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Higher Education of Up-country Tamils:-

 

Higher Education of Up-country Tamils:-

 

Higher Education of Up-country Tamils

Background

The Indian Origin Tamils predominantly live in the Plantations in the hills are mostly workers and commonly identified as Upcountry Tamils (herein after referred as Upcountry Tamils) are “late starters” in the field of higher education i.e. university education. Facilities of A/L classes or pre-university classes were not available in the up-county schools up to 1970s and a few of the up-country students had had to go to Jaffna for A/L education. Education to up-country Tamils was limited to G.C.E. O/L and until 1960s. There were around 800 plantation schools provided education only up to primary level. Due to attempts made by some well-wishers since early 1960s, a few A/L classes were commenced mainly in the plantation towns such as Badulla, Nawalapitiya and Gampola. After the takeover of plantations schools in late 1970s and early 1980s and with the flow of foreign assistance (SIDA, GTZ) towards up-country area government schools, they were developed, mainly with infrastructure facilities. 

 

In this backdrop G.C.E. A/L education was expanded late 1980s and after. Now there are 20 1AB schools and 109 1C Schools providing A/L education to up-country Tamil students. As mentioned earlier as “late starters” the up-country Tamil students were unable to compete with the rest of the schools in the country as they were providing A/L education for several decades. As a result and due to very high competition prevailed because of the merit based university admission  and other admission criteria such as standardization and the present district based allocation policy, the up-county Tamils students are being unable to enter university in reasonable proportion, they entitled as per their ethnic ratio of 7% in this Island.

 

Although the government has had classified Upcountry Tamils as a separate ethnic group, Hand Book of the UGC has not recognized them accordingly, but absorbed them within traditional Sri Lankan Tamils of North and East. Therefore, there is no any avenue to obtain relevant and useful statistics and data of the Upcountry Tamil Students from UGC the official source. Whereas there are 14 national universities, the number of students enrolled from the up-country Tamil community estimates around 120-150 out of 28,900. This is gross inadequate in terms of ethnic ratio (7%). Majority of these 120- 150 under graduates are confined only to Arts and Commerce faculties and entrants to Science based faculties is almost 25 – 30.

 

Moreover, the social background of the up-country Tamil students enrolled in the universities, we opine very few are from the real or actual plantation workers community which consists 65% of the Upcountry Tamils. This should be looked into.

 

Apart from national universities there are 3 universities (UNIVOC, Ocean University and SLIIT) and several state sector education institutions for HND and Paramedical Studies, Advanced Technical, Technology, and management studies etc. Upcountry Tamil Students do not have access to the above institutions too, due to the admission criteria which do not keep in with their aspiration.

 

Now, there are plenty of non-state sector institutions providing higher education in variety of fields related to non-traditional technology, management and science. All these are fee levying institutions that Upcountry Tamil students cannot meet the expenses.

 

Issues faced by Up-country Tamils in re Higher education

In Sri Lanka, since 1970s the merit criteria was changed and several other criteria were introduced. It was said that the new criteria would look after the disadvantaged section in the country. But in fact the up-country Tamils community which is much disadvantaged in Sri Lanka have not benefited by the new admission policy as far as their community is concerned.

 

The 15 1AB schools which provide A/L science education are with severe shortcomings. It is true that there are one or two Up-country schools performing well in sending students to science based faculties (Medicine and Engineering etc.). But other schools are undergoing several difficulties such as:

·        Shortages of qualified science teachers.

·        Lack of infrastructure facilities such as laboratories,

·        Though there are 20 1AB schools, in all the three main Provinces where the up country students living, all of them have no access to them,

 

In summary we can identify the following issues in respect of the education of Up-country Tamils.

·        Weakness of G.C.E. A/L classes.

·        Lack of access to G.C.E. A/L education.

·        The students of working population of Upcountry Tamils have less access to G.C.E. A/L education due to insufficient economic means.

·        Less number of students entering the university system.

 

The above said issues should be settled as they are very important in pre higher education or pre university education in order to possess higher education. Therefore, these measures should be taken by the relevant Ministry to pave way to right to higher education.

 

Proposals to uplift the Higher Education of Up-country Tamils

1.      The government has to introduce some affirmative action or positive discriminatory policy to accommodate these students.

 

2.      The need for a separate University for Up-country Tamils - This request was made several years ago by some of the up-country intellectuals and taken into account by late Upcountry Tamil politicians. This proposal also forwarded to the then government. Whereas other Tamil speaking communities i.e. Tamils of North and East and Muslims are provided with universities which ensure their historical, cultural, linguistic, agricultural industrial and educational aspirations in their areas, only the up-country Tamils do not have a university or even a university college of that nature. This expectation is not sectarian as the state university system is not going to be a stagnant one; thus certainly uplift the level of higher education of Upcountry Tamils.  Such university shall be a national institution accommodating all ethnic groups but with an emphasis on the up-country identity. When the first university of Ceylon was established the forefathers of the university movement pointed out that it will help resurgence of national culture and language. Similar development could take place in the Up-country too, when the expectations are met with.

 

3.      In addition to national universities, suitable measures should be taken to enable the Upcountry Tamil students to enter UNIVOC, Ocean University and SLIIT and several other state sector education institutions for HND and Paramedical, Advanced Technical, Technology and management studies etc.

 

4.      Regional Centres of Open University of Sri Lanka should be established with sufficient human and physical resources in the areas of Upcountry Tamils giving preference to Tamil medium.

 

Finally we wish to state that now our country is developing as a knowledge based economic state with a variety of higher education means, the Upcountry Tamils are of fear that they will be left behind.

 

All these grievances of Upcountry Tamils with regard to higher education, will lead to new disparities  and inequality in provisions of higher education thus the country will be forced to face crisis related to digital divide in which one important of the section of the polity will remain without computer and scientific literacy. They will be lacking the necessary qualifications and skills to become of effective members of knowledge based economy.

 

 

(Note: This foregoing submission is prepared and tendered to Hon. (Prof.) Rajiva Wijesinghe, M.P., State Minister of Higher Education by the Plantation Community Action Group on 22nd  January, 2015)

 

 

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