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Last updated: 25 August, 2007 - Published 13:40 GMT
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Education 'a right for every child'

A recent directive by Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court over school admissions has sparked a debate over country's free education.

School children in Sri Lanka
School admissions has always been a controversial subject in Sri Lanka

Admissions to the most popular and prestigious state schools has always subjected to controversy in Sri Lanka.

“The recommendations only serve the elite class,” says Joseph Stalin, General Secretary of the Lanka Teachers’ Union (LTU).

The judiciary recommended a special IQ tests for the children and educated parents given a prominence in admitting year-one students.

'For the elite class'

The Secretary to the President has not produced the National Education Commission's (NEC) detailed report over a national policy on school admissions to the Supreme Court.

President’s Secretary Lalith Weeratunga, alleges LTU, has acted upon the pressure exerted by powerful Old Boys' Associations (OBA) of a few elite schools.

 The ministry was not given any opportunity to present its views on this matter
Education minister Susil Premjayanth

“The education ministry was not given any opportunity to present its views on this matter,” Education Minister Susil Premjayanth told BBC Sandeshaya.

When asked why a subject of the line ministry was handled by the Presidential Secretariat, the minister said: “That is to be raised with those who issued the directive”.

Veteran educationist Dr. Thilokasundaree Kariyawasam did not wish to comment on the Supreme Court’s directive.

Scientific research

She was however of the opinion that conducting IQ tests for very young children goes against all international standards of education.

“Scientific research all over the world has proved that a 5-6 year old child is not ready for an IQ test,” Dr. Kariyawasam, a former Director General of Education Ministry said.

Supreme Court Recommendations
50 marks for education qualifications of parents
50 marks for pupil's IQ test
Special marks if parents are parliamentarians or serve in armed forces or police
Special marks for brothers/sisters of current pupils

Veteran educationalist, Dr. Premadasa Udagama, and the minister agreed.

“I have always been a strong critic of IQ tests,” Dr. Udagama, the former Permanant Secretary of Education Ministry, told

Dr. Kariyawasam was however of the opinion that IQ tests may be important for 14-15 year olds.

Critics meanwhile pointed out that the debate on school admission was only focused over a small proportion out of nearly 10,000 state schools in Sri Lanka.

Jathika pasal

Nearly 400 schools are designated as ‘National Schools’ under the purview of ministry of education.

The debate is mainly focused over the huge competition for admissions to nearly 30 schools in Colombo and other major cities.

CJ Sarath Silva
Court ordered educated parents given prominence in school admissions

“I think every school in the island should be a national school,” says Dr. Thilokasundaree Kariyawasam, a view endorsed by the latest report by the NEC.

Critics however say the NEC report which recommended abolishing primary classes from major schools was not submitted to the Supreme Court.

Powerful OBAs of major schools launched a campaign against the NEC recommendations.

The report recommended sweeping reforms in education sector including abolishing current religious ratio in admissions to major schools.

Media 'silent'

“Many major media institutions who initially covered the protest by OBAs were mysteriously absent on the latest Court directive,” Ravaya journalist Lasantha Ruhunage told BBC Sandeshaya.

 Many major media institutions who initially covered the protest by OBAs were mysteriously absent on the latest Court directive
Journalist Lasantha Ruhunage

“Many journalists are members or even leaders of these OBAs and are more worried about admitting their children to major schools than public interest,” Ruhunage added.

Some political parties are also accused of 'playing a double game'.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s political ally, Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and the main opposition United National Party (UNP) voiced their concern over the Court directive.

However, JVP parliamentarian Dimuthu Bandara Abeykoon was part of the delegation which met Buddhist Mahanayakes against NEC recommendations.

 I think every school in the island should be a national school
Educationalist Thilokasundaree Kariyawasam

MP Wijekoon admitted that the OBAs might have an agenda to safeguard their priviledged position.

However the NEC recommendations, MP Abeykoon said, were part of a government plan to privatise free education.

"I joined the protest against the privatisation agenda," he told

'Priviledged' parents

Both senior educationalists say offering special marks to children of professionals and armed force personnel is a violation of fundamental rules of education.

 I would not have been admitted to the school if my mother’s education was assessed
Educationalist Dr. Premadasa Udagama

“My mother could not read or write,” says Dr. Premadasa Udagama, "I would not have been admitted to the school if my mother’s education was assessed”.

“A thorough, examined reform is needed rather than piecemeal solutions,” Minister Premjayanth said.

However, the Court directive to expand the existing rule over proximity to the school can be considered as a corrective measure, according to the minister.

Proximity to the school

“It is public knowledge that the current rule is also been violated by many parents,” Susil Premjayanth said.

 The (Supreme Court) recommendations only serve the elite class
Lanka Teachers' Union

“I think in the light of current situation, we need to reassess the distance. The final decision to be taken after extensive consultations”.

The Lanka Teachers’ Union (LTU) however views it as another opportunity for the elite class to expand their control over the most popular schools.

“The entire set of proposals in the directive is an attempt by a minority to prevent free education for children from poorer families," says LTU General Secretary Joseph Stalin.

The debate continues...

This proposals are not good for child mind. Parants will force their children to teach something from birth. They try to get a national schools. There are no any room to grow freely environment. Self study, experience are going to zero.
Pushpakumara karunadasa, Dubai, UAE

I fully endorse the NEC proposals. Those proposals should be the basis for school admissions. It would have solved many other burning issues like accommodating more students for the higher grades in major schools, corruption related to admission which is rampant at present, developing the village or less privileged schools, traffic congestions in towns etc. It is disheartening to see that the political parties due selfish motives are spineless to back a truthful national policy. If the policy of assessing parents social levels and children IQ for school admission were the policy in the past, not only eminent educationalist likes Dr Premadasa Udagam but also most of our legal luminaries would have ended up somewhere else today.
JB Abayakoon, Kandy, Sri Lanka

If the ministry of education provite the resources to all schools in the Island, this problem will not come any more.
Mukunthan Thevarasa, Jaffna, Sri Lanka

It is very interesting news for sri lankan who living outside the Island.50 marks for education qualifications of parents 50 marks for pupil's IQ test Special marks if parents are parliamentarians or serve in armed forces or police. I want to Know, who is going to the school? The child or The parents?
Loges, UK

The major problem I see in the policy making in sri Lanka is that it serves personal interests rather than serving the public interests in country most of the time.Today this controversy take place with regard to the grade one addmissions,but 10 years back the same thing happened with the change of syllabuses in the schools.

Many media institutions clearly portrayed the disasterous nature of the policies yet the politicians had no ears as their children were not a part of the local education system. Political authorities should not commit the sin of preventing a child getting his/her education on the basis of the factors that are beyond the control of the child.

Equal opportunity to have basic education is a fundamental right of the future generation.Rather than discriminating innocent children using their IQ level and parents' social level the country as a whole needs to find solutions for the major issues such as inflation and poverty and the ethnic conflict.
Inoka Karunanada, New Delhi, India

This again shows how divided the country is. It is ridicules to give 50 points for the parents qualifications. If they had implemented this some years ago, some of their old talented students, may have never got a chance to get into these schools at the first instances, as some of their parents should may have not had any qualifications to get these marks. This is another brick in the wall for the future citizens of Srilanka.
Nalin Jayawardene, Perth, Australia

I fully endorse Mr. Joseph Stalin's views
Gitanjali Marcelline, Colombo, Sri Lanka.

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