7 December, 2019

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Human Right To Quality Education: Eight Demands To All Presidential Candidates

By Laksiri Fernando –

Dr. Laksiri Fernando

Sri Lanka’s education system is in a deep crisis. That is a major part of economic, social and political crisis. Some symptoms are revealed in high unemployment, more under employment, dis-functional economy, university disturbances, and even youth suicide. It is necessary to conceptualize the need for quality education as a human right, not neglecting the attendant duties and responsibilities of all sections involved/responsible.  

This article is presented in two steps. First outlining the interdependence between educational crisis and economic, social and political crises. Then briefly explaining why quality education is a human rights in a global sense, not limiting to Sri Lanka. This may be necessary to understand the proper conceptual and historical context. Article concludes with 8 demands for all presidential candidates to commit and deliver.  

Socio-Economic Interdependence 

A proper quality education can increase human productivity, innovation and entrepreneurship, and contribute immensely to exports, growth, development and living standards. This does not mean that education or human resources should be considered only as ‘instruments’ or just ‘means to the end’ of development. This is a mistaken approach by some. 

Quality education means both enhancing skills and values. It also means equal and non-discriminatory education for all irrespective of gender, ethnicity, religion, language, class, caste, ability/disability or region. One who is seemingly disable in one area, is definitely able in another area. This is a neglected aspect in educational planning, implementation and practice. Regional and other spatial disparities in schools and also university education are the most damaging to the country and the social fabric. The notions of ‘Colombo schools’ or ‘Colombo universities’ are unacceptable.  

If value education is founded on human rights principles, the above disparities cannot happen. If those principles are upheld and followed not as mere slogans, but as practical and operational principles, many of the above disparities and discriminations cannot happen. The rural children are the most discriminated and affected under the present system. We of course should not live in an ideal world. Problems are always there in a developing country. However, when problems are identified, those should be addressed sooner than later. 

Some people even get angry when human rights are mentioned. Neglect of human rights is overwhelming. This is both the result, and the cause of poor-quality education in the country. A proper value education can address many of the social crises that are identified as ethnic and religious prejudices, conflicts and extremism. Human rights and value education should be the base of these endeavors, not superficially but in depth and essence. Just discipline, laws or punishments cannot do that. 

Education is not only for jobs and upward social mobility. Gainful employment, as a worker or an entrepreneur, is of course primary. But education is also a social commitment/contract to serve the society and the fellow human beings. Not only human beings, but also to look after the other living beings and most importantly the environment. Those should be our values and principles.  

Political Dimensions  

The causal link between poor quality education and the political crisis is also prominent and obvious. Education is a lifelong requirement, not limiting to schools or universities. People need education and reeducation. Although the basic literacy in the country is apparently high, basic ‘political literacy’ does not appear to be high. Otherwise, this much of disfunction between political promises and fulfillment or unbelievable election promises themselves cannot happen in the country. 

In a democracy, it is not correct to prescribe specific educational qualifications to be a Member of Parliament or a Presidential candidate. However the educational qualifications of MPs, Provincial Councilors and Local Government Members are appalling as well accepted in the country. This is one reason for the poor quality of debates, arguments and pronouncements that we see in political platforms these days. For this matter, not only the politicians should be blamed. Also the people who elect them are responsible. It is also not merely they themselves to be blamed, but their education and its quality, scope and content. 

Although the final solutions may appear to be in the long run, a start should be launched immediately. Although the overall or the average situation is depressing, there are enlightened sections within the civil society, alternative political forces and even (little) within the traditional political parties, irrespective of apparent divisions between them. 

The academics and professionals in education should take the lead seeking support from the more enlightened youth and civil society sections in the country for change. When I mention ‘civil society,’ some people also can get angry. That is also part of the problem.  

Conceptual Roots 

How do we perceive education or quality education in life? Mothers undoubtedly were the pioneers of education in society. They still do so on the basics. Then the religious preachers and institutions came in, as moral education was necessary. Perhaps occupational education was obvious or came from the fathers in ancient societies. 

Now we have formal education. The State is supposed to supply formal education although it is on and off or partly abrogated to profit making private institutions. Of course there are commendable non-profit making or charity efforts as well. Those are appreciated. However, it is customary and universally accepted that the State has the primary obligation to deliver education in modern society. 

