9 August, 2020

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Expanding University Education: Argument For An Asian Model To Promote Eastern Knowledge

By Siri Gamage

Dr. Siri Gamage

The new government is planning to expand university education to cater to those who qualify but cannot get admission to existing universities. The higher education minister has said that currently about 30,000 gain entry to universities while another 20000 follow courses provided by foreign higher education institutions. Another 2000 who gain entry to local universities give up studies due to ragging (Daily News 16.01.2020). Though the new initiative by the government should be applauded, there are some risks associated with the sudden expansion of university education without instituting reforms in the sector-particularly organisational, curriculum and pedagogical reforms- and the timely provision of qualified staff and other facilities. 

From the public pronouncements made so far, it appears that the primary aim of expanding university education is for the graduates to be able to find employment. They are to be provided skills in areas such as IT and English language. However, university education involves more than this. It is about social, economic and cultural advancement plus the growth of the individual to be an independent, critical thinker rather than a follower who imitates. Late Jayalath Manorathne who was a product of the University of Ceylon, Peradeniya graduated in the late 60s exemplifies the ideal product of a university with creative and performing abilities who combined cultural knowledge while acquiring set of skills during university life. Obviously, he had the good fortune of associating with and learning from renowned professors like E.R. Sarachchandra.

Current State in Universities

Sri Lanka’s established universities imitate the Western model of university, in particular the British model. They have not liberated from the colonial constructs of what knowledge is to be valued, held in high esteem, taught and assessed via exams. In short, they have not been decolonised to the extent of acknowledging their dependence on Western knowledge and incorporating local/indigenous knowledge in teaching, learning and research. Departments within faculties are still organised according to (imported) traditional disciplines. Theory is emphasised more than the contribution of knowledge to understand and solve national problems. Interdisciplinary departments, Centres or Schools are largely absent. If they exist they are not supported well organisationally or resources-wise. Curriculum is largely outdated – at least in social sciences-and the academic staff profile is highly skewed toward mediocre level. 

Quality of teaching and learning provided have become questionable. Research is fragmented and theory oriented( at least in social sciences). Multidisciplinary research centres are absent. At present, research funding is allocated to academic staff individually as an allowance without monitoring their (original) research contribution adequately, regularly or systematically. Teaching is primarily teacher-centred rather than student-centred. Assessment is exam oriented largely on a year-long basis. Systematic team research on comparative higher education by qualified and experienced educationists is lacking even though this is an important area. Government instead depends on the University Grants Commission for policy directions and administration of universities. Ragging has become a torturing practice rather than socialising mechanism. While these issues continue, expanding the same model of education to a large number of additional students can create further problems in the sector and for the graduates.  Hence the need to tread cautiously.

Academic Dependency and Decolonisation of (Disciplinary) Knowledge

Knowledge exists outside science –though scientific knowledge is important.  In social sciences in particular there is this myth about being a pseudo science and encouraging to utilise positivist research methodology to generate knowledge. However, interpretive theories and methods advocate a different type of knowledge to so-called scientific knowledge. 

Decolonisation of knowledge in higher education institutions is imperative for the country to move forward. Connell (Southern Theory 2007) has mounted a credible critique of Western Social Sciences and emphasised the need to recognise that knowledge exists in places other than Western Europe where social sciences originated. I have expanded on the academic dependency theme in higher education and the need for re-discovering indigenous knowledge traditions (Gamage 2018). In the Sri Lankan universities, there is a reluctance to acknowledge and incorporate indigenous knowledge. Instead there is a preference to adopt so-called Western knowledge at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels (In some universities this may not be the case though). Today even universities like VIdyodaya and Kelaniya which are supposed to examine and promote indigenous knowledge have moved to introduce courses in management studies etc. based on Western knowledge constructs and their biases. What is the purpose of reproducing western disciplines including their theories, assumptions, perspectives and methods without adapting them to our own context and needs? 

Course and Departmental Structures

A University needs to offer a diversified curriculum so that students can choose areas of study depending on their interests and qualifications. In this day and age, learning world languages including Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Hindi is to be encouraged as they can open doors not only for employment but the knowledge world at large. Limiting the learning of foreign languages to English is not a wise decision. Intercultural studies and cross-cultural communication should be made a compulsory subject for all students. Likewise, learning about one’s historical, religious and cultural heritage should be a compulsory subject so that graduates retain elements of their identity, values and culture once they move out to society at large.

Having technical and professional subjects alone is not sufficient for graduates to operate in a globalised and culturally diverse environment where they have to deal with clientele from a cross section of societies and cultures with multiple language backgrounds. Ideally, the course structure can include several strands such as 1) historical, social, cultural context and heritage, 2) Intercultural (or cross-cultural), global communication, IT and language knowledge, 3)Subject knowledge in chosen  professional field/s. Under each stream there can be several subjects offered. I was involved in teaching Professional studies courses to future nurses and teachers in an Australian university in the past and the course structure included elements like this.  

The departmental structures in universities, in particular arts faculties, is based on the old disciplinary lines. This was good when the purpose of a given discipline was to encourage firsthand research and contribute original knowledge to the discipline. Today, University education in countries like Sri Lanka can have multiple objectives from a national point of view. Knowledge provided should be useful for solving national problems be it in the area of poverty, development, environment, social engineering, or issues faced by women, youths and children. A select few who choose to specialise can pursue knowledge through research in given fields with the aim of contributing to the field of study. With this in mind, current departmental structures need to be reformed in such a way that multidisciplinary teams focus on key problem areas in the national context and interest. They ought to contribute to research and innovation as a general rule. 

