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Serving Sri Lanka

This web log is a news and views blog. The primary aim is to provide an avenue for the expression and collection of ideas on sustainable, fair, and just, grassroot level development. Some of the topics that the blog will specifically address are: poverty reduction, rural development, educational issues, social empowerment, post-Tsunami relief and reconstruction, livelihood development, environmental conservation and bio-diversity. 

Saturday, May 14, 2005

ITI scientists impart dynamism to the Kithul industry

The Island: 13/05/2005"

Scientists of the Industrial Technology Institute (ITI) have been successful in imparting dynamism to the Kithul industry in Sri Lanka so as to meet the upcoming challenges of both the local and export markets. The Institute was initially contracted by the Ministry of Rural Economy in the year 2003 with a grant of approximately Rs. 3Mn to uplift the Kithul industry in the country, which remained very traditional even though having many prospects for improvement

Kithul, Caryota urens also known as Fish tail palm or Toddy palm, is an indigenous plant, naturally growing in the wild, in forest covers and home gardens in Sri Lanka. The tree has an age-old cottage industry built through generations. In ancient Ceylon, during the time of the Kings, there were many villages totally dependent on Kithul treacle, jaggery and toddy for their livelihood with these products made from the sugary sweet sap obtained by tapping the young Kithul inflorescence according to traditional practices. This traditional knowledge was a highly guarded and much valued secret, kept within families and handed down from generation to generation with the techniques being unmatched and not practiced in any other country in the region, although the palm grows in the Asian tropics.

Sri Lankans can therefore, be justifiably proud of the wisdom and skill displayed by our ancestors, and efforts have to be made to preserve this traditional knowledge, while simultaneously manufacturing products for today’s markets. Kithul products have a high demand due to its uniqueness in taste, aroma and traditional claims on the health benefits, However, due to the scarcity in production coupled with the high demand, the products are a highly priced commodity. Many families in rural Sri Lanka still rely solely on the Kithul palm for their livelihood through the income obtained by the sale of Kithul treacle and jaggery with a monthly income of about Rs.10, 000/- being possible from a healthy tree.

However, during the last several years, this one time flourishing rural industry, was dying and if this was allowed to happen, the ancient knowledge handed down by our ancestors would be lost forever. An immediate scientific intervention was thus an urgent need and with this foresight, ITI obtained financial support from the Ministry of Rural Economy in the year 2003 and the ITI scientists embarked on an ambitious plan to study the tapping process employed in villages and develop a scientific background to increase the quality and quantity of sap, identify high yielding varieties and also for setting up pilot plant scale processing units to produce quality Kithul products.

The ITI studies commenced with prolonged visits to the villages for a scientific evaluation of the traditional tapping techniques. Within the 1st three months the ITI successfully documented all the traditional practices including the associated rituals as well as the treatment mixtures used to induce continuous sap secretion from the inflorescences. The data relating to the sap yield and the success rate in tapping when analyzed provided possible reasons for the decline of the industry. Some of the significant reasons being that the traditional tapping techniques, allowed only for successful tapping of 20-30% of trees with the others remaining untapped, only certain tappers were able to effectively tap the trees and also the treatment mixtures used to treat inflorescences differed from tapper to tapper. This resulted in inconsistent sap yields and had the corollary of some tappers resorting to unorthodox practices during tapping as well as adulteration of treacle and jaggery with cane sugar during processing, when low yields were obtained.

Through these studies, the ITI research team was able to provide sufficient evidence to prove that the quality and quantity of sap were mainly dependent upon the treatment mixture applied to the inflorescence to induce sap secretion as well as the tapping method practiced. This on site ITI study of the Kithul industry consequently also brought to light many problems which needed immediate attention. One priority for action was the development of a field test kit to detect adulteration of the sap, treacle and jaggery with cane sugar. Yet another area that needed urgent attention was the formulation of quality standards for the products for trading in both local and export markets.

The ITI project team subsequently developed a treatment mixture from common food additives to induce continuous sap secretion from the inflorescence as well as streamline the pre-preparation procedure for the inflorescence. The development of this innovative treatment was based on the traditional know-how acquired from the villagers, coupled with a scientific knowledge of the process, which induced continuous sap secretion. Using the developed techniques, the ITI has been successful in bringing about a 2-3-fold increase in sap yield, and a success rate of 80-90% in the tapping process. Standards have also been formulated for Kithul treacle and jaggery and a field test kit developed to detect adulteration of the products with cane sugar.

Through the work carried out so far, the ITI is confident that the near collapse of the Kithul industry has been arrested to a great extent. Through field demonstrations, and technology transfer workshops organized for those in the industry, it has been possible to disseminate these findings to a great extent, although much more needs to be done to transfer this technology further. The work carried out at ITI has gained much recognition by the Ministry of Small and Rural Industries who has now contracted the ITI to transfer the technology and set up processing centers by the end of the year 2005, in 14 Kithul Villages that are expected to be set up within the purviews of the 1000 industries program of the Ministry. All indications are that with the intervention of ITI, the overall productivity of the industry could be increased by about 800-900%. In anticipation of successful outcomes, the Export Development Board of Sri Lanka (EDB) is already laying down export strategies for Kithul products and the Sri Lanka Standard Institution (SLSI) has established committees to formulate internationally recognized standards for Kithul Products.

New momentum has gathered among villagers with the new findings being published in the national press and the ITI is now inundated with letters and telephone calls with requests for transfer of the know-how with the techniques developed by the ITI project team being available to all interested persons. More funding is presently being sought by the ITI to overcome some of the logistical problems that will be associated with the transfer as well as for setting up field nurseries of high yielding plants for distribution to growers.

All present indications are that the Kithul industry is slowly but steadily picking up and associated with this, improvements in the living standards of those involved in the industry have been observed. In economic terms, a significant share of GDP can be expected from the Kithul sector within the year 2006 with the added bonus of being in a position to transfer the new technology to other Kithul growing countries.

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World Bank warns of uncertainty over tsunami aid pledges to Sri Lanka

The Island: 13/05/2005"

The World Bank said Wednesday it was uncertain Sri Lanka would get the two billion dollars pledged for post-tsunami rebuilding as donors appeared to be backing away from earlier commitments.

"Although the levels of commitment are substantial, there remains some uncertainty regarding the timing and magnitude of actual assistance," the World Bank said in a report Wednesday ahead of a crucial donor meeting next week.

The Sri Lankan government was known to be weak in implementing work and tsunami reconstruction would be "challenging", the report said.

Sri Lanka has spent nearly 300 million dollars of its own money and has received 130 million dollars in private donations to care for as many as one million people affected by the December 26 tsunamis that killed nearly 31,000 people.

President Chandrika Kumaratunga will inaugurate a two-day meeting Monday in Colombo between represntatives of the World Bank and international donors on funding and coordination for rebuilding projects.

The cost of rebuilding ports, houses and businesses destroyed by the tsunamis is estimated at 1.5 to 1.6 billion.

Kumaratunga, who is pushing for a joint deal with Tamil rebels on tsunami aid distribution despite opposition from a coalition partner that may derail her government, said recently that the country had not received "even five cents" of pledged aid.

A deal with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) is necessary because several of the donors are legally forbidden from giving aid directly to the rebels who hold much of the territory severely affected by the tsunamis.

Several countries have urged Sri Lanka to agree to a joint mechanism on tsunami aid and Norway is acting as a mediator in the faltering peace process between the two sides.

The meeting is aimed at coordinating 30 bilateral and multilateral donor agencies and about 200 local and international non-governmental agencies involved in the rebuilding of the country.

The World Bank said Sri Lanka is also likely to fall short of a central bank forecast of of 6.0 percent economic growth in 2005. It estimates the economy will grow 5.0 percent this year, compared to a growth rate of 5.4 percent in 2004.

Large purchases of food and construction materials were also expected to push consumer prices this year with the World Bank estimating that inflation would jump to about 12 percent, up from a pre-tsunami estimate of 10 to 11 percent.

It also warned of impacts on the country’s budget from rising oil prices as well as heavy expenditure on the imports needed to carry out tsunami reconstruction work. (AFP)

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Govt. releases funds to reconstruct houses

Daily News: 13/05/2005"

THE Government has commenced the release of financial grant for reconstruction of houses affected beyond the hundred meter buffer zone at the rates of Rs. 250,000 and Rs. 100,000 for houses fully and partly damaged by the tsunami disaster respectively, says a release from the National Housing Development Authority (NHDA).

This task is being attended by the Housing Development Authority (NHDA) through their Technical Offices under the coordination of District Secretaries and Divisional Secretaries.

This program is implemented under the guidance of Tsunami Housing Reconstruction Unit (THRU) set up to formulate and implement the Tsunami Disaster Housing Program.

The NHDA has already completed its survey to assess the damages to houses caused by tsunami. Based on the data collected, families of the houses identified as fully destroyed and partially damaged are granted financial assistance by the Technical Officers of NHDA on phased out basis depending on the progress of reconstruction.

In addition to disbursement of financial assistance, the NHDA is engaged in providing technical advisory service to affected families to reconstruct their houses, the release said.

