Education for a living?

Education in Sri Lanka created a class of “coached students” to pass examinations, not for acquiring skills for a vocation or further study.

3 mins read
Representational Photo: School kids in Sri Lanka [ Photo © Javier Saint Jean/ Unsplash ]

The current western type of education was brought to Ceylon (Sri Lanka) by the American and later British missionaries who setup schools and colleges, particularly in the North and East and other parts of the island. Tamils benefitted from these educational charitable institutions, which catered to a well-rounded education, with emphasis on the spoken and written skills of the English Language, enabling students to sit for Cambridge Matriculation English examinations. Sinhalese and Tamils and became very fluent in the English spoken idiom, excelling in work opportunities both in Government service and private Enterprise. We were the best in the English Language in South Asia.

When Ceylon got its independence 74 years ago in 1948, as part of the Free School Education, the majority of governments which followed, every attempt was to encourage “swabasha” languages, Sinhala and Tamil. The architect of Free Education was the then Minister of Education, Hon. C.W.W. Kannagara, an ardent champion of, Anagarika Dharmapala, the first global Buddhist missionary. Anagarika was one of founding contributors of the then non-violent Buddhist nationalism and a leading figure in Sri Lankan independence.

Simultaneously, Swami Vivekananda promoted Tamil language schools, giving impetus for Swabasha education. It was originally not thought of as a replacement for the English system of education, but soon became a channel of new thinking in education, after independence.

All Schools were nationalised in 1961 and education was politicised. To cope with the cry for more nationalism, the Government of Prime Minister, S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike brought in “the policy of Standardisation” in 1977, to limit the Tamil students entering universities in Peradeniya and later Colombo.

Fast forward to 2022 – Education has become the bone of contention for jobs

All students Sinhala and Tamil were to compete for an educational qualification in the “swabasha” to obtain jobs. English learning was downgraded as a “colonial legacy”?

The “lingua franca” – the language of the world commence – English was classed as a second language. The ability to use English in schools, both in verbal communication, the spoken and the written language, was further abandoned.

Then came the fallacy of swabasha up to secondary education and English medium for University Classes.

With the Government nationalised education, payment of Teachers’ salaries together with other ancillary staff and the maintenance of all government schools was politicised. The Ministry of Education and Examinations Office conducted three public streams of education. They were University Entrance and Scholarship Exams, and “O” Ordinary Level, “A” Advanced Level exams.

Educational Scholarship

With this development passing of examinations was “the be-all and end all” of education. Accompaniment to this form of knowledge was the “Cram Shops” or Tuition Centres which mushroomed, not only in Tamil but also in Sinhala School areas.

This system of “fattening students for the market” was to cater for jobs. Tuition in students’ weak subjects was big business all over Sri Lanka.

The School Curriculums were geared to supplementary education, which was to be provided by paid education at all Tuition Centres in and around the country. Tuition was not only part and parcel of learning, but compulsory form of education in Sri Lanka.

Students from a very early age were weaned on Tuition. Government-employed Teachers in Schools around the country had a lucrative after-school hours assignment, coaching their own students at Tuition Centres. Students were taught the rudiments of education in school class time and literally nurtured to attend after-hours Tuition Centre Education to supplement the knowledge of a subject like Maths, or Science or Language, all in the name of “getting through the examination”. 

Education in Sri Lanka created a class of “coached students” to pass examinations, not for acquiring skills for a vocation or further study.

Small wonder, there are all half-baked, half-educated, unable to compete in the “world of work,” running away from the country to shores abroad to hide themselves from their peers at home, to do menial jobs, just to earn a crust and send money home.

A shameful experience called Education in Sri Lanka  

Parents are sacrificing themselves to pay tuition fees, which are escalating depending on the area of competence of subjects for tuition. Teachers in their schools are creaming the hard-earned money of parents, forcing their students to attend their tuition.

Without Tuition Centre training, schools too are unable to maintain and produce the pass rates in their schools, for government support.

Up to the early Nineteen Seventies (1970’s) a noticeable feature of Government and Government funded schools in Sri Lanka, there were very few Tuition Masters, Tuition Centres giving private lessons to students around the country. Education in Sri Lanka today is Tuition Centred Education.

The quality and competence of Teachers in Government Schools

Arguably, there is a dearth of properly oriented and trained teachers in Sri Lanka today. Teaching was a vocation some sixty-odd years ago. Today Teacher Training comprises rote learning, and teachers over these many years have become “the fat cats of Sri Lanka, creaming off hard earned

and scarce resources of parents, who have blighted students under their care for long hours of attendance at Tuition Centres all around the country. Millennium Generation Students of Sri Lanka, seem to be “burnt out” attending multi-faceted Tuition Centres all around the land. The curriculum of Teacher Training Institutes should be closely monitored by a staff of trained Inspectors. Teaching should once again be made a vocation, rather than a lucrative way of supplementing teachers’ wages. 

What needs to be done to bring education back to its pristine status? 

There are five top strengths that employers look for in a rounded education.

Oral and communication skills in English

Critical Thinking and problem solving

Teamwork and collaboration

Professionalism and a strong work ethic


Victor Cherubim

Victor Cherubim is a London-based writer and a frequent columnist of the Sri Lanka Guardian

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