New Universities –Not degree shops

Research and publications are part of a full university. Contribution to new and original knowledge on the basis of research is part of a full university. This is lacking in some of the foreign universities or their campuses operating in developing countries of Asia and elsewhere including Sri Lanka. They offer degree courses on the basis of a curriculum developed in Western European, North American or Australian-New Zealand contexts without adapting the content to the particular geographical and socio-cultural contexts. They spend very little money on research in the country thereby becoming de facto degree shops (Upadhi kada) rather than universities per se.  This is a trend one can see in cities like Sydney, Melbourne, London where universities and private higher education institutes offer degrees and diplomas for international students charging hefty fees. Often such institutions are housed in high rise buildings. From Sri Lanka’s point of view, concept of a private/foreign university that offers degrees or diplomas where academic staff conducting research are absent is not a good idea. Similarly, it is not a wise move to reproduce universities based on the neoliberal market principles to impart Western knowledge with no change in the model of university.  Reputed scholars of education (e.g.Altbach 2004) have argued that Asia needs an Asian model of a university where Eastern knowledge takes an equal importance in the process of education rather than continuous dependence on the British model.

Net Contribution of Universities to the National Advancement

This should be a priority area for planning and organisational change in the sector. Areas of focus can be socio-economic, cultural, technical, scientific, engineering, agriculture, industry, health and indigenous knowledge. Well-funded research institutes within universities should be established with clearly defined focus areas to conduct research and contribute to policy and innovation. Research funds currently allocated to academic staff individually should be pooled and re-allocated to such Centres in each faculty. They should be encouraged to acquire national and international recognition, conduct collaborative research, consultancy etc. with international partners. Universities should be assessed annually on the basis of their contribution to national advancement as well as other criteria relating to teaching and learning, research and innovation. Contribution of the University to community well-being should also be a criteria for assessment.

Public-Private Partnership for an Asian Model of University

At the moment, there is a divide between publicly funded and private/foreign universities. PPP model can bring together both sectors and eliminate the binary division. However, such partnerships need to be geared toward establishing an Asian model of university which include both teaching and research as key focus areas with roots in the country, its intellectual history and broader region rather than alien knowledge systems and practices. I am not rejecting the value of alien knowledge systems for comparison. What I am objecting is to the extreme dependence on them to the extent of excluding one’s own through formal education institutions and processes.

Not More of the Same: Diversification is the Key

At present, there is no overall vision for higher education suitable for post-independent Sri Lanka. What we have is doing more of the same philosophy. Present proposals seem to follow the same line. Instead, authorities need to reconceptualise what kind of higher education is suitable for us and how to provide it? Here we need to make a distinction between Sri Lankan higher education  and international higher education. My main criticism of international education provided by foreign universities on a fee paying basis is that it is monolingual and monocultural.  Though it is useful for gaining employment in the English-speaking world, at the same time it has the effect of uprooting an individual from one’s own intellectual heritage, culture, identity and language. This is not limited to higher education provided by foreign universities but a common feature of the modernist project initiated during the colonial period and maintained under neo-colonial conditions.  Creative novelists like Martin Wickramasinghe recognised and explained this through his Sinhala writings. What is necessary is a quality knowledge product rooted in local culture and knowledge systems where we can be proud of.  It can be provided through an Asian model of University.

Sri Lanka needs a diversified university System where each university specialises in certain areas –like in China- and attempt to gain international reputation. When I compared the Chinese and Indian models, I found that India by and large followed the British model whereas China allocated funding based on specialisations by each university (Gamage 2019). This allows for targeted spending of limited resources. India also has a large number of affiliated Colleges. They are beset with various problems including in quality and reputation. In its effort to expand university education, Sri Lankan authorities should not reproduce more of the same or the British or American model. A University model suitable for local needs in the 21st century should be identified and constructed with necessary reforms within the sector.

Arts faculties in the universities need organisational, curriculum and pedagogical reforms in order to bring them away from the archaic practices and approaches and inject new impetus in order to be free from current epistemological and pedagogical dependency on Western knowledge traditions. A credible external review by reputed scholars and former graduates of arts faculties should be a priority before implementing change.

I would go so far as to suggest that a cultural revival involving more enlightened sections of society and the masses is necessary in the face of many onslaughts on the civilizational sphere of the country from powerful external forces. Reformed university sector, in particular arts and social sciences, should be a part and parcel of this. Literary figures such as Jackson Anthony have recognised the challenge facing us in the knowledge sphere (see interview in Lankadeepa online 09.02.2020 re his latest novel  Kandaudarata Gindara).

Sri Lanka needs not only graduates with a certain skill set (this goes beyond mere teaching of English and IT), but those literate about the country’s history, culture (including arts, literature, music, languages etc), cultural, literary, scientific and technological achievements, key figures involved in the two rebellions in the 19th century, 19th century cultural revival and the national struggle as well as our cultural intellectuals spanning the recent centuries. We need graduates to be informed about our civilizational links with other South Asian nations and their strengths (this requires some knowledge of South Asian languages as well). This does not reflect an either-or situation. Rather our educational planners ought to think about how to combine knowledge of our civilizational history and heritage with skills required for graduates to operate in the globalised corporate and state sectors.  Otherwise, we will be creating a neo-colonial situation where our graduates acquire certain skills but illiterate about their civilizational history, its challenges, key figures who contributed to its survival in the face of colonialism and other threats, and more importantly what is their role in maintaining the same?  In the absence of this sort of approach, the privatisation push can end up in marginalising what I label as civilizational knowledge (others have labelled it as traditional or indigenous knowledge).