While most of the concepts of civil and political rights came from the French Revolution in 1789, some economic and social rights originated in countries like Germany or Prussia during 1848 revolutions. The right to education was a major demand in those revolutions. If our Puran Appu knew them, perhaps he would have fought for them in 1848! Just because something originates in a foreign or a Western country we should not reject them, unless the pressure is coercive or inimical to our sovereignty. 

We have our own pioneers in educational struggles. The Theosophists, the nationalists both in Jaffna and Colombo, and the Samasamajists played their respective roles. The giant in free education undoubtedly was well celebrated C. W. W. Kannangara.  

The following is what the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in Article 26 declared in 1948 on the Right to Education, just 10 months after our independence. 

(1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.

(2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.

The above is quite comprehensive. However, the importance of paragraph (2) could be emphasized to highlight some aspects of this article in relation to human rights education and education that could promote ‘understanding, tolerance and friendship among all ethnic and religious communities in our country for the maintenance of peace and stability.’ 

Why Right to Quality Education? 

Why then the right to ‘quality’ education in the title and emphasis in the article? It is not just ‘right to education’ that people need today. Right to Quality Education. There are countries and states all over the world just deliver education almost as a ritual but without quality or right quality. 

It is in the process of this lacunae and the realization of this lacunae that the UN General Assembly in 2015 announced the right to education as the ‘Right to Quality Education,’ among 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). Among other things, the SDG 4 says the following applicable to Sri Lanka and our discussion. 

Obtaining a quality education is the foundation to creating sustainable development. In addition to improving quality of life, access to inclusive education can help equip locals with the tools required to develop innovative solutions to the world’s greatest problems.”

The reasons for lack of quality education are due to lack of adequately trained teachers, poor conditions of schools and equity issues related to opportunities provided to rural children. For quality education to be provided to the children of impoverished families, investment is needed in educational scholarships, teacher training workshops, school building and improvement of water and electricity access to schools.”

Conclusion: Eight Demands  

It is in the above context that all presidential candidates should commit and help deliver the right to quality education to all Sri Lankans, whoever wins the election. More bipartisan and joint efforts are necessary for the future of Sri Lanka in this respect. 

More specifically, we should ask or demand from all presidential candidates the following or more in fulfilling and ensuring the right to quality education for all.  

  • Commit 4% to 6% of GDP for education to improve and expand quality.  
  • Appoint a qualified Educational Reform Commission to propose reforms within 1 year. 
  • Coordinate properly with Provincial Councils to eradicate centers-periphery and regional disparities in school education.
  • Restart proper human rights education in schools including multi-culturalism. Seek funding from UNESCO. 
  • Make Sri Lanka a trilingual (Sinhala, Tamil, English) country through education. 
  • Enhance science, skills and technology education in rural schools without neglecting value education.
  • Reform university education with emphasis on employability, English and research in natural and social sciences. University medium eventually could be ‘English only.’ 
  • Take immediate measures to eradicate ragging and similar violations in universities and schools.  
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Latest comments

  • 1
    9

    Poor Dr Lacksiri.. I thought he was a Professor of something in a Srilankan University, many, many years ago, according to my Diaspora mate Native Vedda..

    I thought Dr Ranil and his Boy young Akila fixed all that .
    And our Yahapalana Kids were going to get it in English too.,
    What happened?.

    Our kids now can do even IB in Colombo to go to London School of Economics , although it costs LKR 7 Lakhs per year.
    And Dr Rajitha has opened even Private Medical Schools for our Yahapalana Kids to get MDs…

    What is the problem?…

    • 7
      1

      Sumane,
      I know you don’t like education because you and your Mahinda family are far away from education, human rights, and peace.

      • 1
        1

        Ajith,

        ‘you and your Mahinda family are far away from education,…….’

        What the hell does this mean? Did he take a long journey by train to distance himself from his college? Write in English boy!

      • 4
        0

        Very correct, BP Rajapakshes would utter that the education is secondary, the slaves would just admit it.
        :
        What a slave nation, whose general knowledge is not that far form a tribal folk in Africa.
        :
        They just dont care about anything but what is being pompously explained by BP abusive family. No matter even if their MOTHERs would have been raped on broad day light, those uneducated folks would even go on live on the KAKKA of Rajakshes.
        :
        It is just brainwashing about nothing. BP Gotta is caught by not having explained the facts about the war, now. BUt Slaves stay unturn.

