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Funding Fallacies in Education

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By Niyanthini Kadirgamar

The education system in Sri Lanka is often vilified as being outdated. But the demand for free public education has not relented. Primary and secondary schools have consistently seen high enrollments. Contrary to expectation, student numbers are increasing even in disciplines deemed less “employable”, such as the liberal arts. The Government, too, has responded to this increasing demand by pledging to accommodate more students at public universities.

At the outset, opening the gates for more youth to gain higher education seems to be a step in the right direction. However, without a corresponding increase in resources and capacities, such a move has placed enormous pressure on higher educational institutions. For the most part, university administrations and the faculty have not objected to UGC directives for expansion. The recent move by the University of Moratuwa Teachers’ Association, to voice concerns about the increase in student enrolment and their decision to refrain from work if the government fails to retract student numbers, stands out as a bold step and has awakened us to the troubling realities.

 

Flattening the curve?

Apart from making lofty promises in election manifestos about giving education a central place in Sri Lanka’s progress narrative, subsequent education budgets have rarely reflected those ideals. Contrary to the complaints of disgruntled taxpayers about monies being wasted on free education for ungrateful (protesting) youth, the education budget has remained dismally low. As depicted in the figure, government spending on education has remained constant at an average of 2% of GDP in the post-war decade, well below the South Asian average (3% of GDP).

Excluding Bangladesh, Sri Lanka’s education budget remains the lowest in the region. Schools and universities in our free education system are running at an efficiency rate that can put even the corporate pundits of efficiency to shame. They have endured amidst significant challenges imposed by dwindling resources. Already stretched to the limit, the system may soon reach a breaking point.

Successive governments have failed to restructure investments in the social sector, including in education. In the post-war decade, under the Rajapaksa government, funding for education dipped to a dismal low in 2012, triggering strike action as part of a broader campaign led by the Federation of University Teachers’ Associations (FUTA) to demand for 6% of GDP for education. The campaign ended, failing to secure a significant increase in allocations for education.

In 2015, the challenge was taken up by the Yahapalanaya Government as part of its election drive, with a promise to progressively increase education spending within its five-year tenure. Once again, the promise was short-lived as budgetary allocations fell after an initial increase to 3.4% of GDP in 2016.

 

Budgets during a pandemic

Currently, we are facing a dire situation, which can only be partially blamed on the pandemic. An economic crisis precipitated by foreign debt repayment obligations was waiting to unfold even as the country elected a two-thirds majority government with a very low amount of government revenues available to spend. The Gotabaya Rajapaksa government’s budget for 2021 was apathetic, neither acknowledging the pandemic nor acting to make amends for the nosediving economy.

In the Government’s post-COVID-19 policy articulations, education has been envisioned in relation to a knowledge economy, as if such a transformation is possible during a downturn. STEM disciplines are being given priority, along with allocations for expanding distance and vocational education. The 2021 budget failed to address the immediate challenges of preventing school dropouts by offering equipment and facilities for online learning and ensuring a safe return to physical classrooms.

In this scenario of unrealistic budgetary utterances, schools and universities will be pressured to tighten their belts further this year. A revision of expenditure items is inevitable and there are signs of transferring responsibility to educational institutions by pushing them to raise funds for survival. Underfunding the public education system to ruin will pave way for more privatization, with grave implications for access.

 

Unequal distribution

Shrinking public funding for education is only part of the problem as the unequal distribution of those meagre allocations pose a different set of challenges. Exhausted by months of engaging in distance learning, students and teachers are now nervously returning to unsafe schools and campuses to begin the academic year, with no additional resources to confront the pandemic or economic deprivation.

Amidst the overall neglect of the sector, general education has taken the hardest hit, well before the pandemic. According to news reports it was revealed at a recent Committee On Public Accounts (COPA) meeting, that around 200 rural schools were closed between 2013 and 2018. Further, concerns were raised about the quality of education in more than 5000 schools with less than 200 pupils. In such rural schools, shortfalls of primary school teachers, along with lacking space and basic sanitary/water facilities, were identified as key problems. The situation is alarming, given the “Nearest School is the Best School” project implemented by the previous government was supposed to address those very concerns.

Disparities in resource allocation within the public education system have become even more pronounced with the pandemic, as some schools continue to fail to provide the most basic levels of hygiene – running water for washing hands. Students from rural locations and low-income households who have fallen off the grid in the haphazard transition to online learning and may not return to school this year. Without social welfare support and the incentives needed to arrest the economic decline, more children may end up the same way. The situation is especially bleak in war-torn regions where investments on education for the generations of children and youth battered by violence are yet to materialize.

 

Human capital logic

The World Bank announced an ambitious human capital project for Sri Lanka in 2019. Its plan for the public education system is based on the flawed assumption that the country’s economy was transitioning from a rural economy to an urban, “globally competitive” export-led economy. Human capital is the underlying thinking that has informed the reshaping of investments in education globally for the last several decades.

