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Sri Lanka's myth of free education and its quality
03 May, 2010 06:11:31
By W A Wijewardene
May 03, 2010 (LBO) - After the release of the results of every major public examination, a spontaneous debate takes place in the country regarding the deteriorating quality of the students sitting for the examinations.
The School System is Blamed

Sri Lankan examination authorities are renowned throughout the world with respect to quality and standard assurance and, therefore, the blame is squarely placed on the country’s school system for failing to deliver the results expected by the community. Since the education system in the country is funded out of tax payers’ money and educational services are delivered through public production, it gives an opportunity for concerned citizens, analysts, political leaders and educationists to voice their concern about what they reckon as the sad state of affairs.

Education is not entirely a public affair

Though many are under the impression that the entirety of the national education expenditure is borne by tax payers, it is not strictly accurate. In any publicly funded system, individuals too incur some part of direct expenditure, known among economists, as ‘out of the pocket spending’ to receive public services. If such spending remains low, then, it is the tax payers who bear the full burden of providing the public service concerned.

‘Out of the Pocket Spending on Education’ is also enormous

Information relating to ‘out of the pocket spending’ on education by individuals is obtained through periodic socio – economic or household income and expenditure surveys conducted by the authorities.

The first type of the survey is conducted by the Central Bank of Sri Lanka and according to its survey in 1996/97, the nation as a whole has spent an estimated sum of Rs 10 billion on education as private expenditure when the tax payers spent some Rs 18 billion. So, the private expenditure in the form of out of the pocket spending amounts to some 35 percent of the total expenditure on education.

The Household Income and Expenditure Surveys are conducted by the Department of Census and Statistics. According to the Survey in 2006/07, the total out of the pocket spending on education by individuals is estimated to be at Rs 38 billion when the tax payers had spent Rs 72 billion for same. This level of private out of the pocket spending amounts roughly to 35 percent of the total national expenditure on education. Hence, education in Sri Lanka is an enterprise of which the burden is shared by tax payers collectively and individuals privately. The concern for deteriorating educational quality delivered by the public school system is compounded by this fact.

The Low Performance is a Historical Phenomenon

However, the low pass rates at public examinations are not a new phenomenon and it has always been the case in Sri Lanka. For instance, the GCE (Ordinary Level) Examination about which the wildest protests are made after the results are released, has surprisingly recorded the same performance rate from as far back as 1994 for which year the earliest data are available. In that year, 26 percent has failed Sinhala Language, 25 percent Tamil Language, 72 percent English Language, 69 percent Science and 66 percent Mathematics.

This performance has marginally improved at the 2000 examination but remained at that level thereafter. When one takes the latest examination in 2009 too into account, on average from 1994 to 2009, the failure rates have been alarming: 20 percent in both Sinhala and Tamil, 65 percent in English, 55 percent in Science and 60 percent in Mathematics. It is therefore a perennial grievance which people harbour and let out as wild protests both as individual spenders and collective tax payers.

Public Production Model is Freakish

The model involving the public production and supply of education funded collectively by taxpayers is inherent with a defect that acts to prevent it from ensuring quality of the service automatically. This was discussed by me fully in a chapter in my publication titled ‘Economic Wisdom for Babies’, (Sanhinda Printers and Publishers, 2008), under the title ‘Is Free Education Really Free and Can it Guarantee Quality too?’. Since the arguments in this chapter are valid even for today, I reproduce it below: From Economic Wisdom for Babies

“We should provide education free of charge to make it universally available to everybody as is being done by Sri Lanka” The eminent professor from a prestigious Indian university declared. The faces of other participants who were also professors from different universities got lit up at this suggestion. But, one professor who appeared to be an out-believer lamented openly “But, free public education is widely criticised for its failure to maintain quality. This is very much demonstrated by the high failure rates at exams. So, it has treated parents not to the expected ambrosia, but to a woefully distasteful meal”

We were at an international conference in India debating how to make education available to all. This was the acclaimed strategy for helping the down-trodden to move up the social ladder.