    • 6
      0

      Dr L Fernando

      C W W Kannangara might have brought free education but he opposed giving franchise to the plantation workers, during the debate in the Legislative Council. This means no proper school, qualified teachers and standard education at all to the children of those workers. What sort of ” a giant ” he was. In his speech he referred to the menace of Indian labour which would swamp the permanent population and hinted that those who did not oppose Indian enfranchisement would be considered traitors. ( Hansard of 8.11. 1928 ) He was supported by DS Senanayake, Francis Molamure V de S Wickramanayake and several other Sinhala legislators, during the debate. Racism has a long history in Srilanka, in spite of having education, free or not.

      • 7
        0

        Let us not forget that the father of free education was Ponnambalam Arunachalam. He said in his address to the Ceylon National Association on 2nd April 1917:

        “Education should be free, both elementary and secondary, vernacular and English, industrial and scientific.” In addition, he stated that the people must be weaned from their dependence on a system of paternalistic and authoritarian government
        – A.J. Wilson, International Tamil Research Conference, Kualalumpur, 1966

    • 4
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      Eight Demands To All Presidential Candidates

      First trying to open the eyes of the people in an acceptable manner would be the way out to come of the pit the people are fallen in.
      .
      Second, you may introduce them proper systems.
      .
      Be it for edcuation, law and order or any other areas, you need to establish national policies that would not be replaced with the change of govts. That way, those good politicians would stay sustainble for the benefit of the masses regardless of the party politics.
      :
      They should set a national policy building coucil being placed above the party politics.
      There they should keep Law and order, national Safety issues and development above anything else, as no any successor leader could change them as he or she thinks is right.
      :
      Like for example the road and construction being carried out by CHINESE or other investment today. We see, even if govt are changed, the development processes based on R & D move forward.
      :
      I think as any developed nations would do, these policies and getting the respective pacts or agreements passed, in parliament after them being subjected to proper debetting. :
      .
      Saddest truth is, BP led groups, who are majority in the country would not allow any good or nation friendly systems being introduced to the nation. Even for a tiny step in reform would take months in our rotten country. More culprits are in parlaments than the intelligent representatives.

  • 3
    0

    There’re reasonably enough resources available to provide education for the nation.
    But the problem is mismanagement of available resources that bars high quality education to the nation.
    Just consider, how much money is spent & wasted by parents for A/L tuition classes?
    Approximately 25000 students are taken to state universities annually.
    @ least 300,000 students compete to be among that 25000 & the money spent for tuition & efforts of 275,000 parents are in vain.
    Rural people believe that city schools provide high quality education so to compete with them that poor people spend their hard earned money for tuition.
    Money that should have been spent for a balanced diet is wasted letting them to be mal nourished & less productive.
    Why can’t govt. use available technology to deliver the city schools’ class room lessons in the village school class rooms’ too to show rural masses that it’s a myth to believe so.
    Government need not spend for computers, children themselves will collect money to buy a used/reconditioned computer from the junction & get ready for it.
    (It’s a well known secret that majority of private computer/IT schools use such computers)
    It’s not only rural children go for tuition but also the city children; they are the people who spend more on tuition letting school teachers to be effortless & idle.
    Money paid as salaries to school teachers are in vain.
    Tuition is a lucrative business & because of that tuition teachers teach 100% or even more than in their curricular, paving the way even the low IQ students to get through the exams by learning by heart.
    Teachers should teach only 60% -75% of the syllabi, paving the way for the brightest & the gifted brains to grab 100% & score maximum in the exam & enter university rather than crammed low IQs score maximum through learning by heart.

    • 2
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      Continued

      It’s believed by many educated people that a great number of our undergraduates are below the expected moral standards & very slow learners.

      Why can’t we have a system to select the brightest of the students to the limited opportunities available for university education.

      This is mainly relevant to art faculties.

      Why do private companies prefer A/L qualified youth with a balanced education rather than lazy & slow graduates that know only to demand & be in streets as instruments for politicians?

    • 2
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      Real Revolutionist – Educated kids & and smart kids are two things. Educated kids will bother others asking jobs in the future. Smart kids will create jobs for others. But I know which kid you had been in the past :-)

      • 0
        0

        Everybody has his/her own guess work.

