"Speech  at the Education Conference, Kandy Organized by the All Ceylon Union of Teachers on October 21, 1950"

The White Paper proposals no doubt fall short of the ideal and are in some respects not so ambitious and advanced as the proposals contained in the report of the Special Committee on Education. However we should be realistic enough to see the White Paper in its proper perspective, reminding ourselves of the  difficulties  of  the  present  situation. So far without a knowledge of the educational aims of the Government  we were uncertain of the future of  our schools, of our students and staff and were naturally unable to plan ahead.  There was  indecisiveness about the future of the English language  and  of  the  status  of  the  Assisted  Schools.  There was no discouragement of the uniform type of academic education that  was imparted in our institutions to the fit as well as the unfit who with equal enthusiasm pursued higher academic  education. The resulting chaos and confusion brought no benefit  either to the state or to the  schools. The White Paper gives us at least an indication of the intentions of the Government and enables us to have a glimpse of the future of our schools. Assisted schools which are invariably Denominational in Ceylon are definitely recognised as co-partners with the state and their past services  given due recognition. The White Paper also confirms  the  definite  abandonment of the  block grant system which if introduced would certainly have adversely affected Education. That there has been no  acrimonious  controversy, in  strange  contrast  to the past, is a testimony to the general acceptance of the White Paper and to the genuine appreciation of the free discussion that was encouraged by the Government both in the House of Representatives and outside.

Mr. Perinbanayagam has already stressed the sociological aspects of Education. He has  explained  to us how education is essentially  “Social Philosophy  in  action.”  Some  of  the  duties which he entrusted to the politicians in power properly  belong to the citizens in general. When we became teachers we certainly did not cease to be citizens. As we form an important section of the citizens it becomes our duty to analyse the White Paper in as broad and comprehensive a manner as possible. The ideals of Liberty and Equality with which we are  familiar in the realm of the state are no less valid in the realm of Education. It therefore behoves us to see how far the White Paper has been guided by these principles.

Bureaucracy is bad enough in the realm of the state. It is worse in that of Education. The value of Denominational institutions in this context cannot be exaggerated. Their value is greater still in Ceylon where Local Authorities are still dissociated  from Education.  To us the value of  denominational education is axiomatic; but let us not forget that there are some in Ceylon who hold that the State monopoly of  Education  is the best solution for all our educational evils. And one of them while professing democracy adheres yet to this policy on the basis that “Education should be the monopoly of the State; that is the monopoly of the People”. Therein we see the totalitarian identification of State and Society. It is naturally our privilege and duty to defend our Schools against such totalitarian or bureaucratic encroachments. “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” And that price we should always be prepared to pay both as teachers and as citizens.

That little paragraph on page 14 of the White Paper does hold out  the prospect of liberty but the promise must be fulfilled in the Amending Bill, and the Code to follow; otherwise the agents of administration may either ignore or forget the promise. I believe the Minister of  Education recently quoted the saying of Clemenceau that  war was too important a matter to be left to the soldiers and concluded that education is too important a matter to be left to the educationists.  I would supplement it by adding that educational administration is too  important a matter to be left to  the group  of professional administrators of education which in Ceylon comprises the various officers of the Department of Education. Uniformity, administrative tidiness and athoritarianism should have really no place in Education which should rightly stress the value of  Human  Individuality.  "The educational purpose is to communicate the type and to provide for growth beyond the type.” There should therefore be an amplitude of   freedom to the  Schools to shape their future to suit the changing times and circumstances. And every clause of  the new Bill and every section of  the new Code  restricting that freedom  should be justified  only  on  the  ground of enforcing the national minimum of Education. It necessarily follows that there should be freedom for the schools to frame their syllabuses and time tables, to choose their books  and materials, and  develop   their   activities  unhampered   and   unhindered.  “Good  Government is no substitute for self – government”. The liberty to preserve the individuality  of every one of our Schools should  be recognised by the State as  an  inherent democratic  right  and  not  considered  as a mere concession. Such liberty should therefore be reflected in any educational scheme before it can command our assent. In this context, Advisory Councils, undominated by the official  element  and as widely representative of the various educational interests and  cultural  groups  as possible, do have a special place and value. These councils should necessarily be clothed with such powers as will enable them to advise not merely on matters where their advice is officially sough but also on matters  where the members feel that advice should be tendered. The English Education Act of 1944 sets us a good example in this connection. We have been familiar with Councils that seldom met and sometimes became  completely atrophied from disuse.  if  Local Authorities cannot be given direct powers even at this stage, they could yet be adequately represented in Local Advisory Councils that could be set up in respect of Government Schools. The present undemocratic dissociation of Local Authorities from Education militates against the healthy development of Local  Government  and  leaves  a  reservoir of strength untapped for education. Let us hope that these points will receive adequate consideration when the White Paper proposals are being recast in the form of a Bill.