There were two of us from Sri Lanka and some in the audience looked at us for our opinion. My colleague rose and said “Even in Sri Lanka, the free availability of education hasn’t guaranteed good quality. For instance, at the GCE Ordinary Level exam, about 20 percent fail in mother tongue, that is, in Sinhala and Tamil, and about 60-65 percent in English, Math and Science. There’s a very significant number who wouldn’t get any mark at all. About 10 percent fail in all subjects. So, compared to the enormous amount of public funds used, the results delivered haven’t been up to the expectation”

Now, it was my turn to intervene. “The popularly known idea of free education is a misnomer” I said. “There’s nothing in this world which is free. Someone may get something without having to make a sacrifice, money-wise or otherwise. But, for him to get it without a sacrifice, someone else has to make a sacrifice. In the case of education, what has happened is that students don’t have to pay tuition fees. But, the community as tax payers bears the total cost through the budget. When we use a rupee for education, remember that we lose an opportunity to satisfy some other requirement of ours. May be a road to our village. So, education is not free at all. It’s like our giving free gift vouchers to people without discrimination so that they could use them to have their children educated at public schools”

Some of them were nodding their heads in agreement and I got emboldened by the encouraging gestures. So, I continued. “If free things are available, that would be only in the heaven ruled by God Indra. There, a tree known as kalpa wruksha, would give you everything you want just by a touch of the tree. Even there, you have to make sacrifices. To touch the tree, you need to spend your energy. Besides, to get into that heaven, you need to do a lot of merits that involve continuous sacrifices” I said in a lighter vein provoking an instant laughter in the hall.

“What do you think of the quality of public education?” Somebody asked me.

I took sometime to formulate my answer. “Low quality is an inherent factor in our free education model. Do you have any problem about maintaining quality by a soap manufacturer? No. Because, in that private production model, financier is also the producer. On the other side, the payer and user are the same. So, there’s no diffusion of interests of the two parties. The user who is also the payer can punish the soap manufacturer by withdrawing his demand. So, manufacturers have incentives to supply quality goods, for otherwise they’ve to close the business”

“How does it relate to education” Another professor asked.

I continued my reply. “In the case of education, the direct market link you observe in other production models is somewhat distorted. There’re several parties involved in the production of free public education and no one is accountable to users. So, the model itself doesn’t have incentives to produce a quality output”

“Can you elaborate on it further?” An incredulous professor asked.

“It’s like this” I started my explanation. “There, the financier is the tax payer. But he has no control over the producer who is the bureaucracy, namely, the school system. It produces what it wants and thrust it on users. The demanders of education are the parents. But, they aren’t the users and, therefore, can’t judge on the quality. The students are the people who go through the educational process, but they can’t comment on quality because they don’t know what’s required on one hand and they’re not the users of education, on the other. Students are simply a throughput, not even an input, which goes through the educational machine.

"They enter the system tunnel from one end and come out from the other end, basically in the same form. Not as a new output that you get when you put an input into a machine! They’re simply polished by the machine and thrown out for use by others. The final users of education are the employers who hire the throughput. They find that the people whom they hire can’t produce a marketable output straightaway. So, they’ve to incur additional expenditure for training them to make them employable. But, the employers as consumers have no say in the process at all because they don’t pay direct to the schools. So, they relegate themselves only to cry about low quality in public. But, the bureaucracy can ignore that protest and continue to produce only what it wants. So, the model has no innate incentive to maintain quality”

“So, what’s the solution?” Somebody asked.

“Easy” I said. “Fund schools according to results. It requires re-training of teachers and if, they aren’t trainable, show them the way out. And also, subject them to competition from private schools”

The writer is a retired deputy governor of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka. To read previous columns in the series go to the WatchTower section on the main navigation panel or click on the links below. He can be reached on waw1949@gmail.com)

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READER COMMENT(S)
27. Navidi SL May 31
Mitra
Not everyone can reach (or need) academic excellence. Some individuals are better getting the job done than others. Country must train a large number of supporting technical/trade level sub professionals for each intellectual/professional country produce.

You should know how many Sri Lankan graduates have become non-productive due to oversupply. For an example, just conceptualise these young people were trained in building trades such as carpentry, electrical, brick laying, air-conditioning, plastering, tiling, gas-fitting, cabinet making etc to support architects and engineers and also not mention quality manpower scarcity in other trades. Your ideas are typical of colonial mentality and feudal system of labour values prevalent in the country

26. RKN May 31
Not so long ago a certain President of Federation of Chambers of Commerce of Sri Lanka suggested that all the universities should be closed and technical collages training people on trade skills should be opened. Considering he himself was a carpenter, he perhaps was demonstrating his level of education, rather ack of it.