  • 7
    0

    Yes, there is more than enough money for education, including university education. It is the corrupt management that is the problem.
    Look at these, as a few examples: The last Vicechancellor at Colombo (Lakshman Disanayaka) even gave a bonus payment to his arts faculty nonacademic staff (for what – helping this arts faculty continue producing unemployable youth!). Even morally, these people are corrupt as he even has a mistress at his arts dept. When the new arts faculty Dean was appointed, Colombo university used university money to hold a party to welcome him. Deans are paid Rs 20,000 a month as travel allowance on top of the salary or a new car with petrol and driver. Even when Colombo university law faculty professor applicant got only 30 marks and was below the required marks, VC Lakshman Disanayaka promoted him with a few other jokers. Also, while the university already pays lecturers for student supervision, the government pays additional lakhs of Rupees for every lecturer who supervises and passes a PhD – this happens only in Sri Lanka!

    So, the whole system is corrupt as well as having a lot of money. The problem is not enough money but not enough honest academics – but too many corrupt ones both morally and financially.

    • 2
      0

      Dear Lankawevishwa,
      .
      These details that you have revealed are shocking. How is it that they have not been investigated? It seems clear to me that you are willing to testify to them.
      .
      This is the problem with our country. Even the worst abuses are not investigated. So people lose faith in the system.
      .
      Why not look at the more recent article? It is of wider scope. Ultimately, I suggest that you write your own article on this subject.

  • 2
    1

    As I understand it, the previous Government cut funding for education to the bone (as a % of GDP) and this Government is gradually restoring the funding to acceptable levels given the budgetary constraints to service the MR Debt (to fund his ‘mega’ projects which were used as a means of skimming part of it to his own bank account).

    While health and education should not be neglected by any means (although GMOA is doing its part to sabotage the efforts of this Government at the behest of the MR mafia), first things first!. We first need a free, peaceful and just ‘democratic’ society to call our own. But there is a foreign grandfather ‘gorilla’ / vermin / parasite / bloodsucker doing the rounds in our motherland who wants to spoilt the party. Let’s first banish this alleged criminal for good as a priority. Other issues will then, hopefully, fall into place.

    Today we are able to express our views freely (albeit in anonymity for obvious reasons), because the conducive environment this government has created. There is no threat of reprisals, abductions, white vanning, assaults or murders if we cross the line. Perhaps, if we do not use our franchise wisely, all that may be lost in the near future! Afterall, who are the most maligned, abused, scorned and insulted by the (social) media today? It’s no other than the President & PM! Their (in) actions are plain to see. Compare that with what occurred during MR’s reign. Do you wish to go back to that dark period again? A leopard never changes its spots.

    Voters, please use your franchise judiciously, justly and wisely.

  • 2
    1

    All these demands are useless without the basic demand (which will never be met) – Be Incorruptible.

  • 0
    3

    Laksiri,
    Please don’t misunderstand me as poking at you all the time but I can’t help but ask why you decided to touch an important subject like education without its current political implications! Most importantly, why you failed to mention the fact that the current Gvt has already not only accepted nearly every thing you have discussed as a policy framework but also has started implementing them as well? As an intellectual with deep experience in policy discussions (it was you who said that political science is not about politics; it is about public policies) you should have known that results of education take time to show up.

    Knowledge is an essential part of all thinking organisms. All newborns have learn skills necessary for survival. I think that this basic principle has always been with us as well even during the caste dominated feudal system where unemployment never was a concern, until SL education was allowed to develop a vast chasm between knowledge & social/economic needs since Sinhalese only education expanded the existing higher education that was designed to fill needs in public administration, while economy stayed relatively unchanged. That was where the origin of the so-called educational crisis. The answer to problem: Expand the economy and tie the education with it, was always staring at policy makers but wrong politics of socialism based nationalism prevented the enlightenment. Today the world has moved so far ahead of us that catching up has become huge challenge. That is b’cos it is no longer an issue of improving the quality of education, it is also an even bigger issue of finding capital for new investments.

    continues….

