PHOTO ESSAY: Sri Lankan student-lecturer protest for free education

August 15 protest for public education in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

The Front Line Socialist Party of Sri Lanka held a protest to defend equality in education with an August 15 demonstration in front of the Fort Railway station in Colombo in support of a mass campaign student and teacher organisations, Premakumar Gunaratnam told Green Left Weekly.

“Ever since 1977, various Sri Lankan governments have being trying to privatise the education system,” Gunaratnam explained. “The first attempts were blocked by a strong student movement led by the Inter University Students Federation (IUFS).”

“However, since 1997, 1298 public schools have been closed down. This is an average of 92.7 schools closed every year. A school is closed in every five days!”

The current Rajapaksa regime has introduced several bills in the parliament to establish private
medical faculties and private universities but still hasn't been able to finalise this privatisation because of the struggle by students and staff against it.

Recently the government has managed to open a private technological university in "Malambe" Colombo for fee-paying students.

The demonstration demanded the abolition of all private universities and to annex them to the national university system by expanding national universities.

Some of the placards on display at the August 15 protest were "Stop closing down schools","Allow all victimised students to enter university!";"Let's unite to win equal rights to all of us in education!"; and "Abolish the illegal so-called university in Malabe!".

FLSP Central Commitee member Duminda Nagamuwa told the gathering:

"Currently the Sri Lankan government is only allocating 1.8% of the government's total income for education and we demand that be increased to a minimum of 6%.

“Some people are saying that the government should sack two ministers SB, and Bandula, but we see this is an issue created not by these two ministers but by the entire capitalist neo-liberal policies of the government.

“Therefore it is vital that we must fight to win equality in education for all in Sri Lanka and invite people from all walks of life to come forward to join hands to change this neo-liberal system which makes everyone suffer,” he added.

This protest was preceded on August 14 by a rally organised by the IUSF at the Viharamahadevi open-air theatre in Colombo. It was a joint “student-teacher-peoples' protest”, called around the slogan “Fight for free education and freedom of education”. It was addressed by the president of University Lecturer's Union, Nirmal Ranjith Devasiri, other trade union leaders and leaders of various leftist parties, including the FLSP.

The university teachers are re fighting for a pay hike but they insist that their fight is a part of the fight for free education and a proper allocation of the GDP for education, Gunaratnam told GLW.

University lecturers also rallied for several hours on August 14 in front of the Ruhuna University Sri Lanka. The deputy secretary of the union, Upul Abeyratne, charged that the Rajapaksa government was not interested in the standard of education and were unable to conduct the Advanced Level (university entrance) examinations up to the required standards.

He said that university teachers have a stronger bond towards the students in this country than
the so-called “patriots” in the government. He said that the intention of the university lecturers' struggle was to secure the right of education and that the future of this government will be decided according to its response to this important issue.

FLSP protest for free education on August 15.

FLSP protest for free education on August 15.

IUSF-organised student-teacher-people rally on August 14.

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