We, as economists, academics and social activists are deeply concerned about the continuing crisis in the education sector in Sri Lanka. Austerity measures and attacks on social welfare in many countries have been disenfranchising children and youth from education as a central avenue for social equity. This has led to protests and social unrest in many countries across the board.
In decades past, we saw social and human development with free education and health in Sri Lanka, to be a model worthy of emulation by other countries. But insurrections, civil war, increasing militarisation and authoritarianism over the years, have made a deep dent in the democratic structure of society. Today, in the post war era in Sri Lanka, we look to the country to rebuild its social foundations that would serve to democratise and further improve the quality of life for people. Investing in a robust education system, as is well known, will leave an indelible mark on this rebuilding process. However, to the contrary, investment in education has been decreasing to where state expenditure in education is now 1.86% of the GDP; the lowest in South Asia and one of the lowest in the world. Such drastic declines in state investment are related to the mounting issues in the education sector in Sri Lanka. This crisis is compounded by reports of rural school closures, problems in schools and university entrance exams and the politicisation and militarisation of the education space.
Such a predicament has led to the recent university teachers strike action, agitations by teachers' unions and mounting protests by students. These interventions have brought our attention to the crisis of education in Sri Lanka. We stand in solidarity with teachers, academics and students in Sri Lanka who have taken it upon themselves to shed some light on this crisis.
The post war period holds much promise for the people in Sri Lanka and in that hope we appeal to the Government of Sri Lanka, university and teachers' unions, students’ movements and parents' organisations, and foreign aid donors to engage the crisis in education and arrive at a solution that can again rebuild the foundations for a democratic and prosperous society. The world is watching Sri Lanka to see if past achievements in education will again be revitalised.
Progress will require the highest priorities of the State, and the Government of Sri Lanka should increase state spending in education to the order of 6% of GDP, which has been recommended by UNESCO and agreed to by the Government of Sri Lanka in international forums. Indeed, the greatest investments any country can make are in its citizens, which include teachers and students. Our appeal to address the crisis in education is as much about education as it is about building the foundation of democracy. Prioritising and democratising education is imperative to the process of rebuilding a just and prosperous society. As those invested in accessible, fair and just education for all persons, across the world, we strongly urge the Government of Sri Lanka to take immediate note of the education crisis, negotiate with teachers' and university teachers unions in good faith, and put in place a vibrant process to address this serious concern.
Bishop Akolgo, Executive Director, Integrated Social Development Centre (ISODEC), Accra, Ghana
Rania Antonopoulos, Senior Scholar, Program Director of Gender Equality and the Economy (GEEP),
Levy Economics Institute, USA
Venkatesh Athreya, Advisor, M.S.Swaminathan Research Foundation, India
C. P. Chandrasekhar, Professor, Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, Jawaharlal Nehru University, India
Giovanni Andrea Cornia, Professor, Department of Economics, University of Florence, Italy
J. George, Professor, Institute of Economic Growth, University of Delhi, India
Jayati Ghosh, Professor, Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, Jawaharlal Nehru University, India.
David Harvey, Professor of Anthropology and Geography, City University of New York, USA
George Irvin, Professor, University of London, SOAS, UK
Atul Kohli, Professor of Politics and International Affairs, Princeton University, USA
Thomas Lagoarde-Segot, Associate Professor, Euromed Management Marseille, France
Michael Liebowitz, Professor of Economics (Emeritus), Simon Fraser University, Canada
Rodrigo Lopez-Pablos, Investigador en Cs. Económicas (UNLM), Universidad Nacional de La Matanza, Argentina
Arthur MacEwan, Professor Emeritus of Economics, University of Massachusetts, USA
Rasigan Maharajh, Chief Director, Institute for Economic Research on Innovation, Tshwane University of Technology, South Africa
Prabhat Patnaik, Former Professor of Economics, Jawaharlal Nehru University and Former Vice-Chairman, Planning Board of Kerala, India
Utsa Patnaik, Former Professor of Economics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, India
Kunibert Raffer, Department of Economics, University of Vienna, Austria
C. Rammanohar Reddy, Editor, Economic & Political Weekly, India
Anamitra Roychowdhury, Assistant Professor, St. Stephen's College, India
Paris Yeros, Professor, Universidade Federal do ABC, Brasil
Amar Yumnam, Dean, School of Social Sciences and Professor, Department of Economics, Manipur University, India