As a student who has experience studying in both private schools, national schools, private universities and a state university; my experiences are diverse and I have met some interesting people and encounters. Let me address certain issues that I think are important. You may criticize me for being subjective but do engage in a constructive debate.
Private schools v Public Schools
Lets start by saying that not all Private schools possess an excellent standard of education. There are also small private international schools that spring up everywhere sometimes with a student population of less than 300. There are also networks of schools some of them only offering education up to O/Ls but no A/L classes. Most of these schools find it difficult to hire teachers who can teach competitive Edexcel/Cambridge curriculums such as Further maths, Law for A/Ls, Psychology, Pre-med etc.
Many people opt to send their children to private schools to avoid the ‘drama’ of getting their children into a prominent national school where you have to make various donations, provide documents and render certain services as parents. I remember a neighbour who had a friend- whose friend’s child was born out of wedlock and did not possess a proper birth certificate. Hence he said paying admission to get into a private school is easier than faking documents, going behind politicians etc.
Anyhow, everybody whether their schools were ‘good’ or not end up going for tuition. I have a friend who went for tuition for all O/L subjects, went for tuition for all A/L subjects and now in university goes to another institute offering the same course. After all, didn’t we all receive tuition to get to where we are today? So education in Sri Lanka is NOT free. This whole concept of ‘free’ education is a complete myth.
Private Universities v State Universities
Not all private universities are UGC approved. There are institutions that provide certificates which are ‘short-cuts’ to obtaining a degree with the name of a foreign university printed on it. (HND’s, BTECH diplomas and all sorts of fancy names).Then there are complete half your degree in your home country and complete the rest abroad type of programs. I have met students who had used these services only to be put back right where they began saying they do not possess the relevant knowledge or language skills.
UGC approved universities have recently produced excellent professionals into society. However there is no proper ranking system based on internationally recognized criteria/benchmarking tools to identify where they stand with state universities. Most of the products of state universities today who get good jobs in the private sector owe their successes to CIMA, CIM and other professional courses. If they say that private education did not help them and they relied solely on their state university qualification that is hypocritical in a whole new level. In fact I have friends who study as both internal and external students in the same university. For example: reading for a BA internally and also reading for the externally offered HND in Business Management.
‘Free education!’ REALLY?
Secular Schools v Religiously segregated schools
Many private schools be they ‘posh’ or not are secular. I remember in the private school that I studied we said morning prayers for every religion. I knew my Buddhist Gatha, Our father in heaven, the verse from bhagavath geetha and even the Muslim prayer by heart. I did not know the meaning of the words but I listened to it like it was music. I grew up in a community that was tolerant towards other religions. However we still have certain racist tendencies which we must overcome gradually.
The major barrier to reconciliation today is the lack of cultural understanding and religious tolerances in the country. The problem lies with racially, religiously and gender-wise segregated schools. If schools must remain segregated as thus, UGC must take note to introduce a ‘moral education’ or ‘religions of other cultures’ as a compulsory subjects for all schools so that our kids do not grow up isolated and alienated from other communities which are part and parcel of this country.
The ‘Posh’ or Not debate
I recently sat in a classroom and overheard a conversation between a girl and a boy. The girl went to a fancy Christian school till O/Ls and went to an International School for A/Ls. The boy said ‘ahh langadi posh wela’. I thought to myself what nonsense is this whole posh or not debate. I know plenty of students who come from outstation not born and bred in Colombo who were brought up in decent homes and decent families.
I am from Kurunegala and it’s a fast growing progressive district although certain parts are in extreme poverty with a high level of food insecurity. I’ve always wanted to receive quality education to reduce inequalities in my hometown thus pledging myself to SDG no 10. I humbly request all those superficial Marie Antoinette type of young people born and bred in Colombo to step outside their comfort zone and see what the real world is like.
I have travelled extensively with my parents who had worked in different parts of the country and some them are most rural areas on the outskirts of the Central and North Western Provinces. There are so many people living on less than 100 rupees a day, barely eating a balanced diet. I remember an estate worker who eats a small roti and drink a cup of plain tea without sugar (which she couldn’t afford) for breakfast and lunch.
Education be it free education or private is a tool with which you can change the world and make a difference. Education, for a small town kid who do not possess the material comforts that you and I have is a ticket for ‘social mobility’. It is absolutely comical to overhear certain conversations which are downright shallow. I am extremely grateful for my parents for raising me up to be a strong independent individual who was not too pampered. I have received my fair share of scolding, beatings and grounding. My parents have made me feel guilty for having too much and they mock me if I achieve too little. My advice for youth today is to step outside your comfort zone and do something good for somebody other than yourself.
My advice for those students who come from outstation into state universities creating absolute havoc engaging in ragging and disruptive politics- PLEASE GROW UP! If you are passionate about Marxist-Leninist Politics read a book or two or three! You can overthrow a government without pickets, protests and other activities that inconvenience the common people. If you are passionate about economic inequality become a volunteer to make a difference. At the end of the day you are defined by your own strength of character and you are respected for your values and intelligence. Everything else is secondary.