By Nipuni Panamaldeniya
Growing up in Sri Lanka, if someone had told me that I would move to Canada when I was 16, I certainly would have thought that they had surrendered to insanity. But when the opportunity arose for us to immigrate, we took it, knowing that sooner or later, my brother and I might have to pursue a higher education in a foreign country anyway.
I’ll be honest. I was never one of those kids with a brilliant mind and a seemingly endless supply of various talents. Whilst I may not have been brilliant, I was a hard worker, and I was raised to believe that hard work eventually pays off. I know from experience that the majority of students in Sri Lanka wake up at the crack of dawn to study, to attend tuition classes, to go to school, and to come back exhausted only to start the same cycle all over again. They do all this, and still find the time to excel in their extracurricular activities. I did the same whilst studying for my O/L examination.
So I started wondering, what kept me going? What drives every student in Sri Lanka hoping to eventually enter university to dedicate all their time and energy to study so hard for, and pass all these examinations? And then I realised that it was pure faith. They believe wholeheartedly that if they give enough of themselves, if they sacrifice enough to study for these examinations, someday, all their hard work will pay off, and they will be able to enter university. Alas, for some of them, this isn’t true. I can only imagine the disappointment they must feel in a system which fooled them into believing in a dream, only to have it shattered in the end.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Sri Lanka. There is no other place I feel more at home, no other place I feel has the same magic, charm, and splendour as my mother country. I had a good life there. I didn’t lack for anything, and the childhood years I spent in Sri Lanka with my cousins roaming tea estates, splashing around in bubbling streams, and climbing hills in the afternoon heat just to slide down in a “kolapata” were some of the best days of my life.
But you don’t remain a child forever. Eventually, you grow out of those rose coloured glasses you used to view the world through. You lose that innocence, become jaded and begin to learn from whatever experiences which were bestowed upon your young life. So as a young child in Sri Lanka, I watched my older cousins go into battle with the beast known as the A/L examination. And yet, after undergoing what seemed like torture sessions of tuition, after putting their blood, sweat and tears into those examinations and passing, they still weren’t able to enter university.
Don’t tell me that they weren’t smart enough, or that they didn’t work hard enough. I’m smart enough not to believe that. And so were they. So they found other means. They went abroad. And now they all have successful, thriving careers. Just not in Sri Lanka. Because, frankly, why come back to a country that pushed them away in the first place? I saw their point. And so after the Ordinary Levels, when my mother told us we had the opportunity to immigrate to Canada, my brother and I, of course, felt we would be fools to refuse.
I am not writing this to gloat about having the opportunity to enter university in another country. Too few of us are able to do that, I know, and those who aren’t as fortunate are fated to work jobs that they are perhaps over qualified for, and underpaid for. And this is a shame, it’s a waste of talent, and these kids grow disheartened thinking that they are not good for anything, when in fact, had they been given the opportunity, they might have been able to live their dream.
I was thinking of the irony here. I feel that, if hard work and dedication can get you into a university in another country, then hard work and dedication should certainly be able to get you into a university in Sri Lanka. And fine, I never took the A/L’s so I will never know whether or not I would have entered a university in Sri Lanka. But my cousins, who did work hard for their A/L’s and weren’t able to enter university in Sri Lanka, did enter universities in countries like Canada, US, and Australia.
So am I to believe that the Sri Lankan education system is so far superior to any of these other countries that these students just weren’t intelligent enough to get in? Surely you jest. I mean really, if this were true, these Sri Lankan universities must be breeding some real Einsteins right about now. Or is it that there just isn’t enough space in the existing universities that those students who are smart, and work hard, still cannot get in?
We all know that this is the reason. Not that it matters, because the mentality that this situation is purporting is that, you just do not have high enough of an I.Q. to enter university. Not only is this promoting low self esteem in students who are certainly well qualified enough to receive a university education, it is depriving them of a higher education that they are deserving of.
Trust me, I have nothing against the talent that is currently in Sri Lankan universities. Some of my best friends are pursuing their education at these institutions and I have utmost respect and admiration for them. But I cannot seem to get past the irony that those kids who are intelligent enough to enter universities in other countries cannot enter universities in Sri Lanka, prompting them to go abroad. So is there any surprise that Sri Lanka seems to be impacted by a “brain drain”?
Also, let’s not forget that after basically killing themselves to enter university, most of my friends who are in Sri Lankan universities right now are marooned at home because there are so many strikes going on. If I were them, I would have serious doubts as to whether this is the type of quality education that they struggled so hard to receive. However, this is another matter entirely and one that I do not know enough about to properly comment on. From what I can see though, the Sri Lankan education system seems to be a bundle full of irony.
I believe in a country that doesn’t smash its children’s hopes to smithereens, leaving only the carcasses of their dreams behind. I believe in a country where believing in your dreams and sacrificing everything for them doesn’t mean that eventually you will be left with nothing. I believe in a Lanka where every hard working student is given every opportunity to have their moment to shine.