The Education Incentive Association (EIA) consists of a group of medical students from Eastern University, which serves Batticaloa District, in coalition with Batticaloa-born engineering students attending PeradEniya and Moratuwa Universities. In existence for 15 years, membership is made up of around 50 active student members and 200 University alumni. The purpose of the Association is to promote math and science among Batticaloa high school students with the aim of increasing the number of medical and engineering undergrads.
In August of each year, a set of national exams, called Advanced Level, or A-Level, are given island-wide. The scores of these tests are used to determine University admission. Subjects are divided into broad categories, for example Math/Sciences, Business/Commerce, Arts, etc. which are reflected in the exams. So for example those wanting to go into engineering take the Math/Sciences A-Level, which consists of three day-long exams; one each in Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics. Those who wish to pursue a medical career also take Physics and Chemistry, but rather than Math take the test for Biology. As you can imagine, these test are extremely difficult, not to say intimidating. A student that doesn’t get at least passing marks on each test fails the entire set of exams; and even passing isn’t enough to actually get into University; you have to have very high scores. Thus many kids, facing these odds, don’t bother trying to get a higher education. EIA seeks to counter this.
The biggest activity EIA engages in are practice A-Level exams. They have two testing locations, on in Batticaloa, the other in Kalmunai, about 40 kilometers south of Batti. Subject tests are rotated. For example, a mock Physics exam will be given, half on Saturday and half on Sunday. The following weekend will be Chemistry, and the third Biology or Math, depending upon the individual’s interest. This pattern is then repeated.
The tests are provided free, with EIA members volunteering their weekends. Materials themselves are also provided without charge; the test taker merely need show up with a couple pens.
Additionally, EIA holds a major weekend-long quiz competition once a year. Less serious than the weekly testing, the event is designed to encourage kids to the testing weekends by making the quizzing fun and entertaining. Prizes are given and light refreshments provided. This year, the quiz competition will be held on May 17th and 18th.
Lastly, EIA members regularly speak in school classrooms, discussing their A-Level experiences, university life, and extolling the benefits of a higher education.
Obviously all this takes money, although EIA seems to keeps costs down pretty well by relying on in-kind donations from local businesses. Additionally members, both active and graduated, are required to make an annual donation. also holds an annual car wash in BattiCALOA Town, charging 100 rupees for a motorcycle, 200 for a three-wheeler, and 300 for a car (100 rupees = about 90 cents).
Still, there are costs. Each exam weekend costs around 1,500 rupees (about $14) in materials, and there are costs associated with the quiz competition as well. In the past year EIA had to cancel a few of the exams due to lack of funds, as their fundraising is barely adequate.
It’s within this context that EIS approached ABDF. In past years the group has been partially supported by the Irish SriLankan Friendship Society, one of our local partner organizations, but ISFS’s mission being accomplished, they have now closed.
We at ABDF feel that the goal espoused by EIA, to encourage students to follow a math/science curriculum, is terrific; we especially like that they do much of their outreach in girls’ schools. We particularly encourage local groups to come up with their own solutions and projects, rather than have them imposed by outsiders. ABDF has decided to set aside a small amount of money for EIS to use as it feels best. This amount, 75,000 rupees (just under $680) will ensure that this year they won’t have to cancel any of their weekend tests, and will free up their own money for other uses, such as the quiz competition. ABDF feels that this small investment in the Districts’ students, particularly girls, will pay off in the long term and benefit the whole community.