21 May, 2024


Education: As A Tool For Community Building

By Rehan Derrick Fernando

Rehan Derrick Fernando


The word “education” is one of the terms used in any society in the world. The Oxford Advanced Leaner’s Dictionary defines education as “a process of teaching, training, and learning, especially in schools or colleges, to improve knowledge and develop skills.” However, the education that I plan to define in this article in a way goes further beyond, especially when it is applied in the context of community building. Therefore, education cannot be just a matter of learning or training or improving knowledge but it is a praxis; a praxis that discovers a new and meaningful verbalism and activism[1]. Looking at the context of Sri Lanka, education is the most essential component for community building because today several communities have completely lost their essence politically, economically, religiously, socially, and culturally. Therefore, this article with its research statement finds or rather attempts to introduce a new paradigm for education, which can be used as a tool for community building in Sri Lanka.

Wrong-turn of the Sri Lankan education

Sri Lanka goes through a huge moral decadence in education. The ministry of education does not provide a sufficient program for students to discover their abilities and capabilities; instead, the ministry of education decides for students. What exists in Sri Lankan education is nothing but hypocritical moralism. Such an education system is entirely against what Paulo Freire promoted through “universal human ethics.”[2] Within the premises of education, our adventure must be toward liberation, especially liberation through all forms of systematic oppression. The Sri Lankan education system has already harmed the basic ethics of a society. An educational system in the country decides for students and forcefully pushes students to do what the system requires and intends. For an instance, a student who is not capable of mathematics is being forced to learn that subject and urged to pass all exams for the continuation of higher studies. Whereas, there is no education system created for such students to learn something substantially following their capabilities.

One of the primary wrong-turns of Sri Lankan education is the loss of critical reflection or rather critical-analytical research methods. Students are not guided by creative research methods, critical analysis, and self-evaluation; instead, they are being forced to go through textbooks and work accordingly. In this system, education in the form of teaching has become a mere transfer of knowledge. What Freire promoted through most of his books is not a mere transfer of knowledge but the production of knowledge or construction of knowledge[3]. Critical reflection in education is a creative practice and a requirement of the relationship between theory and practice. It must lead students toward creative praxis. An education that does not lead to creative praxis is no more education.

Sri Lankan education also lacks a dialogical method in education. There is no considerable opportunity created for dialogical methods between teachers and students. It has been a process in which teachers or lecturers teach being the subject and students learn as mere objects. It is a dominative method in which the education system has created many uneducated personalities because students do not have space to know, clarify, analyze and research. In most of the Euro-Western counties, the dialogical method in elementary schools, high schools, and colleges is quite a normal procedure. Such a system creates not only men and women of caliber but also a permanent system in which the future education of those countries moves forward smoothly.

Language as a barrier for education in Sri Lanka

Both Sinhala and Tamil communities struggled to settle themselves in the ethnic issue but both communities failed due to the language barrier. It is quite pathetic to speak of this issue since the 1960s, we have not found the best resolution or a paradigm shift to resolve the conflicts. Several governments and private sectors created many systems in the field of education, unfortunately, none of those approaches could resolve the ground problem. Though there is an accessible opportunity for both communities to learn both Sinhala and Tamil, the process as such is not being introduced as a timely need[4]. It has been a matter of facing mere examinations. Since there is no genuine effort within the education system itself, Sri Lanka has failed to resolve the ethnic conflict. Both Sinhalese and Tamils were unable to communicate the true issues and realities of life. Over four decades, both communities failed to realize this crisis and find a collective answer or rather collective conscientization. This incapability ended up in a civil war by massacring many civilians from both communities.

How can a language become a barrier if people know better or have sufficient knowledge of both languages? Is it a problem in any language or the people who use the language? The Sri Lankan education system itself created a cold war within the minds and hearts of the people. There were ample opportunities to establish a significant atmosphere to experience peace in this country through a meaningful education system, but all those opportunities were willingly and consciously misused by political authorities to the extent of destroying the village communities in Sri Lanka. Learning both Sinhala and Tamil could have been a mutual medium to be used to build peace and reconciliation in the country. Instead, these languages were used to promote and widespread nationalism, gender crisis, ethnic conflicts, extremism, violence, and hate speech. The repercussion is now being owned by every citizen in this country.

