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Education a priority, free tablets for students: Budget


Nov 11, 2016 (LBO) - Sri Lanka will prioritize education and give free tablet computers to students and teachers in 2017, the government said in budget proposals for next year. Almost 175,000 A Level students and 28,000 teachers will receive tablet computers in 2017, for which five billion rupees has been allocated. Sri Lanka has lagged behind behind regional peers in investment in education, and the government's focus was urgently needed, observers said. "We allocated in 2016, almost three times that of the allocations made in 2014. However, the Ministry of Education has been able to utilize only around 38,850 million rupees at the end of the 3rd quarter of 2016," Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake said.
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"We took careful stock of the situation and therefore allocated almost 90,000 million rupees for 2017. While I admit that allocation for 2017 is less than that of 2016, it is nevertheless 70 percent more than that of 2014." Among the proposals are 26 billion rupees for basic facilities and infrastructure such as classrooms, laboratories and libraries in primary and secondary schools. Around 1,000 schools will get basic facilities such as water, electricity and sanitation, for which three billion rupees has been allocated. Similar facilities for 450 schools were completed in 2016, he said. In terms of university enrollment, although the number of entrants increased from 9,245 in 1995 to 26,000 in 2015, it is 17 percent of the number eligible for enrollment, which is lower than peer countries. Sri Lanka aims to double this number to 50,000 by 2020, he said. Among plans were to spend 250 million rupees to upgrade 25 plantation schools, and develop a continuous teacher training program together with the National Institute of Education. Karunanayake said new subjects will be added to the ordinary and advanced level curricula such as hospitality management, digital technology, logistics, fashion design and financial literacy. In terms of information technology, 3,500 schools will be able to rent up to 50 computers each, for which 5 billion rupees has been allocated. Other proposals on education in budget speech: Scholarships for gifted students There are many students in the country who are gifted with extraordinary skills, ranging from excelling in sports, arts, inventions, etc. They must be recognized and supported. The Ministry of Education will launch the “Subhaga” scholarship scheme which will support 1,000 such gifted children. These scholarships will be awarded to students from Year 6 onwards, where each child will be paid Rs. 2,500 per month, for which I propose to allocate Rs. 30 million. Independent accreditation, monitoring of private schools There are over 100 private schools including international schools and their branches in the country providing primary and secondary education to almost 150,000 students. These schools are not liable for tax, and as such the impact on the government is over Rs. 10 billion. The quality of the teachers, the physical infrastructure and the curricula varies across the board. While the government has no desire to stymie the operations of private educational institutions, we have a responsibility to ensure that all students have access to a quality education. As such, I propose to introduce necessary legislation that will enable the establishment of an independent Accreditation, Regulation, Monitoring and Quality Assurance Authority under the Ministry of National Policies and Economic Affairs, which will oversee the quality of such private educational institutions providing primary and secondary education. Allowance for differently abled children Proposal to increase the daily allowance paid to differently abled children from Rs. 50 per day to 150 day. Therefore, to support the improvement of special education facilities and the increase in daily allowance to differently abled children, I propose allocate Rs. 175 million. Insurance scheme for students Insurance scheme for all school going children from age 5-19 covering 4.5 million students. Each child will be given a policy of 200,000 rupees for hospitalization and outpatient services. The government will bear the premium for which 2.7 billion rupees will be allocated. Diversify degree curricula Our reforms are focused primarily on equipping our future generation of young men and women with the necessary skills to access the job market and to reorient and upgrade the skills of those already in the job market. In this regard, we will diversify the curricula to award degrees in subjects such as Banking, Risk Management, Applied Statistics, Allied Health Sciences, Robotics and Cybernetic and Hospitality Management. We will introduce Mathematics, Statistics, IT and Accountancy to existing Arts degree programmes. For this purpose, already we have allocated Rs. 13,318 million for infrastructure development, including lecture halls, laboratories, hostels and other ancillary facilities. Expand Ruhuna medical facility A 10 storied building will be constructed at the Ruhuna University Medical Faculty at Karapitiya enabling the intake to the Ruhuna Medical faculty to increase from 160 to 300 students. I propose to allocate Rs. 500 million in 2017 for this purpose. Loans for trainee teachers To address the shortage of good quality teachers mostly in