It is quite sad that people fail to comprehend the difference between education and trade skill training. The former is a structured and long term process employing multiple teaching and learning methodologies with an aim to expand ones intellect, deep thinking and conceptualizing capability and how to deploy the power of intellect in creativity and innovation in all spheres of human lives: social, economic etc...

The trade skills training, as opposed to education, serves a much narrower purpose. Such training prepare people to perform certain technical tasks: data entry, plumbing, masonry, cooking etc,,,

Even computer software code wring is a trade skill. But not systems design and developing architecture for an enterprise computing system.

Where should we pay attention? The answer is both. We need to set up, private or public, universities that will provide undergraduate and graduate level education education in range of disciplines from history to finance to medicine. And have large number of trade skill training institutes for those who are unable go beyond A/L.

25. Sunil R May 30
To Navidi,
Your examples are exceptions to the rule. Also some types of knowledge cannot be acquired 'on the job'. A good example is Medicine.
24. Mitrapala waduthanthri May 30
Navid-
Bill Gates was recently asked was it really required to earn a degree sine he was a Harvard drop out. His response (a) education is much relevant today than 30 years ago when he started MS therefore every youth MUST strive to excel academically (b) not to generalize his case- it worked for him but doesn't mean that everyone else could follow his path.

Everyone cannot become a Maliban Mudalali or a Mahind Rajapaksha. They perhaps had extraordinary capabilities. But as for vast number of average people education is the path to prosperity and positive contribution to society.

Education cannot be equated to acquiring tarde skills such as carpentry, driving, cooking and plumbing.

We need people who can conceptualise at high intelectual levels. We need engineers, architects, civil servants, lawyers, doctors, philosophers, sociologists, historians, poets, economists, political scientists, dramatists, painters, dancers, journalists, dentists, agriculture specialists, meteorologists, physicists, chemists, botanists, archeologists, oceanographers, atmospheric physicists, hydrologists, psychologists..... can training in trade skills could produce them?

23. Navidi SL May 30
I am somewhat puzzled by the “quality’ education mentioned by many respondents. Renowned Sri Lankans - Maliban Mudalali, MD Gunasena, Senarath Paranavithane, Mahainda Rajapakse, to name a few, acquired knowledge ‘on the job’ to become outstanding leaders in their respective disciplines.

Sri Lanka should encourage ‘relevant’ education giving special consideration in quality training in ‘trades’ which will help employment and productivity rather than merely concentrating in academic excellence. Remember, neither Bill Gates nor Steve Jobs are university graduates.

22. Mitrapala May 24
Access to high quality education from nursery to tertiary is a basic human right. From national perspective it is an investment to build a better country tomorrow. There is no question that tax payer should bear the cost of that- anyone who wish to make use such education provided free of charge.

However, that doesn't mean that government has monopoly over education, free or paid. It should allow market participants in a regulated regime. What most of people do not understand is that private sector (that included private professional organizations) has been taking part in many areas of professional education in accounting, engineering, chemistry, architecture, marketing, materials management etc..

If one can lean accounting in private institution and earn professional qualifications what's wrong in learning History, Geography, Economics, Psychology in a privately held university?

In fact government should even set up private schools-- those who wish to sit for London AL and IB. Wasn't CIS (Colombo International School) a government owned school until recently?

What we need is more and more educated people, can we produce 10,000 engineers, 10,000 doctors and 10,000 accountants every year?

We cannot do that until government hold monopoly over education

21. Tharu22 May 20
To empowered,
You're points are very valid and well taken. You summarise the conditions for a workable education system very well. My concern is that some who argue for privatized education claim that education expenditure is too large a burden for the government (implication is that it needs to be cut down). I don't see how this can be the case. Governments of almost all countires that they claim as examples of good privataised systems spend much more than Sri Lanka on education (as a % of GDP).

As you correctly pointed out education reforms are necessary to make the system more efficient and less bureaucratic but not to cut down on govt expenditure. If reforms are carried out properly, it will probably increase govt expenditure on education (in terms of grants, federally funded loan/scholarship programs etc.)For example US spends around 6% of GDP on education where as Sri Lanka spends only 2.5%

20. empowered May 19
Tharu
On the contrary nobody is arguing that education should be a 'for profit' model. Only that it should be free from stifling state control and should something run by the people for themselves and their betterment.