Generally, I speak four languages such as Sinhala, Tamil, English, and Spanish. I also learned Khamayer and Vietnamese languages when I was working with those two communities. Learning those languages brought me personal satisfaction since I have been personally involved in community building irrespective of class, caste, possession, language, culture, and so on. Beyond my satisfaction, I encountered significant people who have used the field of education in learning languages for community building. However, it is pathetic that Sri Lanka as a country has not realized the need for proper education for community building. To sum up, my point, learning both languages in this country can easily settle many historical conflicts.

A transitional period

There is a transition in education from an educated paradigm to an uneducated mechanism. What the country experiences at present are an uneducated mechanism created by uneducated politicians or professional hypocrites. Sri Lanka has produced many educated men and women in history. It must undoubtedly be accepted by all of us. But in recent decades, Sri Lanka has been going through a dark age in the field of education, which has massively harmed and squashed the spirit and essence of village communities. Ordinary citizens in this country now make impractical and pointless decisions, especially during the time of elections. Subsequently, people suffer from the same decisions they have made. What does it indicate? Does it indicate just the passing habit of elections or the uneducated mechanism of people? In my opinion, I see a crystal-clear uneducated mechanism, in which people have willingly opted to be slaves. This is all about the wrong turns of the Sri Lankan education system. The village communities have faced not only a moral decadence but a transitional period from a genuine education system to hypocritical professionalism. What prevails at the moment is the words and deeds of “uneducated fools.”

Education as a conscientization

Education always appears as a conscientization of the people. In this regard, there are social, political, economic, and cultural perspectives to be learned, especially against the oppressive elements of reality. Therefore, education must lead to creating a new person, a person who works for humanization.

Education is a medium in which people can have authentic struggles to transform any situation. It is also autonomy and responsibility that one takes on behalf of others. Education, therefore, appears in a form of liberation. If education does not liberate a person, which means, there is an error in such education systems. Education cannot create a prison cave in a person for a person is always a free woman or a man. Any education system that creates a type of prison in a person is a barrier that leads toward dehumanization. In this so-called developed world system, what appeared to be good in the field of education is not good because such systems have led people to different types of oppression. An adequate and systematic education must show the path of liberation, especially for both the socially marginalized and the oppressed. If it does not happen within any education system, it shows the hypocritical systematic error in education. Sadly, this is what precisely takes place in Sri Lanka.

One popular statement of Lenin is very important to introduce another theory as such; “without a revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement.”[5] I prefer to see through the other side of this statement. This statement implies or rather insists on a theory that appears as a result of a thinker or thinking generation. The Renaissance period reveals how education both in socio-political and socio-cultural setup witnessed a radical education system. Europe, particularly, produced many scholars to the world during the time of the Renaissance. A solid revolutionary movement is always led by good educationists or from their theories. Coming back to the Sri Lankan context, now it is obvious how the whole education system is pending on the fence since there are no significant educationists. Sri Lanka lacks such revolutionary movements which come from real scholars. Instead, the whole political governing system is being maintained by uneducated fools and professional hypocrisy. It is at this junction that education plays a major role as a conscientization. If education is guided by conscientization, it can never be misled by anyone or any force. When manipulation, regimentation, militarization, sloganizing, and so on comes to the stage, education misses the realm of conscientization because conscientization in the field of education solely belongs to people’s freedom.

Education and community building

Education and community building, in my opinion, should walk simultaneously. Unfortunately, in most Asian countries, particularly, the present Chinese paradigm mislead the world. What is obvious in Sri Lanka is precisely the misleading Chinese paradigm in which building megacities and port cities have become the predominant structure. Such development is against the basic spirituality of community building. Another classic instance is none other than neo-colonial principles. Neo-colonialism in Sri Lanka has massively damaged the progressive establishment of village communities because ordinary villagers are being treated as aliens. If community building depends on such misleading paradigms, education is being thrown away. Education is a remarkable methodology to build communities because education emerges through human action, which consists of action and reflection.

