6.1 Reforming the Education System
We consider education is an investment for the future. Social and political agreement on the value of education will provide stability on the structure and key features of the Sri Lankan education system. The socio-economic background of a student should not be a hindrance in them attainting his/her educational goals. Higher educational performance will be enhanced when supported by system-level policies that encourage quality and equity in education. Further focus can be made on reducing inequities in specific target groups. Such policies also need to address the mismatches between supply and demand of study places and labour market needs both domestic and overseas.
Governance of the education system needs to be shared between national and provincial authorities. The national government should define and set educational priorities, while PCs maintain and support schools and day-care centres and have significant responsibility for organising education, funding and curriculum and for hiring personnel. Decisions in schools are made by either the school, or the PC. This will depend on how decision-making is organised in the PC. The educational expenditure as a percentage of GDP (for all education levels combined) needs to be well above the current budget levels.
The Tertiary education sector consisting of universities and technical schools should be the responsibility of the National Government. It is imperative that every Province should have at least two technical schools located far apart so as to provide easy access to all. residents living across a province. The arrangements need to be made for secondary school children to have pathways to technical schools if they choose to explore those paths earlier on, while in secondary school. However, after year 10 they should have the opportunity to join a technical school if that is what they want to do. The technical schools should provide not just skills required for the country but also skills that are competitive in an international market.
Teaching should be made a valued profession in society. Teachers need to be trusted professionals with a master’s degree in education which will include research and practice-based studies. In primary and secondary education, their salaries need to be comparable to those at the level of senior public servants. Their teaching time has to be comprehensive and subjected to educational audits by an independent authority with expertise in education.
If elected to government, we will provide a referral to the Education Investigatory Committee to investigate primary and secondary education curricula. The government will act upon the Committee’s recommendations.
A National Education and Research Development Plan adopted by the Parliament needs to outline education policy priorities every four years. Nationally standardised curriculums and examinations are necessary to be conducted at years 6, 10, 12 and graduate level. Schools should have autonomy over the use of curricula and assessments based on the standards set by the national government.
Much greater attention needs to be paid to the primary, secondary and tertiary educational institutions, with the help and trust in the proficiency of the academics, principals, teachers and other educational staff. Leadership capacities of all educational institutions that deliver quality education need strengthening. All players in the education system need to have the capacity to use evaluation and assessment strategies to improve student outcomes. It also needs to ensure capacity to deliver high-quality education across all PCs and improve efficiency of funding in tertiary education as a key goal. The university entrance examination will be a national examination conducted by the national education office. This will qualify a student to enter any tertiary educational institution anywhere in the country depending on the marks they have secured. However, preference will be given to students who live close to those institutions.
The success of an education system will depend on the quality of its teachers. A reform process is needed to strengthen teacher education and to make it highly selective. Teacher education needs to move from teacher training colleges into universities. Primary & Secondary school teachers need to have at least an education diploma; preferably a master’s degree. Selection process for primary teacher education will also involve a desk assessment of applicants’ academic learning skills, and an examining assessment of their skills, motivation and commitment for teaching.
Receiving primary education will be made mandatory for every child. A study will be undertaken to assess what is currently available and practised at Kindergarten, Primary, Secondary and Tertiary levels of education. The management of Kinder, Primary and Secondary education should be the primary responsibility of the PCs. However, through COGESL process, national funding should be funnelled to PCs to help resource the school education system. It is vital to provide a kindergarten place for every child who is four years old. Adequate funding will be provided to build infrastructure and meet operational costs to have enough kindergarten places for all four-year kids.
Ten years of comprehensive basic education (from the age of five to fifteen) will be made compulsory, with a focus on equity and on preventing low achievement. Our education policy will offer flexibility at the upper secondary level between general and vocational education and training options that lead to a tertiary education.
It is in the best long-term interest of the country to provide more university places in required skill areas than what is available now. It depends on finding and committing funds. Therefore, it is important to introduce a Higher Education Contribution Scheme. It should consist of a payment of least 25 percent of the tertiary course fee by every student. The students need not pay this upfront but at a later stage in annual instalments when they are employed and earning a certain level of income that needs to be determined. If emigrating out of the country, they should make arrangements with the taxation department to pay back the amount owed.
Currently, religious education plays an important role in the education system. We will examine how to incorporate it within the national educational policy and the suitability of current funding. As private institutions for tertiary education have become a part and parcel of the Sri Lankan educational system, it will be important to standardise both entry level requirements and final assessment level processes of all public and private tertiary educational institutions. This will ensure a nationally accepted syllabus will be taught in all universities, irrespective of whether they are publicly or privately run. A similar assessment process will also apply to overseas qualified graduates. Until a student passes the assessment process, requiring in some cases a written examination and a practical test, he/she cannot be legally employed in the profession studied for.