    • 0
      1

      …….continued.
      As I mentioned just above, this Gvt understand the problem & also doing right things as well. But that is only part of the SL educational crisis. There is another huge problem not properly recognized, I believe. This is two parts.
      1. Tendency to reject new ideas with suspicions influenced by meaningless fear for the so-called colonialism/neo-colonialism. I believe, as I mentioned elsewhere as well, Laksiri himself is victim of such myths. The irony is that this applies only at home while those who study/work abroad are free from such myths!

      2. Lack of interest among post graduates to improve their knowledge. I believe that this is a very serious but unrecognized problem that began with Sinahala medium education. Most PhD students from countries like SL are offered degrees not for the expertise in the subject but b’cos of the supervisor’s confident in student’s potentials. But, once returned home, I doubt whether many would ever look at their own thesis again. Instead, the prime interests become promotions by any mean possible.I don’t think that with such a bunch of educators, no amount of money (even 25% of GDP) would do any good. This largely explain why old fashioned social attitudes remain relatively unchanged and why corruption spread so fast from top to bottom. If the intellectual community is smart enough, there is no need to rely on Marxists devotees to push for corrupt free politics.

      • 5
        0

        D. P.
        My effort was to emphasize the quality aspect of the right to education. This is a theme emerging all over the world (including Australia) and the organization I worked for in Geneva between 1984 and 1991, the World University Service, is going to celebrate its 100 year anniversary next May in Vienna on the very same theme. It was after receiving their invitation that I decided to write the article of course relevant to the current context in Sri Lanka and that is the forthcoming election. It is unfortunate that a person like you suspect something questionable behind this writing!

        ‘I am also not sure’ (this is a modest remark!) whether the current government has undertaken all I have mentioned, in terms of funding, reform or policy implementation – covering the areas I have mentioned. If the government or the ‘blind government supporters’ think that everything is fulfilled, I don’t think it is correct and rational. My address is also to all candidates. I also believe that Sri Lanka needs to develop bipartisan policies as much as possible particularly in areas of education and health that matters closer to the people. That is why it is addressed to all.

        Of course I can dispute or give a different angle to some of your claims in the second part, but why should I? It is up to you to believe what you believe. However it is a pity if the government thinks that the key problem is finding capital for new investments, and improving the quality of education is not priority. I hope I have not misunderstood you. This is in the last sentence of your first part. Human capital is most important. Without denying other aspects, I was emphasizing that.

      • 4
        0

        D. P. ,
        .
        If you are really interested in the broader and more philosophical aspects of Education, you ought to take a look at this much more comprehensive article that has “just” appeared.

        .
        .
        https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/presidential-election-the-multiple-crises-in-sri-lankan-education/
        .
        .
        In my case, most of my life has been spent working as a village English teacher, with occasional forays into other areas. If you work in these places, you will realise that people will think of all sorts of ruses to deny you work at a higher level than they place you in. At one point, the then Director/English at the degree-awarding National Institute of Education, Maharagama, threatened to close down the local PRINSETT Centre (you don’t want every acronym explained do you?) if I was asked to co-ordinate its activities, apart from teaching Phonology (Speech theory) and Literature to teacher trainees.
        .
        I have not been able to work out whether her hostility to me was because I was not a KGB (now if you want that explained, please ask me), or if it was because I had got a Second Upper for my Peradeniya English Special Degree (and the Leigh Smith Prize for English), whereas she had only a Second Lower for the same degree.

        .
        It is obviously a well-thought-out and planned document put together by a group of very senior Professors in time to influence the public and the political parties, just before the Presidential Elections.
        .
        I’m beginning to feel that although you are able to quote from some of the most advanced (non-Marxist!) thinkers of today, you have not been following any rigorous course of study yourself, nor (and this is even more crucial) do you seem to have done any really useful work in life. Your comments are dilettantist.

  • 3
    1

    What about educating Buddhism to Sinhalese politicians and theros?
    UN should check if they are practicing Buddhism or not. If they don’t – what do we do????
    When they start practising Buddhism it would solve all the problems.