The  next is the ideal of Equality. Mr. Perinbanayagam has already referred to this  aspect  and  contrasted  the  prevailing opinion of today. Education is no longer accepted as a privilege but is rightly demanded as a right. The ideal of breaking down the barrier between the “clothed” and the "trousered.” was  first  effectively  pursued by the  Special Committee on  Education and its Chairman, the first  Minister  for Education. There is a tendency for some of us to blame them and their recommendations for many of the administrative difficulties and deficiencies that followed for which the recommendations themselves are not to blame. The ideal of  Equality though  emphasized as an objective has not been realized adequately in practice.

The new  Educational Bill should enable the growth of Equality in Education to the maximum possible degree. Such equality is lacking so long as we have an English S.S.C. examination and a Sinhalese or Tamil S.S.C. with  extreme  disparity in the avenues to employment. To give them the common name of the General Certificate of Education while preserving the different media may confuse but does not solve the problem. The new Bill should recognise this and provide for a satisfactory remedy. This problem is closely  connected  with that  of  the  official language and the media of instruction at the various stages of Education.

The White Paper has reassured us that in regard to the Elimination Test and the Fitness Test, our Schools will be duly consulted, that these tests will not be dominated by either simplicity or uniformity, and that instead the same test as the one in respect of the Royal pupil will not be enforced on a pupil in one of the schools in a remote and backward area in Ceylon at least during the transitional period. Similar elasticity will naturally be required in respect  of the age and  qualifications of  the candidates if genuine Equality is to be attained. The authorities seem to be quite conscious of this aspect. And the White Paper speaks of tests at standards 5 and 8 and not at particular ages.

I do not think there can be any real objection to an adequate Fitness Test at Standard Eight.  The  absence  of it has deprived the present free education scheme of many of its several advantages. However if only five percent of the pupils are going to be eliminated at Standard Five the necessity for such an elaborate State-conducted Test at that stage does not seem to have been established. Personally I feel this could very well be left to the Schools themselves. They  will  not promote the unfit to the next standard. If the elimination of a larger percentage is intended such a test cannot be justified in Ceylon on psychological or educational grounds. 

It was stated by one of the Members of Parliament that Equality in schooling is not going to produce Equality in results. That is not the Equality which is aimed at. We  cannot do away with the inborn inequality of our pupils; we can and should certainly make an honest attempt to do away with man-made  inequality. In the words of Tawney, “differences of individual endowment are a  biological  phenomenon. Contrasts of environment, and inherited wealth, and educational opportunity, and economic security, with the whole sad business of  snobbery  and  servility  which such contrasts produce, are the creation, not of  nature but of social convention.”. The White Paper does promise that such an attempt will be made. It is essential that the new Education Bill does contain the necessary provisions that will ensure the achievements of Equality in Education. Children specially talented but born of poor parents should naturally be provided for. Unless the State indicates in specific terms the just priority of their claims the dictates of economy at a future date may supersede the promise of Equality contained in the White Paper.  It  is  our duty to remind the State “ Education is a major capital investment made by  the Community in its own interests, and the maximum return is expected of it.”. And this is more true of an under-developed country like ours. The White Paper promises that “in order to assist the ablest children at Standard 5,  a number of special places for such children will be made available up to a certain number in Government Assisted or even unaided Schools.” The interpretation  to be placed on “up to a certain number” in actual practice will decide the extent to which Equality will be attained. To some of these children school places and even boarding facilities may not be adequate. Free books, stationery and maintenance allowances etc. are called for.

