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Simply increasing Govt. spending on education is not an option

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President Maithripala Sirisena handing over the first copy of his manifesto to the late Ven. Sobitha Thero


Respected former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank W.A.Wijewardana reminded the Government that the falling education and healthcare expenditure ratios should worry the Yahapalana Government. (See more at: http://www.ft.lk/article/565796/The-falling-education-and-healthcare-expenditure-ratios-should-worry-the-Yahapalana-Government#sthash.pI1x4cQh.dpuf.)

President Sirisena in his election manifesto presented to the public during the Presidential election in 2015 promised to progressively increase the expenditure on education from 1.5% to 6% of GDP by 2020.


In fact the writer requested Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to include this commitment of progressively increasing the expenditure on educationin the Common Opposition manifesto and subsequently in the UNP manifesto presented to the public in August 2015. 

The Prime Minister has many times over the last few months reassured the keystakeholders that he would progressively increase the spend on education. The Prime Minister appointed a committee in 2015, chaired by the writer to consult all the key stakeholders and also study global best practices and develop a road map to progressively increase the expenditure on education from 1.5% to 6% of GDP.See chart, the current spend and percentage.

The committee that included many key stakeholders noted that in general that there was; Inadequate infrastructure provision, Deficit in teacher quality and quantity, Irrelevance of curriculum, Inadequacies in orienting education to changing technologies and economies, lack of management and co-ordination in the sector. 

Further thoughmuch has been invested in Tertiary, Vocational and Professional (T, V & P) education over the past few years, the output had been mixed, with many students not completing their programmes. 

Finally a low enrolment rate in the higher education sector, where only 17% who qualify to enter are admitted, due the limited number of places available, compared to the 99% enrolment rate in the secondary school sector. This is due to a low investment in the higher education sector (only 0.33% of GDP), one of the lowest worldwide. The committee concluded that to get the best out of such increased expenditure, radical policy changes would be required.

Some of the key initiatives the Committee suggested the Government should address in the road map are:

  • Bringing elementary education (ages 3-5) under the Ministry of Education and providing infrastructure for the same, considering also grants and loans to private sector providers, so that the current enrolment of 45% can be increased to say 80%.
  • Catering for special needs among students, such (i) social problems and (ii) ‘disability’ problems.
  • Increasing the number of secondary schools teaching science at A/L increases from the current 900 to say around 1,500; and those teaching the technology stream from the current 250 to say around 1,000.
  • Granting incentive allowances for teachers of English and Mathematics (secondary school level) and Science (O/L and A/L classes), based on qualifications, competence and performance.
  • A generous annual allocation, to promote research in education.
  • Meeting the recurrent costs of the Tertiary, Vocational and Professional education sector through a ‘voucher’ system, where students who are qualified to receive this education have the freedom to spend it at institutions of their choice.
  • Co-ordinating all Tertiary, Vocational and Professional education programmes, across line ministries, e.g. through a revamped Tertiary and Vocational Education Commission.
  • Commencing universities at most six months after the A/Level examination is held, so that they are not disadvantaged vis-à-vis private universities.
  • Expanding enrolment in higher education so that enrolment rate is gradually increased from 17% to 25%.
  • Promoting university staff development through (among others): (i) state sponsored scholarship schemes for young staff to obtain PhD qualifications; (ii) provisions for international (or even national) placements and/or conference attendance on a regular basis for all staff.
  • Making provision for high quality international academics to be placed in targeted Sri Lankan universities for say three to six month periods, in order to increase research quality.
  • Insisting on quality assurance of higher education, primarily through international accreditation and overseas external examiners, the visits pertaining to which will need to be provided for.

untitled-8In the final analysis, if the Government is to deliver on its promise of progressively increasing the expenditure on education from 1.5% to 6% of GDP, the Government would need to play a leadership role in the ongoing national dialogue over how to improve the results of our education, Tertiary, Vocational and Professional education and higher education system for all students. 

This involves such activities as raising national and community awareness of the education challenges confronting the nation, disseminating the latest discoveries on what works in teaching and learning, and helping all stakeholders to work out solutions to some of the difficulteducational issues currently facing Sri Lanka. Therefore, blindly pouring money into educationwithout a clear strategy to achieve the 6%, will certainly sound and look foolish.

(The writer is a HR Thought Leader.)

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