Science, Mathematics and English in the country, specially in the rural schools, I propose to introduce a 100 percent interest subsidized loan scheme of Rs. 500,000 per student for students who wish to follow the Bachelor of Education (BEd) in Mathematics, Science, Technology and English at non state UGC approved institutions. These students will be required to work in rural schools for at least 3 years. However, should they leave such rural schools before the end of the 3 years; they will be required to pay the loan with interest. Our initial aim will be to extend this loan scheme to 5,000 students and as such, I propose to allocate Rs. 100 million for this purpose. Scholarships for international study I propose to initiate a scholarship scheme to enable the undergraduate students of the 17 state universities who are the top 3 in the faculties of Engineering, Medicine, Bio and Physical Science, Accountancy, Finance and Law to be given scholarships at top universities around the world such as Harvard, MIT, Oxford, Cambridge, NUS etc, to follow post graduate studies up to PhD level. If the student requests, the scholarship scheme could be extended to pursue post graduate studies at local universities as well. For this purpose, I propose to allocate Rs. 500 million. Loans for non state degrees There are students who miss out University entrance by an insignificant margin. We cannot leave them unaddressed. Therefore, we will initiate a loan scheme up to a maximum of Rs. 800,000 per student for the entire course of studies, which will be provided as an interest free loan to 15,000 students based on their Z score to follow courses in selected subjects to cater to the market demand in UGC approved non state degree awarding entities. To support this venture, I propose to allocate Rs. 300 million in 2017. Accredited courses Explore the possibility of allowing non state higher education institutions to offer courses accredited by state universities, which will thereby ensure good quality degrees being awarded by such non-state higher education institutions. Multiple entry visas for foreign students Given that the country is keen to position itself as an Educational Hub, I propose to issue 5 year multiple entry visas from 2017, to international students who wish to study in Sri Lanka. Such endeavors will also promote educational tourism. Community colleges I also invite the education, higher education and vocational training authorities to look into the possibility of establishing Community Colleges in Sri Lanka within the education sphere. Gender equity and equality centre Our state university education has been marred with issues of ragging and student violence. Proposal to establish a Center for Gender Equity and Equality and Preventing Sexual and Gender Based Violence and Ragging, for which I propose to allocate Rs. 10 million. Cost sheet for students We have spent an inordinate amount of funds on our university education. I suggest that each student be given a cost sheet at the point of entrance so that they are conscious of the funds allocated for their education from the taxes collected from the common man in the country. Scholarships for vocational training During consultations with various industrialists, I was informed that the tourism industry requires almost 100,000 trained workers, textile industry around 60,000 and the construction industry approximately 400,000. Similar indications have been made by the Cinnamon industry, so much so that a separate training institute was proposed in the last budget. With the proposed free trade zones, the demand for skilled labour will be on the rise. Clearly the skills gap is a serious issue and must be addressed immediately. I propose to introduce a significant shift in the policy framework in vocational training, by providing scholarships to anyone who wishes to follow a vocational training programme at a state operated vocational training institution. This will enable vocational training in Sri Lanka for all at no cost. I propose to allocate Rs. 300 million to meet cost of the scholarships to be provided under this programme. Private sector training Given the urgent requirement for skilled labour in the Apparel, Health Care, Hospitality and the Construction industries, the private sector is invited to provide training for 10,000 youth who, at the end of the training period, will be recruited to the relevant industry. To assist the private sector, the government will provide a stipend for each trainee amounting to Rs. 10,000 per month for 3 months for which I propose to allocate Rs. 300 million. Matara technical school, hotel training school Allocate Rs. 200 million for the upliftment of the Matara German Training Technical School and the Hotel Training School. E-learning centre University of Kelaniya Given that 1 in 4 households in the country own a computer, information technology could be utilized to take training courses to the doorstep. Proposed is to establish an e-Learning Resource Centre at the University of Kelaniya for which Rs. 250 million will be allocated over a period of 2 years, where proposed is to allocate Rs.125 million in 2017. This Centre will formulate e-learning modules in collaboration with the private sector. These training programmes will carry an acceptable accreditation. Once completed, a certificate will be issued which will be acceptable as any certificate received from a similar training institute.
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