Sri Lanka recently cancelled exams in more than a million schools for an indefinite period due to an acute shortage of papers. The Education Ministry issued a statement on March 19 (2022), saying that mid-term exams were scheduled to begin from March 21 in different schools across the tiny island nation. However, the concerned authorities informed the schools to cancel the exams indefinitely.
According to the statement, the Department of Education cannot provide the schools with papers required for holding examinations. The Government of Sri Lanka does not even have enough resources to import papers, as the country is going through an acute financial crisis. The Ministry has admitted that Sri Lanka is facing such a crisis for the first time since its Independence in 1948. It may be noted that Sri Lanka not only imports papers, but also imports ink from foreign countries. A senior Education Department official has said that those, who print question papers, do not have enough funds to purchase papers and ink. “Hence, we do not have other option, but to postpone the exams,” stressed the official.
This decision of the Sri Lankan Government, it may be said, has made the future of at least two-thirds of the country’s 4.5 million students uncertain, as their promotion to the next class at the end of the year is based on their performance in mid-term exams.
The ongoing financial crisis and shortage in foreign exchange reserves also have a negative impact on the supply of essential commodities… from food and medicines to fuel. President Nanadasena Gotabaya Rajapaksa recently urged the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to help Colombo overcome the crisis. However, the global lender said that it would consider the request. It is to be noted that Sri Lanka has a debt of about USD 6.9 billion in the international market. As expected, panic has grown among common people in this situation. Long queues have been seen outside shops across the South Asian nation, as people are trying to store food and essentials as much as possible. They are also storing fuel. The situation has prompted the concerned authorities to cut off power supply for at least 16 hours a day, in order to save money. The Gotabaya Rajapaksa Administration in Colombo has also made arrangements to provide people with powdered milk, sugar, rice and pulses, hoping that the move would be able to prevent a food crisis. However, the anti-Government protests across the country recently prompted the President to declare an emergency in order to maintain peace. Still, the country’s political situation is constantly deteriorating.
Experts are of the opinion that China is partly responsible for the situation Sri Lanka is facing today, as the island nation is quite dependent on the Asian Giant financially. Sri Lanka had approached China with a debt waiver petition at the beginning of 2021. However, there has been no positive response from Beijing so far in this regard.
Meanwhile, India has assured to help Sri Lanka in crisis. During his March 28-30 visit to Colombo, Indian Minister of External Affairs Dr Subrahmanyam Jaishankar held separate meetings with various Sri Lankan officials to discuss the crisis. Although the main purpose of his visit was to strengthen India’s Maritime Policy (Security and Growth for All Regions) in an attempt to counter the growing influence of China in the region, the visiting minister discussed the Island nation’s current economic crisis with Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa. During his meeting with Dr Jaishankar, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa thanked India for extending two different credit lines, worth USD 1.5 billion, to help the neighbouring country overcome its worst economic crisis in decades. At the same time, he requested New Delhi to provide another credit line of USD 1.5 billion to help Colombo import basic necessities, as the tiny nation was on the verge of bankruptcy.
Reports suggest that Dr Jayashankar discussed various aspects of bilateral economic ties with Sri Lankan Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa in Colombo. The visiting Indian minister informed the Sri Lankan minister that New Delhi would provide the Lankan Government with the loan in order to import food, medicines and other essential commodities. He further assured Basil Rajapaksa that India would provide all sorts of support to Sri Lanka in an attempt to help the latter overcome the worst economic crisis, as New Delhi considered Colombo as its important partner in the region. Immediately after the visit of the Indian minister, Sri Lankan Minister of Justice Ali Sabry replaced Basil Rajapaksa as the Finance Minister. Meanwhile, 26 members of Sri Lankan Cabinet have tendered their resignations to the President, although Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa has refused to do so. The ruling coalition, too, lost majority in the Parliament on April 5, as 41 Sri Kankan lawmakers walked out.
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