Certainly the greatest universities in the world are private. Whether they are profit-making corporations or not is not the criterion. But whether they are fee/endowment based matters or funded by tax payer money dispensed by bureaucrats matter.

A fee based model allows the users control and gives them the liberty to put pressure against the providers of the service.

Whether they make profits or not does not matter to the users or to us. However profits - or a surplus of some kind - is useful for sustenance to expand to build infrastructure etc. If an endowment model is used to part fund the university that is also ok.

Having state funded scholarships is also a good idea in the sense that it allows financial weak but bright students to get a tertiary education.

Some communist governments in East Asia build universities (and also schools) part funds operational costs and expects them to charge fees to survive. Both China and Vietnam charge school fees.

But the real innovation in both these countries is that they promoted private institutions and freed the people from the stranglehold of the state monopoly.

Even a under a government system charging fees will allow better governed schools to attract more students.

And it is a fallacy to believe that financially weak students do not pay. Under a tax-payer funded system everyone pays, you just do not see it. The biggest payers are the employed poor. They are victims of the system, who have a job but are poor due to government action - high prices of basic foods, high and chronic inflation which drags them down and currency depreciation which does the same thing.

It is perfectly reasonable to allow 'poor' students a free education. As long richer people are made to pay. That will reduce cost to general tax payers and put pressure on the system.

'Free education' is a UNP scam. The problem is with an inefficient and dysfunctional state which faces no pressure to reform. Very efficient states can be built under certain governance models and Sri Lanka did have an efficient state before independence.

But if you follow a me and me-only policy (state monopoly) it is not going to work.

19. Tharu22 May 19
To Dinesh,
If you argue in the sense of evolution theory in a social context (survival of the fittest), then you are absoultely right. Not only education, but everything else including national security should be run on a privatized ‘for profit’ model. Only the fittest will survive and it will even make the human race stronger The weaker will be weaned off. This is what Hitler tried to do by sending disabled and mentally illl to gas chambers!).

However, under currently accpeted norms of society and governance, above is not generally accepted and there are notions such as fairness, protection of the weaker ones etc. If you subscribe to this latter view it is unclear whether a ‘for profit’ model of education will be socially desireable.

Also, one needs to be careful in over extending simplifed examples. Education is diferent to TVs/electronics in many aspects. Some of them include; education ‘creates social value’ where as consumer goods primarily generate consumption utility (with good education one may elevate himself so that he can aford to purchase such consumer goods). Quality is hard to assess (unlike the number of pixels in a LCD screen). Purchase is not repetitive (in case of a TV, if the current one is bad, I’ll buy competitor brand next time). In additon to money investment in terms of time is severe.

My main concern is not over the argument that responsibility for education is not solely governments’. It is rather on the assumption that privatization solves the problem. And the way I understand, what proponents mean by ‘privatization’ is a ‘for profit’ model for education in Sri Lanka. Are you aware that almost all the top end, globally reputed institutes of higher education are ‘not for profit’ institutes?

18. Niro May 17
Its good to see some people find some truth in what I say. Most of the articles and comments on LBO are based on (often flawed) economic perspectives of the writers/ commenters. I am not saying they are wrong, but they have to assess the situation from a more broader perspective than pure economics to see the real reasons for the dire straits of our economy and the education system.

That again is a problem of our education system where people usually specialize in one discipline and clueless about everything else.

(this reminds me the proverb: 'When the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to ‘fix’ everything as if they are nails’ )

I often see far more fundamental and structural problems in our economy and our education system and why they both fail to address pressing problems of the people.

I am willing to share my thoughts and proposals if the authorities are willing to listen to me (and others with similar perspectives) with an open mind with no pre-conditions. I know reforms are difficult in our rotten political and social system where people are self centered and only look for short term benefits. But someone has to start somewhere some day to reform the system get the country on the right track ….

17. Sunil R May 17
I like Niro's May 3rd comment. Could he spell out how one could put his ideas into practice.

There must be exit points at various stages and these exits must lead to viable alternatives and also there must be entry points back into the system if one has made a mistake.

Mobility also must be ingrained into the system.

16. Dinesh May 11
To Tharu22:
You are right when you say private sector education will be based on affordability. The implication being that a large segment of the population will be deprived of education under a fully private system. Just think about any mass-produced product of today: radio, television, mobile phones, other electronic stuff, internet, cars, air travel etc. Each of these started out at a high-price, and hence only affordable by the affluent. Yet over time, the cost of delivery comes down sharply and becomes affordable (albeit some products more than others). A public sector would never have been able to provide these products at today's prices.

