Grade One admissions have become a controversial issue and matters came to a head last week with the interdiction of seven school officials at a popular Colombo school. There have been persistent allegations of malpractices and corruption in school admissions, and the Government decided to investigate the process at several schools.
The Sunday Observer spoke to several school officials to get a clearer picture of the whole admissions drama. The popular government school Principals face a lot of pressure when it comes to the admission of Grade one students. The influence of the Old Boys’ Association (OBA) and Past Pupils’ Association (PPA) is a very severe issue.
However, some popular school Principals apparently, do not face any pressure during the Grade One school admissions. Principal, Ananda College, Colombo, S.M. Keerthiratne said, “I have elected one OBA member to the interview board. The OBA gives me a good support. I have no pressures or issues when it comes to the Grade One admissions and none of the associations at the school influences me. Everything is going on smoothly here.”
A former principal of a popular school in Colombo spoke about the pressures principals face when it comes to Grade one school admissions. He wanted to remain anonymous as inquiries are going on about it at present. He said, “The OBA and OGA of popular schools try to enrol their children or the children of relatives and friends to the school. They commit whatever possible illegal activities to get it done. Especially, principals of popular schools such as, Ananda, Nalanda, Royal, Visakha, D.S. Senanayake and Sirimavo Bandaranaike face this pressure every year. This a pathetic situation which should be changed.”
“I must mention that political parties are also strongly involved in this task of taking in students with fraudulent documents. The circular relating to Grade one admission should be amended. Generally, the Chief Occupants (CO) category intakes from an area is 20-30 but approximately 1,600 applications are received to schools every year, so it is clear that these are forged documents. The actual number of occupants of an area is 20 or 30. I suggest that something should be done by the Education Ministry to stop this situation,” he said.
Seven education officers allegedly involved in malpractices during the 2017 Grade One admission process of Royal College, Colombo, were interdicted recently. These officials served on the interview board and the appeal board. This decision was taken by the Ministry on the recommendations of an inquiring committee appointed by Education Minister Akila Viraj Kariyawasam.
The Ministry of Education however, issued a new circular following complaints from parents.
The newly issued circular for Grade One admissions for year 2017, prohibits members of the Past Pupils’ Associations of government schools from sitting as panelists for the interviews and the intake of new students. With barely weeks away from scheduled interviews being held, the Education Ministry published a circular bearing number 17/2016, dated 16.05.2016, pertaining to the Grade One admission process of state schools. This circular mentions that it is unlawful to demand money from parents for Grade One admissions.
This move prevents the representation of members of Past Pupils’ Associations, especially, where children are interviewed for categories such as, Chief Occupant’s Category, Brother’s Category, Transfer Category, Education Category and International Category, interviews. The issuance of this circular however, will still continue to permit Past Pupils’ Association members to sit as interview panelists for the category where only the “Past Pupils’ children” are being interviewed.
However, it is alleged that the principals of popular schools are continuing the racket and demanding hundreds of thousands of rupees to admit children living in distant places. The money, it is learnt, is being taken in the name of school development but no receipts are given to parents. Principals’ unions claim that some school principals, in collaboration with Past Pupils’ Associations (PPAs), are carrying out the fraud.
“Sometimes Principals try to take children from prominent families or those beneficial to them which can cause trouble to them in return,” said the Sri Lanka National Principals’ Association President, Mohan Weerasinghe.
He said that generally when you admit children to schools there is a government circular, and the process should be according to that circular. “In popular schools certain privileged individuals alter necessary requirements as needed to suit the requisites in the circular. Therefore, the school is forced to admit these children. This is a very serious issue to be considered at present. The other students who live in the vicinity of the school lose their chance. No proper system has been implemented to prevent this,” Weerasinghe said.
He said that this situation is extremely unfair on children who should be rightly admitted to the school according to the householder’s list. “Principals also face various pressures and they have to bow down to these pressures. Principals work according to circulars and they should stick to it. If they do not follow the circulars, they should be responsible for their actions,” he said.
Minister of Education, Akila Viraj Kariyawasam said, the Education Ministry has severely dealt with interviews where money and other gifts had been accepted, violating circular No. 5/2015 of 2015, in the admission of children to schools. “Principals have been instructed to comply with the said circular. If any education officials accept monies or gifts without the prior approval of the Education Ministry, the official concerned will be severely dealt with. Principals could accept monies or gifts to settle Electricity, Water Bills and security expenses only after issuing an official receipt. Accepting money or gifts through an Old Boys’ Association (OBA) is also prohibited. When the OBA wants to launch any development program, the approval of the Ministry Secretary is important,” the Minister said.
Minister Kariyawasam further said that fraudulent or any informal collection of monies or gifts will be dealt with according to Financial Regulations, Ministry Circulars and Bribery Commission laws. “Instances where monies are collected in violation of the Ministry Circular could be conveyed to the Education Ministry,” he said.
Several attempts to contact the Principals of popular schools in Colombo and Kandy failed. According to Education Ministry sources, investigations are being carried out in relation to Grade One admissions to15 other Colombo schools and other main towns, except Royal College.