    • 4
      0

      PART TWO
      .
      The operating system was Ubuntu. She and I had initially agreed on the phone that Windows should be installed. She had turned the computer on. Didn’t know how to connect to the Internet, had heard of pen drives, but had never seen one. I checked, then told her to get used to the Ubuntu system since she was starting from scratch. Follow the herd in most things, but spend on nothing except on a device to connect to the Internet.
      .
      So, I went along yesterday, about noon, carrying a 4G router and a pen drive. Connected the computer to the electricity for the first time. It had only 9% charge. I did not succeeded in getting into the computer because there was a password. By the time I left, it had got up to 100%, but I didn’t know how to turn it off. I said let it be plugged in, but if unused for a long period to bring the charge down to 80%. How? they asked. I told them.
      .
      I hope you get the picture. I know I’m not writing very well. Exhausted writing about the election. If I write an article about the good intentions coupled with waste I know that I’ll have to be more coherent than in this comment.
      .
      This girl is doing Bio Science – usual ambition, to be a doctor. Nothing wrong with any of that, but no choices consciously made after evaluation of all options That they acknowledge.
      .
      Kavisha studies General English as well. That subject was put on a serious footing about the year 1999 with the first book written by three University people – Arjuna Parakrama, Manique Guneratne and Hemamala Ratwatte.

  • 4
    0

    Dear Prof. Laksiri,

    PART ONE
    .
    Your first request
    of all politicians: “Commit 4% to 6% of GDP for education to improve and expand quality.”
    .
    Sounds fine, but how does it work? Today I biked to the home of my cobbler for the first time – about four miles away. I had first met the man in a bus about fifteen years ago. His name was Evans, he didn’t know why. About fifty years old. I told him that his father (already dead) must have named him after Godfrey Evans, the England wicket-keeper some time before he was born.

    His only child, and 64 others from Bandarawela Central College who had got 9 A Grades (the maximum), at the O. Level Exam held in December 2018, had been given a computer about 3 weeks ago:
    .
    https://www.laptopmag.com/reviews/laptops/dell-15-inspiron-3000
    .
    I noted the model details and looked at the underwhelming review on returning home. Still, its a treasure for the girl, whom I haven’t yet met. I have had two phone chats with her – in Sinhalese, although she has an A for English as well. She acknowledged that she couldn’t use the language. The English practice that I could have offered would have been welcome. Saturday is the only day her father stays at home, but the kid has “tuition classes” from 8.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. I met today the father, mother and the paternal grandmother, who were all seriously interested in finding out what they could although I had said that I was a teacher of English, not of computing.

    • 4
      0

      PART THREE
      .
      For the second printing, the Provinces competed for credit.
      Each Province wanted to print the book itself. They didn’t get a floppy diskette (that was the technology of the time) from Colombo, they gave a book to a printer who laboriously typed the entire book in. Then I was asked to proof read the Uva book. When we got it out, we had got rid of some of the earlier mistakes, but added more of our own. Each child was given two cassette recordings of uneven quality. Schools were provided with cassette recorders – huge ones, make Yamaha, but very light. They began to break down within days. I don’t think that a single lasted more than two years. More than twenty thousand units – one of the leading manufacturers would have undertaken to make them according to our specifications.
      .
      About three years ago, I was asked to come out of retirement to proofread the Teacher’s Guide to a new book that was, at last, going to replace the interesting but ageing book. Here it is:
      .
      http://www.nie.lk/pdffiles/tg/eALTG%20GenEng.pdf

      .
      The entire book is there – it was never printed. No wonder.

      I was flabbergasted to hear that the book itself had not been written; they hadn’t even decided who was to write the book. It was finally written, many months later, by a team of competent enough writers. No real mistakes in the English, but a boring and uninteresting book. I wouldn’t blame the writers. Who could be inspired to write under such circumstances? All of us were paid something, but what was the use of it all?
      .
      So when we ask for money to be allocated, let us know that very little gets done. This is the current situation.

      • 2
        0

        Dear Sinhala Man,
        Please address me just as Laksiri. I think I mentioned this before. I cannot express views on all questions you have raised. Your story however is interesting.

        Let me address your first question. What is the point in asking increased funding if funds are not properly used? That is why I have proposed an Education Reform Commission as the second demand. The areas necessary for reform should be proposed also by people like you. Several of other demands that I have mentioned also highlight the areas where reforms are necessary.

