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Preschools to be free under Sajith

Housing Minister Sajith Premadasa speaking at the Wills Stadium in Badulla/facebook.com

Outlining wide-ranging policy proposals pertaining to children and the elderly, presidential hopeful Sajith Premadasa promised today to reform preschool education, address malnutrition and revitalise care for the elderly in Sri Lanka, if elected.

At a press conference held in Colombo this afternoon, on World Children’s & Elders’ Day, Premadasa proposed a complete overhaul of preschool education, promising to standardise and regulate it and incorporate it into the country’s free education system.

A presidential task force operating out of the Presidential Secretariat will oversee this process, he said, with the goal of making preschool education free of charge and accessible to all, through state intervention and sponsorship.

According to Premadasa, out of nearly 19,000 preschools currently operating in Sri Lanka, only about 10,000 are registered with the government. This demonstrates the need to bring it under the wider umbrella of free education, he said, and transform it into a regulated system that employs a curriculum following international standards. Preschool students, he added, will be taught by qualified teachers who, under the proposed reforms, will go on to receive a government salary.

Asked to clarify the fate of the unregistered 9,000 or so preschools, the presidential candidate said they would not be shut down but will instead be regularised and incorporated into wider system.

A national nutrition policy will also be introduced, said Premadasa, in conjunction with the preschool reform drive. This, too, shall be overseen by the same presidential task force in what he called a ‘time-targeted’ programme.

“According to multiple nutrition indices, malnutrition in Sri Lanka has led to stunting, anaemia, dwarfing and various deficiencies. Between 70 to 80% of human brain development also takes place from birth to the age of five. Eliminating malnutrition is, therefore, essential,” said Premadasa, warning that failing to do so could lead to reduced production capacity in the future.

The proposed national nutrition policy will be implemented across all 14,022 Grama Niladhari divisions in the country, he said.

A second presidential task force will also be appointed, said the Housing Minister, to ensure a dignified existence for the country’s elderly. In 2012, he said, 12.4% of the population was elderly – a figure that’s projected to double by 2050.

“The government needs to provide a social safety net for the nation’s elderly. Right now, we live in a society where some of them are compelled to move to a home for the aged. Whether or not this is in line with our family values is a question we as a society must ask ourselves,” he said.

Until then, said Premadasa, the state would have to intervene and ensure that the rights of the elderly are protected. Noting that the state has a special obligation in this regard, he said human resources must be allocated for adequate care for the aged. Their nutritional needs, too, would need to be addressed, he said.