There are plenty of questions on how a fully private system will evolve. The simple answer is that we won't know until its tried out. Using a mobile phone example, 20 years ago, who thought that mobile phones will become affordable for the poor?

We complain of the shortcomings of the public education system and expect a resolution to come out of that same system. I say its time to look outside the box.

p.s. when I wrote "optimum allocation", I meant within the limits of human judgment.

Best wishes,

15. Lakshman Dalpadado May 06
We all seem to agree that educational standards have fallen. Here are some reasons , in my opinion, responsible for ' falling' educational standards

1. Reference point-- Sri Lanka was a British colony- an outpost of Britain, a british satellite. . So we were essentially a part of Britain and most professionals went to UK and had British qualifications, habits and manners. They imposed British standards. Once we became independent this status quo was not sustainable.

2. Sectarian war- This very significant factor is often overlooked. Any country with a sectarian war( and terrorism) will experience a drop in educational standards and rise in crime, murder and rape. Same in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The reason are many- poverty due to economic situation in the country, violence, stress -- are common factors.

3. Flight of human capital and investment due to above is also a major factor for falling standards of everything from hotel services to the shop floor.

4. Introduction of free- market model based on profit. All government teachers( and doctors and lawyers ) have forgotten their professional responsibilities( and their oath) and have taken to profit mode- Private practice and private tuition. Looking at the number of students attending ' Cram' schools - the teachers seem to have embraced free market economics with gusto. Now everyone wants to make money to buy the latest mobile, latest plasma TV, latest car, bigger house.

In our days There was no TV, NO phones, none of the doctors had cars- so we did not need any money. ( It cost only 15 cents for a cup of tea , two dosa and a parippu vadai at Hotel De Madras in Thimbirigasyaya. And 10 cents for the bus. 25 cents pocket money was more than enough) .

5. To please the democratic voters successive governments focussed on quantity over quality . Too many schools and too many poor quality teachers. Poor supervision of schools

6. So what should we do? Should we take India as an example here you can even get a Gold Medal Like ' Hind Ratan' award for USD 700 -00 or follow the example set by countries LIke Singapore and Dubai and invite recognised foreign universities to set up campuses here? The latter would undoubtedly the best if we can afford it. Thats what private schools are doing.

7. To elevate the teachers to what they were before and give them the power to change, innovate and educate. Have programs to get foreign and locals abroad to volunteer to teach here Through IVS, VSO, etc.

14. Jan May 06
On a different note, people are critical about government sponsored education merely on the perspective that it is not effective but not based on hard and fast facts.

Generally there is a misconception that government run "anything" is not efficient. As per people going abroad for studies; My opinion is that "usually" they do it (1) to get a higher degree that is not offered in SL (2) People who are not competent enough to get into the SL universities.

Just how many of the existing high and low profile jobs are filled by locally educated people is something that you should consider. There is no question that certain improvements are required. When it comes to under graduate level technical skills, SL institutions are on par with most other countries. However, the problem of liberal arts graduates exists not only in SL but also in any other country given the nature of their stream of study.

13. Jan May 05
"Fund schools according to results" isn't a solution. You need to understand output "pass rates", if that is your only ultimate objective, as a measure of "inputs". High pass rates do not mean that a school is performing better than another school that has a lower pass rate because simply, high pass rate-school may be using more resources than the other. What you need is a measure of efficiency to understand funding needs.
12. Tharu22 May 04
To Dinesh,
Of course there is no arguement that education involves consumption of scarece resources.
However whether the private sector can guarantee "optimum" allocation is a debatable issue. Surely private sector guarantees resources based on affordability. However it need not be optimum.(Hence we see millions of dollars spent on researching "restless foot syndrom" in the US but not enough on fighting Malaria in Africa)

All the economic arguements based on State Vs Private sector are issues of relativity (i.e. is one better or less worse than the other) as neither is likely to result in optimum solutions.

If you think private sector can cure the problems in education, I suggest you watch the Frontline Documentary, College, Inc.