Proposed by the Chicago School of (neoliberal) economists in the 1960s, human capital theory assumes a linear relationship: greater investments in education enable more years of education, which, in turn, create opportunities to earn higher incomes, resulting in greater productivity. The obsession with measuring the success of education systems by the ‘rate of return’ and ranking countries based on the Human Capital Index (HCI) followed. In order to achieve higher HCI, education systems, including curricula, pedagogy and evaluations, needed to be reformulated to deliver the skills or competencies required to be a productive adult in the workforce.

Human capital is a flawed concept at many levels. Correlating more years of education and productivity, productivity and incomes, and productivity and earnings, have all been contested over the years. According to critics, access to formal paid employment is shaped by structural factors such as class, gender, race and caste, which are neglected by human capital theory. Furthermore, such a narrow understanding of education restricts the space for other ideals like democratic citizenship.

Nevertheless, human capital has entered the local policy discourse, from SLPP’s election manifesto to the President’s address at the inauguration of the new parliament, and even in the President’s meetings with unemployed graduates and education authorities where he stressed upon the development of human capital as the most valued asset. There is a clear convergence of the Government’s vision for education with World Bank’s policy prescriptions.

 

Confronting budgetary challenges

The current crisis in the education budget is a result of the decay in public investments over the last couple of decades. It has left the sector more vulnerable to shocks imposed by the pandemic and economic depression. How can educators respond to the budgetary challenges? There is an urgent need to confront the fallacies in both the thinking and allocations of funds and to resist the top-down approach to implementing the education budget.

(Niyanthini Kadirgamar is a PhD student in Education at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Kuppi is a politics and a pedagogy happening on the margins of the lecture hall that parodies, subverts and simultaneously reaffirms social hierarchies.)



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Features

To recognise and reward Women Entrepreneur

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by Zanita Careem

WCIC “Prathibhabis-heka” national awards will be given to outstanding women entrepreneurs of Sri Lanka and the SAARC said Anoji de Silva, the chairperson of Women’s Chamber of Industry and Commerce WCIC at a press conference held at the Jetwing hotel Ward PlaceThis year the Women Entrepreneur Awards 2022 is powered by DFCS Aloka.This National Award which is recognised globally will help women to market their products to international buyers

“As a country we have faced many difficulties over the last few years. Now this is the time to reflect and ensure that local women can contribute and progress to be on par with international entrepreneurs She also noted that this award ceremony is a great opportunity for all since it’s an absolutely empowering platform. “You hear success stories of women from different walks of life and it’s very empowering and inspiring. I’m sure that the younger generation of women who will watch the ceremony wii be inspired to be sucessful entrepreneurs in the future S

“Our women entrepreneurs have the potential to help our economy to grow. They have made vast strides to build companies on a set of values and they have created diverse working environments.

The WCIC Prathibhabisheka Women Entrepreneur Awards will be held in January 22. To the question how financial records of small businesses headed by women could deter their ability to apply the chairperson said.

“We have a startup category which is under five years where they can submit documents for consideration. She responded “These women can apply but must submit proper records to back their applications or else they will be rejected wholeheartedly.The Women Entrepreneur Awards 2022

“Prathibha” depicts excellence in Sanskrit and WCIC will showcase the excellence of outstanding women entrepreneurs through WCIC Prathibhabisheka –

“The relaunched property is structured to assess the businesses in a holistic manner. We invite outstanding women entrepreneurs, especially the ones who have braved the challenges in the past years to share their story of resilience and achievements to compete for the coveted – WCIC Prathibhabisheka The Awards will honour women entrepreneurs for their tenacity to scale and grow, and for their contribution and impact on the economy. Whilst the competition is primarily for Sri Lankan Entrepreneurs, we have also included an opportunity for women in the SAARC region to compete in a special category” stated Anoji De Silva, the Chairperson of the WCIC.

The members of WCIC Ramani Ponnambalam and Tusitha Kumarakul-asingam, said”. We will be accepting applications under the categories – Start-up, Micro, Small, Medium and Large. Each category will have a specified revenue for the year under review – 2021/22. Gold, Silver and Bronze Awards will be presented for each category. With the view to identify and promote regional women entrepreneurs, we will encourage applications from all the provinces in the country and select the “Best of the Region” from each province.

The women will also be considered for the coveted special awards – Young Woman Entrepreneur, Outstanding Start- up, Most Positively Abled Woman Entrepreneur, The Most Outstanding Export Oriented Entrepreneur, The Best of the SAARC Region. The ceremony will culminate with the selection of the “Women Entrepreneur of the year -2022”.

“The entry kit can be downloaded from www.wcicsl.lk and completed and submitted to the WCIC along with all the material required to substantiate the applicant’s story. Entries close on the 31st of October.” stated Tusitha Kumarak-ulasingam.