In history, the school’s education to some extent was connected with the religious atmosphere, culture, customs, and habits in the villages. Building a community was an automatic approach. A religious leader, Grama Sevaka, principal or the teachers of the particular school, elders, and so on were part of this mechanism. Thus, mutual concern and responsibilities were held by them for common good. Ordinary education of all fields led a community to the extent of mutual sharing. Whereas, a forcefully entered westernized system has squashed and trampled down and that setup has introduced a competitive system among the people. That is not a good quality of education.

Authentic education through dialogue

Chapter three of the book Pedagogy of the Oppressed written by Paulo Freire is a masterpiece for this sub-topic. In the sub-cultures of the education system of Sri Lanka are precise results of the absence of dialogical formulas. In the absence of a dialogical method, what exists is nothing but a “banking education system.”[7] The authentic dialogue regarding education is, therefore, not a depositing idea but an act of creation[8]. I think it is in this concept Freire aims at universal human ethics because dialogue allows or rather creates a space for universal morality. It is not a hypocritical approach. It is a praxis that leads to authentic education. Subsequently, dialogue does not take place if any education system moves toward dehumanization[9].

Oppressors in any society are afraid of dialogue because they know the oppressed would stand by their efforts one day. So, oppressors prefer to keep the oppressed under their shoes as slaves. The oppressors’ governing system in a context of dialogical approach, especially in solidarity, would never opt for such methodologies. 

There is only one history that is important to us; that is the history of humanity, which is made by people. That history at times has been written by “dominative hands” to misinterpret the efforts of the oppressed because there was no authentic dialogue. Dialogue is a part of the oppressed and socially marginalized categories. It is also in other words a space to practice their freedom. No human agency can take away that freedom. Authentic education should understand this reality and support ordinary people to uplift their lives.


Education is not just passing examinations or learning plenty of subjects and own degrees. Education is far beyond what we see and define. Often the definitions of education do not help to understand the true essence of education. A community is sharpened by a good education system. Over the years of my experiences in working with different communities such as Cambodia, Myanmar, North American, Peru, Mexico, and certain borders of Laos, Thailand, and South Vietnam, I came across the validity and necessity of education in community building. In most Asian countries communities are scattered without a proper education system. Paulo Freire’s theories from a Latin American perspective provide a significant role model for education, which becomes a tool for community building. I suppose Sri Lanka can open a new chapter to learn and exercise from Freire’s praxis.

[1] Paulo Freire explain this notion in Chapter 3, where he speaks of dialogical method in education. For him, it is the essence of education as the practice of freedom. Cf. Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (New York: Bloomsbury, 2000), 68.

[2] Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of Freedom: Ethics, Democracy, and Civil Courage (New York: Rowan & Littlefield Publishers, 2001), 23-25.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Over the years of my experiences, I have seen how Tamils attempt to learn Sinhala. Whereas Sinhala communities have always failed to learn Tamil as a language of daily communication. Most of the Tamil communities are quite strong enough to use Sinhala in their daily communication.

[5] Vladimir Lenin, “What is to be Done,” in Essential Works of Lenin, Henry M. Christman, ed. (New York: 1966), p. 69.

[6] Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 106. I would prefer to contextualize Freire’s theory in the field of education. Education is purely a human action. So, it is a praxis. It requires theories to illuminate people’s minds and hearts. Such theories won’t appear overnight, it is a process of the praxis of commitment, which emerges through education.

[7] Ibid., 53-68.

[8] Ibid., 70.

[9]Freire gives a practical instance within the theory. In authentic education that appears through dialogue; it is not A for B or A about B, but A with B.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Latest comments

  • 3

    The author obviously has great experience in the field of education for peaceful, successful, and wholesome societies. And he iterates that the knowlege of the different languages of a nation is the most important in nation building (he himself knowing several languages).

    But our avaricious successive governments, especially the present one have striven to ape the West and install a Western system throughout ( now, via China….but still Western in modality). Sinhala culture still abounds, but only to embarassingly show racial arrogance. True cultural integration and enterprise is flat, and being killed at an exponential rate.