Further readings

Altback 2004. The Past and Future of Asian Universities: Twenty fist century challenges In Altbach, P.G Umakoshi, T (eds.)  Asian Universities: Historical Perspectives and Contemporary Challenges, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press

Gamage.S. 2019. Transnational Higher education(TNHE) trends in India and China: comparison of Euro-American and Chinese models, in Globalisation, Environment and Social Justice: Perspectives, Issues and Concerns(eds.,) Manish Kumar Verma, London and NewYork, Routledge.

Gamage, S. 2019. Academic Dependency on Western Disciplinary Knowledge and Captive Mind among South Asian Sociologists:  A Critique, Sri Lanka Journal of Sociology, 1(1) 

Gamage, S. 2018. Indigenous and Postcolonial Sociology in South Asia: challenges and possibilities, Sri Lanka Journal of Social Sciences, 41(2)

Gamage, S. 2018. Western Dominance, Academic Dependence and Crisis in South Asian Sociology, in Sociology and Anthropology in South Asia: Histories and Practices (eds) Kumar, Ravi; Pathak, Dev Nath; Perera, Sasanka. New Delhi: Orient Black Swan.

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Latest comments

  • 4
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    Dr. Siri Gamage,

    Even though you sound a bit to suggest putting the same old wine into a new bottle, you’re right on certain points, especially the degree shops. Looks like Galle road of Bambalapitiya has become a souq for such courses.

    Funny, any institute that is more than 4 floors taller gets the name “Campus” to deceive the poor students. There are such campuses in Col 4 that conduct so called “certificate courses” in computer software for 3 to 6 months periods. Even worse, the lecturers are working professionals elsewhere, and they lecture here on their weekends, and the teaching style, methods, responsibility, plus their ability to make students understand something is horrible.

  • 2
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    The writer has done some effort and appreciate that. But these solutions are highly theoretical, and I do not think that there is a pragmatic solution for the problems highlighted by the government. Many of the solutions provided by the writer are already there in the university system of Sri Lanka. E.g. producing graduates with wider knowledge base. Our graduates have conventional knowledge base, but the broader environmental needs are different. There is no doubt that Sri Lanka needs universities not tuition factories.

    What are big issues highlighted by the government;
    1. All AL qualified students cannot get into the university system.
    2. The time gap between the AL exam and university enrolment- more than 6 months.
    3. Graduates are not readily suitable for employment because communication problems and expectation gap between employers’ needs and current university degrees and graduates.
    1. Allow students to do more than one subject major. Arts student should be able to do technical subjects. Similarly, the Engineering student can take an another major.
    2. Utilize the open university and offer online degree programs using latest state of the art technologies.
    3. Allow unemployed graduates to do post graduate programs in technical subjects such as IT, Accounting, Marketing etc at subsidised cost
    4. Expand the existing universities and take more students to do technical subjects such as IT, data analysis, engineering, accounting etc,
    5. Train the government employees through the post graduate programs to do better delivery of government services.
    6. Build new universities to offer technical subjects to increase the enrolment numbers.
    7. Combine professional association education programs with the universities, chartered accountants work with the state universities. likewise, other professionals.
    8. Make English as the compulsory teaching and assessment language while the uni student should be asked to complete Sinhala and Tamil as other subjects or foreign languages.
    Some of these strategies are short term. Some of them are longer term strategies.

    • 2
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      ‘Many of the solutions provided by the writer are already there in the university system of Sri Lanka. E.g. producing graduates with wider knowledge base’? I doubt this?

    • 3
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      The writer has put forward a lot of proposals, of mixed value, some practical, some not. Dr Gamage has some bias towards social sciences, naturally. Also a tinge of Nalin De Silva in his suspicions of Western systems.
      To start with, there seems to be some confusion about IT, which is to be taught to unemployed grads or prospective students. Sure, IT jobs pay in lakhs, but IT is a VERY difficult subject which requires aptitudes that few have. Even genuine IT grads have been known to fall by the wayside.
      I wouldn’t know if there is an “Eastern” version of IT.
      If Dr.G is talking about the use of PowerPoint, Excel, etc, that is something else, which brings us to English proficiency. English cannot be taught properly to anyone in a few months. It comes with a whole baggage of cultural associations that are picked up by conversation and reading. Otherwise we get graduates like some of the current lot at the Daily Mirror, who seem to use Google to translate their writings into English.
      To add to this, we have few competent
      teachers because our politicians and monks decided to adopt “Eastern knowledge”.
      “would go so far as to suggest that a cultural revival involving more enlightened sections of society and the masses is necessary in the face of many onslaughts on the civilizational sphere of the country from powerful external forces. “
      This is rather rich coming from someone teaching at a very Western university!
      The onslaughts on our civilization are not from external forces but internal ones, such as monks who want to deny sex ed to children. They come from retards who do not know our own history, who think that Victorian morality is indigenous . Those who don’t know that most kings had multiple wives and concubines. Those who don’t know that most kings killed their siblings, father or uncles to come to power. Is that the sort of “civilization” we are supposed to protect?
      I think not.

      • 0
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        Old Codger,

        1. It skills provided to undergraduates as part of a degree program can be basic ones as you suggest. They wont be able to specialise in IT.

        2. The fact I was teaching in a very Western university(now retired) does not disqualify me from critically commenting on knowledge construction or higher education. It is my human right.

        3. 19th century cultural revival was politicised by SWRD in mid 50s. Then events took a different turn with racial connotations. A similar attempt is being engineered today also. I am not talking about the politicised cultural revival. But one geared towards digging deeper into our cultural heritage including in the knowledge field(which was disoriented from the British colonial period), find out the key planks and promote the same through educational system. However this is a uphill battle as most SL academics(and those in South Asia) have become ‘knowledge brokers and translators’ for Western academic institutions(public and private). I am not saying that we should reject Western knowledge.I am saying that we should not be its slaves, brokers and translaters. Rather we should be critical interpreters who sort out what is relevant to us and our needs and set aside what is not relevant.

