The government is restructuring the current curriculum of the Advanced Level courses by introducing 24 additional subjects in order to accommodate over 100,000 students who fail the Ordinary Level examinations annually.

Accordingly, the government is looking at making certain changes to the existing curriculum by introducing subjects related to sectors such as agriculture, hotel management and several others.

The recent budget proposals said that the number of students sitting for Advanced Level examinations would be increased. Accordingly, schools island-wide would also be equipped to accommodate and handle this increase.

Sources in the Ministry of Education said that the government had already commenced discussions with the relevant stake-holders with regard to including fresh subjects into the curriculum.

Media Secretary to the Ministry, Kalpa Gunaratne said that a committee has been appointed to look into the proposals mentioned in the budget and look at ways in which they could be implemented.

Minister of Education Akila Viraj Kariyawasam is set to spell out the manner in which the proposals would be implemented in Parliament on November 22.

Finance Minister, Ravi Karunanayake also in his budget speech on November 10 said the government would introduce new subjects to the Ordinary and Advanced Level curricula such as Hospitality Management, Fashion Designing, Digital Technology, Logistics, and Financial Literacy among others. Accordingly, Rs. 90 billion has been allocated for the education sector for 2017.

Nearly 120,000 students fail to qualify for the Advanced Level annually. The government in its budget proposals stated that it would increase the number of students who sit for the Advanced Level examinations.

Gunaratne said that the move to introduce new subjects was to accommodate those who had failed Ordinary Level examinations.  “These students will not be eligible to follow subjects like science, mathematics and commerce. Therefore we have planned on including additional subjects that could cater to them,” he said.

Karunanayake further proposed a ‘Smart Classroom’ concept for which the government had already allocated Rs. 6,500 million. “To supplement this venture, we will also provide free Tabs for almost 175,000 students who enter the Advanced Level classes and around 28,000 teachers from 2017. I propose to allocate Rs. 5,000 million for this project. I invite the telecom service providers to support this initiative by providing Wi-Fi connections,” he said.

However, former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, W.A. Wijewardena observed that while the proposals in the budget were not only beyond the country’s means, it had also laid the foundation for the consolidation of the budget, which amounted to disciplining and controlling the finances to achieve sustainable economic growth.

Further, the government also proposed to give tablet computers to 175,000 Advanced Level students and 28,000 teachers. “The machinery is not sufficient,” he added. “Is the Ministry of Education capable of distributing this amount”, Wijewardena queried.

“Concerning the tablets, they would have to be imported. The tablets would be low cost Chinese ones and not Apple iPads or Samsung ones. They will break or go out of order after two years of use. The students and the teachers will be angrier than before. We have no good bureaucracy,” he further explained.

Academic economists meanwhile said that government servants must shoulder the responsibility with regard to the efficient utilization of allocations made via the budget.
“If the funds allocated from the budget via Ministries are not efficiently utilized which is a matter government servants are responsible for, the future development of the country and the main economic problems faced by the country would be adversely impacted”, Associate Professor at the Department of Economics of the Faculty of Social Sciences of the University of Kelaniya Prof H.M. Nawaratne Banda said.

He added that the budget had allocated funds for education more than in previous years and it would have a major impact as education was of primary importance in terms of the country’s future development.

“The budget has given certain subsidies for consumers. This involves dhal, sugar, kerosene and gas. Our main economic problems are unemployment and poverty. Facilities have been provided for the private sector to participate in the development of the country. This budget is very good for future development and these problems could be solved in two to three years,” Prof Nawaratne Banda explained.

In addition, the government has also proposed to double the university intake to 50,000 from 26,000 by 2020. Karunanayake further said that an interest-free loan of up to Rs. 800,000 would be provided to 15,000 students based on the Z-Score to follow courses in non-State universities approved by the University Grants Commission (UGC).

The Federation of University Teachers Associations (FUTA) expressed profound dissatisfaction with regard to the recently unveiled budget and its proposals concerning education.

President of FUTA, Dr. Nirmal Ranjith Dewasiri said that the incumbent government’s entire approach to education was questionable, adding that it was yet another manifestation of the existent crisis in the state of education, the fundamental issues which had not been addressed yet.

“The government wants to promote private education and is less committed to State education. Proposals such as giving a loan for those who passed the General Certificate of Education Advanced Level examination and yet did not receive sufficient marks to enter State universities are questionable. We need a critical engagement. We are not at all happy and not satisfied in the least,” Dr. Dewasiri said.

Meanwhile the Inter University Students’ Federation (IUSF) charged that the government’s proposal to double the intake to State universities to 50,000 by 2020 included undergraduates in private universities.

For this purpose the government has proposed the establishment of private universities, providing private universities with tax breaks, the establishment of regulatory bodies for private universities and the provision of interest free loan schemes for undergraduates in private universities, the Federation explained.

Convener of the Federation, Lahiru Weerasekara while charging that the government had cut the budgetary allocation for education by Rs 8 billion pointed out that the student loan schemes were a failed concept the world over and had been scrapped in many countries following protests. He also criticized a coupon system proposed by a committee appointed by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Weerasekera said that the government through the budget had made no provisions for the construction of the lecture halls and hostels, the infrastructure required to accommodate the proposed 50,000 increase, the increase in the number of lecturers needed for this purpose and the increase of the needed material facilities.

“This is despite proposing to keep the State universities open till 8 p.m. for classes”, he said.