Education | Speeches

Development and Education

Royal College Prize Awarding Ceremony

Colombo, Sri Lanka

April 4, 2003

Ven. Maha Sanga and other dignitaries,
Hon. Prime Minister,
Hon. Ministers,
Principal and tutorial staff,
Ladies and Gentlemen.

1. Getting opportunities such as these to address school children, are what I most look forward to, in my calender of events. This is because addressing school children gives me great opportunities to talk about a subject I cherish most; i. e. Education.

2. Education is a subject that occupied an extremely important place in the list of priorities I highlighted in my National Development Agenda during the past 6 years of government. It was given significant importance and thereby maximum possible funding, because I recognized that it is only education and education that will finally lift us out of poverty.

3. Globally, many developing countries realised this, and they began to invest in education, consistently, for many years. That was how countries like South Korea became what it is today. Today, South Korea has nearly 68% of students enrolling in higher education, mostly in fields connected to Science & technology and IT. This is while our university enrollement rates have remained at about 3% for many years now.

4. The new education system ( popularly referred to as the Eduction Reforms) I initiated in 1997, introduced many changes into an archaic system that was in existence until then. These changes spanned across the school system (Grades 1 to 13), the University system and the Technical Education and Vocational Training systems. The ultimate aim was to create a generation of students who would have received a wholesome education that gave rise to total personality development. Such students would become very attractive to employers.

It also envisaged that:

We change from being book and exam- oriented
They become active learners and not just recipients of passive teaching
we develop inquiring minds which can think, analyse and create imaginatively.
we shift from being rote learners to seekers of information and knowledge.
Through the new education system we aspired to mould the minds of our children, so that they become future leaders with skills, knowledge and attributes to suit the modern world.

5) Extensive changes were brought into the curricula from the primary classes upwards. New books were printed. New teacher training methodologies were introduced. Many new changes came into being

6) In the case of Information Technology and competency in English, comprehensive programmes had been developed by the experts, with a lot of care and thought. Our target was to equip all school leavers at A.L., with adequate skills in IT and Functional / General English. So that we enable them to seek useful employment or to continue higher education in a more meaningful manner.

That was why we :
Developed a National School IT policy - for the first time.
Introduced new compulsory subjects in IT and English into the A’ Level classes.
Invested extensively on teacher training, preparation of new books and audio cassettes and other training materials.
Initiated programmes with the university sector and foreign organizations to advise and help us in imparting these skills for our students.
7) Through the Navodya Project (developing schools in each divisional secretariat division) we intended to provide quality education opportunities to all parts of the country, with more emphasis on the rural areas. In successive budgets we had set aside large sums of money for extension of this project.

8) We envisaged that the primary education reforms would continue meaningfully into the secondary classes. We expected new grade 6 children who had gone through the new primary system to enjoy a “reformed” junior secondary curriculam, at the end of their primary years. It is a great pity that preparations for this have not been made and that children who started this programme one year ahead in Gampaha, have become victims of this.

9) A host of additional initiatives like:

Nutrition intervention in the primary schools,
Revival of Central Schools
Amity schools development
Counselling and career guidance
Establishment of Quality Assurance
School Based Management
Developing the plantation schools
were also simultaneously introduced into the system.

10) It was to address all these issues that we invested more funds, each year for education. We also established credit lines with the World Bank and the ADB for extending and expanding the reforms, in the years to come.

11) I firmly believed that political influence should not interfere in developing an education system which emphasised on quality over quantity. I wanted class sizes to remain within the prescribed norms. I wanted numbers in every school to be restricted to a manageable amount. We planned to introduce school based management so that it would have ensured proper administration of the school system.

12) Today, we see an unprecedented out break of violence in schools. School principals are not able to manage their schools with competence, efficiently and effectively. This nasty trend if unchecked now, will lead to enormous repercussions. It will create a monster with which we will not be able to deal with in the future.

13) I cannot emphasis more, the need to bring back education to the helm of national priorities. To invest more in the subject instead of pruning finances. To bring in systems to manage schools and universities and to put in place a mechanism to speedily implement all the education reforms proposed.