Education | Speeches

Revolution in the Education System

Royal College Prize Awarding Ceremony

Colombo, Sri Lanka

September 6, 2002

Ven. Maha Sangha,
Dignitaries of other religions, Rev. Sirs,
Hon. Ranil Wickramasinghe, Prime Minister of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka,
Hon. (Dr.) Karunasena Kodituwakku, Minister of Education, Human Resources Development and Cultural Affairs,
Hon. Suranimala Rajapakse, Minister of School Education,
Hon. Ministers of State, Deputy Ministers and Members of Parliament,
Officials of the Ministry of Education
The Principal of Royal College
Past Principals and Principals of other schools,
Parents, Past Students and Royalists,
Distinguished Guests,

Royal College is the oldest academic institution in Sri Lanka. Thousands of young men were moulded by this institution in the best of traditions. Many Royalists have held and are holding the highest decision making positions in government and elsewhere. The country is grateful to Royal College for imbibing correct values and strong personality traits in generations, which have gone through the portals of this institution.

First let me congratulate all the prize-winners and particularly those who obtained excellent results at the recent GCE A’Level examination. Soon you will leave school and seek your destinies in higher education – either in university or in other forms of tertiary education or training. Some of you may even go into employment straight away.

Whichever path you take, you will take with you memories and experiences that you will treasure and cherish for the rest of your life. Soon you will realize that the education you received in this august College is only the beginning of a long journey. It is just the start of a life-long process of learning – one that you will continue until the very end.

Today, education is being re-designed and re-defined. It is not just a process, which facilitates commitment to memory, preparation for examinations and finally regurgitation of facts and figures at the exams. It is much more than that. The entire world has woken up to the fact that education is about preparing young people for life. That it is about meeting the challenges of a rapidly changing society. It is also about coping with a variety of situations that arise within the scientific and technologically advanced globalized world we live in today.

Ladies and Gentlemen, this was my vision when I introduced a comprehensive package of Education Reforms, during my previous Government. In doing so, I did not envisage bringing in piece-meal changes, tinkering with or just re-adjusting the system. There was a crying need for changing radically, the archaic school curricula, syllabuses, text books, teaching methods, school structure, methods of school governance …… and so on. What I envisaged therefore was a transformation – a complete change from what was in existence to what is new, progressive and innovative in today’s context of education.

This unprecedented effort in recent history, was to pave the way for a true revolution in the education system of our country.

The Presidential Task Forces I appointed in this connection swiftly facilitated the implementation of the policies that were prepared by the National Education Commission after years of discussion and debate with many groups of people. Therefore the changes introduced were not hastily developed or haphazardly designed. Nor were they developed by inexperienced amateurs. In fact large numbers of professionals, academics, school principals and teachers were involved in this exercise. They were well thought out and carefully planned schemes to modernize our system and to bring it on par with the more developed nations of the world, in this 21st century.

The new curricula were intended to excite and trigger the imagination of the student. The accent was on thinking, analysis, problem solving and creative forms of active learning. Not passive didactic teaching. Practicals and activity based study were made mandatory with the aim of producing multi-skilled students equipped with competencies required in today’s world.

The examination systems were restructured and the age-old Examinations Department was transformed into an ultra modern institute using electronic methods of assessment, comparable to those used by the developed nations. You will agree with me that in the recent past GCE O’Level and A’Level results have been made available within 3 months of the examinations (comparable to the UK system) and they have also been displayed on the web.

We placed high value on two disciplines, considered virtual prerequisites for entering the employment market, ie. English and Information Technology. For the first time, plans were made to introduce IT as a subject into the school curriculum. English teaching was strengthened and optional English medium education was introduced. Teacher training in these areas had commenced and were to be expanded during 2002. Similarly, plans were made to expand the available opportunities for studying Science and Technology in the secondary school and also opportunities for open and distant learning, targeting those out of school. These ambitious programmes were designed in accordance with the aid we received from the World Bank & the ADB. Similarly we put on fast track, development of rural schools through the Navodya Programme and the revival of the Kannangara Central schools. The importance of books and the necessity to promote reading were stressed, in our quest to produce broad minded, lateral thinkers who would take on leadership positions in the future.

Our final aim was to make our education system, of top quality and available to all children, in all parts of the country.

My previous Government placed education at the heart of its development agenda. We understood the pivotal role it played in human development and socio-economic advancement. We had the depth of vision and the breadth of understanding to realize that it would be education and education alone that would ultimately take our people out of poverty. Hence, our steady incremental budgetary allocations for education over the past few years and our efforts to equip schools with libraries, science laboratories and computers systematically.

A difficult but important decision to substantially increase teachers’ salaries was taken. We streamlined the Teacher Service, Principals Service, and the Teacher Education Service. Teacher training through the National Colleges and the 84 Teacher Centres was strengthened, developed and made mandatory. For the first time school teachers and principals were sent overseas on study tours. We realized that it was the teacher, who would be the ‘change agent’ of the education reform process. So we did our best to help the teacher achieve this end. Last year we introduced a well thought out Teacher Transfer & Deployment Policy. This was done after extensive consultations with the Trade Unions. Plans were also afoot for establishing a modern Principals’ Academy to ensure the continuous training of principals.

Much of the Reforms introduced, were implemented with difficulty – amidst grave political opposition on the one hand and funding constraints on the other. But today I am delighted to note that the new changes we introduced are understood and appreciated by large numbers of parents and children. In fact I can proudly say that the Education Reforms programme of my former government has been cited as one of the landmark achievements, during its 6 year tenure.

A critical component of the new curriculum introduced, concerned life skills and competencies. This focused on behavioral sciences, inter-personal relations, respecting one another and being able to live with people belonging to all races, religions, caste and creed. It is intended to teach children to love the environment, the school, the home and the country.

I note this point very seriously in today’s context.

Ladies and gentlemen, you will agree with me that not a day goes by without us reading of horrendous incidents involving school and university students.

School children in their numbers, storming other schools, viciously engaging in battle with fellow students over some trivial issue.

Medical students acting like barbarians, attacking and spray-painting pregnant nurses, simply because they enrolled for a fee levying course of studies in that medical faculty.

This type of behavior is unexplainable. Unpardonable. This is a direct reflection of some serious behavioral flaws in our society and of course in our education system. Maybe we need to be more discerning when selecting school children into Medical Faculties. Maybe we need to change our entire system of university selection. We may well need to introduce a compulsory module on Behavioral Sciences in every faculty, in every University.

On the one hand, we introduced measures to ban corporal punishment in schools and to protect our children from physical, psychological and sexual abuse. But then the discipline in some of the premier National Schools has plummeted to the lowest. The numbers enrolled are unmanageable and naturally school governance is in a pitiful state. This is a very sad situation indeed.

These happenings only emphasize further, the dire need to strengthen, monitor and institutionalize swiftly, all the changes introduced with the education reforms. These should not be delayed, hampered or relegated in any way.

Ladies and Gentlemen, today, more than ever, when we are at the threshold of a most decisive period in our history – the education of our children plays a critical role. It is only through the values and morals we imbibe in our children, at school and at home, that we can expect and hope for lasting and durable peace amongst our communities. It is only through a wholesome education that we can learn to live with our fellow human beings with dignity, respect and freedom.

Let me end by thanking the Principal and the school community for inviting me to this most important event in the college calendar.