In recognition that education lays the foundation for a successful life, Regional Plantation Companies (RPCs) marked International Day of Education by celebrating educational advancements in the plantation sector.
According to the most recent data from the Ministry of Education, between 2018 and 2019, a total of 48 new schools were established with almost 10,000 students enrolling from the estate sector.
Post-privatization of tea plantations in 1992, the Planters’ Association of Ceylon noted that there had been consistent improvement in terms of investment into educational services across estates. According to the School Census Report published by the Ministry of Education, there was a 5.09% increase in the enrollment of students in the sector between 2018 and 2019. Additionally, there was a 6.03% increase in the number of schools within the same period.
The capacity of plantation sector schools has expanded dramatically, with the Ministry of Education reporting an increase of 715 teachers employed in the span of only one year.
The Student-Teacher Ratio (STR) in schools within estates also recorded impressive improvements, standing at 15.1 in 2019 (School Census Report) – suggesting greater individual attention and assistance for students. This is a significant improvement when compared with the national Student-Teacher Ratio of 16.5 in the same year, implying a narrowing gap in the quality of education available to estate sector communities relative to the rest of the island.
“Education provides a firm foundation for development and we must ensure that every child and youth are given the necessary support and guidance to complete their educational journey. We thank the Government of Sri Lanka for playing a vital role in providing free access to education and much needed facilities for students residing in RPC estates,” noted the Chairman of the Planters’ Association of Ceylon, Bhathiya Bulumulla.
According to a World Bank report, the greatest improvement in educational attainment over the years has been in the estate sector. Between 2003 and 2012, the proportion of students who completed primary level education improved by only 4% in Sri Lanka as a whole, while the corresponding improvement in the estate sector was 10%.
This dramatic improvement was complemented by advancements in higher education as well – the proportion of students who completed O/Ls improved from 7 to 9% in the estate sector.
RPCs also credit advances in educational attainment to the solid academic foundation provided by their Early Childhood Development (ECD) program which is currently funded by member companies across 223 centers for the benefit of over 30,000 children each year.
The Plantation Human Development Trust – a tripartite organization comprised of RPCs, trade unions, and the government – instills the values of education in young children through Childhood Development Centers.
“We believe in taking a holistic approach to ensure that our children are given the necessary guidance and support in their path to education which begins at a very young age. Our early childhood development centres, offer support to not only the children but also their parents who are encouraged to take part in awareness programs to effectively be involved in the emotional, social and physical development of their children,” Bulumulla noted.
In addition to generalized programmes, RPCs have also supported deserving candidates who went on to pursue their tertiary education in various disciplines relating to medicine, law, engineering, and arts over the years. RPCs have also partnered with organizations like the MJF charitable foundation to provide over 840 educational scholarships to deserving candidates accepted to University and students who have performed well at their GCE Ordinary Level examination.
Commenting on the broader importance of education for the development of the agriculture sector, PA Chairman Bhathiya Bulumulla noted that more work remains to be done in order to encourage and enable children from these communities to take up subjects relating to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.
“Living in a country where over 23% of the workforce is in agriculture, it is important to always consider the evolving technological landscape and the positive role that it can play in our industry in the years to come. In a future where we succeed in sparking a digital revolution in the plantation industry, we will need a more skilled and educated workforce to adapt, manage and maintain new technologies which our industry’s productivity hinges upon.
“It is no secret that youth between the ages of 15-24 are leaving the estate sector for blue collared jobs in cities, which has contributed to the labour shortage in the industry. To rectify this situation, we need to ensure that there is dignity of work in the plantations. One way to achieve this vital objective is to encourage innovation and expand access to education in order to catalyze a new vision for our industry,” Bulumulla asserted.