    Successive Lankan governments’ undertakings haven’t worked other than to place country money at the hands of a small percentage….the masses continually struggling to pay for the excesses.

    • 1

      Indo-Chinese countries on the other hand have shown much candor and clarity in dealing with post-colonial independence. Their citizens have much pride and dignity – not the fake pride of our Lankans who go around the world showing how great Sri Lanka is, when there is well…..nothing much to show actually

      Indo-Chinese countries unfortunately incured the US-induced Veitnam war and the Pol Pot regime. But it’s time we learned from these countries’ endurance and implement the results of their hard struggle towards their honor.

      Let’s face it: racial, community and communal integration will result in far greater wealth minus debt, and the masses will be much more content and dignified for it.

  • 2

    Thank you for elaborating on Paulo Freire’s views.

    • 0

      Dear rehanthili,
      I’m sorry that I overlooked SJ in posting a comment just now.
      He’s retired Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Dr Sivasegaram, who makes many brilliant comments on Colombo Telegraph.
      See, dear RTF, how men get distracted by you!
      Panini Edirisinhe

  • 1

    Dear Rehan Fernando,
    There are many more articles than usual coming on CT. If you examine the comments (and even some of the articles), you will see how poor the education imparted in our schools is.
    There was a recent article; a disappointing flow of comments. The numbers look good because I kept putting on lots of not very relevant comments towards the end. You may be able to glean from those conclusions that I would never think possible.


    • 1

      So what’s your point?

      • 2

        This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.

        For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2

    • 1

      I will read Thara’s article a d get back to you surely. Thanks for your comments.

    • 1

      Well my article on education is entirely different from Thara’s ideology.

  • 2

    Dear author:

    Fully appreciated all the points you’ve put forth here. A loaded article indeed. It’s worth developing into a book. Perhaps it’s already in the making.

    The following was an article here on CT in March 2021 that focused on the impact of the pandemic on Education.

    I had commented there that this disruption is an opportunity to overhaul, rethink, and develop an education system that resonates with some of thoughts here. I am repeating here some of my comments from there.

    I am a strong proponent of overhauling our education system and establishing clear goals taking into consideration what is going to be optimal at the individual level for any student to achieve their best within his/her realm of aptitude.

    A one size fits all program is understandable when deciphering aptitude but establishing streamlines earlier on than now is important. Deciphering aptitude should be an active process.

    Just as importantly, quality shouldn’t be equated to the quantity of information imparted. Information overload that’s actually detrimental in that it promotes memory work rather than permitting analysis and independent thinking.

    • 2

      From my own struggles coping through education systems, I propose these as key goals fundamental to education;
      1) develop advanced communication skills as the foundation for learning; learning of new disciplines, independent learning, and pursuit of advanced education
      2) incrementally develop the ability to comprehend complex concepts and information; this doesn’t require information overload but the space for digesting concepts, establishing concepts and patterns from a set of information, and developing concepts.
      3) there has to be greater exposure to the practical applicability of the concepts taught; relatability is key
      4) develop research skills early on; creativity, analytical thinking and seeds of innovation in whichever field best fits one’s aptitude

      Education shouldn’t be stressful. It should be liberating to one’s own creative potential; it should impart confidence in your inherent interests and abilities; it should nurture you to form your own thoughts and vision.

      • 0

        But we have to accept that there needs to be a balance along this evolution, a compromise which will entail some sacrifices, in regards to catering to the supply and demands of the workforce.

        For an employee, making a comfortable living is one of the primary goals of employment. For an employer, running a profitable or successful business or institution is a primary goal. There is an individualistic pursuit on both sides.

        Ultimately, I think that the push and pulls of fulfillment that is sought by each individual through the educational system as well as outside of it should prevail in evolving our cultural, social, and economic landscape. Individual liberation is vital to healthy existence.

Leave A Comment

Comments should not exceed 200 words. Embedding external links and writing in capital letters are discouraged. Commenting is automatically disabled after 5 days and approval may take up to 24 hours. Please read our Comments Policy for further details. Your email address will not be published.