Education

Sri Lanka’s Medical Education system is failing to keep up with the world

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Education should be the right of all humans irrespective of their background, regardless if it’s “free” or paid for.

Image Credit - Colombo Telegraph

Edited by Ramesh Ganohariti & Buddhi Ranasinghe 

It is our time to change the way of thinking towards Private Medical Education in Sri Lanka and double standard of the SLMC and GMOA. Firstly, I am proud to say that I am a product of Private Education. I have travelled far and achieved a lot in my career due to private education. It gave me the freedom of choice where I want to be. However, we have continuously witnessed many arguments on Social Media against private medical colleges (PMC).

Education is without doubt the most powerful weapon, which can be used to change the world. It should be the right of all humans irrespective of their background, regardless if it’s “free” or paid for. Sri Lankans seem to have misunderstood the word “free”, because there is actually someone who is paying for our “free education” via taxes. Every government plays a major role to educate their citizens. However, the Sri Lankan government has failed to provide higher education opportunities for all the students who qualified for university entrance simply because the government can’t afford to.

As per the UGC statement, there were 302,434 students who sat the Advanced Level (A/L) examination. Out of them 155,550 students passed the examination. Yet only 27,306 students were selected for higher education. Which is merely 9.03% of total students and 17.55% of successfully passed students. From last year’s examination alone, 128,244 qualified students were eliminated from the system. Is this healthy for a developing country? Definitely not.

Every year roughly 90% of the students are eliminated from higher studies, majority being denied a university education. This results in them ultimately joining the work force without a tertiary education. This is the core reason as to why we are far below developed countries and remain a less developed economy. We are eliminating qualified students from higher education through our own system. I’m not saying that a 100% of students should go to university. Rather our legislators should have a mechanism for the students who do pass A/Ls and are not able to get into national universities, to pursue tertiary education.

Another debatable matter within our education system is of the A/L examination itself. It is simply another examination that measures one’s knowledge over a limited period of time. We are selecting intelligent students through A/L exams irrespective of discipline and give admission to continue higher studies in government universities. However, it is unfair to judge a student’s capability from a competition examination of a few hours, not forgetting the luck involved. Furthermore, the district quota system is once again questionable and possibly controversial. Students from a relatively developed district would have to jump a higher bar to get into the same field of study. Therefore, I concur advanced level examination should not prevent any students from achieving their dream, and for this alternative options must be available.

The world is progressing using the open economy in order to meet their challenges in the modern era. In an open economy, education is a major commodity. Western Countries are making a major contribution to their economy using the Open Education System, Australia, UK and Malaysia are prime examples. We are exporting our students to those countries. Countries, such as Malaysia, South Korea and Singapore, have used education and technologies to overcome poverty – they have used open education as a tool for development. Why can’t we learn a lesson from them? Private education is essential because the government cannot afford to provide higher education to all the students that succeed in their A/Ls.

Recently, we have seen protests by government educated medical students and doctors on streets and in hospitals. These protesters claim they are doing this to safeguard patients. But, the truth is that these professional doctors are protesting for their own benefits while risking poor patient’s life. What are these demands?

  • Better Medical standard for their patients?
  • Provide better medicine for critical patients by removing sub-standard medicine from the stores?
  • Take strict action against the private hospital mafia?
  • Introduce better standard to the mushrooming private hospitals?
  • The bribery commission should take tough action against corrupt practices of the doctors in order to safe guard the good name of profession?

Their demands are none of the above! It’s only against other students’ Freedom of Education & their own monetary issues. We have one physician per 2000 patients, and ranked 123 in the world, and these people still go on protests putting their duties aside. This is the reason professionals should NOT try to directly manipulate government policy.
Our country has a severe shortage of doctor’s in government hospitals, especially in rural areas. However, the brilliant minds at the SLMC are very busy upgrading private hospitals and some are very busy to serve foreign nations. How can one justify working in private clinics and abroad, while having studied using Sri Lanka’s free education system? Some doctors answered this question saying ‘they are contributing economy by earning foreign currencies. That is extremely hypocritical. Leaving aside any arguments for or against the economic effect of this. It is going against everything they claim to stand for: safeguarding the lives of patients.

If the economic stimulant of the free market is more important, then private medical education is definitely a step in the positive direction. We are continuously exporting our students to other country for medical higher education. Some of these countries have a lower health standard when compared to us. Why we can’t use our medical professionals to educate our children rather than sending to abroad. Why can’t we use this money to contribute to our economy? The students who go abroad are always required to repeat the Sri Lankan Medical Degree syllabus. This is just a waste of resources of our national economy. To create new jobs, wealth and prosperity for Sri Lanka we have to give the opportunity to people who are eager to learn, that’s the foundation to economic success.

These protesters must answer questions of basic human rights, freedom of education, national economy and ethical behavior of professional organisations to the general public who contributed to their education. Also, it is against the Hippocratic Oath they take before commencing their job. These SLMC/GMOA members should set an example to juniors rather than encouraging them to behave inappropriately. The GMOA should learn from world leading professional organisation like the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors and the Chartered Institute Building which are guiding professionals to behave ethically in order to build trust among the people and societies.

It is also embarrassing to watch GMOA/SLMC professionals talk to the media, as they don’t know how to behave in front of the media and general public. Some doctors always think they are superior to other professionals. One of leading Consultant from Sri Lanka who is currently working in UK generously commented in social media about this behavior. “Come out frogs from that deep well and see the rest of the world progressing, It is attitude nothing else”. They don’t see how the rest of the world is progressing. They are only considering how to create opportunities to earn money themselves at the cost of poor patients. They are setting bad examples for our children who want to become a good professionals in the future.

Dr. Lalith Perera, a Colombo medical faculty graduate, has expressed his view with regards to the current heated PMC issues, “All these years we were living like frogs in a deep well without seeing the outer world. We thought that we were the best, we disregarded other graduates and finally I realized that we were wrong” and further stated that “we fought with these people and chased them from our health system. Now they are doing extremely well in other countries giving their knowledge and skills other people”. And this is the sad truth about the Medical Education System in Sri Lanka.

This is part one of this article series on Sri Lanka’s medical education system. The second and final part will be run next week. 

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