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Friday, May 13, 2005

Sri Lanka Development Forum

The following was circulated through the Google Groups : Humanitarian Information Centre Sri Lanka (HIC): "

Dear all,
Please check the HIC home page for the latest information on the Sri Lanka Development Forum - 2005: http://www.humanitarianinfo.or­g/srilanka

The Sri Lanka Development Forum will be held in Kandy from 16-17, May 2005. The main theme of this Forum would be the post-tsunami recovery and reconstruction process and the medium-term development strategies of Sri Lanka.

The World Bank has published a report "Sri Lanka Development Forum 2005: The Economy, the Tsunami and Poverty Reduction" which you can find here: http://www.humanitarianinfo.org/srilanka/infocentre/reference/index.asp
Best regards,
HIC Sri Lanka
Humanitarian Information Centre for Sri Lanka
No. 12 Gower Street, Colombo-5
Tel:+94 (11) 2591118/1314 Fax: +94 (11) 258007
Website: http://www.humanitarianinfo.org/srilanka

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New regulations and procedures for INGOs

Google Groups : Humanitarian Information Centre Sri Lanka (HIC): "The Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) has introduced new regulations and procedures for International NGOs (INGOs). Under previous arrangements, all INGOs (and local NGOs as well), fell under the provisions of the Voluntary Social Services Organizations (registration and Supervision) Act (VSSOA). Accordingly, INGOs were required to register with the NGO Secretariat under the Ministry of Social Services. INGOs were also required to submit all reports and an annual audited financial statement to the same Secretariat. In turn, the Secretariat assisted INGOs in such areas as obtaining visas for foreign staff. Most INGOs also had Memorandums of Understanding with line ministries depending on their main sectors of activities.

Please find it here:
HIC Sri Lanka

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Radio Programming for Reconstruction

The following mail was distributed through the HIC goolgle group.

Internews is a media development NGO which has recently startedworking in Sri Lanka. We are producing a radio program called Kiran, which highlights reconstruction efforts in tsunami-affected areas. With Kiran, we want to tell listeners what is being done in the reconstruction process, and give them information they need about how this will affect them.
This is a chance for different NGOs and Agencies to communicate with awider audience, about the work that they're doing. If NGOs and Agencies have suggestions for stories and issues that needto be covered, please get in touch with us. Our contact details are below. Kiran also produces Public Service Announcements that deal with health, sanitation, and other issues. This is another way that NGOs and Agencies who are also producing public education material, can get their message out.
If an organization has any messages or materialsuitable for PSAs, please get in touch.We have a production studio in Colombo and two teams of journalists in the field, one in the East and one in the South. In Colombo people cancontact Matthew Abud on 077 9010 961, or at matthew.abud@internews.org. In the East the contact is Parisa Saadatmand, 077 9010 960 or parisa.saadatmand@internews.org. TheSouthern team is headed by Neeraj Bali, on 0724 135 016, or neeraj.bali@internews.org.Kiran is broadcast on the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation's national Sinhala and Tamil service, at 18:30 Monday to Friday. For more information about Internews, please go to our website at www.internews.org.

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Gender Mainstreaming in Poverty Eradication - A Handbook

GENDER MAINSTREAMING IN POVERTY ERADICATION AND THE MILLENNIUM DEVELOPMENT GOALS A Handbook for Policy-makers and Other Stakeholders: International Development Research Centre: Naila Kabeer
Commonwealth Secretariat/IDRC/CIDA 2003ISBN 1-55250-067-5240 pp.
Purchase book online : Commonwealth Secretariat
In this book, Naila Kabeer brings together a diverse set of arguments, findings, and lessons from the development literature that help to explain why gender equality merits specific attention from policymakers, practitioners, researchers, and other stakeholders committed to the pursuit of pro-poor and human-centred development.
All over the world, women from poor households play a more critical role in income-earning and expenditure-saving activities that do women from better-off households, and these activities are concentrated in the informal economy. In the past decades, the relationship between household poverty and women’s paid activity has become stronger, partly in response to economic crises and the “push” into the labour market and partly in response to new opportunities generated by globalization. Improving women’s access to economic opportunities and enhancing returns on their efforts, therefore, will be central to the goal of poverty eradication and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.
This book explores the issue of gender inequality through the lens of the Millennium Development Goals, particularly the first one of halving world poverty by 2015.
THE AUTHOR
Naila Kabeer is Professorial Fellow at the Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex. She is a social economist and has been involved in teaching, research, and advisory work in the fields of gender, poverty, population, and social policy.
FREE: Download e-book
Abbreviations 2003
Foreword 2003
Executive Summary 2003
1. Gender, Poverty and Development Policy 2003Introduction; A Brief History of Poverty Reduction Policies; Putting Gender on the Policy Agenda; Conclusion
2. Integrating Gender into Macroeconomic Analysis 2003Introduction; Gender Bias in Macroeconomic Analysis; Empirical Findings; Gender Equality and Economic Growth: Competing Hypotheses; Conclusion
3. The Geography of Gender Inequality 2003Introduction; Institutions and Gender Inequality; Regional Perspectives on Gender Inequality; Updating the Geography of Gender; Classifying Gender Constraints; Conclusion
4. Approaches to Poverty Analysis and its Gender Dimensions 2003Introduction; The Poverty Line Approach; The Capabilities Approach; Participatory Poverty Assessments (PPAs); Conclusion
5. Gender Inequality and Poverty Eradication: Promoting Household Livelihoods 2003Introduction; Gender Inequality and Household Poverty in South Asia; Gender Inequality and Household Poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa; Links Between Gender Inequality and Income Poverty: The Wider Picture; Conclusion
6. Gender Equality and Human Development Outcomes: Enhancing Capabilities 2003Introduction; Gender Inequality and Human Development: The Equity Rationale; Gender Inequality and Family Well-being: The Instrumental Rationale; Conclusion
7. Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment 2003Introduction; Conceptualising Empowerment: Agency, Resources and Achievement; Access to Education and Women’s Empowerment; Access to Paid Work and Women’s Empowerment; Voice, Participation and Women’s Empowerment; Agency and Collective Action: Building Citizenship from the Grassroots; Conclusion
8. Institutionalising Gender Equity Goals in the Policy Process 2003Introduction; Gender Equality and Economic Growth: Synergy or Trade-off?; Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs): A Gender Audit; Gender-responsive Budget (GRB) Analysis; Mainstreaming Gender in Policy-making Institutions; Mobilising around Gender Equity Goals: Building Active Citizenship; Conclusion
Bibliography 2003
Glossary 2003

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Spiritual Aspects of Cultural Diversity and Sustainable Development

Development Gateway: " by Chris Jones, Date: April 26, 2005

This paper attempts to encourage a broad discourse on the spiritual value of cultural diversity and how such reflection can impact development policy on the local, national, and international levels. It is suggested that the fundamental principle that underpins the maturation of sustainable development policy is a spiritually and materially integrated understanding of the value of humans, their cultures, and the environment in which they live. Assessment is made of the current understandings of the spiritual value of cultural diversity as seen in key international documents. Spiritually based development indicators suggested by the Bahá’í International Community (BIC) are also examined and then related to personal experience of the author in work with Indigenous communities. It is suggested that successfully reintegrating the spiritual and the material, within a framework of humanity as one diverse loving family, empowers a release of unbridled human creativity of greater significance to the development of human civilisation than the European Enlightenment itself.

Access this article

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Thursday, May 12, 2005

Locked away in an orphanage

Daily News: 11/05/2005" BY THARUKA Dissanaike

SRI LANKAN orphanages are not really for orphans. An orphan by definition is a child without both parents. But the large majority of children locked away in our 'orphanages' have both or at least one parent. This was a startling piece in a Sunday newspaper a few weeks ago.

Although they have parents and family back in their 'village' these 'institutionalised' languish in regimented, loveless conditions in a less-than-healthy environment.

Many of us who have seen the inside working of State or private trust-run large orphanages have come away with a huge feeling of sadness and helplessness-believing that these children have no better option but to grow up in this crowded, cramped, unhealthy fashion since they are without family. It was shocking indeed to find out that this notion fell far short of the truth.

The secret of this country's orphanages came out when Save the Children commissioned a study to find out the status of Sri Lankan orphanages and the manner in which they are run. Over 300 institutions were included in the study and 84 such institutions were studied in-depth.

Astonishingly, over 50% of the children in the care of these institutions have both parents. Only less than 10% claimed to have lost both parents.

There is little need to elaborate upon the conditions of orphanages. But the study had come upon some ground truths-It says that a number of these institutions lacked water and sanitation. Some did not have proper transportation or sick room facilities.

Many of the employed staff had no knowledge of child rights- nor did they appear to care about such lofty ideals- also they were not trained to be caregivers.

Although the institutions allowed parents to visit- these visits were deliberately kept brief, supervised, and limited. Overnight facilities were not offered for parents and family who often travelled long distances to see their child(ren). Letters written home were read by the people in-charge before posting, letters received were also scrutinized.

