Education and the economy | Daily News

Education and the economy

Education was taken over by the state by privatization of schools in the name of free education, a political decision considered a good move to make free education available to all citizens.

A grievous mistake was made by making the medium of education Sinhala only. Dropping English converted the country in to a Third World within a few years. The country is still struggling to get over the backlash.

We as Ceylon were economically ahead of all countries in Asia other than Japan at that time. Our neighbor India continued English education and now they have overtaken Sri Lanka in IT and many other fields. Our English in the past was better than English-speaking countries. We have now gone to the extent of suggesting importing teachers of English from India.

Some time ago we had a programme funded by England and Australia to teach teachers to teach English when current Prime Minister was Minister of Education.

After the mistake was realized, the same Government that took over private schools was compelled to allow private schools, with the restriction being placed that GCE examinations be conducted as London General Certification of Education with subjects taught in English.

Many private schools in the English medium sprang up all over the country. Some with high quality, some below quality but students sat a common London GCE. No private schools in Sinhala Medium were established. Parents and investors realized the value of English education. All these schools educated students to sit for London GCE examinations.

GCE standards are set by the University of London International Examinations Department. The GCE Sri Lanka Standard is set by the Department of Examinations.

Private schools as well as state schools are gradually starting classes for Sri Lanka GCE English medium. The obstacles are the lack of teachers who are able to teach in English as they have been educated in Sinhala.

This is one country where state education is considered superior to private education as the demand to enter state schools and state universities is far greater than available capacity. For the good fortune of the students of the country private schools as well as degree-awarding private colleges affiliated to numerous colleges and universities overseas were allowed to be operated in the country.

Yet approximately 3,000-4,000 students of affluent parents leave the country each year for higher education to overseas universities of G7 countries and some to less developed countries who offer recognized degrees affiliated to G7 universities in high-profile professions.

Very few of these students come back to Sri Lanka. A brain drain of affluent students encouraged by governments in power since 1960.

Now we come to the debate of private medical education. Should state be the only educator of medicine in Sri Lanka? Then all doctors who have obtained their medical degrees oversees, should be disqualified from practising in Sri Lanka although they have passed the Eligibility Requirement to Practice medicine (ERPM) Examination conducted by Government of Sri Lanka as the degree has not been awarded by Government of Sri Lanka Medical Colleges. Approximately 1,000 foreign-qualified graduates from universities outside of Sri Lanka sit ERPM conducted by the Government. The pass rate is 25 – 30%. The quality of these foreign universities is so poor although Government has recognized these universities as suitable for medical degrees. There are many who call themselves doctors in business and other professions as they could not pass ERPM.

The Kotalawala Defence Academy Medical Faculty, although fee-levying, does not fall in to a private degree-awarding medical college as it is owned by the state and the number of students are 25 to 30 per batch. This gives them better opportunity to interact with the faculty.

A quick fix for the current crisis at the Malabe Private Medical College as well as medical colleges to be set up in future would be for medical students of all faculties to sit for the same examination conducted by state medical colleges as done for Sri Lanka GCE OL/AL examinations.

Immediate action needs to be taken to adjust curriculum of the Malabe Medical Faculty to be compatible to the Defence Academy Medical College as the teaching faculty of both colleges are retired state university practitioners and lecturers.

A cut-off mark could be set by Government for entrance to private colleges as for state colleges according to number of seats available in private medical colleges to ensure that students with high marks follow the degree.

As per GMOA and students unions, they object to medical degrees being awarded by Malabe Medical College stating that the degree is not in par with standards. Has GMOA or students unions specified the standards or offered a solution other than objecting to the functioning of the private medical college?

Once the standard is specified by Government, all doctors in practice who do not meet this standard must be compelled to meet the specified standard or resign from service. As per GMOA and students unions, we cannot have two standards and rules in the same playing field. By this method a common MBBS degree can be awarded by Malabe/Kotalawala and any other private medical colleges to be set up in future.

Another big question is, does Sri Lanka need this many doctors?

Approximately 1,200 doctors pass out of the medical system each year. If the per capita doctor/population ratio is studied, Sri Lanka compares well with the developed world but doctors are not available in the required rural areas.

Most of the MBBS doctors have not obtained postgraduate qualifications and specialized. Those who have specialized try to concentrate on the cities where private practice is thriving and educational facilities for their children are available. The poor farmer or those living in rural areas do not have a doctor for many, many kilometres or as per the population ratio.

It must be made mandatory for a doctor qualifying from a rural area to serve the said area for a minimum of five years before being eligible to serve in another area. There should be a good appointment and transfer scheme to ensure doctors serve at least 10 years in rural areas. Government must ensure the facilities in rural hospitals be improved and family accommodation provided in all rural hospitals for doctors and secondary staff.

The wise move would be to improve the facilities of the existing medical colleges. Colombo Medical College was ranked amongst the world's best up to about 1970.

Research Facilities should be set up in medical facilities. We have many diseases endemic to Sri Lanka. Research could be done to find solutions for these. The media says we are to import anti-dengue products from Australia.

At the rate Sri Lanka is producing doctors, there will not be capacity to offer internships in government hospitals. There will not be vacancies in the Government medical service to offer jobs for doctors. In the near future, we will have unemployed doctors protesting on streets asking for jobs in state service. If protests versus loss to the economy is calculated, the government could have improved the health services tenfold. Eventually it is the people who suffer, not Malabe Medical College, GMOA or the Student Union. Students who boycott lectures and their parents need to realize that it is they that suffer the loss and not those who incite boycotts and protests.

If a serious calculation is done on loss to state, public life, disruption of services to the public, damage to property will run to billions. Can this loss to the economy be recovered from those who encourage disruption of services, incite work stoppage and damage to property?

Ninety-nine percent of the population pay for the loss caused by less than 1% of the population. Our Judicial system is so slow, it will be another burden on the public.

Those who are against private medical education will have to give serious thoughts with respect to loss to the economy.

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