WCIC Prathibabisheka – Woman Entrepreneur Awards 2022 is powered by– DFCC Aloka, as the Platinum Sponsor, with Gold Sponsors – Mclarens Group, LOLL Holdings Plc, Hayleys Leisure Pic, and AIA Insurance Lanka Ltd (Exclusive Insurance Partner), Silver – Finez Capital Ventures Print and Social Media Partners will be the Wijeya Group and Electronic Media Partner–ABC Network with Triad as our Creative Partner and Ernst & Young as Knowledge Partner.

Women’s Chamber of Industry and Commerce (WCIC) is the premier organization supporting entrepreneurs and professional business-women. The membership is open to women who believe they can contribute to society as well as benefit from the many facilities the organization creates. WCIC Prathibhasheka is relaunched this year as a flagship property, to recognize and reward outstanding women enterpreneurs who make a contribution to the SL economy.

For further information Contact- Janitha Stephens – 0766848080

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Features

Marmalade sandwich in Queen’s handbag!

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In this period of national mourning, it may seem frivolous to comment on the late Queen’s handbag. After seven decades of selfless service to the nation, fashion is but a footnote to Her Majesty’s glorious reign.And yet her style is something that helped to create the powerful majestic image of Queen Elizabeth II, and which made her instantly recognisable worldwide. A key part of that image, and a constant presence in her working life, was her black Launer handbag.

Launer London was Her Majesty’s handbag maker for more than 50 years and has held the Royal Warrant since 1968. Launer bags are formal and structured, and proved to be the ideal regal accessory for public engagements. Its first royal patronage came from HM Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother in the 1950s. Where others might have bought the latest ‘It’ bag, Queen Elizabeth exercised characteristic restraint with her handbags throughout her life, focusing on quality over quantity in her loyalty to Launer.

Her Majesty was known for her love of colour in her working wardrobe, wearing rainbow brights in order to be better seen by the public, but her accessories were always muted. Black mostly, sometimes beige or white in summer, gold or silver in the evening: neutrals that matched with every colour, allowing her to dress with ease. The timeless style of her trusty Traviata top-handle bag suited the Queen’s no-nonsense nature and symbolised her steadfast reign. The late Baroness Thatcher shared the Queen’s love of a strong top handle from classic British labels such as Launer and Asprey. These bags helped promote a look of someone in control. Like Queen Elizabeth, Thatcher’s handbags were such a part of her identity that they have earned their own special place in history and have been described as the former PM’s ‘secret weapon’. One such bag has been exhibited at the V&A alongside Sir Winston Churchill’s red despatch box. Both are artefacts of cultural and historic importance.

It has been said that there was another purpose to the Queen’s handbag on public engagements, namely that she used it as a secret signalling device. According to royal historian Hugo Vickers, Her Majesty would switch the bag from her left arm to her right to signal for an aide to come to her rescue if she tired of the conversation in which she was engaged. If she placed the bag on the table, this was a sign that she wanted to leave. Ever-practical, HM needed a bag that focused on functionality over fashion, choosing styles with slightly longer top handles that comfortably looped over the monarch’s arm, freeing her hands to accept bouquets and greet the public. Even in her final photograph, meeting her 15th prime minister in her sitting room at Balmoral Castle, just two days before her death last week, the Queen’s handbag can be seen on her left arm. Perhaps at this stage it was part armour, part comfort blanket.Even at the age of 96, Queen Elizabeth II did not lose her ability to surprise. She delighted the public by taking tea with Paddington Bear at her Platinum Jubilee celebrations and finally revealed what she keeps in her handbag: a marmalade sandwich, ‘for later’.

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Cinnamon Grand, Colombo welcomes You to the SEQUEL

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The next best thing in Colombo!

What would you get if you took the decadence of yesterday and paired it with the flavours of right now? Something bold and jazzy or rich and snazzy. Something we’d like to call the next best thing. All this and more at Cinnamon City Hotels to the SEQUEL at Cinnamon Grand, Colombo said a press release.

The release said the SEQUEL is where the old meets new, where charm meets sophistication and having a good time gets a new meaning. Colombo’s latest speakeasy cocktail bar is ready to welcome the discerning guest that is looking for that perfectly curated night.

“The SEQUEL will be a novel addition to Colombo’s nightlife catered to enthralling guests with our performances and showmanship,” said Kamal Munasinghe, Area Vice-President, Cinnamon City Hotels.

What do we mean when we say performance? It means that every little detail is tailored to those who appreciate elegance, and a bespoke experience like no other. Think walking into a vintage space accompanied by the sounds of Sinatra and Fitzgerald inviting you to do it your way or for once in your life. Think of the soul-searching and eclectic mix of Winehouse classics that you can drown your sorrows in.

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