In effect the children were imprisoned in these institutions- away from their parents, their families and cared for by impersonal, often unfriendly and strict staff who give the children little care and very little respect.

Although the report does not address abuse, it is a well-known fact that sexual and physical harassment occurs frequently in many such homes, especially because the controls over them are lax and supervision of the Social Services officers is very marginal.

The report states: "The children lacked most was emotional support and the space to grow as individuals. This is a serious drawback since the lack of emotional support during childhood can cause irreparable consequences to a child's healthy development in the long run."

So why do people put their children in institutions? Poverty was cited as the main reason for many. Others felt that putting a child in an orphanage would enable him or her to receive proper education and care. This was especially so in the North and East where decades of civil war had eroded the social fabric of many communities.

Many a single parent finds it difficult to cope with responsibilities of child rearing, earning a living etc, and takes up on the option of institutionalizing one child of a family or all of them.

Parents with children who are mentally or physically disabled also take upon the option of institutionalizing since the support and care from the State and community is very minimal.

This is a very sad state of affairs. For a child being with family under the care of one's own parents is the most important aspect of development. However poor, the emotional ties with parents cannot be replaced with the cold impersonality of an institution- however well run.

This report has to serve as an eye opener for a number of Ministries and programmes. If poverty is driving people to send their children into orphanages- it is a very harsh statement upon the failure of our systems and programmes to address abject poverty. Single parents and parents with disabled children could cope better if their specific needs were addressed.

There are many successful micro-level grass roots programmes supporting single parents (especially women) and households with disabled young. But these efforts have to be encouraged and 'mainstreamed'.

Otherwise, this despicable situation will continue- where parents opt to send their children off to virtual imprisonment under the delusion that they would grow up better.

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Growth too weak to end poverty: Central Bank

Sri Lanka BUSINESS: Sri Lanka growth too weak to end poverty: Central Bank: "Wednesday, 4 May 2005 - 2:24 AM SL Time
Sri Lanka`s economic growth rate of 5.4 percent last year was below the 6.0-8.0 percent required to create jobs and end rampant poverty, the Central Bank of Sri Lanka said Friday. Soaring oil prices and a drought have dampened prospects of higher growth, the bank said in its annual report for 2004 while noting that a truce with Tamil Tiger rebels was still positive. `The growth (of 5.4 percent) was largely supported by strong growth in exports, consumption and investments as well as the continuation of the ceasefire,` the Bank said. `However, the growth rate was much below the 6.0-8.0 percent growth rate required for a sustainable reduction in unemployment and poverty in Sri Lanka.` The bank had initially forecast 2004 growth at between 5.5 and 6.0 percent. It has downgraded its estimate for 2005 from 6.0 percent to 5.3 percent because of the destruction caused by the devastating December 26 tsunami. The central bank noted that growth slipped throughout 2004 and warned that prospects for this year could be affected by both a slowdown in the import of investment goods and the impact of the tsunami. Sri Lanka`s economy grew 6.0 percent in 2003. Despite the weaker growth, per capita income did exceed the 1,000 dollar mark for the first time in 2004, coming in at 1,031 dollars after 948 dollars in 2003, the central bank said . The bank said the impact of the tsunami disaster would largely depend on how fast the affected sectors bounced back. Nearly 31,000 people were killed and a million left homeless. Sri Lanka`s overall balance of payments showed a 205 million dollar deficit last year compared with a surplus of 502 million dollars in 2003. Inflation has picked up sharply to around 18 percent while interest rates at less than 10 percent makeit cheap to borrow, private analysts noted. The year-on-year inflation rate was 17.3 percent in February, after 18 percent in January and an actual fall in prices of 0.2 percent a year earlier, Central Bank figures showed. The International Monetary Fund has warned Sri Lanka to firm up international aid pledges or risk more trouble for an economy already reeling from high oil import prices. Sri Lanka received aid pledges of nearly two billion dollars after the tsunamis but so far only about 16 million dollars has been paid directly into state coffers, the Central Bank said. "

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Rebuilding in tsunami ravaged areas - Tittawela

The Island: 9/05/2005" Rebuilding in tsunami ravaged areas: Donors have pledged to fund total housing reconstruction - Tittawela, by Gamini Perera

"The latest figures published by the Department of Census and Statistics has put the number of fully-damaged housing units after the tsunami at 41,303 and partly damaged housing units at 36, 168 which add up to a total of 77,561," said Presidential advisor and chairman, Task Force for Rebuilding the nation (TAFREN) Mano Tittawela, speaking at a media conference in Colombo recently organised by TAFREN and TAFOR (Task Force for Relief). He said, "rebuilding such a large number of houses in a short time is a daunting task, since the total number of houses constructed in the entire country per year, adds up to about four to eight thousand only.

"Providing houses for all the Tsunami-effected families has to be done in three different stages. The first was the provision of emergency shelters, without delay for nearly 96,000 people in 263 camps. Many were given tents since these were the easiest to obtain, transport and install. The second stage is to move each family to a transitional house. These take longer to build, but are more comfortable and can be used until permanent houses are constructed. Four months after the tsunami, we have provided 15,470 families with transitional houses, which are currently under construction. The third stage is the building of permanent houses, which is a longer process," he explained.

"We have received pledges form 194 donors for a total of about 97,000 permanent housing unites. 159 MoUs have already been signed with 71, donors for 34,000 units. Construction work has already begun on 2,325 permanent houses," Tittalwela went on. He also said, "damage assessment teams have already been deployed in the affected districts, depending on the extent of the damage. Grants of Rs. 100,000 to 250,000 are made available to tsunami-affected families to rebuild their houses. So far, 5,476 eligible households have received their first instalment of Rs. 50,000/- through the State Banks."

He also said, "TAFOR and TAFREN were formed to accelerate post - tsunami rehabilitation and reconstruction in all affected sectors, including housing by engaging the primary stockholders, the tsunami affected, whose houses and livelihoods need construction without delay. Donor Agencies that have pledged funds for housing and other necessary facilities and implementing organisations, such as NGOs, government ministries and Agencies that are carrying out the reconstruction work.

Equal importance

"To ensure the smooth implementation of the rehabilitation process, projects in Tsunami affected areas, the conflict areas, too, should be considered with equal importance," Divisional secretary, Jaffna, K. Ganesh said.

M. A. Piyasena, District Secretary (DS) Hambantota, V. Shanmugam, DS Batticaloa, H. G. Jayasekera, DS Matara, Ms. Sheehan, Chief-of-Mission, International Organisation for Migration, Juliana Fernando, Director, Finance and Administration Plan, Sri Lanka were also present at the media conference.

The panel included: Ranavirajah chairman, TAFOR, Lalith Weeratunge, board member, TAFREN Hewage, secretary, ministry of Urban Development and Water Supply, Dr. Batagoda, CEO, Tsunami Housing, Reconstruction Unit, (THRU) and Ms. Myrna Evera, country director, Plan Sri Lanka.

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Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Disparities in education and challenges

The Island: 11/05/2005" by Dr. S. B. Ekanayake, Rtd. Basic Education Advisor, UNESCO/UNHCR

Dynamism of education andprevailing gaps

Education is one of the most dynamic agents of change that emerged during the last two centuries. This is specially so during -the last fifty years of educational development. However, still many countries are yet to make use of these vast and growing educational technological opportunities in the race for development as -those which have made use of these in -the west and a few countries in Asia.

Universally, a large majority of the countries are yet to make a major breakthrough in their quest for educational development. On the other hand, even the countries that have achieved success in literacy, to some measure of satisfaction, regional disparities prevail with glaring deprivations and inequalities towards some groups. These aspects are seen in relation to expansion of educational opportunities, equity in the services , availability of technological changes and access to educational structures to all those who need. A number of international studies conducted by OECD countries have indicated that even in most of the developing countries and in countries with high literacy levels a significant proportion of the population lack basic skills.

Thus, literacy in a broader development context is a worldwide problem. In the arguments for expansion of literacy gaps prevail and, in brief, these areas are connected to the following : a) human development needs b) economic development of individuals both micro and macro c) social development aspects d) political rationale and e) local needs and international demands (EFA/UNESCO 2001). To what extent have these countries achieved all these needs in a holistic manner?

Thus for example highly literate societies lack healthy human relationships and care for fauna and flora. Atrocities are committed in the name of equality, justice, law and order. -The challenge in education is to identify these gaps and provide actions to develop a humane society where opportunities are available for all. Literacy programmes have to address these issues in a -holistic manner . Literacy should move beyond -knowing the traditional 3 Rs.

Spatial gaps

The above qualitative gaps are seen in addition to the gaps in quantitative aspects and spatial distribution of educational opportunities and services. Some of these disparities are results / causes of historical factors deliberately executed by the colonial rulers which were not rectified by the locals in later years. Instead those in power and positions continued to perpetuate the discrimination since these fitted well to their needs. -Sri Lanka is a good example. -The article attempts -to examine these flaws and resulting challenges in the field of education.

