Military training for undergrads

I write as the Head of a girls’ school in Colombo to express my dismay at the article about a new criterion that has been made compulsory prior to admission to University for the A’Level batch of 2010.The Sunday Times in its article on this issue has quoted the Secretary, Ministry of Higher Education as stating that the three-week training is compulsory, and that  ‘those eligible for University admission and failing to attend the leadership training under the military will not be accepted into the universities.’

Since a fair number of students enter Universities in Sri Lanka annually from our school, I am concerned that parents and perhaps the students themselves, will be hesitant to participate in a three-week residential camp in an Army facility, undergoing such training, especially as it has been suddenly  ‘sprung’ on them. There already exists a reluctance to enter the local university system owing to the long delays in processing admissions, sudden closures etc. and this new criterion would perhaps be an additional objection
We appreciate the need for such an orientation, especially if the new entrants are challenged to value the free education they receive, respect the university environment and property, and are challenged to use their education to serve the local community, as opposed to using it as a means to go overseas; but it needs to be planned more systematically, with input from both the University faculty and perhaps undergraduates themselves.

I am deeply concerned that many of my students will be compelled to forego university admission which they achieved with much hard work, owing to this new and sudden criterion added on, details of which are still not clear; it could  be legally challenged as it was not a criterion even at the point of applying for admission in January this year. This may cause further delays in entering, making many more disillusioned about our higher education system. I must also speak on behalf of our Muslim students, many of whom enter, but who may have religious restrictions in residing three-weeks in a training facility without the presence of a male family member.

I appeal to the Ministry of Higher Education, to (i) implement this after more thought and discussion with all parties concerned; (ii) give due notice to students at the point of joining the A’level programme (i.e. post O’Level) that this is a requirement for university admission; (iii) let the Universities themselves conduct this programme as they will have a greater commitment to the quality of the training; and (iv) at least make it a non-residential programme so that any fears or difficulties about residing in a military facility will not discourage them from entering.

Shanthi Dias

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