Review produced under the auspices largely of Nagalingam Ethirveerasingham. Anura had indeed supported the initiative, which produced great ideas, but he could not push them further, given the constraints in which he had to work. Later, I tried to interest the National Education Commission, but they started with the useless idea of asking other provincial ministries to produce similar plans, when what I had wanted, it was a draft of basic ideas from which all these departments could choose what to do. , while the central government could help with whatever pleased many of them.
Later in the letter, I tried to get Anura to make better use, as the Review had proposed, of the computer centers that had been set up in several schools at great expense. But it seemed like it was just for political capital, not education, as I found in my wanderings that many centers were not open, which meant expensive equipment sat there unused. The delay was due to the fact that an official opening for a politician to get congratulations was expected. And in 2014, the plan was to wait for the presidential election, to revive Mahinda Rajapaksa. By dint of tinkering with the Education Advisory Committee, I had a few open, but not enough.
The other problem was that the centres, even when open, were not used for most of the day. I remember Lalith Weeratunge telling me that there was a study showing that school plants were wasted because they were only used for a few hours for only half the year, but of course , he did nothing about it. The only effort to do more came from my setting up vocational training centers in schools, but this was a negligible contribution, as it reached very few schools in the Northern and Sabaragamuwa provinces thanks to my decentralized budget.
When I was Minister of State for Higher Education, I prepared a Cabinet Paper to provide some sort of solution to several problems through the establishment of centers in each division to provide basic courses during the weekends. ends on the model of the general English language training program that I had coordinated. But of course, Minister Kabir Hashim, who, as he told me, knew nothing about education, but through whom I had to submit Cabinet documents after they were put on me, in largely to fire the president of the UGC, did nothing. He was only concerned then, as he had told me, with electoral success in the next legislative elections, but perhaps also he had no idea of the various problems to which this would have brought a kind of education. .
The total lack of concern of politicians without professional authority is another thing that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa should have considered when he took office, but instead of introducing good planning into politics, he himself also turned into a politician, to everyone’s disappointment. , concerned primarily with electoral success. When he was elected, we thought he would introduce discipline among politicians, but he singularly failed to do so, and it seems that none of his hundreds of advisers had any idea of the changes that the political culture is undergoing. of this country so urgently needs.
The letter from many years ago, still relevant, especially when alternative educational structures are so urgently needed –
Secretary, Ministry education
I was pleased to see ministry officials at the release of the Northern Education Sector Review report and to see that the ministry has given its fullest support to this and other initiatives. It is an excellent document and I hope the department will agree that some of the ideas should be incorporated. I hope that mechanisms can be developed to do this, and I suggest that you send copies of the report to all provincial ministries and then organize a workshop where the ideas can be discussed. I am sure that UNICEF would be happy to sponsor such a workshop and I will write to them to suggest it.
During the ceremony, it was mentioned that a school that had benefited from 40 computers had only two students, and it would be desirable that mechanisms be developed to ensure better use of the facilities that have been provided. The governor, in his speech, acknowledged this and said it was up to the directors to make sure, but you may need to give clear instructions on how this should be done. In this context, please build on the report’s suggestion that ”At least three IC and/or IAB schools in an area should hold classes for students who could not continue their education for any reason so that ‘they can come back to school to learn employable skills when school is not in regular session’.
Perhaps you could write a circular to put this idea into practice. As you may know, I have, with my decentralized budget, started vocational training in five centers in the most deprived areas of the Northern Province, and perhaps this could be replicated elsewhere as well. I have written to MPs in the area accordingly, but encouragement from departments, both yours and the provincial department, would be helpful in this regard.
I briefed Mr. Weeratunge on the report and wonder if you could send him a copy and perhaps discuss with him how his ideas might be taken forward.
Please also let me know if all newly built and equipped computer centers have been opened. During the last advisory committee, I brought to the minister’s attention that some remained unused, which is not good for computers. Although he initially said that they were waiting for dignitaries to open them, he agreed in the end that it was not appropriate and promised to commission the buildings so that the students could benefit most from them. as soon as possible. I would be grateful if you could assure me that this has been done.
vs. Lalith Weeratunge, Secretary to the President