Education for the Plantation Community
Plantation Community in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka has achieved success in building a strong foundation in human development including high adult literary, near universal school enrolment through grade 9 (age 14 years) and gender parity in school enrolment. Although Sri Lanka has strong social indicators compared with other countries, substantial regional disparities have arisen where plantation sector has less access to quality basic services especially, to quality education and schools. In the plantations, schools were established during the British era in 1900 – 1948 to foster education to the children of plantation workers in Sri Lanka. The officially recognized plantation schools in 1904 were 43 and it grew up to 968 in 1948.
When Sri Lanka was under the British rule and their effort for an export oriented economy urged a massive workforce. The colonial state government could not obtain the sufficient workforce locally and their attention was paid to nearby British India specifically, South India. The workers for plantation were recruited by the British plantation owners from among the Tamils living in the areas of Madras presidency early in the nineteenth Century considering the cheap labour force. Despite the widespread extent of plantation economies and communities that consists of migrated workers families; educational change in plantations was scarce. This trend continued till take-over of the plantation schools by the Government of Sri Lanka in 1977.
All the plantation schools that were established in the estates had classes from grade 1 to grade 5 and considerable numbers of these schools produced graduates who were poorly prepared for secondary and tertiary education and ill equipped for lifelong learning. Further, lack of awareness among the plantation parents for their children’s education, affirmed work opportunities for their children in the estates, isolation from their rural and urban counterparts and economic poverty have created the education poverty in the plantations. After taking over of the plantation schools in 1977, the efforts of the successive Governments of Sri Lanka and the International Donor Organizations, the primary education in the plantations yield a positive impact and generated the momentum in the plantation community to further learning which in turn created a demand for secondary education.
The plantation is not just a system of economic production for Sri Lanka. It also has a community and a social system which demands education for survival. But the provision of education was minimal. In 1911, when the extension of plantations was in acceleration the literacy in Sri Lanka was 31.0% and in the plantation it was 12.3%. In 1986-7 at the major intervention of a 12 years Project to develop the primary education in the plantation schools by the Government of Sri Lanka with the grant in aid of Government of Sweden, the literacy rates for plantation estates, rural and Sri Lanka were 68.5%, 89.5% and 88.6% respectively. Again in 2003-4 the literacy rates for plantation estates, rural and Sri Lanka were recorded as 81.3%, 92.8% and 92.5% respectively. The literacy rates show that the literacy achievements among the plantation population still lag behind that of rural population by more than 10 percentage points. However, 69 percentage points in growth in literacy rate has been marked just more than nine decades. This change in literary achievements of plantation community did not occurred in a vacuum. A long struggle and strong commitment of the plantation community to access primary education for their school going aged children has marked the achievements in literacy.
Two movements of general significance for the plantation community with spin offs for education were the growth of trade unionism and political franchise. Despite the question of migratory plantation community having no political rights in Sri Lanka, plantation Tamils were able to vote and elect their members in seven constituencies in the first election after independence.
Introduction of Free Education Act of 1945 which emphasized and ascertains the free education to the children from Kindergarten to the University had carried enormous significance for the enfranchised masses and had little impact on the plantation Tamil community as the plantation schools were managed separately by the estate management apart from the national education system. Even though the education ordinance of 1947 had prescribed that the state would be responsible for establishing new schools in plantations, no schools were established in the plantations under the provisions of this ordinance.
The enforcement of Indian and Pakistan Citizenship Act of 1948 and 1949 created a problem situation of uncertainty among the plantation Tamil community in Sri Lanka. The issues surfaced from the citizenship and franchise to the migrated plantation workers of Indian Tamil community had yielded with disenfranchised about one million people. Further, the agreements between the Governments of Ceylon and India in 1954 and 1964 to repatriate about another 5 million Indian Tamils without Ceylon citizenship induced the uncertainty among the plantation Indian Tamils to an extreme level. At this time many of the plantation Indian Tamils who applied for repatriation to India did not know whether the future of their families lay in Ceylon or India due to years of processing of applications. The school education for children of a community whose future remained a question whether Ceylon or India or stateless was in somewhat worsen.
Gradually, the repatriation to India for applied people and the issues of citizenship for stateless people among the Indian Tamil community have come to an end. Integration of plantation schools with national stream that started in 1950s became an accelerated process in 1977 and almost all plantation schools were taken-over by the state, the number accounts as 721. These factors have contributed to a demand for education and strengthening social mobility among the estate workers of plantation Tamil community. The socio-politico participation of plantation Indian Tamils at local, provincial and national level through their political agencies has created a momentum for a general uplift of the community. Meanwhile, Ministry of Education launched a Project with the grant channeled through Sida under the bi-lateral agreement of Governments of Sri Lanka and Sweden to develop all the plantation schools numbering 833 in Sri Lanka during 12 years from 1986 to 1988. This Project named ‘Plantation Schools Education Development Project (PSEDP) was designed to cater mainly to improve the quality of life of the Tamil community in the plantation area. As mentioned earlier, these schools were established by estate management of those estates to foster education to the children of plantation workers. All such schools had only primary grades from grade 1 to grade 5 and were following a curriculum that was different from the curriculum taught in Government schools.
Education change in terms of student enrolment growth in the plantation schools between 1987 and 1992 has marked for primary grades 1-5 as 29% (male 24%, female 36%). Meanwhile, for secondary grades 6-11 the enrolment growth was marked as115% (male 100%, female 135%) and the overall enrolment growth for grades 1-11was marked as 40% (male 33%, female 47%) for the same period of time span. After take-over the estate schools in the plantation areas in 1977 and the outcome of the education development efforts during 1987-92 a demand for secondary education was created. The enrolment growth in grades 6-11 for the years 1987- 92 as 115% shows the school children flows from primary to secondary education of a community which struggled a longer period of time to access even a primary education in the plantations.
In the 1980s the severe deficiency in teacher supply for plantation schools was resolved with a scheme called the Plantation Sector Teacher’s Programme (PSTP) of Ministry of Education which encouraged plantation youth with the qualification of GCE Ordinary Level to become teachers. Similar schemes followed and contributed to bridge the gap between teacher availability and teacher requirement by subjects and level of education. Again in 2005, a vast number of young people numbering 3,179 were recruited for plantation schools with the intention of providing equal opportunities for estate worker’s children and eliminating differences in education. In all these teacher recruitments schemes plantation youth got state employment.
The growing social demand for education among the plantation Indian Tamil community and the consciousness of their socio-politico agencies on social advancement of Plantation Indian Tamil community exerted to expansion of quality education in the plantation areas in Sri Lanka. A growing number of young people of a community which struggled to access a quality education in the plantations were gaining jobs through education. These young people provided role models for estate parents and their children.