Disparities are the end result of the discrimination, deliberate and or unintentional caused by political and or social/cultural factors. These cause social, economic and cultural irritations, misunderstandings, dominance of vociferous groups resulting in enjoyment of benefits to certain areas and sections of the community. Over a period of time disparities grow and multiply providing benefits to certain sections of the society turning them into privileged groups. As a result for example more would qualify from public examinations from certain areas where better education facilities are present giving those from such areas edge over the others leading to perpetuation of the differences further. Later these lead to enhancing of social positions and power structures making the disparities to increase and grow further.

Although in an overall sense it may lead to development of HRD of the country, one cannot avoid the perpetuation of disparities between groups and areas. Hence the need to bring social justice to all through provision of opportunities and resources equitably as far as possible, even adopting the principle of reverse discrimination at the initial stages. The argument against this principle by some groups that opening more schools in the peripheral areas would bring about equity does not hold water mainly due to the social structures which determine the distribution of benefits. More schools alone will not improve the advantages or reduce disadvantaged situations. Naturally those areas that have been enjoying better facilities would like to revel the advantage throughout no matter what happens to others

Educational reforms

In Sri Lanka major educational revisions in the form ‘reforms’ did commence from 1940’s. The key characteristics of all these reforms were that a) changes originated more or less from top and flowed down b) whole package of the reforms were never fully implemented hence the full depth of the impact was never felt in the development system of the country what was implemented were changes that were pro elite c) revisions effected were rarely continued over a period of time to bear the fruits of the planned reforms d) changes were never based on research e) impact evaluations on the changes made were never carried out f) politics played a great role in the follow up of reforms -both in implementation and or non implementation g) focus on examinations and university admissions seem to be the priority h) there was an absence of changes in the universities to keep pace with the proposed reforms in the schools system. i) absence of political consensus on the changes/reforms leading to abandoning the reforms once the proponents lost political power j) some changes were populist in nature and not rational in the long run.

The above seem to be the general pattern of treatment and key characteristics of the educational reforms of Sri Lanka since independence. Of these the most striking and long lasting changes were the ones implemented by the Educational Reforms in 1943. These were related free education from the kindergarten to the University and the introduction of Swabasha (mother tongue) as the medium of instructions at all levels, replacing English.

The rest of the changes proposed in the Kannagara Reforms, in the context of quality, deviation from the traditional teaching learning and considered to be progressive, related to curriculum aspects never saw the light of the day. What was implemented were the more populist ones, a result of the elitist influence which prevails in different forms to date. It may be why the saying ‘kolombata kiri gamata kekiri’.

In fact Kannagara Reforms provided free education to those were already enjoying ‘good’ education, while those who were recipients of ‘bad education’ continued to enjoy the same as before in the name of free education! (Jayasuriya 1969).

Guidelines for changes

In view of what had taken place in the field of education over the last 5 to 6 decades in Sri Lanka what are the critical changes required to satisfy the challenges in the this century? One may not be able to precisely state or develop a set of reforms in this context but certain guidelines could be brought for educational planners and policy makers.

It should -be mentioned that education is one subject that every one is interested and always has ideas about the same as laymen. However, these views are more related to admissions of children to schools, and higher educational institutes and rarely on the contents and technical aspects of education such as curriculum development, teacher education, school management styles, development related educational changes, etc.

Laymen also express views about the introduction of new subjects/contents to subjects with passage of time. Over the years one would note that subjects/contents that were not taught in the schools decades ago are introduced as result of the social demands. Thus subjects/contents related to areas such as environmental studies, human rights are ones that have been introduced during the recent past.

Such new introductions are results of the civil society, international trends and needs expressed through UN agencies from time to time. All -these take time to be ingrained into the learning process.

Changes in the teaching learning styles and classroom operations, which are more of a technical nature occurring in the classroom, have also undergone changes but again taking time to be introduced to the teacher community through pre-service and in-service.

Suggested critical changes

Let us look at changes that are of utmost importance to the development of the nation. These changes may sound very drastic. It is true that educational changes have been brought about in bits and pieces over the last few decades. Transformations are needed in a country after a period of over 50 years of self rule from a colonial status to an independent self rule situation. Changes are also needed in keeping with the mega trends in the socio-economic and cultural situations of the world. Hence one has to look at the type of education that was imparted in the pre-independence and immediate post independence period. Also it is necessary to understand the nature of our society, its needs and demands both locally and world contexts. Hence what may have been good at that time may be irrelevant or is not providing results fast enough to meet the challenges and demands of the people, nationally and internationally. We value our cultural norms and traditions but the important fact is that while preserving these Sri Lanka should have the capacity and resources to move fast and quick to bring in solutions to a growing population with fast diminishing natural resources.

The primary concern of the 1940s was increased participation at different cycles commencing from the primary level. One could commend on this aspect, that Sri Lanka has achieved very satisfactory rates, almost touching universal participation at the primary level and with around 90 per cent moving on to the post primary cycle. This is in keeping with most of the developed countries and has resulted in the improvement of quality of life in health and other social development aspects of life of the people. But the progress becomes a trickle beyond GCE ‘A’ Level, at the entry level to the universities. One would see that around 15 per cent sit the A Level and only around 2 per cent gets the opportunity to seek university education. This is very unfortunate, vis-a-vis human resource development of the country and enhancing the quality and capacity in governance. This is one great concern and it is here that we have to identify the causes and recommend solutions.

Unmet demands in higher education

The low intake to the universities in Sri Lanka is entirely due to lack of space at these institutions. If only 15,000 of the 100,000 qualified to enter universities is accommodated what is the solution for the rest? This has led to the well to do and even others going abroad to get their degrees, resulting in draining of our foreign exchange, and also later loose their services to the nation. Instead of going into further details opening more universities in the country would be the easiest way out of this issue. We save money and also keep our resources back at home. Who will do it? If the state is unable to undertake let the private sector handle it. In fact private education or paying for quality education is a common occurrence in Sri Lanka today commencing from the pre-school. This happens all over the country, rural urban, poor rich. Hence the tradition is already in place. There is no discrimination. International schools flourish all over the country while a large number of private institutions affiliated to universities elsewhere in the developed world offer degree courses which -have very practical programmes. These are the needs of the international market. Why don’t we open the flood gates as India, Pakistan and some of the Asian countries do? Students leaving for university education to the neighbouring countries is in the increase . Bangladesh has a special university for Sri Lankans! Sri Lanka has to become competitive while preserving our foreign funds, providing opportunities for all qualified students, helping to develop new courses of a practical nature, market oriented and also encouraging other countries to get their higher education from Sri Lankan private universities. The last is also a good investment. It will lead to ‘tourist learners’ like tourist medical assistance which India has encouraged. India has been able to earn millions of dollars attracting many from the west to undergo medical operations which are performed at a relatively very low cost in India. There will be critics who may not see beyond their nose rationally and understand the long term positive effects on the economy. This would be in addition to providing opportunities for large numbers in the country to receive higher education. The role of the state should be to bring quality control and not to get bogged down in institutions and personnel.This applies to all state owned organisations. We have tested this policy since 1956 and come to realise that national ventures are invariably disasters, a boon for strikers and places for corruption. The biggest socialist countries China and Russia realised this long ago. Human nature is for private and individualistic gains. The state should provide guidelines, strictly control the quality of the institutions/organisations and its products. This is the trend in development and Sri Lanka should learn from socialist countries.

One bold pro-active move which led to raising a hornets nest in the 1970s was the change which brought in the district quota system in addition to the national level achievements in the admissions to the universities in the country. This principle helped a large number of students to gain admission to the universities outside the littoral belt and the Jaffna suburbs. Thus for the first time it benefited all children of all communities in the country. More came to be admitted to professional courses from these poverty belt districts of the country as well. This move was highly criticised by the elitists and the privileged who were joined by outsiders ( they are still using this as an argument in racial discrimination)

Thinking of highest educational bodies

The National Education Commission, the highest professional body for educational development established in 1991, a permanent independent body which includes the best of professionals in the country, non-political at the beginning, in their first report in -2003 had made a number of recommendations on various issues. One relates to the ‘Private sector investment in education (which) should be facilitated and promoted with a monitoring mechanism to maintain standards. A set of new legislation should be formulated and enacted in this regard...’ (NEC Report 2003 pg.xxx)

It would be very pertinent to know the thinking of the premier international agency for education, namely UNESCO regarding the issue of education and community partnerships. UNESCO has been loud and clear on this issue when in 1990 (Jomtien) it declared Education For All (EFA) should be observed by all nations. However, since these government bodies cannot meet all the needs of every human due to financial and organisational complexities to help to achieve the goal, the 1990 Declaration of UNESCO suggested that: ‘New and revitalised partnerships at all levels will be necessary; partnerships among all sub-sectors and forms of education; partnerships between government and non-government organisations, the private sector, local communities, religious groups and families.’ (Article 7).

The principle of partnerships have grown 19% amongst the members and it ‘will remain one of the keys to the achievement of appropriate quality and quantity of education for all’. All actors should find ways and means of collaborating to strengthen the pursuit of the common goals of EFA.

