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Government Gazette

The World Bank’s bottomless pit

ENGLISH: If materials was the most important area in which the introduction of English medium could raise educational standards, there was also much to do with regard to training and monitoring.

For training the World Bank had approved a comprehensive programme, and we were able to obtain the services of two excellent senior trainers, Parvathi Nagasunderam and Oranee Jansz.

In the last months of 2001, we had some very productive workshops at the NIE, and found much enthusiasm, particularly among teachers of science. We had initially thought that would require the most work, but it turned out that in many schools that started the programme there were science graduates who had qualified in English.

On the verge of losing their command of the language, since they functioned in areas where it was hardly used, they emphatically welcomed the change over to English medium, since it would enable them to use and encourage further study in the language which would contribute to their professional development.

In the arts clearly there would be greater problems, but in general the first workshop made us feel we had been right to take the plunge, for there was enormous commitment and talent in many of the schools that had opted to begin the programme in 2002. What was essential was a concerted training programme, with rapid production of materials so that teachers could gain confidence in their use.

Impression

Unfortunately, for administrative rather than academic reasons, it became apparent that progress might not be smooth. Perhaps I should have gone with the trend, but I found myself horrified by the enormous corruption that had crept or rather swept into the system with the massive influx of World Bank assistance.

The impression, fostered by the World Bank which liked to use the word aid of the repayable loans it offered, was that all this money was a grant.

Characteristic of the whole approach was Senaka Bandaranayake’s cavalier encouragement that the universities use expensive material produced by Linguaphone, on the argument that this could be obtained on a World Bank grant.

When so distinguished an academic did not realise that such money had to be repaid, and that therefore it was essential to ensure that it was well spent, it was natural that less perceptive mortals thought this was simply money for jam.

In Sri Lanka naturally this led to the further assumption that everyone should benefit. So teachers were paid to attend workshops, and Ministry staff who conducted such workshops during their regular working hours obtained additional pay - as did all the clerks and peons and drivers who assisted them. Indeed, as they all palled up with my driver, they would try to persuade him to claim as well, since they could easily enter his name on the roster.

Meanwhile, there were even worse ways of making money. Teachers who attended workshops were entitled to daily allowances, according to Ministry regulations which it seemed the World Bank had approved, anxious to win favour for its operations.

The theory was that this was for expenses, so food had to be paid for from this. What my colleagues at the Ministry did was to put the full amount on the vouchers the teachers signed, and then give them a proportion of it, claiming that the rest was for food - though inquiries, which the teachers made as well as myself, revealed that the food bill was much less, so that the difference could be pocketed by those who administered the payments.

When I mentioned this in passing to the local World Bank official, he informed the TETD, which administered the project at the Ministry, that I had made a complaint.

They claimed that I was creating trouble for them, and instituted a go slow on my projects, while of course nothing was done at the World Bank end to look into the matter.

Distaste

Meanwhile, at the NIE my staff found that they were required to make cash payments, and asked for how much the bills should be made out.

The implication was that the difference between what the World Bank paid, duly supported by bills, and what the NIE actually received, could be split between the parties. Again my staff in this instance was project officers recruited specially, who were former students and not used to this type of practice.

They understood then why the regular Ministry staff had resented my entrusting these tasks to them, which I had thought a favour, to relieve people who claimed to be overworked. When I insisted that future payments should be by cheque, the NIE discovered that facilities were never available when I wanted them.

It was useless appealing to the Director General of the NIE, for the man in position at the time had made it clear that he was opposed to the introduction of English medium. At the same time others at the NIE, who had not been interested in the programme before, began to mutter about our team, perhaps inspired by the generous sum the World Bank had allocated.

I did try to have a few workshops at a Conference Centre near the Ministry that belonged to the Ministry of Housing, but I soon realised that, for the sake of the programme, it was better to withdraw and let the panjandrums at the NIE take over.

That at least would ensure that the English medium programme would continue, whereas otherwise everyone might get together and, in accordance with the predilections of their DG as well as Ranil Wickremesinghe the Prime Minister, a strange couple united only in their distaste for English medium, the whole initiative might swiftly have been destroyed.

As it was, Karunasena Kodituwakku’s commitment I think saved the day. But we should not discount the enthusiasm displayed by the NIE over those years, for workshops and translation of syllabuses and all sorts of work in connection with the reintroduction of English medium that seemed entirely unnecessary but was obviously immensely lucrative.

When I got back to the Ministry in 2004, it was to find the delightful and dedicated gentleman who had taken finally been appointed to take charge of English medium full time battling constantly to get accounts for monies spent on these exercises and to publish and distribute what had been produced.

Though I did my best to help him, and one or two problems were solved, he was still trying to clarify matters when I left again over a year later.

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