        3. Eastern knowledge: I am not referring to what the monks and politicians do in this sphere. Our children need to gain an understanding of the histories, societies, cultures, languages, literature, art, music, knowledge systems of the region at least. In the past, our renowned musicians went to India for training in classical music and dancing. Our scholars studied in Indian institutions(Today polis visit Indian devalas for Pooja)? There is much to be gained by studying Eastern knowledge -a fact recognised even by Western scholars, postgraduate students etc. Imperialism and colonisation inverted the focus from eastern to Western. Now we need a different set of education and political leaders who can invert the HE system from Western to Eastern….i.e. decolonise for the benefit of younger generations whose only interest will be to leave the island through existing convoluted system of education. This can be a long struggle though.

        • 1
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          Dr.Gamage,
          Sorry if I took you for one of those Luddite-type characters who are increasingly common nowadays in this country. These include the fake Ayurvedic Doctors , some of whom claim to cure even cancer.These people can flaunt their alleged “traditional knowledge” now only because they didn’t die at birth or from the now-forgotten scourges like smallpox or polio which were eradicated by Western medicine alone.
          I agree that there is much we have in common with India, though ignorant charlatans try hard mislead the masses with talk of our uniqueness. We must particularly study how they kept up such a high level of technical education, at least in some places, and how they maintain high standards of writing in English. Our media is pathetic in comparison
          As you say, it will be a long struggle.

    • 1
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      Whatever said and done, those who have graduated from state unis don’t want govt to increase intake or private unis offering degrees. They don’t see it from the point that country gets more graduates. Mentality, “if I want to succeed, stop others succeeding”. Same is applied in doing business also.

      Because of the shortage in universities in SL to provide higher education to all those sit for AL, they set an entrance mark is forgotten and these graduates think they are some kind of smart people who got highest marks. The fact is, in an exam system, it’s just the hard-work focusing the exam makes a topper, not true talents or intelligence.

      Privatized higher education is a must or we will end up producing more and more of bookworms as graduates, and govt should ensure the quality and affordability as per living conditions in SL.

    • 1
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      Sunil Dhahanayake . I agree with you. Our university education should be updated, upgraded, and modernised..
      1) some courses are not relevant to modern world.
      2) Some academics are not qualified to teach in university now
      3) child Sri Lankan born child should be given a chance to go to university.. Can we develop a system for this? Private uni otherwise,
      4) we live in knowledge based education world. the more skilled people we have more income we could make..so, government must review its education policy.
      5) Bangladesh is doing better than us in education. we send our students to do medicine . our students have to pay them a lot of money? why is this. What about our academics in medical faculties. are they not good enough? what cater special placement for a lot of Sri Lankan students who want to do medicine. Utter policy failure of government in this subject. I do not tell them to produce unqualified doctors. Most Sri Lankan students who go to science A/L are good enough to do medicine: at least 25% of them if not 40%. so, we are wasting our talents. How many Doctors who may have lost with this old system. Today, Education is money making and yet, political idiots do not know. today, we must sell our skills and talent to world market, yet, our idiot politicians do not know this.

      • 0
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        Dear Lankan,

        Our academics in medical faculties probably don’t have time to teach additional students as they are busy consulting patients for a fee in their spare times! I attended one such consultancy in Kandy in 2018 to consult a specialist. The nurse in the waiting area was collecting Rs.500 from each waiting patient before the specialist arrived like a bus conductor. If university education is privatised, expect similar people wanting to collect fees before teaching starts.

  • 2
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    The writer has highlighted that there should be a moral and other non-technical area to be included in the degree curriculums. Some of these things are happening in some universities around the world. For example, Harvard Business School had some course review of novels and literature. Plus, when we were at the University in Sri Lanka, we had to take a course on drama, sociology and geographical environment. I know USJ some Departments teach literature in addition to technical subjects.
    The major Problem is that the current Higher Education Minister or UGC have not developed a pragmatic solutions. There is a gap between the vision of the Minister and President.
    Most of the university administrators and UGC bosses in Sri Lanka live in ivory towers.

  • 0
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    I think, the extensive involvement of Politicians in everything – that is not meritocracy of the top management of the university but the appointment given becuase of political needs also destroyed Universities. As far back as 1970s, I saw, people who came because of political influence. I here, mother and father both of whom are academic were in the Supervisory committee of the students. I think, Top management not updating course content teaching the same old stuff , Lazy people as well as I saw cases of personal problems hampering their job performance (I saw one Alcoholic, I do not know whether there are drug addicts teaching. my guess). Those ARTs was a less demanding subject in the west, ARTs subjects make very high earnings and find employment in very good areas. I do not know whether the teachers still say, university education is only for producing Scholars. Sri lanka should stop hiring only the best performers and asking them to complete the PhD in a foreign country alone. Science related they bring some new knowledge, If they do not settle where they migrated, but arts subjects bring unwanted knowledge. I know here in CT most always quotes western literature as GOD’s saying. I do not know whether sri lankans talk to a graduate adviser and make custom made graduate program (within limits). I here, after 1960s or so university system breaking down because of the old system, USA also changed their system to job-oriented. After some time, that also broke down. So, it should be versatile (we need people to go overseas as well as to get foreign students). In the west, getting students to go to their universities or other just 3 or 6 months courses institutions (they are businesses showing very high educational level, what ever it is) is big business and that also provides (in the case of university students) high intelligence employees at a very low salary level. That solves their industry needs and problems at the graduate levels.

  • 0
    1

    Anyway, education moving away from the western model is excellent. There research papers and books coming from the west about Buddhism and are of very low quality. most of your proposals or the thought pattern is good.