Also think of the monies that go for private education at different levels from pre-school to foreign countries. Private tuition is part of the ‘free education’ of those who keep on shouting that ‘free education is destroyed’. Why do they not compute the expenditure involved in these? It is costing more the poor since they -have to travel from the village to the towns or get boarded in the cities to get quality tutors and access to resources. What happens to those who fail admission to the university by few marks? They fail for ever and if a private university facility is available this situation could be changed. It will help to covert a failure to a resource for the country. Thus those who agitate against private universities should look at the issue from various angles rather than purely for short term political gains.

Education as a product for export

Another important aspect that needs concentrated efforts is ‘education for export’. This will have the support from the above policy of encouraging private education. As an island Sri Lanka has limited natural resources unlike India or Pakistan. We have to find ways and means to provide employment for the growing population and specially the youth in the coming decades. Our own resources in the country will not be able to expand to accommodate the growing numbers. Although we send men and women at the moment mostly to the middle east to work as house maids, at very low salary levels, experiencing untold miseries and bringing individually little income, although collectively they provide the nation a large resource and presently one of the highest foreign income earning sources. We have also seen recently state run technical institutions formally encouraging their trainees to focus on foreign employment. This very encouraging and positive. This process should be further strengthened and supported as matter of state policy. One way would be to identify the needs of the markets around Asia and or even in the west and develop skills training programmes for our youth including a language course. In fact Sri Lanka could enter into MoUs with developed countries to provide technical skilled labour for which the host country could provide Sri Lanka with trainers and other resource needs. The advantage of such MoUs would be that Sri Lanka would gain by the experiences the youth will acquire and eventually in the long run provide experienced technical manpower to develop our own industries. In this the planned private universities discussed earlier should develop course to meet these ends as well. The issues related to unemployment or catering to privileged (kiri) groups, will not become a major bottleneck.

Multiple avenues for knowledge and skills

The concept of ‘Open Schools’ (OS) about which the writer developed a policy/working paper in 2004, is yet another innovative action that would provide the youth and adults at all level in far Rung areas to improve the academic and technical skills. It is not envisaged to discuss this programme in detail here. One has to understand that Sri Lanka has been using only the traditional means to develop human resources in our country over the last fifty decades. The principles on non-formal education (NFE) is ingrained in the concept of OS. Its flexibility in terms of time, space and resources answers the needs of countries like ours. In fact NFE is an important learning mode in the developed world. Unfortunately NFE has been associated mainly with literacy programmes, in Sri Lanka which has given a wrong perception of the concept of NFE. Hence it is not thought very useful in the context of our needs at present. This has diluted the significance of NFE NIT is a development oriented programme and OS would be well disposed towards the use of NFE strategies in its operations. India and most Asian countries have been using NFE as a development strategy. We -here could use the experiences of India in relation to OS to meet our development operations at all levels.

The NEC report (2003) has made strong recommendations to bring about new dimensions in the area of NFE in Sri Lanka. Unfortunately the action research projects commenced by NEE in the 1990’s were disbanded which would -have provided immense depth and added new directions to these proposals, if the NFE projects continued to date. What is lacking is an understanding of concept of NFE in modem development contexts. NFE is not ‘literacy’ or ‘income generating activities’, it is much more and an important arm of development. "Literacy is now viewed as a product of educational, social and economic factors that cannot be radically changed in short periods of time’ (UNESCO). Now the thinking is that there are many kinds of litracies or rather multiple levels which includes numeracy, technology, understanding real life situations. All these, referred to basic learning competencies, are thought to ‘promote empowerment and access to rapidly changing world’. These are concepts that should enrich the development of NFE programmes in Sri Lanka. Experiences of Thailand indicate how far they have progressed and overtaken Sri Lanka in the use and application of NFE as a development tool. NFE should be combined with FE to get the maximum benefits to the learner. Tins should be a high priority in the educational development of Sri Lanka.

Freelance learning and school cycles

Changing the cycles of the school system would be another important need of the day. The present cycles consisting of primary, junior secondary, senior secondary covering a period of 13 years or so with changes over the decades has been the structural format through out the world. Do we need to continue the same system? Can we change this structural arrangement to meet the needs of those deprived? Thus reduce the number of years in the primary cycle say from the current 5 to 4 years combining grades 3 and 4 adopting a concept approach to leaching learning. This would mean identifying the key concepts in grade 3 and 4 combining/bringing these into one grade so that one would have grades 1,2, 3+4 and 5 and then again grade 6 at the junior secondary level. Such combinations /reductions could be made in the junior secondary cycle as well. It will not harm the acquisition of concepts and skills if the curriculum is developed rationally. The years saved could be used to develop skills needed in the society through the use of NFE. Of course this should be planned, curriculum and teacher guides developed and teachers trained . This will provide opportunity for non-educationists to bring new dimensions into the system. The child will be relaxed with no tensions. On the other hand if nothing can be done by the system this will avoid children staying too long in the school system for nothing. The opportunities for them to learn from outside is more than ever before and external agencies could be harnessed as in ‘dual training systems’ in Germany. Of course one - has to be mindful of problems that may crop up when children are outside the school, although it will be good opportunity for them to learn from reality and apply their learning in real situations. This is the challenge for the educationist and policy makers.

Literacy and realities

Another issue that needs attention relates to the nature of statistics on literacy. These more often than not do not reveal the endemic problem associated with adult literacy. The absolute way of defining literacy has little relevance to day and most definitions portray literacy in relative terms than in absolute terms. There are ‘multiple levels and kinds of literacy ‘instead of a single level of skill or knowledge that qualifies one to be a literate person.’ ‘In order to have a bearing on real life situations, definitions of literacy must be sensitive to skills needed in out-of-school contexts, as well as to school -based competency requirements’. Is it not opportune that authorities responsible for education over the decades should revisit the system in the context of Sri Lanka ? Has Sri Lanka’s image of a highly literate society is actually so in reality? What has gone wrong with the quality of the impressive data? Think of the political leadership and the politicians we have and had to guide the nation. With the exception of few dedicated men and women since independence irrespective of parties the majority has let down the nation. Nations in Asia which were way behind Sri Lanka in the early 60s have not only overtaken us in literacy levels but also in economic development aspects. -These nations used education for development and production while Sri Lanka made use of education for political expediency and led the nation along the garden path. Most often the educational policy of the political parties bad been to promote favourites , transfer others and undo what was practiced earlier, without any rationale.

Equity and disparities Historical tragedies

As in most of the developed countries, in Sri Lanka the education system is elitist and selective attempting to the status quo following -the ‘reproductive theory’. Although -the principles of education are to bring equity, soften the differences and provide social justice education has always brought conflict amongst its beneficiaries and supported social class differences. Seemingly the prevailing education system accords equal access to all, pretending rather innocent and neutral playing a ‘confidence trick’ (on the participants) by providing unequal levels of quality to the participants. ‘Me factors that give credence to the education system are its ‘relative autonomy of the system from other social and cultural structures’ and subsequent legitimisation through certification and acceptance of the authority of the education system over and above the others.

The above factors are well reflected in the system in Sri Lanka even after over 5 decades of independence. What we follow today is a system that is common in most of the developing countries, modeled and molded upon the systems of the western world. We have been producing manpower for a market that is already full up leading to no productivity government services and a narrow modem sector. Since the education system is oriented to wards the education of those in relatively better environments the children in the rural areas including city slums are unfairly deprived. The role of the rural folk in the economic expansion has thereby relatively limited and consequently have enjoyed less of the fruits of better times. This is aptly described in the saying ‘kolombate kiri gamata kekiri’! The strategy of equal opportunities has not improved the situations of the poor. Thus one could see the dominance of few areas in the country enjoying the benefits. The so called ‘inverted educational anchor’ covering the western coast and line to Kandy. The Jaffna district is the exception which falls outside the anchor while the rest of the country - have been deprived of the full benefits of education throughout the colonial period from the 16th century. This continuous dominance of a few given areas is well seen in the studies conducted in the 1980s (Gunaratne and Navaratneraja, 1987) The four indicators used for this study were participation rates (5-14 years), enrolment in science stream for GCE A level, pupils years needed to produce one graduate at the primary level and the literacy rates for the areas. The comparative analysis of the districts in 1971 and with that of 1981 indicated a high correlation in the ranking order between developed areas and the indicators. This factor is still true when one analyses the results of the three key public examinations for children viz grade 5 scholarship, GCE ‘0’ Level and GCE ‘A’ Level. The best passes in these examinations are always from the main two or three towns in the country in spite of free and now compulsory education for decades. All key indicators of education in the country such as expenditure (public and private), provision of education (schools, teachers, school places and expenditure), participation in education (distribution of access, amount of education, achievements, participation in examinations) are skewed in favour of the littoral areas (Nystrom).

Setbacks and precedence

Let us look at development and its relationship to education and vice versa. During the latter part of the 20th century development has been closely associated with education. Education has been considered as an investment and this position has never changed there after. The ‘human capital’ perspective gained strength as a decisive factor in economic growth. The successes of Japan and Germany after War II has been entirely a result of their human capital. Consequently education became a prominent item in many national budgets. UNESCO has -been arguing for the need to have increased budgets in the development of nations. It would be interesting to look at the situation in Sri Lanka. The national budgetary allocations for education and more important allocations of the amounts to districts.

