New approach sans tear gas | Daily News


 

New approach sans tear gas

Discussions with student protesters:

Protesting students of universities and other higher educational institutions running helter-skelter from unceasing attacks of tear gas, water jets and baton charges at the premises of President’s Office, Temple Trees or Ministry of Higher Education or University Grants Commission were regular items in television news channels for several years. There was a remarkable change of that unruly scenario earlier this week at the Galle Face Front, when hundreds of university students patiently sitting in front of the President’s Office awaiting results of cordial discussions held between the student leaders and officials of the Presidential Secretariat.

The protest was staged in front of the President’s Office by the students making six demands including an increase in Mahapola scholarship grants and early payment of arrears. Upon receiving information regarding the protest President Gotabaya Rajapaksa instructed the security officials to allow the university students into the President’s Office without any hindrance.

As the President and the Secretary to the President were engaged in a pre-planned official duty, Additional Secretary, Rohana Abeyratne and the officials of the Ministry of Higher Education were instructed to hold discussions with students. When the police wanted to limit the invitation to few leaders of student unions, Additional Secretary instructed to allow as many students as possible that could be accommodated in the conference room and patiently allowed everybody to air their views and grievances. The officials conveyed the demands of the students to the Secretary to the President and received instructions from him in this regard.

Mahapola scholarship scheme

It was decided to pay the outstanding Mahapola scholarships and bursary payment for the months of November and December 2020 in few days time. The attention was also paid to the possibility of solving immediately other demands related to the Mahapola scholarship scheme. They included granting scholarship money to students those who have not met the requirement of 80% attendance, bringing Mahapola and bursary allowances to equal levels, issues related to the Sabaragamuwa University, increasing the income ceiling of parents to Rs. 700,000 when considering granting scholarships and increasing salaries of the working people.

Officials agreed to give a written assurance containing the matters discussed. It was also proposed to hold a meeting once a month or fortnight based on the requirement of the students to discuss issues affecting them. Student representatives said they will come to an agreement following a discussion with their relevant student unions.

Following discussions students dispersed in a peaceful manner, a marked departure from earlier practice of blocking roads, creating traffic congestion, disturbing transport services and inconveniencing commuters.

The academic community congratulated the Additional Secretary to the President Rohana Abeyratne, Secretary to the Ministry of Higher Education Anura Dissanayake and Chairman of the University Grants Commission Prof. Sampath Amaratunga for providing practical solutions to problems faced by the student community by properly implementing the new approach of President Rajapaksa.

Expressing his keen desire to utilize the skilled youths for the progress of the nation, the President emphasized the need of preventing brain drain to achieve rapid development in the country. “If the Government as well as the private sector can ensure that a high standard of education is provided by local universities and other higher educational institutions, it may even be possible for us to start attracting international students to study in Sri Lanka and convert the higher education sector into a foreign exchange earner for the country”, he said addressing the Convocation of the General Sir John Kotelawala Defence University held at the BMICH, last week.

During this Convocation degrees were awarded to 1,282 students. President Rajapaksa presented awards for the outstanding graduates in the year 2019.

General Sir John Kotelawala Defence University

The General Sir John Kotelawala Defence University was established under the Sir John Kotelawala Defence Academy Act No. 68 of 1981 with the aim of producing highly qualified Tri-Forces officers. In the year 2009 the then Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa elevated this into a University. Establishment of the Medical Faculty, registration of local and foreign cadet officers, introduction of Postgraduate degrees for research and development activities, establishment of the Southern University in Suriyawewa and construction of state-of-the-art hospital did under his tenure.

The President said that the General Sir John Kotelawala Defence University should strive to be an exemplary higher educational institution not just in Sri Lanka, but in the region as well.

The free education system had a truly transformative impact on Sri Lanka. It should always be protected.

Those who can afford to pay for private education should be given opportunities to follow their higher studies in Sri Lanka instead of going abroad.

There is a great deal of work to be done to achieve the true potential of students by reforming our education system. The present education system is an exam-centric one. Due to this students’ opportunities for higher learning has been narrowed considerably. Irrespective of the skills, aptitudes and knowledge gained by students throughout their primary and secondary education, their future is effectively determined by their exam results. This focus on exams has created parental pressure and social pressure on these children. This has resulted in large numbers of children losing out on many opportunities to develop themselves in other ways during one of the most decisive periods in their lives.

We cannot allow our children to get lost in this education system. It is necessary to broaden the opportunities available for further education through both the state education system as well as through the private sector. It is critical to increase the intake of students into universities and other tertiary education institutions. More investments need to be made to upgrade their infrastructure facilities and increase their human resources.

President Rajapaksa pointed out the importance of Universities offerings degree programmes in a way which will ensure that their courses will help them to be gainfully employed. The 21st Century is widely acknowledged as the Knowledge Century.

Many new technologies ranging from Artificial Intelligence, Big Data, Robotics, the Internet of Things, Biotechnology, 3-D Printing, and Automation, will reshape economic growth in developed countries over the coming decades. Such transformative technologies must be adopted at their early stages.

Vocational education institutes

It is important to stress that the lack of Government resources should not be an inhibiting factor in achieving the broadening of tertiary education options. If we can increase the availability of high-quality tertiary education providers in the country, we can reverse the ‘brain drain’ as well as we can help to reduce significant outflows of our foreign reserves.

It is essential to improve the quality of existing vocational education institutes and technical colleges in line with global standards. ‘As outlined in the “Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour” Policy Document, which has now been endorsed as the Policy Document of the Government, the government has ambitious plans to effect the reforms that are required in the education sector, from preschool through to the tertiary level.

Addressing the Youth Congress of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) held at Temple Trees, the President expressed his gratitude to the youth who contributed towards the transformation of the country on to the right path.

The President said that his government would do everything possible to understand the aspirations and needs of the youth as well as all the people. He said that he expected the support of the youth to implement his policies, in a similar manner the youth supported him to become the President of the country. The youth are the strength of a country and they should take the leadership to overcome challenges.

 


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