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Higher Education or Hire Education

2013 Oct 15

One of Sri Lanka’s highest distinctions has been the literacy rate of about 90 percent—which is hailed as the best in South Asia. Most analysts believe the main reason for this is the credit-worthy free education policy introduced by Dr. C. W.W. Kannangara whose 129th birth anniversary was celebrated yesterday.  

The Father of Free education had presented his legislation in 1944 and it came for the common good of the country and also from a personal experience.   He was a child of 12 when his father lost his job. This was a big blow to his family of six children who had to struggle hard for their daily sustenance. But Dr. Kannangara was courageous from the beginning and he won the Foundation scholarship to enter Galle’s Richmond College which at that time was meant for the rich.  

So he had to undergo many difficulties and suffer embarrassment. Perhaps experiences in his young days might have induced Dr. Kannangara to fight so gallantly for free education in his later years for the benefit of the poor children.

" For instance higher education at that time was in English and the exclusive preserve of the rich. University education was beyond the reach of even those with an average income. The poor had to be satisfied at most with secondary education "

Dr. Kannangara after an outstanding career in education and law where he often appeared free for those who were unjustly arrested by the colonial rulers,  entered the national arena as an active member of the Temperance Movement initiated by patriots like F. R. Senanayake, Sir Baron Jayatilleka, Arthur V. Dias and Piyadasa Sirisena. Dr. Kannangara was a founder member of the Ceylon National Congress and became its president in 1930.
Dr. Kannangara was the Minister of Education in the State Council from 1931 to 1947.

Shockingly he lost his seat at the parliamentary elections in 1947, two years after he introduced free education. But he continued his battle for it despite opposition from various quarters. For instance higher education at that time was in English and the exclusive preserve of the rich. University education was beyond the reach of even those with an average income. The poor had to be satisfied at most with secondary education.

In parliament last week the government announced plans to set up private campuses run by foreign universities. Government leaders claimed the main reason was to provide higher education to more Sri Lankan students  because too many of them were being shut out of local universities and some had to pay huge amounts in foreign exchange for university education abroad. But opposition critics including the prophetic economist Eran Wickremaratne warned that vested interest were coming from the backdoor to give what could be a  fatal stab in the back to free education. The opposition critics also asked why the foreign universities were being set up under the purview of the Ministry of Investment Promotion and not the Ministry of Higher Education.

 We urge the Rajapaksa regime to reconsider this move because ultimately what has happened to the free health service may happen to free education. The private health sector today is restricted mainly to the rich and higher middle-class people while it is also known to be riddle with corruption with transnational drug corporations known to be giving millions to health officials and medical specialists in a bid to prevent Sri Lanka from having the benefit of Prof. Senaka Bibile’s essential medicines concept through which quality drugs could be made available to the people at affordable prices. If what happened to the health sector happens to the education sector we may have not only millions of unhealthy people but also sick donkeys.

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