11. Shantha Jayasinghe May 04
This is really an interesting debate.
I personally believe, particularly in education sector reforms, the quality that is presently lacking should not be achieved at the expense of equity. In that sense, a voucher system is a fairly acceptable tool (to start with universities), to achieve a balance in quality and equality. Tax-funded education voucher in the broadest sense is a payment made by the government to a university chosen by the parents of the student or students themselves.

The voucher finances all or most of the tuition charge. The voucher system introduces competition among universities and enables universities to offer diverse educational packages to meet the different preferences of students.

The goal of a voucher plan, as stipulated by Edwin G. West, embodies four principles: consumer choice, personal advancement, the promotion of competition, and equal opportunity. Personal advancement is rooted in the conviction that people want to shape their own destinies. Unfortunately, in Sri Lanka this opportunity is given only at the entrance to the GCE Advanced Level.

According to my knowledge there is no freedom for students to select their field of study at university, which is decided instead by the University Grant Commission based on the performance in the GCE Advanced Level examination. This selection process does not create enough incentives for students to specialize in a particular area, which they could explore in the future. Only after graduating with a first degree, at the masters’ level, students’ eyes open and they take their own decisions. Since the choice of the course is a decision of the Government, students who followed such courses tend to believe that providing a job opportunity is also an ultimate responsibility of the Government.

10. Dinesh May 04
To Tharu22:
I am sure that education (whether free or not) leads to social development. My point is that education involves an allocation of society's scarce resources and that the optimum allocation can only be driven by the private sector - hence my argument that the system should be either entirely or predominantly private. There is always an opportunity cost: resources wasted in the system may be used more productively elsewhere.

The success of the system, in my view, depends on the total cost of the education (including the students time) and the incremental lifetime earnings once the student enters the workforce. I don't know if that can be measured.

9. Niro May 04
Genetic factors that influence intelligence and the mechanism of inheritance of intelligence is still elusive to modern science. So determining the IQ of the children based on the parents IQ is a intractable task until the science and technology develops. Lets hope we will get there one day.

Penalizing parents for producing 'low quality' offspring is not justifiable, as parents have no control over how their genes gets recombined to produce their children.

To Thushara and AncientWisdom:
Personally would you like a system where the govt comes to you and ask you to pay up the cost of 'free education' if your own children fail to succeed in education. I bet you don't !

8. AncientWisdom May 04
Thushara has point, if the failure is genetic, then, the parents may be charged for producing inferior species.

If not, then, as was the practice in ancient China relating to health care that physicians had to pay the patients if they fall ill, teachers may be asked to pay when students fail!

7. W.A Wijewardena May 04
Niro's normally distributed (bell shaped) IQ of a given population is a well established concept though many do not wish to accept its validity simply because they think that they can create wonders through policy and appropriate interventions.

To add to Niro, another established concept is that IQ of a person is inborn and not acquired.

When we add the two together, it gives us a very dismal picture: however much we try, we cannot get our children to become doctors or engineers or bankers or scientists and so on,if they are not born to become such professionals.

Perhaps, the society could do marginal improvements through genetic mixing and improved diets to build the brain power. But, it will take, as Niro has argued, millenia to prove results.

Scientists also believe that inter-ethnic marriages will produce intellectually superior species as was shown by the 19th century and 20th century USA where marriages took place among immigrants from different places of the globe. This all points to a single conclusion: our overly concern for the ethnicity is a hurdle and perhaps the seed of eventual destruction of the very same ethnic group which we are planning to protect.

To Tharu22's query: It was not before free education, but before Swabhasha era that Sri Lanka's universities had foreign students. In late 1940s and early 1950s, our University of Ceylon was on par with the University of London; professors were exchanged between the two and papers were marked and moderated by the two.

I in fact met a Professor at University of Tokyo (a Japanese) who had studied economics under Professor Goonesekera at the University of Ceylon in early 1950s. He was very proud of his academic career there at that time. Today of course we can only lament over the lost paradise. Perhaps, the government's new 'knowledge hub' may take us back to that era and help us to regain the same.

6. Thushara May 04
There must be a way to deduct cost from parents when their children fail
5. ARUN TAMPOE May 04
This is a revelation and it is high time our people understood the difference between " literacy" and 'Education" ...we sri lankans have been made to believe that our people are highly literate a.d therefore 'educated". If we add the cost of the ubiquitous tuition classes that children at all levels of the economic spectrum are reported to be getting then what the writer says is doubly true.

