Policy of standardisation
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The policy of standardization was a policy implemented by the Sri Lankan government in 1971 to rectify disparities created in university enrollment in Sri Lanka under Colonial rule. In 1972, the government added a district quota as a parameter within each language.
The reasoning for the law
In 1946 minister C. W. W. Kannangara introduced free education in all the government institutions (Schools, government universities) in Sri Lanka. Government funded all the money by bearing the expenses.
Under the British, English was the state language and consequently greatly benefited English speakers. However the majority of Sri Lankan populace lived outside urban areas and did not belong to the social elite, and therefore did not enjoy the benefits of English-medium education. The issue was compounded further by the fact that in Northern and Eastern regions of the island, where a largely Tamil populace resided, students had access to English-medium education through missionary schools regardless of their socio-economy strata. This created a situation where a large proportion of students enrolled in universities throughout the country were English speaking Tamils and Sinhalese from urban centers like Colombo, particularly in professional courses such as medicine and engineering.
The implementation of the law
The government policy of standardization in essence was an affirmative action scheme to assist geographically disadvantaged students to gain tertiary education. The benefits enjoyed by Sinhalese students also meant a significant fall in the number of Tamil students within the Sri Lankan university student populace.
University selection of 1971 was calculated based on language they sit. Numbers of allocations were proportional to the number of participants who sat to the examination in that language. As guaranteed before the exam, Tamil share was dropped to the proportion of the Tamils medium students(According to 1971 consensus 27% of the total population used Tamil as first medium).
According to 1971 exam results, a large proportion of the Tamil allocation was enjoyed by Tamils in Jaffna and a large proportion of the Sinhalese share was enjoyed by the Sinhalese in Colombo.
In 1972 government added district quota as a parameter within each languages. 30% of university places were allocated on the basis of island-wide merit; half the places were allocated on the basis of comparative scores within districts and an additional 15% reserved for students from under privileged districts.
The effect of the law
30% of university places were allocated on the basis of island-wide merit; half the places were allocated on the basis of comparative scores within districts and an additional 15% reserved for students from under privileged districts.
In 1969, the Northern Province, which was largely populated by Tamils and comprised 7% of the population of the country, provided 27.5 percent of the entrants to science-based courses in Sri Lankan universities. By 1974, this was reduced to 7%. However, the hardest hit population group were the urban Tamils and Sinhalese in the Western Province, which contained 26% of the islands population. In 1969, the Western Province provided 67.5 percent of admissions to science-based courses. This reduced to 27% in 1974, after the law came into effect. The majority of the share enjoyed by Jaffna Tamils were distributed among Tamils in other areas ( Eastern province, Hill country and Muslims) . Majority of the share enjoyed by Colombo was distributed among rest of the Sinhalese.
"In 1971, a system of standardisation of marks was introduced for admissions to the universities, obviously directed against Tamil-medium students (referred to earlier). K.M. de Silva describes it as follows:
'The qualifying mark for admission to the medical faculties was 250 (out of 400) for Tamil students, whereas it was only 229 for the Sinhalese. Worse still, this same pattern of a lower qualifying mark applied even when Sinhalese and Tamil students sat for the examination in English. In short, students sitting for examinations in the same language, but belonging to two ethnic groups, had different qualifying marks.'
He observes that by doing this in such an obviously discriminatory way, 'the United Front Government of the 1970s caused enormous harm to ethnic relations.'
This was not the end; in 1972 the 'district quota system' was introduced, again to the detriment of the Sri Lankan Tamil people. The (Sinhalese) historian C.R. de Silva wrote:
'By 1977 the issue of university admissions had become a focal point of the conflict between the government and Tamil leaders. Tamil youth, embittered by what they considered discrimination against them, formed the radical wing of the Tamil United Liberation Front. Many advocated the use of violence to establish a separate Tamil state of Eelam. It was an object lesson of how inept policy measures and insensitivity to minority interests can exacerbate ethnic tensions .'
These policies are not unique to Sri lanka, major democracies like United states has affirmative action to groups that disproportionately lack representation to achieve representation.In those instances also separate scores are need for people of different ethnicity.
When the policy was implemented, the urban Sinhalese population had reconciled themselves to the fact that the position of privilege they had enjoyed under the British would not last forever, and the situation had to stabilize at the population level. However Tamils saw the policy along communal terms, and strongly opposed the move.
Changing the standardization
The language based standardization of university entrance was abandoned in 1977, and introduced different standardization based on merits, district quotas. 80% of the university places were filled in accordance with raw marks scored by students. The remaining 20% of places was allocated to students in districts with inadequate educational facilities.
- The Root Causes of the Ethnic Conflict in Sri Lanka
- Jayasuriya, J. E. (1981). Education in the Third World. Pune: Indian Institute of Education. OCLC 7925123.
- Daily News Archived 2013-05-18 at the Wayback Machine
- Department of Census and Statistics, Population by district, size, intercensal increase and average growth rates