        ‘We’ ourselves might be able to contribute in improving quality education (I am not saying me, but unfortunately you!). Take the example of the predicament of the girl you have mentioned. It relates partly to the fifth demand to make Sri Lanka trilingual. Of course there is enthusiasm at least in learning English even in rural schools. But it should be reading, speaking and writing. If I am not mistaken, 64 students at Bandarawela high has got 9As probably including for English according to you. But they cannot speak! Of course you can teach the girl you have mentioned. But also you can develop a Cassette or two (sound tracks) where they can also learn speaking English to an extent themselves. This is only an example. You may propose this to the provincial education office. You may produce Cassettes for the department to buy or alternatively you could seek NGO funding. I don’t see anything wrong. By the way, I am familiar with Bandarawela area to an extent.

        It is unsatisfactory if they had distributed Laptops to the students without giving them instructions. Common basic instructions could have been in the form of a simple leaflet. Website instructions could be too heavy for them.

        • 2
          0

          SECTION A
          .
          This is a later addition than what appears below. Add Kavisha herself, and it becomes 65 students.
          .
          With regard to encouraging speaking, the problem is that what is not tested, is not taught. How do we objectively test the speech of hundreds of thousands of candidates? Listening is a related skill. The first A. Level General English Test was held in August 2000. Upto May that year, we thought that Listening also was going to be tested. Such a test can be administered and marked objectively with relative ease. But then the Army objected!
          .
          One can’t possibly administer a listening test simultaneously in 500 centres island-wide without providing battery back-up. We were not allowing the Tigers to have access to batteries. Yes, when testing a Second Language, a speaking component is also included but the logistics are complicated and the cost prohibitive.

          • 3
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            SM,
            ‘What is not tested is not taught’ is not a good policy. That is why AKD talks about changing the exam oriented education. Pedagogy is not my area. However, speaking abilities that I talk about are probably quite distant to listening and cognition abilities. When it comes to English, I don’t think we need to produce perfect students. They will struggle and learn. Even in my case, I never learned the language systematically after my O/L! It was not required when I entered Peradeniya. It was not required for me to do my first postgraduate in Canada. The same in Australia. When I wrote my theses, I got them edited. That was allowed. The times and circumstances for the new generations must have changed. It is also good for anyone to be ‘perfect’ unlike my callous attitude. I can’t say I am perfect in Sinhala either. I did learn French in Geneva going to classes. That was also very pragmatic learning. The best is to promote Sinhala, Tamil, English, French perhaps now Chinese and Japanese without inculcating much ‘prejudices’ about superiority of any language.

            According to Australian standards that I am used to now, the revelation of that particular girl’s name is not appropriate, if not ‘invasion of privacy.’ I am now getting ready to go for a small medical procedure. I will be silent for a while. But finally, I think PE should come out of SM and of course write articles. If I may give you an advice, the long stories can be short, without following the ‘Jathaka Katha’ style! I beg your pardon for this comment. But all your experiences and stories can be suitable for a book, autobiography or memoirs.

            • 5
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              One more thing before I vanish. Sorry for suggesting Cassettes. I think my old memories surfaced. Perhaps you can produce Videos or something appropriate for the benefit of English learners. It appears you have that technical knowledge. Thanks for your comments.

              • 3
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                Thanks, Laksiri for the encouragement and guidance. Not many working cassette-players around now.
                .
                First Language Speech is picked up without effort by kids. Later, the problem is that it is the learner who has to be speaking while the poor teacher has to look interested. Only one can speak at a time, and his efforts have to be monitored. Language labs allowed conscientious learners to hear something, record themselves on a different track of the same tape, then (when playing back) hear their own efforts sandwiched between “native speaker utterances”. It becomes mechanical and boring.
                .
                If one imposes Native Speaker standards on learners, one obviously heaps further “kaduwa” burdens on the learner. Some of those 65 students who got A Grades would be able to speak, but they’d tend to be from homes with English.
                .
                French is no use anymore. I have a remarkable 74-year-old Belgian neigbour, just next door in Bandarawela, who is a an amazing polyglot. French is his mother-tongue, but he (sadly!) says one European language would do. No, he doesn’t know Chinese or Japanese but those, he says, are the languages of the future. Spanish is better suited to be the second European language. The English Language is a mess, but has become THE World Language.
                .
                I’m sad that you are “vanishing” at election time. Please come back!

