Overcrowding classrooms through back-door admissions to popular schools should be stopped

Tuesday, 9 July 2019 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

By Citizen Silva

Every child has the right to education and other fundamental human rights enshrined in the Constitution are dependent upon the realisation of the right to education that offers equity in access, quality and relevance.

Sri Lanka’s primary and secondary education are essentially a State monopoly as per the principal legislative enactment, the Education Ordinance No. 31 of 1939 and the Ceylon’s Free Education Policy in 1945. 

Although a National Committee for the Formulation of a New Education Act for General Education was set up in 2008 and their final recommendations aimed at addressing the current issues were submitted, its enactment has not seen the light of the day as yet.

Every year over 320,000 new admissions take place to year one in State schools islandwide, amidst a gargantuan demand that exists to enter children to year one in popular/prestigious schools and national schools.

This situation is a direct result of competing interests in education among the parents, which are crucially linked with their children’s life chances and the State being unable to provide equity in access to quality education in all State schools country wide.

A large number of private educational institutes offering primary and secondary education, registered as business entities to cater to the unmet demand by parents, have also mushroomed across the country

What concerns most middle class parents seeking the state offered education, is securing a Grade 1 place in a national school or a school with a good record of educational progression and examination success.

Therefore some parents resort to unhealthy and unlawful practices such as falsifying documents to alleged bribery and corruption to ensure their child’s admission. In the past there have a number of proven cases of violation of fundamental rights of applicants associated with the process which have ended up being settled with the Supreme Court Orders.

When the dust settles in ‘year one’ admissions to prestigious schools every year, numerous admissions take place to all grades other than year one (year two to 12), through the back door without much notice and attention of the public or stakeholders of the schools. Ideally if any vacancies exist in any classes they should be filled with the appeals waiting list that already exists relevant to the year one admission intake of the vacancy. 

There is no transparent procedure in place to fill vacancies that occur in these grades which can be construed as a violation of public interest and the fundamental rights of deserving applicants.

As per copy documents released by a leading school in Colombo in accordance with an order given by the Right To Information Commission, a large number of such admission instructions appear to have come from the highest ranking officials of the Ministry of Education to the Principal to admit students in this manner.

Despite ceilings in place to limit the number of students in a class or grade, such high ranking officials and the Principal have paid scant disregard to the consequences of overcrowding classrooms that lead to disrupting the conducive teaching learning environment affecting every student in the class.

Among students in a class, there are students who need special attention i.e. slow learners and children with disabilities such as hearing impairment, visual defects and special needs. The class teacher is expected to pay special attention to all such students to ensure that they get a quality inclusive education. In an overcrowded classroom it is humanely impossible for a teacher to perform such a personalised duty effectively. 

Therefore most European countries and UK have a legal cap of 30 students for a class whilst Finland the country with one of the world’s best ranking in education has a cap of 20 per class.

In Sri Lanka as per order in Case No S.C.F.R. 235/2011 dated 18 July 2011, the Supreme Court has determined the maximum number of students in a class should be 35 from 2016 onwards. Accordingly for all intents and purposes the maximum number in a class in Sri Lanka should be regarded as 35.

Therefore, the actions of Education Ministry officials appear not only disruptive to the conducive learning environment the students are entitled to enjoy in State schools, but also a contravention of the order given by the highest court in Sri Lanka.

It is a startling fact that in almost all so-called prestigious schools most classrooms exceed 35 students with some being extremely overcrowded with 50 or more students. This situation has affected the focus and concentration of students as well as teachers for academic progress as evidenced by declining results shown by such schools at GCE O/L and A/L examinations in recent times.

Students, teachers, parents and other stakeholders of these schools are of the view that the Education Minister and the Secretary to the Ministry of Education should take cognisance of the ill effects of overcrowded classrooms and take immediate steps to stop this unlawful practice forthwith.