It is an act of senseless butchery of innocents . The State , in its unchecked gallop to 'socialize' the system in 1972 wrought havoc on the public and the elite among the legislators managed to smuggle their children out of the system and send them to private schools and from there to foreign universities. Shame on them .

4. Tharu22 May 04
To Dinesh,
To simply say "Before "free education", Sri Lankan universities attracted foreign students. Now our students go to foreign universities" misses out a lot. For example what do you mean by "before free education"? To my understanding since the colonial times university education has been highly subsidised so in a way it was free education (remeber univerity of ceylon was not a private enterprise). However, the access was much restrictive.

And also, do you mean to measure the success of education system by whether foreign students study there? If so Neapl must be having one of the best eduation systems of the world. With all its limitations, one needs to acknowledge that free education has helped in the social development of Sri Lanka tremendously.

3. Niro May 03
Its worth repeating what I wrote few weeks ago on free education with few additions.
Without blaming the stakeholders for poor delivery of 'free' education, lets first look for root causes as to why the exam results are pretty dismal. I firmly believe the root causes lies elsewhere.

Statistically, the biological IQ of a population is distributed along a 'bell' curve. There are few people who are very intelligent (high IQ) and there is a equal proportion of people who's IQ is well below average. The vast majority is clustered around the average IQ. If the mathematics and science syllabi are formulated, taught and tested with the presumption that the population has a above average IQ, there is no wonder why many people fail to get a passing grade.

Despite all the technological advances (mainly due to few clever and intelligent people), the true average biological IQ of any given population has not improved by much over the last few millennia. Therefore, many are unable to grasp these technological/scientific/mathematical advances required by the school curriculum to get a passing grade. Due to this, many children will not reach the education level desired by their parents, the education system and themselves despite their best efforts.

Unlike food, education can't be force fed. Given equal opportunities, children will reach the maximum potential on their own if they put in a good effort. Due to the public distrust in the state sponsored 'free' education system, hundreds of sub-standard private schools have mushroomed over the last two decades to fill the void. Parents go to any length to give their children the best possible education by spending tons of money in the hope that their children will get to the highest academic level.. But for most of them, the educational outcome of their children would be a utter disappointment because their educational potential (IQ) is biologically determined by the parent's DNA.

The 'free' education delivery mechanism may have shortcomings as Mr Wijewardena has pointed out as a economist. No govt. system is efficient when bureaucrats spend other peoples money (tax revenue form masses) to deliver a product or service as no one is held accountable for the failure. As I have pointed out, there are far wider reasons as to why children fail to reach the maximum desired potential despite the best efforts of the state via 'free' educaton or private schools paid for by parents.

A solution for such a situation is to give children alternative and/or vocational education (out of which they can forge a career without being a burden to society) as soon as the children themselves feel they are unable to fully grasp the mathematics and science curriculum. There is no point of having 'one size fits all' kind of education system or syllabi for 13 years for all the children. This kind of system will result in a disgruntled youth who have spent 13 years of their young life, pursuing an elusive educational dream and not being able to show any credentials for their effort.

Our societies still believe that to succeed in life we have to have the best possible academic credentials. This mindset has to change and we need to accept alternative education and careers paths. We need to accept alternative careers as being useful to society and they provide useful products and services to the wider public providing employment to vast majority who failed to succeed in formal education.

Until we do that, this mad scramble to achieve best education (by parents and their children) will continue to end in tears! and the economists (as usual) will try to put the blame squarely on the govt for failing to provide high quality education. We are all collectively responsible for the dire straits of our education system.

Sorry for recycling what I have written few weeks ago. I couldn't resist. I hope you will find some truth in what I have said. Your comments are most welcome.

2. Dinesh May 03
Education should be demand-oriented i.e. students should be taught the skills needed by potential employers. A large part of the country's youth unemployment rests with mismatches in skills and market needs, and minimum wage regulations.

Only a private education system can match student education to market needs. Therefore, the system should be either entirely private sector driven, or predominantly so, with public sector participation being limited (at most) to primary education (reading, writing, basic mathematics).

Before "free education", Sri Lankan universities attracted foreign students. Now our students go to foreign universities. What use is a free education system that produces unemployable students / graduates?

1. Hiran Jayasundara May 03
When people loose their faith on FREE education; they will try to send their kids to Private schools. Thus, the demand for free education would decline; which is exactly what the government wants... which will help to reduce government expenditure!