Stop Using Schools As Political Platforms!


By Sam Panditha

Dr Sam Panditha

Daily on TV news (mainly Sirasa) we see Sajith Premadasa (SP) Sakwala සුහුරු පාසැල්  (Smart  School) programme donating some computer equipment to schools. A huge green banner with the Sakwala and Pathikada  names and Sajith Premadasa Leader of the opposition title is shown daily. All the school children, Principal and staff, and parents  attend the event lasting about two hours. Most of the time is covered by Sajith and other  SJB politicians from the area making political speeches, About 10 minutes cover the opening of the computer lab. This event was supposed to be the 195th Sakwala program of “donations”

The Sirasa Pathikada You tube being circulated on 21 May 2024, is shocking.  A school girl is crying and praising SP for the donation. Ranjith Somawansa – SJB organiser for the area is making a political speech also praising Sajith. The title of Pathikada video is “පාසල් සිසුවිය සජිත් ඉදිරියේ හඬමින් කිව්ව දේ ? අනුරට කටු අයිනවා වගේ ඇති . | Sajith Premadasa”. Politicisation of School Children.

Full Sajith speech can be watched here. Every such TV broadcast is used by Sajith for making Political statements, promoting Sajith Premadasa, and attacking particularly NPP and Anura Kumara Dissanyake (AKD), referring to AKD as කය්ය නායක. What is the relevance of  another party leader in a school activity? Pure politicisation. His views on many political issues and the proposed NPP and SJP leaders and Economic Council debate issues are addressed at these meetings. He even challenges the NPP – let’s debate with work and donations like him.

Before these Sakwala Computer donations, Sajith used the schools in a similar manner donating school busses, himself driving the bus to the school. These donations were also shown every time in Sirasa News. Even respected Politician Harsha De Silva, praised Sajith Driving skills relating to the school bus delivery to a school in Medawachchiya.

In his speeches Sajith promotes all schools to be converted to English speaking schools, as his preferred education policy for the future.  He even takes an example of two candidates applying for a Deutsche Bank job. He says the English and private school educated candidate will be selected for the Bank job. He is saying 90% of the time, the student who goes to private school will get the job. The national language based education started in the 1960s, gave significant opportunities for poor students from rural areas, studying in Sinhala/ Tamil to enter Universities and obtain degrees. He is proposing a total English Language based school education system. We do not have sufficient English teachers to start with and such a policy will again create an education system for the elite middle class families and marginalising the rural poor. Sajith even lectures to School children on learning English by watching various foreign TV news. What a warped education policy?

Developing Schools through “Private” Donations

In his Pathikada program on 27 May 24, Sajith claims  the following donations to date. Computers and smart classrooms to 203 schools costing  Rs 225.5 M, 87 busses costing Rs 424 M, Hospital equipment and medicines costing Rs 183.2 M to 60 hospitals.

There is no way of checking if the announced cost is actual or inflated. The total “donations” as per his estimate is Rs 832.7 M. The names  of the donors are unknown. What are the objectives of the “donors”? Were they given inflated contracts when Sajith was a Minister or are they expecting lucrative contacts when Sajith comes to power? How did the “donors” get the money at least over Rs 830M as per Sajith own estimate? If genuinely earned money did they pay tax on the earnings? If Sakwala is a registered charity the donors can get tax credits.  In the public interest and transparency, Sajith should release this information.

Sajith method of education development is donor aided school facility development. How can the country education be funded this way? How are the schools selected to receive his “donations”? . Which other country in the world, has a school development plan using private donations? What is the state role in providing the needed school facilities? Schools in Sri Lanka have many development needs, from school furniture, trained teachers,  class rooms, sanitary facilities, play grounds, laboratories etc. There are over 10,000 schools in the country. How do you prioritise the need and end up always with the computer facility and busses?

There is tremendous political benefit to Sajith from these events. To start with it is promoted as a school beneficial event and the school will ask the children to attend with their parents. It is held in a school hall and no cost is borne by Sajith for the event. In a normal political rally the politician must build or hire a stage and get the audience and incur significant cost. Here everything is free. Then the program is broadcast on Sirasa  News or as a PATHIKADA (පැතිකඩ). Complete free publicity and getting across his political message and attacking his opponents.

The Role of the Media

A key attraction in this media promoted school political propaganda is for the school officials and children to see them in the evening TV news, and get some free propaganda or a thrill from vanity. We do not know why Sirasa News spends almost daily air time on this standard story, which in TV jargon is a “repeat” episode. The recent Sakwala programs on social media has the Sirasa Pathikada (පැතිකඩ) Logo, which clearly indicates Sirasa is promoting the propaganda, free or paid.

There are many other TV “News” items that are actually advertisements. The following are examples:

GAMMEDDA (ගම්මැද්ද)

This item comes in almost every Sirasa News and occupies around five to seven minutes of the 30 minute News program. It covers Maharaja- Sirasa group social assistance program mostly covering water projects and rural infrastructure, to promote their TV Brand. The events are highly hyped with dancer’s, drummers etc. ideal for a TV show.  The Police, Navy, Government officers (school principals, divisional Secretaries) attends the event using the Government provided vehicles. All are happy to see their participation during evening news. Most are water projects and a sister Maharajah Company SLON that constructs water tanks, plastic pipes and fittings may reap benefits when the water project is expanded. Should we watch news to see this?

Vanithabimana වනිතාබිමාන

We regularly see clips of this competition program in Sirasa News, occupying around 5 minutes promoting the program and the initial rounds. NDB website defines it as “an esteemed awards programme aimed at empowering the remarkable women of Sri Lanka, proudly returns for its fourth consecutive year, jointly organised by NDB Bank and Sirasa News 1st”. It is clear that it is a commercial agreement between the two parties to organise and air the event. This should not be thrust on the public regularly as a news item.

දැරියගේ ශක්තිය Deriyage Shakthiya  

Promoting Commercial sanitary ware as දැරියගේ ශක්තිය (Deriyage Shakthiya) as a Sirasa news item. Watch the Video on 31st minute of the news programme as Corporate News. Here again Medical officers, Schools principals and other Government officers participate. The sanitary ware is manufactured by a Maharaja Group company.  Promoting sanitary ware as essential health product by the medical officers, teachers would encourage the poor to spend money on the products, and the Manufacturer to promote their own sanitary pad brand. Sajith Premadasa is one who publicly promoted Government paid sanitary pads. Which company benefits from the program? A subtle method of using Television news to promote their products.

School bags Divi SAviya (LOLC)

Another almost daily Sirasa News program is Divi Saviya (දිවි සවිය), where about 20 LOLC marked promotional school bags are given. LOLC brand is displayed prominently in the school bag and the “news item”. Here again the news item runs for about 5 minutes. A commercial advertisement on TV for 3 minutes would cost more than the value of the bags donated.

Immediate Action Needed

* Using schools and children for Political purposes must stop immediately. Department of education must immediately send a circular to all schools, banning such political manoeuvring of schools for political campaigns.

* For TV licences in all countries, there are regulations on programs and advertisements. We must regulate the maximum time per hour allowed for advertisements. Ideally a maximum of 10 -12 minutes per hour. Particularly on news time, where the public comes to listen to news, advertisements must be limited to about 5 minutes for 30 minute News.

* To protect consumers, paid commercial activities and TV brand personal promotional activities should not be included in News. A clear message should be shown along such items that it is a self-promotion or a paid commercial program. In all Newspaper advertisements, such a clear statement is mandatory and we can see them in large newspaper advertising that can be mistaken as a news item.

The post Stop Using Schools As Political Platforms! appeared first on Colombo Telegraph.

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