  • 4
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    A very thorough and insightful analysis of problems associated with higher education in Sri Lanka. The author has exerted much effort into his research for the article. However, there is one aspect that needs mention when such problems are highlighted. That is that Sri Lanka, largely due to mismanagement and corruption, is a poor country that is becoming poorer every year. Hence, the proliferation of institutes selling degrees from rich countries. Posters and banners show grinning white people in cloaks and gowns and poor natives are enticed by the lucre in those countries as against the bleak and oppressive local employment environment. When stomachs are hungry, the emphasis is always on how to make money. That is why medical doctors are in such demand in SL (in a poor country with lots of sick people, doctors thrive). The lofty morals and virtues that mark university experience are largely absent due to the above. Knowledge for the sake of discovery and the joy of a rich and rewarding life with much colour and variety are never important in such a desolate backdrop. That is why the SL universities and other institutes are clinging to anything foreign and western in origin, with opulence and expansive goals of riches being the primary driver. In addition, local academics, sour with envy at those who made good overseas, do their utmost to prevent foreign quality from entering the stagnating system that is now also a colonial millstone around their necks.

  • 1
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    Those kids sat in the front row of schools are the ones congest our roads with small cars now. Those sat in the very end of the row are the ones driving those few big cars (most of the cases)
    .
    Moral of the story is, our education system prepares kids to work for someone else between 8 to 5, and from Monday to Friday; so this is enough to get a 20 years bank loan to build a house and a 5 year small car financing. What is the contribution of this individual to the nation? And parents too are part of it, and if a student doesn’t get good result at the OL/AL, parents feel the kids future is gone forever while making the kids too feel that is the end of the world. Even worse, majority of parents as well as student target is to settle in govt sector jobs for pension, this is what Gota called the other day, a Defeatist mindset, of course. Why would someone with self-confidence worry about an income when he gets older in 35 years???
    .
    Entrepreneurship MUST be a subject. And the education system should give hope for kids and not hint that if you fail at the OL, you’re good for tuk-tuk or factory worker.

    • 0
      1

      Hi Abdul,

      ‘Moral of the story is, our education system prepares kids to work for someone else between 8 to 5, and from Monday to Friday; so this is enough to get a 20 years bank loan to build a house and a 5 year small car financing. What is the contribution of this individual to the nation?’ Very true. An education system designed with the technical advice and resources of the world bank etc. cannot be expected to do much more than preparing younger ones to be functionaries of the globalised corporate sector. This is exactly why we should be re-conceptualising what the education suitable for the country is? Idea of preparing students for the job market(the current push by the government) is no different from the advice provided to government by international agencies and their brokers(advisors) in Lanka and other countries of the global south. Outcome is somewhat similar to preparing young people to work as cleaners, chefs in hotels owned by international capital. Only difference is that those who acquire degrees in professions will have a different title and a bit more salary. But the push for them to become western and give up local identity and culture will be strong. Creating a different kind of higher education standing on our foot rather than the head is not possible within the system itself because it is firmly rooted in everything Western.It has to come about from those literate about our cultural identity and civilisation outside the university system.

  • 1
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    This comment also has to do with education, but at earlier levels. It continues some updates on the problems engendered by the discussion in the article posted by me on Christmas Eve 2019.
    .
    https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/some-thomian-pharisees-are-adamant-on-the-need-to-cheat/
    .
    The previous comments were here:
    .
    https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/wus-vienna-conference-on-universal-human-right-to-quality-education-for-all/
    .
    I’m almost sure that I must follow up within the next ten days or so with my efforts at another article on this subject. I have already met the Headmasters of the two Uva Schools, and I fear that they are putting together casuistical arguments relating to this clause of the Rules of the BoG:
    .
    1.5.2 One person elected by an electoral college under the Chairmanship of the Hony. Secretary of the Board of Governors consisting of representatives of the Staff made up as follows: Two from the tutorial and administrative staffs of each of the Branch schools at Gurutalawa, Bandarawela and Kollupitiya
    .
    What they advocate is that the Staff Members of the three schools concerned (numbering around 400) should vote only to select the six members of the Electoral College. It goes without saying, surely, that these six could then either accept bribes, or be “tackled” by the Establishment to elect only those considered “safe” by the Anglican Bishop of Colombo.
    .
    The full text of the letter which, in announcing my candidature, deals in detail with the procedure that I wish to see followed, has been posted in a four-part comment here:
    .
    https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/royal-institute-defence-secretary-rules-above-supreme-court/
    .
    This present comment is meant to alert the reader of the need for all citizens to consider the grave consequences inherent in allowing these Pharisees to get away with this gross cheating.
    .
    Panini Edirisinhe aka “Sinhala_Man”

  • 2
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    Excellent article. University itself is a western construct. We cannot think it up. The problem in Sri Lanka is the political interference and the corruption in setting up private universities. Absence of regulatory controls is an issues. The flight of good academics to overseas universities is another one. What the country needs is employable graduates not people who can produce Sarathchandra plays. It is easy to fill universities to produce more Pali, Sanskrit and Buddhist civilisation graduates and say that we have people with values. They become disgruntled purveyors of ethnic hatred. We have to be tied up with the world. Values are always important in university education but relevance to the countries progress by producing graduates who can advance society both in values and in economic development is important.

    • 0
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      Even in the west, there are no decent salaries. They – sales people of govt institutions, CEO,CFOs like people have established their own pay scale. They millions including shares of the company. All others get low salaries.

    • 0
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      Most current graduate enjoy Sarachchandra plays though,,,even in places like Sydney and Melbourne. Why cant we have both?

