By Basil Fernando –
An Open Letter to the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sri Jayewardenepura and the Chairperson of the Grants Commission: The Tragic Injury to Pasindu Hirushan:Just what do you teach your students?
People are shocked by the following tragic incident. A first-year student of the management faculty of the University of Sri Jayewardenepura, PASINDU HIRUSHAN, suffered serious injuries. He has been in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) for several days. According to reports his condition is quite serious.
The details of the incident have not yet been published in detail. But it becomes clear that the incident was a result of an act of violence caused by one or more students against another student named, Pasindu Hirushan. He is a first year student at the University. There is some speculation that the incident may be due to ragging.
While the Police have announced an independent inquiry, the Vice-Chancellor of VIDYODAYA UNIVERSITY and the Chairperson of the Grants Commission have also promised independent inquiries and punishment of the culprits. It appears that the promise of inquiries, when judged by similar inquiries promised in other universities, is merely an attempt to appease the public. They are angry about the incident similar to that of Hirushan. Judging by past experiences of such inquiries, it is fair to accept that such statements are made to have a placebo effect-to appease public anger at such actions. In the end, the whole matter will be forgotten as the anger dies down. In any case, given the kind of dysfunctionality that prevails within the Judicial System of Sri Lanka, it is quite problematic. Added to the injuries, the student if he survives, or his parents will have to drag themselves to the Courts for 15 years or more before any one is convicted of a serious offence like this.
In any case, to only blame the students is a way of escaping the responsibility which lies with the University Administration led by the Vice-Chancellor and the Grants Commission. One question that needs to be asked of these Education Authorities is: what kind of education are you imparting to these students? Pasindu’s incident is not an isolated one. Even worse incidents have been reported from other universities, including organized attempts of prolonged sexual abuse of students. In one instance, a student reported that he finally left the University because of the prolonged harassment he had suffered.
A University Education is meant to develop refinement and to inculcate a value system within a student. It means that in their future life they would play a much more positive role in Society-at-large. Education is not just about teaching particular subjects and awarding degrees. After a person obtains such a degree he/she enters into the broader Society. The person must have a higher appreciation of values and should be able to interact with the rest of Society in a creative and caring manner.
This does not automatically happen when someone is admitted to a University. The responsibility lies with those who conduct such educational endeavors. They must consciously bring to their curriculum and activities a three-pronged approach. This will help the students to respect each other, love each other and care for each other. In the early days of University education in Sri Lanka this attempt was made quite successfully. Many who passed through the corridors of Universities could keep long term relationships and contribute to Society within a culture of values commonly shared. It may be that all of them do not turn out that way. However, for the most part, development of personality in a positive direction was an ideal cherished in all education, particularly in the institutions of higher learning.
It appears that stories of sheer cruelty and barbarity are constantly being reported. And Universities offer nothing more than pure disciplinary inquiries. There is something radically wrong here in the educational philosophy being put into effect in such Universities. This is what the Vice-Chancellor and Chairperson of the Grants Commission should examine: the responsibility of not only students who may have caused this injury but about their own responsibility too. Self-examination on the part of the authorities who run the universities would have a far more reaching-impact than mere disciplinary or criminal inquiries. This is not to say that such inquiries are NECESSARY. It is only to point out the obvious. In the ladder of the hierarchy of merits, self-examination of Education Authorities refers to two areas. First, how have they been carrying about their responsibilities? Second, how are they motivated regarding the concepts and philosophy of education? This would be a far better test of finding out why such a low level of behavior manifests itself so often.
For a long time now, the Public has not taken much interest in the type of education that is needed and should be expected from our Universities. NOW is when the ideals of a University Education should be made part of a Community discussion. And, the Authorities responsible for running these institutions, held responsible for imparting to students an education that is humane. Cultivation of a positive value system should be the test by which an education system is judged.