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The Grade One admissions to government schools is yet again on the discussion table. With the dawn of the new academic year, the whole fraudulent documents racket has raised its ugly head.
Parents want to gain the advantage of a popular school for their children, by hook or by crook. Consequently, there is an organized group of individuals, dedicated to breaching the law, reaping the monetary benefits by taking advantage of a parent’s vulnerability.

Thirty-one students have been de-listed from the Royal College application process, due to fraudulent documents. The admission process to Royal College was temporarily halted and commenced again only recently.

The fraudulent documents included addresses of religious establishments, business places and public places. According to Minister of Education, Akila Viraj Kariyawasam, one address was that of the Northern Province Chief Minister’s who was not aware of it. There have also been reports of bribery on the part of principals.

According to a reliable Ministry source, the Grade One admission process has been politically influenced in the past. He also disclosed that Grade One admissions to more than 10 state schools including Royal College, Ananda College, Nalanda College, Mahinda College, Richmond College, Sangamitta Vidyalaya, Galle; Dharmaraja College, Girls’ High School, Kandy and Maliyadeva Girls’ and Boys’ schools in Kurunegala were questionable.

He explained that the Ministry only has 15 officers to look into the matter which is a shortcoming when delving into the backgrounds of about 350 students. Speaking on the action to be taken on students who have already gained admission to the schools via fraudulent means, he stated that there is the possibility of the said students being removed from the school.

Here, he drew attention to the declaration signed by the parent or the guardian on the application form which says “I also declare that the details furnished above are true and correct and I agree further to submit satisfactory evidence relating to my permanent residence and other information indicated here. I am also aware that my application will be rejected if any information furnished by me is found to be false or forged. If it is revealed after the admission of my child that the information furnished is false or forged I agree to remove my child from the school and admit him/her to another school in the area nominated by the Department of Education.”

He acknowledged that when a child is removed from school, there needs to be the consideration for psychological impact. “On the other hand another child would lose the opportunity. Who would talk for that child?” he asks. He accused some  Royal College Old Boys of being involved in such fraudulent activities. “Some of them have no jobs. Their sole income is earned through being involved in these irregularities. They rent their houses and are involved in forging documents in exchange for huge amounts of money. Some Grama Niladharis have also been part of the whole scheme by being involved in registering people under false addresses.

The admission appeals boards, which consist of principals and teachers from nearby schools, were also found to be involved in these irregularities. He emphasized that the Ministry would be taking action against all these individuals and questioned how the officials involved in verifying the applicant’s addresses, failed to notice that there was no house in existence at that particular address. “In the case of government servant transfers, sometimes no transfer has taken place. He emphasized that the Ministry would be taking action against all these individuals.
Any popular school in an area has students living as far as 20 kilometres or more in Grade One classes. Although it is implied that these students are from the waiting list and have filled the places that became vacant, this is not always the case.

Students are admitted through the influence of Urban Council heads, Provincial Council heads, principals and teachers of that particular school and past pupils. At times, bribes are taken in the guise of donations to the school or an outside agent, generally a past pupil or a parent close to the principal who acts as the mediator and collects the bribes on behalf of the principals.

The Ceylon Teachers’ Services Union, General Secretary, Mahinda Jayasinghe commented that while some parents manage to forge documents and secure a place in a school for their children, some others who live in close proximity to the school have failed to obtain admission due to their names not being found in the electoral register for five years. “Due to flaws in the circular, parents are unable to admit children to schools. However, the roots to all these issues lie in the lack of equal facilities in schools”, Jayasinghe said.

He recalled that last year the Ministry failed to take action on similar incidents. “There were nearly 60 admissions to Ananda College using fraudulent documents. There was also an audit query pointing out faults in each category. But nothing happened in the end”, he said.

Ceylon Teachers’ Union, General Secretary, Joseph Stalin echoed these words. “There are 10,222 schools in the country. Out of these, 350 are national schools. About 36 of these schools are considered popular schools which are highly recognized,” he said.
The CWW Kannangara Reforms of 1943 states that equal education would be available for all. “So far no government has promoted this equality. On one hand there are schools without drinking water, on the other there are schools with swimming pools. Due to this gap 300,000 students want to enter these 36 schools”, said Stalin.

He drew attention to the 100-day programme launched by President Maithripala Sirisena. Day 57 was set aside to address these admission irregularities which have so far not been dealt with. “In 2007 there were many cases filed with regard to admission discrepancies. Chief Justice, Sarath N Silva at the time requested the Secretary to the President to provide an admissions policy. This task was handed over to the National Education Commission, headed by Prof AV Suraweera. The commission came up with the proposal of removing Grades One to Five from the popular schools and admitting students from Grade Six onwards, based on results from an admissions test. This proposal was not referred back to courts by the then Secretary to the President”, Stalin added.

He referred to members of Past Pupils Associations of these popular schools as a “mafia that rips off money from parents.”
He said that under a 2008/41 Circular addressing the Past Pupils Associations, members are banned from collecting money from current students and added that there was a need for a long term solution for the illegal activity surrounding Grade One admissions.
“Admissions have been halted only at Royal College although this was found to be the case at other schools too. They have not yet published the list of 31 students who would be replacing those de-listed. What are the punishments for those involved in these activities,” Stalin asked.

Royal College Union, Secretary, Athula Munasinghe refuted the allegations. “We are a responsible and collective alumni association representing Royal College. We are 175 years old. Our actual role is to promote the improvement of Royal College. If there are any accusations of malpractices by old boys, I categorically deny these accusations. We are one part of a six-member admission board and we will not endorse any fraudulent documents”, he said.
Ananda College’s, Principal, S M Keerthirathna stated that in the admissions process he follows the Ministry Circular and he cannot make any exceptions or violate the law. “With regard to the admissions of past pupils’ children, there is a marking system allocated by the Ministry. They don’t have grounds to make any demands beyond that,” he declared.

The principals of Royal College and Visakha Vidyalaya were not available for comment.

All in all, the whole admission racket appears to have emerged from the failure of the existing education system to cater to the needs of the students. As the service provider, the system should meet the requirements of the students, rather than expecting them to comply with the admissions guidelines.