  • 0
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    a simple point. we can produce graduates with knowledge and soft skills in any areas including ‘suitable’ for emerging knowledge/new liberal economy, but the important point is all SL graduates will be looking for jobs with a decent salary. as this is a developing country, students from working class/lower middle class expect social mobility thro’ their degrees. the question is whether our economy is expanding or growing to provide jobs for them. expansion of economy parallel to that of higher education is important… after all whatever job orientation you introduce in the universities, without robust econ development we can only face unemployment and agitation by youth, remember 1971/1987.
    Dayal

  • 1
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    SRI LANKA is still in stone age in education. Bangladesh is doing far better than us in education. Sri Lankan policy makers in education are dump heads. there are good people but idiot politicians in education do not know what is going on in the world. In faculties of arts and humanities, lecturers are still dictating old notes… Because, many of them do not read, and learn new knowledge. Go to some universities and how they teach in arts and humanities subjects.
    So, pathetic to notes.
    1) Some academics in our universities are not qualified to be called universities lecturers. At hundreds of them in all universities. How can they teach, if they do not know how to teach?
    2) Sri Lankan teacher recruitment and specially, academic recruitment is outdated, some Heads/Deans give these posts for their friends and relatives. Even politicians are involved influencing them. Many examples can be cited with names and shames.
    3) Lecturers do not dedicated their times for teaching. They come to universities one or two days but getting all salaries without teaching .
    4) create a system to monitor teaching in universities. Sack some of them if they are qualified. Do not have mercy on them because, it will damage our economy and education and the country.
    5) IF President can go to office to office to check how officers work why not He visit some universities with some experts in higher education to see what is going on in Sri Lankan universities.
    a lot to say in education……….

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    //They are to be provided skills in areas such as IT and English language. […] It is about social, economic and cultural advancement plus the growth of the individual to be an independent, critical thinker rather than a follower who imitates. //
    These need not be mutually exclusive. Indeed, pushing the former as an agenda will give a higher chance of achieving the latter.

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    Dear Siri Gamage,

    This is an answer to your comment for my comment. The current Sri Lankan uni students have serious communication problems, they also have technical problems and other soft skills. That is why they are unable to find the employment. I hope that you based in Australia. A lot of migrants who goes to developed countries very quickly grasp these skills and become established in their professions.

    But in Sri Lanka, the degree programs do not provide adequate skills in English, IT and other soft skills. Plus there are some cultural issues in Sri Lanka. If an intelligent graduate goes to a interview, if he can not speak good English, that person will not get the job. Plus, In Sri Lanka, the graduates coming from rural areas are discriminated based on their family backgrounds and school back grounds. That is why I suggested, the Sri Lankan unis should allow students to select their own subject majors, similar to Australia and USA. Plus they should be given adequate English, IT and soft skills. These are the things sought by the employers these days.

    Plus in Sri Lanka, there is no system of taking grduates as graduate program and giving them on the job training similar to Australia and USA. I understand that a very few firms provide this service now.

    Sri Lanka uni students and graduates are highly skilled but they should be equiped with English, relevant technolgies, training opportunities and soft skills.
    I have written these things based on my own experiance. But many graduates when they graduate, they are not determined to obtain these skills becuase of the economic hard ships. That is why I have given my suggestions and the government intervention is necessary on this. Plus, government should gove tax concessions to the firms, who provide training to graduates.

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      Dear Sunil,

      Very good points indeed. Students coming out of city based schools such as Royal, Ananda, Nalanda have better english language skills compared to the majority from the rural areas. In the private sector, there is a preference for the former because the managers/employers of private sector companies desire lifestyle(dress, sports, personality) and language compatibility in those who they recruit. This is a structural problem in Lanka and other formerly colonised countries. In short there is a self selection process favouring one set of graduates over another. What is the solution? Train undergaduates from all walks of life in modern traits? Perhaps the intention of Leadership training provided in Universities may be to address this issue.

      Your point about giving students work training is a valuable one. My former students did work in McDonalds, Coffee shops, Super markets etc. while studying to earn an income and pay rent. I am not sure if SL undergraduates will be willing to do the same? Because the ideal they have in mind is of a future civil servant dressed in white trouser and short still?(U of Ceylon was established partly to prepare future civil servants).

      In 2018 I went to a bookshop in Kandy and by chance came across the books in maths, science etc.used in schools for various grades. They all came from Britain perhaps with the support of British Council. In other words, the maths, science (and I cant remember other subjects) taught by our teachers, their guide books and text books come from Britain printed in SL. This is the extent to which we have been re-colonised to reproduce what comes from foreign countries and neglect our own. A student learning from such texts,I wonder, whether he/eh be able to imagine a grounded science or maths to be able to relate to the context? Is there only one kind of maths or science in the world? Problem in social sciences is worse.

      Yes I live in Australia…where the key institutions are monocultural though the society is multicultural.

      You can see how complex the problem of education is? Thats why we need a mechanism to collect all good ideas for reforming the sector rather than knee jurk reactions.

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    There are over 50,000 unemployed graduates produced by Government owned Sri Lankan Universities. There are no unemployed people produced by the Professional institutes such as Accountants, Bankers, Marketing Professionals, Chemists, Architects, Lawyers, Chartered Secretaries, IT Professionals, Etc. President Rajapaksa with his experience in US Universities is well aware of the need for restricting the expenditure on faculties that produce unemployed graduates and catering to the needs of the job market.

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    The First thing that should be done is to create economic, financial, and banking courses pertaining to Lankan natural money (minus foreign loans…..maybe with foreign money being of less than 5%). The elite taking the country money in all kinds of ways to further their children’s education in the west should be banned! We must also liaison with other countries that do such things, and learn from them- viz. the Indo-Chinese countries. It will be a dictatorial system, but Singapore, and Indo-Chinese countries like Myanmar are dictatorial. From this, all the courses that should pertain to the country will emerge spontaneously. Only possible system government that can do this is a greater socialist one, like the JVP. Otherwise, these Gota’s supposed dictatorial skills…….we would like him to use it in this case, and many other cases.