Unless  there  is   adequate  provision  for  all   the  boys  and  girls who succeed  at  the  Standard 8  Fitness  test  to  continue  their  education  satisfactorily in Senior Secondary Schools, there will be no Equality. This would also apply to those who have passed the S.S.C. examination and are fit enough to proceed either to the University or to one of the Technical Schools. If the University of Ceylon is not  going to provide fee boarding facilities and if the Government is going to give scholarships and bursaries only “ to a specified number in each  subject, determined previously by the needs of national development” there will be a certain number of  able students left who have passed the various tests but are unable to find the necessary money. As a result,  the  chances  of  Ceylon producing thinkers and writers, poets, and philosophers  and men of initiative and enterprise will be diminished considerably. The abolition of the Hostel fees at the University of Ceylon would appear to be the best solution.

Without an adequate number of the various types of Schools envisaged in the White Paper there will be no Equality in practice. I believe we had legislation from about 1920 to enforce compulsory education, but owing to the want of a sufficient number of schools etc. we find that we have a literacy percentage of only 57.8. Whatever promises may be held out by the White Paper and whatever provisions may be included in the new Bill will remain inoperative till the required Schools are provided. Although Schools cannot be  built overnight the necessity for planned development with set targets cannot be over emphasized.

Equality in education or the equality of educational opportunity to all children of the land irrespective of the wealth or status of the parents is not easy to achieve. It has its price  and  its  burdens. But if we are genuine democrats, we must be prepared  to pay the price and shoulder the burdens. There  cannot be  democratic  Government without this Equality and without democratic Government  there  cannot  be freedom or independence.

Before I conclude, I should like to say a few words on the future of the English  language  which  is  one of our most important and complicated problems. The Minister of Education was cautious indeed in his remarks when he initiated the discussion  on  the  White  Paper  in Parliament. He said “bilingualism is our aim. We feel that it is best to start English at the Second Standard. Any opinion which  Honourable  Members may express on this question will be welcomed by me. It is a moot point and I shall be grateful for any help that Honourable Members may give me in this direction.”  It may be taken as generally  accepted  that  English  cannot be and will not be the medium of instruction  in the primary classes. It may also be equally accepted that for many  years  to  come the University of Ceylon cannot have any medium other than English. Thus the Question to be answered is at what stage and to what extent should English be introduced. It is of course necessary for the majority of Government  Officers  and  the elite of the country to be trilingual and know Sinhalese, Tamil and English at least for the next twenty five years. But for the large majority of the people would Sinhalee or Tamil do, or should it be Sinhalese and Tamil, or Sinhalese or Tamil and English? Having regard to the wealth of knowledge easily accessible to those who are literate in English, I feel that English should not be abandoned and should be introduced at the earliest possible stage. Those opposed to this view, argue that we shall thereby convert our country into a “Little England.” That danger I feel  exists no longer as  Ceylon  is  now  an  independent  country and the medium of instruction in the primary classes is definitely Sinhalese or Tamil. It is stated  that after 150 years of  British rule only six percentage of the people are literate in English. And the inference is drawn that it is impossible for the majority of the people in our country to have some knowledge of English. There is a fallacy in this. There was no attempt made during the British period to make the people literate in English and as a matter of  fact English Schools were confined to the privileged and the fee paying. If the national language are accorded by the State a status befitting their importance there should be no danger of English  superseding  or  dominating them. English in the changed circumstances will be accepted as  a good tool of learning and not as the language of prestige and privilege. In view of the nature and importance of the problem the State should undertake extensive research on the subject to decide the earliest stage at which English could be introduced. Schools should be given  freedom to  experiment  in  this  direction. Till English spreads sufficiently the Fitness Test at Standard 8 should be so conducted as not to handicap those whose knowledge of English is inferior due to circumstances beyond their  control.

The White Paper is an earnest of the determination of the Government to grapple  successfully  with  the  fundamentally  important  problem of Education. Liberty and Equality are given recognition there. Let us hope that they will be adequately reflected in the new Bill and the Code to follow which will help the development of a system of education that will ensure a true democracy in Ceylon.


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