What went wrong? | Daily News

What went wrong?

Higher Education should promote employability in students.
Higher Education should promote employability in students.

I thought that, as with the five articles I started with on urgent constitutional reforms, I should produce a series on a single large subject instead of dealing with different concepts each week. The topic I will address, as the title of today’s piece shows, suggested itself with the continuing crisis this country faces, with not one measure implemented to effect the structural needs this country so sorely needs.

These are vital with regard to politics, so that the decision making process we have had which has led to this disaster is changed. It is vital also with regard to economic affairs, where we have been driven to greater and greater poverty from the fifties onward. And it is vital too with regard to education as to which we have produced students without initiative or ability to find or create jobs, so that after they have had free education – which I firmly believe must be continued – they then want a free job too, which is why year after year government after government gives jobs that are unnecessary to many graduates.

I shall look at this last topic first, given a newspaper headline that the ‘Education Minister calls for curriculum reforms to make students employable’. This is a man who has served as Education Minister for well over a quarter of this century, but has done nothing whatsoever to promote employability in students. Indeed he did the opposite in that he reversed the curriculum reforms that had been devised just before he took over as Minister, for the second time. He appointed a traditionalist to Chair the Academic Affairs Board of the National Institute of Education, and the neanderthals there reasserted themselves and went back to systems that privileged memorizing and multiplied opportunities for the tuition industry.

Unfortunately, and this is a primary reason we have gone wrong so spectacularly, is that there is no continuity. This same idea was put in a headline of the previous day, that ‘Previous govts ruined LITRO by changing chairmen’. That article went on to say that this was done by ‘reckless governments … as per their whims and fancies …when the chairmanship of LITRO kept changing, our main gas suppliers lose faith in us’.

I am not an expert with regard to gas, but I am one as to education, perhaps now the most experienced and productive of workers in this field. Unfortunately this has mattered little to those who appoint Ministers, with amateurs such as Akila Viraj Kariyawasam and Kabir Hashim given the nod instead, because of their genius in toadying to their leaders.

Apart from myself there have been four visionaries in the field of education from the time we had charge of educational policy, following a limited measure of self-government after the Donoughmore Constitution was put in place. But the impact of CWW Kannangara’s Central Schools was reduced when JR Jayewardene made Sinhala or Tamil medium education compulsory, without allowing any choice; Edward Wijemanne’s initiative as to curriculum reform and teacher training was stymied when Lokubandara became Minister of Education and turned the NIE into a self-serving joke; Arjuna Aluvihare’s effort to modernize tertiary education was opposed by most universities – USJP under SB Hettiarachchi being an honourable exception – and then fell apart when DB Wijetunge sacked him at the behest of his personal staff who could not get him to bend the rules as to university admission; and Tara de Mel was put to grass by first Ranil Wickremesinghe and then Mahinda Rajapaksa who were both in turn furious because she owed allegiance to Chandrika Kumaratunga.

Worse, there was no attempt to even look at what they had achieved. Kannangara’s successor as Minister of Education was Eddie Nugawela who by just a gazette stopped English medium at secondary level too; Wijetunge’s successor had no idea at all about education, and Aluvihare’s successor cared little about anything, and he and his deputy, unlike Aluvihare and Prof Balasuriya, were incapable of understanding what had been attempted through employment oriented Affiliated University Colleges. Tara’s successor was a Civil Servant who specialized in procrastination, Ranil having ignored the advice his own panel gave him to appoint Lalith Weeratunge.

I had worked on the last three of these efforts in minor capacities, and also reintroduced English medium in government schools to set right what Nugawela had done wrong, and some of this at least continued but when those in charge went the programmes lost steam. When finally I had full authority, under the most able of recent Ministers, Mahinda Samarasinghe, to embark on employment-oriented courses in vocational training, Chandima Weerkkody who took over sacked me, after I had refused to appoint the rubbish he sent me for management positions at the Tertiary and Vocational Education Commission.

Constant change overs, which the article on gas highlighted, has become a fetish. I still recall the anger, for personal reasons, of Chandrika Kumaratunga that I wanted to keep Kshanika Himburuwegama as UGC Chair, not only because I thought her capable, but because there was no point in getting a new team for what was admittedly a short term government. But no, she had to be sacked, and when I protested Ranil told me it was essential that all such officials go and be replaced by the new government.

They could be the same, he said, but had to owe allegiance to the new government, i.e. what was vital was loyalty, not efficiency. And this was elaborated further by Ajith Perera, who I thought was a decent man, who at a group meeting said his supporters were clamouring for positions, and vacancies should be created for them.

This then is what administration has come to, jobs for the boys, and no one except me seems to think this is wrong. And I fear things will not change unless proper procedures are entrenched. So I will end today by reiterating, what has doubtless by now been forgotten – for memory is short in this country – what I suggested two months ago should be incorporated in our constitution, and certainly laid down, which can be done at once, in Administrative Regulations.

The Departments allocated to each Ministry shall be laid down in a schedule to the Constitution. The Departments may only be reallocated by a Constitutional Amendment, following a report on such reallocations from the Public Service Commission.

Governments shall not change public officers upon any change of Minister save for reasons put in writing to the Public Service Commission, which shall decide on such changes.

No appointment to positions of Heads of Department and Chairs of Corporations shall be made by Ministers except after a written submission of reasons which shall be examined by the Public Service Commission

At present Departments are shifted about willy-nilly with no regard to coherence or continuation of policy. And Ministers wish to stamp their personalities on the Ministry and its work, often with no understanding of what is required, which is exacerbated because there is no provision for handover. This needs to be remedied, and there must also be provision for better coordination, for which public service regulations should be changed to ensure.

There shall be provision for handover consultations when senior personnel are changed, including Ministers. 

Add new comment