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    Objectives of the first degree should be multipurpose. As president wants, preparing for employment, country’s need and that should include self employment. Some degree programs waste lot of time, at least those days. both of the university and of the student. So, they can finish the course material in 2 years and one year they can be employed in places where they can get training. Another few months after finding permanent employment, they can come back and can present dissertation, thesis or report what ever. In mixed programs, two three year program can be extended to four years and the extra year can be spent training as a teacher both in the school and in a different faculty.
    Another thing, first degree should train future scholars as well as solve country’s problems via graduate programs. I think some of these are on place already.

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      Good ideas JD. In the university I worked in Australia, about 15 yrs ago a change was introduced for arts undergraduats to do professional courses in education, business, law etc. They did 2 yrs arts and 2 years in professional element. Students could still choose to do an arts degree if they wished.

      I support work experience . It can add very valuable experience to a student’s profile.

      Postgraduate study is a different kettle of fish. For example, to do a MBA in Australia or elsewhere it costs a lot of money. SL universities can introduce high quality degrees like this for the international market. If necessary they can collaborate with a foreign university. But the main part of the course should be by Sri Lankan academics.

      SL universities are reluctant to recruit foreign academics on contract basis like other countries. If there is a shortage of qualified staff, this is one way to address the problem.

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    Dear Dr. Gamage,

    Thanks for the comments. I can also write some successful stories from Sri Lankan universities. The Management, Business Administration, Commerce , Accounting and Marketing graduates coming out of the Universities in Sri Lanka getting more job opportunities than science and arts students. The reasons for this demand are that most of these degree programs are conducted in English and work internships are provided during the undergraduate period, before graduating.

    Plus, there are most successful Departments in Sri Lankan universities. They are the Accounting Departments. Examples, USJ, Colombo and Kelaniya. These students are provided with a 2 year internships and lecture programs are conducted in English. They will get jobs soon after they graduate or migrate to developed and Arab Countries.

    These are real world examples taken from Sri Lankan unis. That is why suggested that the Arts and Science and other students should be allowed to have more than one subject major based on their choice. But to do the State Universities in Sri Lanka need to change their selection and enrollment methods. I hope that the new government will do these structural changes. There is a hope that is the President has taken a keen interest on this matter.

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    There was a phone call I received yesterday; a very responsible Old Thomian tipped me off that there is a serious problem of “child abuse” which had resulted in Headmaster Christopher Balraj going to the Bandarawela Police Station again on Wednesday. That I find is quite correct.
    .
    I met the HQI, Mr Jayatilleke last evening.
    I had not known him at all six months ago, and even now, I don’t know him socially. However, he seems to now regard me as a trustable acquaintance, thanks to my displaying serious concerns, but on the other hand not giving anyone exaggerated accounts of events, or shifting to wrong perspectives. He told me that although Balraj is not in trouble again, there is a long term and grave problem relating to child abuse, where teachers had resorted to corporal punishment. He was allowing the Courts to decide all this.
    .
    I know that there still is a good deal of corporal punishment in all sections of the school. Let me be objective and state that all that has happened in this instance relates to students and teachers who are Tamil. There is corporal punishment by Sinhalese teachers as well. This has to be handled carefully, and not right now by me. Corporal punishment is totally out of favour today, and I don’t approve of it either. Not now. However, when we were school children we were caned often – in a dispassionately regulated way was then the accepted system. For the committed teacher, teaching is a long-term career. Forty years. In my career, I have struck students in anger – not often , but even once is too many times. Corporal punishment is an admission of failure by the teacher. It is crude and uncivilised.
    .

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    PART TWO
    .
    On the other hand, teachers also are human. Some are sadists, but every time there is an incident of that sort we ought not to ruin that teacher for life. However, the Anglican Church has not been taking action where it should. I hope readers will study the comments on this article to see for themselves how no action is taken when senior priests and even the Bishop are accused:
    .
    https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/st-johns-college-new-principal-unity-only-in-diversity/
    .
    Accused and proven are qualitatively different. Those comments are compulsory reading for all Sri Lankans. Without reading them, please don’t presume to draw conclusions. Our judicial system has degenerated to such an extent that even where there is clear proof cases are not filed. On the other hand, it is for you to decide if one comment about the Bishop is proof. However, why has he not come out with a public statement? Why hasn’t the yet “frocked” Gnanaponrajah filed action against his accuser?
    .
    https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/st-johns-college-new-principal-unity-only-in-diversity/
    .
    The worst abuses are by a number of these Anglican clergy – but not by all, please. On Tuesday, I produced the registered letter which I had sent the Bishop after Balraj manhandled me in the presence of over fifty Old Boys, the cricket team of current students, and some support staff. I did not report the incident to the police, but I have placed it on record with four (slightly off-topic!) comments on Colombo Telegraph, and e-mails to the Bishop. “Rt Rev. Dhiloraj Canagasabey” is not worthy of any reverence. No action by him.
    .
    .
    Panini Edirisinhe aka Sinhala_Man