Elitism and establishing the foundation for disparities commenced from Colebrooke recommendations (1837). Later this was further supported by the Morgan proposals (1867) by brining a dual system of education recommending English education for the elite and vernacular education for the masses. Added to this was the dual system of control with aided missionary schools and system of state schools. These led to the growth of inequality by the 20th century. The establishment of schools on the littoral since Portuguese gave added advantages to ‘those living along the coast and also in the north around Jaffna gave some Tamils considerable advantages which have persisted to the present day’ (Lewin and Little, 1985).

The curriculum was another factor that augmented inequalities. Type of school, management differences were other factors that added to the disparities. Some of these factors remained so even after independence. Hence why Jayasuriya (I 979) was very pertinent when he stated that ‘the immediate consequence of the principle of free education accepted in 1945 was to give bonanza to the well to do by giving them without payment good education that had hitherto been paid for by them. The masses continued to receive free the poor quality education that bad all along free to them. The lion’s share of finance also went to these schools. The welfare of these schools was uppermost in the minds of bureaucrats . (Jayasuriya 1979).

These historical factors were responsible for concentration of privileges in certain parts of the country which has aggravated the crisis since 1970s. The favoured groups were in the littoral areas from Colombo to Galle. It is undeniable that the percentage of Tamils in different levels and types of higher education is generally higher than the proportion of Tamils in the population. However, this was not a result of ethnic affiliation but a cause of historical factors. All these enabled those who were living in the educationally advantages areas to gain positions and power and influence. They enhanced their positions to gain privileged status in society and exacerbating inequalities and disparities. These have brought in economic disparities amongst the population and the poverty line remains with in the educationally disadvantaged areas and people. The less educated seem to be the ‘have not s’ as well.

Social cohesion and equal opportunities

Social cohesion depends on steady and inclusive growth of economic opportunities for the poor and these include equal access to high quality education, good health and social protection systems. Governments should be active with the goal of redistribution of services to enhance equity and efficiency of social spending. A sense of nation hood can be enhanced by combating social exclusion. In societies where social cohesion is low there is the tendency to reflect low intensity in investments in the development of human capital. Thus there are a number of pre-conditions for quality expansion of education. Thus mere increase in enrolment of children at the primary level does not mean that there is equity in quality of education at the peripheral areas. This can be seen in the survival rates and the achievement levels of children at grade 5. Disparities can also be seen in the conditions of school equipment and supplies. It means that increase in the enrolments of students at the primary level may also mean that overall conditions may deteriorate than before. Therefore supplies have to be in keeping with the numbers enrolled.

Teacher pupil ratios is yet another indicator of disparity. High UP ratios combined with low supplies and inadequate instructional equipment and low teacher motivation cannot enhance to quality learning. Thus to minimise the disparities UNESCO suggests the following approaches. Thus the system has to move from lower level to higher levels to provide equal opportunities in order to reduce disparities These, inter alia, include a) harmonisation of enrolments with attainments of sufficient quality standards b) learning outcomes to be based on reliable data and regularly monitored c) Gaps to be identified regularly using successful initiatives and policies and d) the pursuance of concepts of collaboration, cooperation, peace to be highlighted and shared

Previous studies

A study done on this issue Rupasinghe 1982) very categorically states that ‘ Even though strident measurers have been taken during the last fifty years to provide greater educational opportunity, the state school system still continues to remain elitist and exhibit several disparities and shortcomings. Children from upper socio-economic families enjoy distinct advantages over the rest. The school system in Sri Lanka, as elsewhere in the world, manifests existing social disparities and in turn tends to reinforce such disparities’. This is -further supported by another case study on ‘Multiple class teaching and education of disadvantage groups, Sri Lanka’ (Ekanayake, UNESCO 1982). According to this study, ‘The overall data (education) gives a wrong picture of the educational scene in Sri Lana ... In the opportunities for learning, there are glaring imperfections and inequalities between urban and rural areas, between privileged and deprived regions of the country and between social classes’. Baker has also focussed on the ‘glaring dualities’ in the education system of Sri Lanka. Baker has even gone to the extent of questioning the effectiveness of the ‘free education’ reforms (Victoria Baker, Blackboard in the Jungle’ 1988). All these indicate the continuation of disparities for decades up to the 1980s. It is true all governments have taken multiple steps to reduce these inequalities which have brought positive results but again unequally keeping the relative differences to the same levels as ever before. Drastic policies related to positive discrimination have to be implemented. This is the challenge for the policy makers.

Conclusion

Finally it should be stressed the need for changing the learning process from an examination perspective to development of morals, good behaviour and value development. Development of happiness should be one of the prime targets of education. Education should lead to development of a society where there is courtesy, respect for individuals and law and order, fear to break and destroy public property, freedom for women to get about at any time of the day, ability to rationalise issues etc. All these should be part of the education process commencing from the primary stage. Do we have that or do we perpetuate cut throat competition and disregard for rules regulations?. The latter could be seen in the struggle for admissions for a few ‘prestigious’ schools in the country. Have we made use of the correct persons for the right position? Education is a good example where this has not happened over the last two decades. An array of PVCs for flimsy reasons have gone up /promoted destroying the morals of the whole community, teacher, student parent which has led to arrogant leaders than respectful academics at the school level. These and many more known in detail by the community have been responsible for the destruction of the learning edifice, cultured behaviour. These have led to the creation of unfit , mentally traumatic persons to lead institutions adding to greater disparities. The victims and the most vulnerable have been always from the peripheral and disadvantaged areas and groups. For all these persons the above will not mean anything.

Look at the countries around Sri Lanka and how fast and quick these countries have developed in spite of their major problems. Sri Lanka is on the verge of becoming a failed state. We may have to import resource personnel from the SARRC countries in the near future if our rulers and planners work in the way they have been doing for the last few decades. Lack of an overall policy on development with stakeholders from the academic world (not political academics) , scientists and practitioners over and above politicians would be the need of the hour, although long over due and similar to the Indian National Planning Council. These plans should go on even with changes with the governments in power. We have only ad hoc ‘political’ policies and agendas. The biggest problem with our nation has been politicians who have been eyeing the ballot box, while exploiters both local and international have been waiting to grab the spoils.

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It’s no easy job

The Sunday Island: "07/05/2005 by Namini Wijedasa in Hikkaduwa

Eyes aching, Kusum Piyaratne bravely tries to field questions without nodding off. An overworked fan is negotiating a breeze overhead but the heat is stifling. It’s a sweltering day in Hikkaduwa.

She laughs humourlessly when asked whether she’s tired. ‘It’s a struggle to work when you have lost so much sleep,’ she admitted. As divisional secretary of Hikkaduwa, Piyaratne has been working endlessly since the tsunami. Her staff have also laboured to cope with the influx of desperate people who still flood their office, months after the disaster.

‘Our lives are very difficult,’ she commented. ‘We have no facilities. Even my van is a hired vehicle. I visit displaced people every day. We have a staff shortage. I have to send officials to the field but don’t have enough. Our equipment was washed away and very few of our files could be salvaged.’

‘What’s to be done?’ she asked, fatalistically. ‘We have to keep working.’

Haunted train

A few miles away, in Pereliya, the haunted carriages of the Samudra Devi still perch dispiritedly on the rail track. The train has been salvaged and now stands memorial to the sheer force of the tsunami. ‘The sea showed the country its strength and took away our children,’ reads a sad white banner strung on its side.

Battered and bruised, the wreckage is today a popular tourist attraction. Foreigners and locals stare wide-eyed and open-mouthed at the crumpled sides and torn roof. Perhaps they are imagining how hordes of terrified people had streaked towards this train with a relentless wall of water at their heels. They had hoped to evade death by climbing onto the sturdy vehicle. They perished instead, along with at least 1,200 commuters. There’s an almost palpable aura of death at the site.

In the surrounding village and others like it, transit shelters are springing up. Permanent housing is also being constructed, though at a much slower pace. But there’s a pile of grievances to be addressed.

‘Please help me, miss,’ sobbed a young woman outside the divisional secretariat. ‘I still don’t have a transit shelter. Everyone else is getting one but the grama niladhari isn’t helping me. He doesn’t like me.’

Complaints

Such accusations are common. The system is so designed that it’s primarily the grama niladhari’s task to identify victims for housing and other assistance. He formulates the lists for the divisional secretariat. ‘We have heard that some officials are forced by village thugs to recommend housing for undeserving people,’ reported a local Sri Lanka Red Cross employee at Telwatte. ‘Some officials take revenge against people they don’t like.’

‘Yes miss,’ sniffed the young woman at Piyaratne’s office. ‘Our grama niladhari is rude to me. He has his favourites.’

‘That’s not true,’ shot back the official in question. Coincidentally, he was also present at the divisional secretariat and now offered an explanation: ‘I haven’t been depriving her. She had not provided her details on time. That’s why she hasn’t got her house. Her name is on the list. I put it there myself.’