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    PART THREE
    .
    I’ve stated all this elsewhere; I’m not going to name the innocent young girl from Dhilo’s office who rang me in August to temporarily quieten me. Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury was here at the time. Welby I respect immensely, Balraj and Dhilo not at all.
    .
    Going to Gurutalawa today.
    One bus gets you there, via Diyatalawa, Aluthwela North where there was a now-closed Sinhalese school which had only 14 students, Galedanda, the STC playground, the horse-riding ring, and the “sixth-mile-post”, where I will get off to tuk tuk the last half mile to the school.
    .
    This is the problem that these guys have with me. Not only do I know English and “Western Culture” better than them, but I also know the current situation of this part of the country, and the lives led by the humblest inhabitants. Fifty years ago, we were encouraged to hike through this lovely countryside; today, the kids are cooped in a little area. Few know that the school has voluntarily shed half the land it owned. The Anglican Church just can’t manage what dropped into its lap as part of the Colonial Heritage. Those at the pinnacle live like princes – examining how is not for today. Prof. Jeevan Hoole has exposed it in a number of articles – he knows better than I do.
    .
    Back to the subject now being dealt with: there are many facets to school punishments, discipline, and what should be the joyous period of childhood. I had to expose this charlatan:
    .
    https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/open-letter-to-dr-deepika-udagama-chairperson-hrcsl/
    .
    I hope that you see how so much that was relevant was hidden from us. So, dealing with the current situation in STC Bandarawela is not something that I will attempt for now.
    .

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    It is 11.30 pm. I’m at STC, Gurutalawa. The going is already proving difficult. Let’s see what the morrow brings.
    .
    I guess one of our problems is a highly hierarchical society, which conditions most of our citizens to always take orders from above.
    .
    Tomorrow at 6.00 pm we have the Annual General Meeting of Old Boy,s Association. I get back to Bandarawela on Sunday morning. I can’t help feeling that the less I say now, the better.

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    Dear desperateasnother,
    .
    I have studied your comment made here today:
    .

    https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/provide-state-relief-to-victims-of-jvp-ltte-periods/
    .
    All is well; I’m now in Maharagama. Do not worry, but also, unless you find some other way of communicating with me, there may be almost no messages from me. Education is a slow and patient process. I’m confident that from this point on there will be quiet progress on all matters discussed by us.
    .
    It is likely that the focus can return where it should; happy children working quietly in a healthy atmosphere. Basta.
    .
    Panini Edirisinhe (NIC 48 3111 444V) aka Sinhala_Man

    .

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    PART 2 of 4
    .
    It is true that education and litigation ought not to be juxtaposed too often, but what choice have I got when I’m man-handled, denied access to events in a school where I was born (certified as such!), and subject to threats of more violence?

    .
    I find that it is claimed that I want desperately to climb on to the Board of Governors. Nothing of the sort! I only want this election conducted in a free and fair manner. There are claims by the Headmasters of the two Uva Schools that the subject has been “discussed” with me at formal meetings. This again is nonsense. I was peremptorily told that this election was none of my business, that I was too old, etc. Yet there are clear indications that the incumbent Staff Representative, Mithra Edirisinhe, whose very existence and identity are not known to the vast majority of Staff is going to be inveigled back to the BoG, despite his being five years older than me.
    .
    I don’t think that educational qualifications ought ever to play a role in deciding who a candidate should be, but let me place it on record that incumbent, Mithra, has absolutely no Educational Qualifications – no, he hasn’t even sat his G.C.E. (O. Level) exam. Can such a man be kept on the Board of Governors of an Educational Institution? He has already been there for eight years (two terms). No contribution of any sort is the complaint by staff. The details of all that have been made public here:
    .
    https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/some-thomian-pharisees-are-adamant-on-the-need-to-cheat/
    .

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    PART THREE of FOUR

    Follow the links given there and you will find that there are other articles, some four years old. I have repeatedly tried to contact him on his mobile phone: 077XXXXXXX, during the past three months but failed to elicit a response. We have had long chats before that. At this point in this comment, I shall try again. Tried at 10.50 am. on Friday (Public Holiday) on 21/02/2020. No success, as expected by me.
    .
    I had called his home land-line, 011XXXXXXX, on Saturday, the 1st of February, at 10.04 am, told his innocent wife that I wished to speak to him. He was strolling in the garden, I was told. She had cut off before going in search of him. I rang again at 10.09 am. The wife again. He would call me later in the day. I called again on Sunday, the 2nd, at 7.49 pm. It was the wife agin, who said that she was surprised that he hadn’t called.
    .
    I said that it was about this BoG thing. If cheating persisted, more uncomfortable details would get known to her, their daughter, and the Public at large. No, I wasn’t going to convey all that personally, but public airing of problems (the present comment is only one such) would immediately lead to its getting known. I meant, specifically, the lack of education beyond Grade 8.
    .

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    PART 4 OF 4
    .
    I balk at the idea of writing yet another article
    , or (heaven forbid!) filing action in courts. Do I now have a choice? One problem is that “nominations” are stipulated. Anyone from the Uva Schools nominating me will be peremptorily sacked. I have not studied in the Colpetty school, and I don’t know anybody there. I wouldn’t want to embarrass the Headmaster there either. On Tuesday, the 18th, I spent well over an hour there – had lunch in the tuck-shop, after handing over more than a hundred copies of my “manifesto”. The Headmaster, casual and relaxed appeared at the tuck-shop. Our “discussion” lasted no more than five minutes. He did not know the date of the election. The tuck-shop has been privately run by “Mrs Mary-Anne”. A very pleasant lady. So, she wasn’t going to be a voter. By then, I had no more manifestos left with me, but I did give her my visiting card with contact details on it.
    .
    What do Bishop Dhiloraj Canagasabey, and the Anglican Establishment have to say to all this?
    .
    Thank you, Colombo Telegraph, for putting up with so many of my harmless eccentricities. And thank you Dr Siri Gamage for not protesting that I have brought the discussion down from the rarefied heights of higher education to Primary and Secondary Education.
    .
    Panini Edirisinhe (NIC number 48 3111 444 V) aka “Sinhala_Man”

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