This story was a mere drop in an ocean of allegations and complaints. People spoke of how they had filled form after form. But government assistance was dramatically disproportionate to the documentation they had completed. They had expected more, and faster.

‘I don’t know how many forms I filled,’ said Mahindapala, a fisherman and boat owner. ‘What’s the use? I got 5,000 rupees for two months but even that has been stopped.’

‘We didn’t get anything from the government apart from the monthly allowance and money for cooking utensils,’ said a woman living in a transit shelter on the grounds of a Buddhist temple. ‘Only white people helped us. Our chief monk has spoken to white people and other big people in Sri Lanka. That’s where we got our assistance.’

Wijeratne owns a glass bottom boat. It’s damaged and he hasn’t got money to mend it. He doesn’t know what to do. He has filled a form. No response. He doesn’t even know where it went. Last week, he visited the home of a Fisheries Corporation official, a personal friend. ‘I wanted to see whether I can get something done through him,’ he explained. Unfortunately, the man wasn’t in. For Wijeratne, it’s another week without solution.

Sudantha stares at a poster on the divisional secretariat’s notice board. ‘Do you know what this means, miss?’ he asks, confused. It was a notice explaining the government’s grant scheme for persons whose houses had been completely or partially destroyed by the tsunami.

‘I don’t know how this works,’ Sudantha said, eyebrows knitted. ‘I went to the bank and stood in a very long line. I filled a complicated paper. They asked me to provide a title deed and various other details. I did that.

‘Afterwards, they told me that my application had been cancelled. I had to fill the form again and provide all those details. I haven’t heard anything since. I just don’t understand’.

Piyaratne was surprised to hear of Sudantha’s predicament. She explained that he didn’t need to approach the bank directly. The grant was being handled through the divisional secretariat. Why were people getting their wires crossed?

Bureaucracy and confusion

A lack of communication has evidently left tsunami victims at sea. Many local officials have themselves been badly affected by the disaster. Weary and jaded, they find it difficult to be sympathetic.

An avalanche of work has placed untold pressure on what were already inefficient, ridiculously under-funded structures. Hapless tsunami victims are mired in bureaucracy. They operate predominantly on hearsay. While there is some provision of information, it is limited and inconsistent. The large number of local and international non-governmental organisations working in tsunami affected areas does try to clarify matters but they have their own work. All this doesn’t help the victims.

‘I think there’s still a good deal of confusion at local level about what the (people’s) entitlements are,’ observed Mary Sheehan, Head of Mission of the International Organisation for Migration. ‘The entitlements with regard to food and ration cards have been well communicated.

‘However, there’s a lack of clarity about how long it will take to determine whether a house is fully or partially damaged. Consequently, even people outside the buffer zones are afraid to repair their houses until an assessment is done.’

‘There is still no clear word on whether people will get full or partial government compensation if they also receive assistance from an NGO or private organisation,’ she continued. ‘These and other issues should be firmly stated in policy and conveyed to people in a language they can understand.’

Deceptions

There is a veritable landslide of grievances from areas like Hikkaduwa. Most are related to a perceived or real failure of the government to care for its people. Amid the complaints, however, it is also patent that not everybody is telling the truth.

‘It is the practice of our people is to say they didn’t get anything’ even when they do get something,’ commented Manoj Krishantha, Mayor of Hikkaduwa.

Mahindapala, for instance, claimed that his only boat had got wrecked in the tsunami. It was grounded near the harbour, a large hole in its side. ‘I haven’t worked for four months,’ he said. ‘I don’t have a boat.’ He later let slip that he had a second boat, which he was now operating.

Piyawathie, who weaves coir in Pereliya, is one of the few villagers who has already received a permanent house. ‘Yes, I have got a house,’ she admitted grudgingly. ‘But it hasn’t been plastered yet. Neighbouring houses have been plastered.’

This phenomenon is a tragedy in itself. In the heat of the moment, people are trying to grab what they can. Is it their fault? Maybe not.

Poverty

Poverty can drive people to desperation. In the aftermath of the tsunami, Sri Lanka’s poor have spotted an opportunity to thrust themselves into a different league. They are afraid to say they have got enough. They compare their situations with others around them, carefully measuring and assessing. Jealousies abound. To revile their actions would be to overlook the true nature of poverty.

Meanwhile, inhabitants of villages bordering tsunami-affected areas are also worried. ‘We are poor too,’ they assert. ‘Why is assistance being given only to tsunami areas?’

Optimists

Then, there are the optimists. Piyal Gunarathna is the proprietor of Nippon Villa. He refuses to be defeated. Gunarathna’s hotel cum guest house is literally on the beach. A short walk and the waves are lapping at your feet. He built the hotel with money collected during a three-year stint in Japan. When it was smashed in the tsunami and the tourists fled, Gunarathna cancelled staff holidays and instructed them to prepare for relief workers.

‘You may criticise me,’ he said. ‘But I’m a businessman. I have salaries to pay.’

Today, Gunarathna is confronted with a complicated dilemma -- one that all landowners along the coast face. Their once juicy plots of land have been dramatically devalued by banks. The government’s buffer zone policy has slammed them where it hurts most.

‘I want a loan,’ Gunarathna explained. ‘I need to get new furniture and bedding. My cutlery and crockery are not suitable. I have to upgrade my hotel. Despite owning prime property, the banks are refusing me money. They say my land has no collateral value.’

‘The government is providing grants to tsunami victims,’ he said. ‘Why won’t they help me? I’m an employer and so many people are receiving indirect benefits from my hotel. The laundrymen, the fruits and vegetables suppliers, the fishermen.’

Back at the divisional secretariat, Piyaratne toils on in her stuffy room. There are problems to be solved. Many more transit houses need building, essential documentation has to be sorted out, approvals and permits must be granted for countless programmes and projects. There’s no knowing when the workload will lessen. Not soon. That’s for sure.

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Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Sri Lanka reconstruction far from complete

Spectator: 05/05/2005" by Meyling Siu-Miranda

A little over a hundred days after the Dec. 26 tsunami struck Sri Lanka, reconstruction efforts are far from being completed.

“There is more than one kind of disaster going on there. There is still a lot of work to be done,” John Roberts, director of the Buddhist Council of the Northwest, a nonprofit organization, said.

During a presentation in the Wyckoff Auditorium last Wednesday, Roberts, who returned from a month in Sri Lanka on Mar. 9, discussed the current status of the general reconstruction effort.

Roberts visited Godagama, a fishing village on the southwest coast of Sri Lanka, as part of the reconstruction project led by the BCN and the Bellanwila Community Development Foundation, a welfare branch of the Bellanwila Rajamaha Vihara temple in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Godagama is located in the center of an eight-mile length of coastline that was engulfed in some places by a wall of water 33-feet-high that ran as much as 300 yards inland.

The tsunami, which destroyed three quarters of the country’s coastline, killing 31,000 and displacing over 80,000 families, devastated many fishermen’s homes and took away their livelihoods as fishing canoes and boats were broken on the rocks. Fishing nets were ripped beyond repair and many were washed out to sea, where they continue to threaten marine life.

In the first phase of the project, the Buddhist Council of the Northwest plans to rebuild 40 houses that were completely destroyed and repair 15 homes that were badly damaged. The BCN was able to start the reconstruction project as soon as they had developed plans and contracted a builder because they are building on home sites already owned by the occupants.

But, as Roberts explained, many other non-profit organizations working on reconstruction projects are on stand-by because the Sri Lankan government has yet to provide land titles.

“It’s not clear what’s holding up the government in some of these areas,” Roberts said, noting that government corruption and patronage aren’t uncommon in the country.

According to Roberts, non-profit organizations face many other challenges in the reconstruction effort. Continuous shortages of cement and sand, in addition to the lack of skilled labor, are slowing down projects.

“There is not much of a supply chain to build homes and there are not enough masons and carpenters,” Roberts said. “You can’t take sand from the coast because you’re hurting the ecology, so now sand is being imported from India, and it is very expensive,” he added.

Twenty-one-year-old Vincent Piha, sophomore communication studies major, was unaware of the many problems plaguing relief organizations.

“I thought all these organizations were pretty stable and their reconstruction plan was ready. They need physical labor rather than funds – people who are willing to help,” Piha said.

The heavy rains of the monsoon are also slowing the rebuilding pace.

“The monsoon season started and now it’s all mud,” Roberts said.

He pointed out that as reconstruction projects are put on hold, entire families who lost their homes are living in cramped tents or in fragile houses that were built during the first weeks following the disaster.

“You hear stories in the paper about organizations that are building up to 5,000 homes, but they are wooden houses, temporary transitional shelters made to last during the monsoon,” he explained.

As of Mar. 12, BCN had received over $28,000 dollars to build the first 40 homes, but a significant decline in the number of contributions has affected the reconstruction effort. Roberts explained that, in the days following the tsunami, donations poured in, but as the media coverage waned, organizations such as his are struggling to obtain the funds necessary for the rebuilding.

“At the time the whole world was captured by it, but as time goes on, it disappeared from TV and the papers. But I can’t emphasize how much work there is still to be done,” Roberts said.

On Apr. 10, a ceremony was held at Godagama in which 10 new homes were presented to the owners. Today, BCN is seeking aid for phase two of the Godagama project, which will add another 50 new homes at approximately the same cost.

Roberts, who will be returning to Sri Lanka in October, encouraged SU students to continue helping.

“Go there and help in any way. You don’t have to have special skills. There is so much you can do in so many ways,” he said. “People are still waiting. They are waiting for anybody who can offer them any kind of assistance.”

For more information on how to help, contact the Buddhist Council of the Northwest at (425) 442-0986 or visit www.buddhistcouncilnw.org

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Foundation White Paper Describes Breakdown In Relief Efforts

International Foundation for Human Rights and Tolerance: "06/05/2005: LOS ANGELES -- The Foundation's three-week fact-finding mission to Sri Lanka earlier this year has found serious breakdowns in the international relief effort for victims in Sri Lanka of the December 26th tsunami that devasted south-east Asia.

In a White Paper detailing its findings, the mission describes how voluntary organizations, local community leaders, non-governmental organizations and, at a local level, some government bodies and representatives of international humanitarian organizations are carrying the burden. But the mission found that the tremendous sums pledged by the international community are not reaching those who most need them.

The White Paper, Destruction and Recovery: A Fact-finding Mission to Sri Lanka, January 22 -- February 11, 2005, states that "unless action is taken, the goodwill and financial support that flowed freely in the wake of the disaster will be squandered. More importantly, the people who most need help will fail to receive it."

The mission pursued the following primary objectives:

* To determine whether children orphaned by the tsunami faced significant risk of being kidnapped by human traffickers.
* To ascertain whether there was any substance to reports that millions of dollars donated for tsunami relief was not reaching the victims.
* To find out what the survivors needed to rebuild their lives and to get back to work.
* To launch a human rights education campaign for the children of Sri Lanka with the promotion of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

To answer these questions, the team met with representatives of national and local governments, international relief organizations, non governmental organizations (NGOs), such as UNICEF, the Tamil Rehabilitation Organization, Save the Children, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), local charitable groups, schools, refugee camps, orphanages and individuals in Sri Lanka helping with disaster relief. They also spoke to many of the refugees housed in the camps, mostly fishermen and their wives and children.

The 24-page, fully-illustrated White Paper provides complete details of the mission's findings for each area of concern. It also provides a brief history of the country, and a broad picture of the situation facing the nation in the wake of the tsunami.

Full Report

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The economics of school education

The Sunday Island: 08/05/2005" by R.M.B. Senanayake

The contradictions between law and practice in the educational sphere have burst into the open with the interdiction of the principals in several prestigious schools. They are accused of taking bribes to admit children. They also stand accused of violating the area rule since 40% or so of the children have to be admitted from households within the 2.5 miles radius of the school.

Free education is desirable and is provided at the primary and secondary levels in many countries. But these countries do not pretend that free education makes for equality of opportunities in education. It may be politically correct to argue that under free education there should be no levy of fees. But there are differences in the quality of the education provided in the prestigious schools in the city and in the large majority of schools elsewhere. The state cannot afford to discriminate in the grant of funds to schools. But if the quality of these schools is to be maintained, they need more funds. So what’s wrong if the parents provide such additional funds?

Nor can these differences in quality be eliminated in the short run. Former ministers of education promised to make Royal Colleges out of outstation schools. They merely sought to fool the people. More money thrown at schools does not make them equal to the best even if it were possible for a cash-strapped government to find the money. Educational achievement depends on the student’s family background as well as the quality of the school he attends, its traditions and much more.

School choice for parents

It was the economist Milton Friedman who in 1958 came up with the idea of school choice. His idea was that instead of the government allocating the school places in state funded schools to those who live in that neighbourhood, the parents should be allowed to choose the schools to which they wish to send their children. That instantly it leads to the problem of scarcity of good schools as parents would naturally want the best for their children. The places available in these good schools are not enough for all seeking admission and this necessarily means rationing of the places.

But how does one ration them? The government decided on an area rule plus a quota for the children of the old boys. But rationing always leads to problems of enforcement. Where the demand exceeds supply there is an opportunity to make money and money will be made. A free market for education like for commodities is also not possible because in a free market allocation is by the adjustment of the price. If demand exceeds supply the price will increase and equilibrium brought about with higher fees for the best schools. But under free education there cannot be a price. So in ‘education’ the `prospective buyers’ or parents who provide the demand are not subject to a price constraint because education is free. The prospective sellers of education - the schools (i.e. government) - are also unable to increase supply because of limited accommodation.

The result is that unlike in the case of goods, when demand increases the supply cannot increase. This is aggravated by the ban on the setting up of new schools by the NGO sector. Most countries allow the private sector to enter the education field. In order to keep the fees within the affordable range for the middle and lower middle classes the governments in several countries allow private citizens to set up publicly or state funded schools. In Australia, Denmark and Holland governments have for a long time financed private schools with state funds. In Denmark 90% of the expenditure in private schools is met from state funds. This enables the schools to levy low fees.

But most countries allow parents to donate money to build and improve their schools. In Japan the public sector schools charge fees although they are about half the fees in the private schools. (Vide Economist of 11/1/92). The best public sector schools in Japan expect parents to make hefty donations. In Britain too, in some state funded schools parents club together to double the amount provided by the local authority for books, computers and other equipment. In Singapore and South Korea too the authorities allow the top schools to collect money for their development over and above the government grants. Why is it a crime to collect donations for the development of schools? Only a hypocritical pretence of egalitarianism makes us oppose donations.

It is not possible to ensure equality in education. It is a chimera. What is required is to spend more money and provide better teachers and facilities to the schools which are poor in the quality of education provided. Education is not a homogeneous good as say a tin of biscuits. Parents know which schools are best and they want to admit their children to them. They want their children to get ahead and are willing to pay to get them into the popular schools since they know that studying in such schools gives their progeny an advantage in the job market later on. But the money should not go to the pockets of the principals but should go to the school fund to be used for the benefit of the pupils. This can be done only if the donations are made official and the money collected by the school and credited to the School Development Board.

Religious versus secular schools

In choosing a school parents also have an interest in the kind of schoolmates their children would have – what kind of kids from what kind of homes will share classrooms and playgrounds with their own progeny. Buddhist parents might want Ananda or Visakha and those parents as well as the old boys (and girls) of these schools will want to preserve their Buddhist character and ethos. They would not want Christians or Muslims who live in the neighbourhood of the school to dominate the school roll. The president not long ago referred to this saying that schools must not exclusively cater to children of a single religion. She wanted state schools to admit children of other religions too. But she forgot that although state schools in developed countries are secular they are not so in our country.

The president, no doubt, meant well since for the purpose of national integration it would be desirable to have at least a certain percentage from minority religious groups in all schools. This was an argument of those who demanded the take-over of the denominational schools and promised admission to persons of all religions to the state schools. But none of this took place and state schools are to all intents and purposes religious schools although run by the state. The state only makes a pretence of being secular. It is time to recognize that state schools are religion based although run and funded by the state. At least in the case of the old Buddhist schools taken over the public recognize them as Buddhist schools. The admissions policy in such schools like Ananda or Visakha are best left to the School Development Society to determine. The area rule should not apply to them as it cannot square up with the religious character of the schools.

Muslims in Maradana may qualify to be admitted to Aananda College under the area rule and may be willing to give donations. But the parents may not like to admit them because they consider Ananda College a Buddhist school. So it is meaningless to have a rule that cannot be enforced. Would it not be better to abolish the area rule and allow the religions groups that lack schools to set up their schools and for the state to fund them to the same extent as the present state schools without the state having to fund the land and buildings. Many developed countries have state-funded private schools. The advantage is that the middle and lower middle classes will not then have to go to the international schools which they can’t afford.

The educational bureaucrats who are reluctant to abandon central planning insist that the principals should adhere to the area rule and check all the falsified documents. This means the principals have to be detectives and spend their valuable time to check on documentation. Such work economists say are ‘deadweight losses’ to the economy. The least that the government should do is to get the educational bureaucracy itself to check the documents and penalize those parents who have falsified documents by expelling their children subsequently. Why blame the principals unless there is proof of their taking bribes to overlook such falsified documents? A law that is violated by the majority cannot be enforced and is best changed.

Local management

One of the principles adopted in many countries is to introduce local management instead of centralized management by the bureaucracy. In Britain the schools are under the control of the Local Authority. Even then there is a Board of Governors elected by the parents. The teachers of course don’t like it because they would then be accountable for their work and conduct. As it is the teachers can act with no responsibility and accountable only to a distant bureaucracy in Colombo which can be influenced through local politicians to overlook their misdemeanours. . So attempts to give power to School Boards are vigorously resisted by teachers’ trade unions.

As the OECD in one of its reports "School: A matter of Choice" (1994) pointed out the state should confine itself to regulation instead of managing the schools even if they are fully state funded.

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