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        SECTION B
        .
        Speaking is not normally tested when evaluating quasi First Language skills. So, there was no need up to 1965. English was then for the elite only. “Elocution” is mainly for those specialising in theatre; it has now become an aberration in Sri Lanka.
        .
        Cassettes and even language labs are now obsolete. One can record on most phones nowadays. It’s amazing how few teachers of languages have ever recorded themselves. I think that smart-phones can handle MP3 recordings, but that’s going to be clumsy. A desk-top computer should be the choice. Excellent speaker systems cost much less than Rs 10K. Many settle for lower quality. A reconditioned CPU running “hacked” Windows 7 and legal Open Office or LibreOffice, together with peripherals can be got for 15K. Ubuntu is the legal alternative to Windows and Apple O.S. I’m not learning it, but that is the right choice. However, a new UPS for 4K is mandatory. I could tell you more.
        .
        I’m not too old to work on this even now, but even when in service my skills were used only in Peradeniya University – briefly.

  • 3
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    PART FOUR

    Thanks, Laksiri,
    .
    Should I turn this material, and a few other happenings over the years, to write an article under my real name (Panini Edrisinhe) to get people thinking about priorities? Obviously, this should preferably be done in Sinhala and Tamil.
    .
    Far too many people migrate from this country, and it may be that I aggravate this trend by getting them through the IELTS exam. However, I do warn them all that they are not going to be really welcome in Australia and Canada. Now it is mostly ardent Sinhala-Buddhists who want to go. Also, I insist on them coming to my home two miles out of town. On the other hand, I sometimes help the really poor by visiting them at home for free. So, in August 1996, I got a very poor half Sinhalese, half Tamil girl through her “serious” A. Level English Exam (the Literature-based one, which has a second paper that demands First Language skills for Essay, Precis, etc.) Many wrongly refer to it as English Literature. It is comparable to Sinhalese and Tamil as the main subjects – all difficult. If you want a soft option, then it is Greek and Roman Civilization where you read the texts in English translations and can write answers in English, Sinhalese or Tamil. If any reader is surprised that the “vernaculars” are allowed, please spit it out.
    .
    The other languages at A. Levels are soft options. This is very topical! Indicated below is when I first heard of Rohan Pallewatte, one of the Presidential Candidates, about 18 months ago.
    .
    https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/rohan-pallewatta-man-who-has-proved-that-sri-lanka-can-also-do/?fbclid=IwAR2lAs9Wqt30dl7FenmjXE0hwMWXBYyyj0m_DPJpT1MVFH3mpk5yPf5Qiyc
    .
    In the embedded video he confesses that he did Japanese for his A. Levels, and it required only what a Japanese kid would have learnt in Grade Two.

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    PART FIVE
    .
    What strikes me is the selfishness of those who migrate.
    They are economic migrants who hold nothing sacred, and exploit wherever possible. They go for pirated material even when there are other options. They secretly exploit facilities available in their workplaces. Drop names and get things done. Exploit all connections, including religious and facilities meant for the poorest. No morality whatsoever. The English-speaking humbugs are the worst. All this I can substantiate, but it may be that I should do that in yet another article, if CT will consider the examples I give to be telling enough.
    .
    However, here’s something pleasanter. Some people work hard and play by the rules. Last Thursday, late evening, I got an SOS from the guy in charge of IELTS at the British Council. There was this friend of his, the Obstetrician and Gynaecologist at Nuwara Eliya who had got through IELTS five years ago, lived in London for three years, and now was required to pass again to get to Australia. He had sat three times this year, but had difficulty with his Reading. Could he pass on my telephone number?
    .
    So, the “VOG” called. He had already registered to sit on the 2nd of November (yesterday) and he just couldn’t leave station. Please note that the British Council guy was not trying to cheat or to bend the rules. His friend had, somehow, to properly sit the test. So, I ended up spending two nights in Nuwara-Elya, and the really nice doctor has just written to me that the exam seems to have gone off well. He will get his results after the customary 13 days, that is the day before we elect the next President of Sri Lanka.

  • 2
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    PART SIX
    .
    Writing English is the commonest problem that Sri Lankans have. Why it was reading for this doctor is a different subject.
    .
    Unethical doctors are under fire. I was impressed with how seriously he took his working hours and ward rounds, while I reviewed the work he had already done, and analysed “mistakes” in those. Some keep it secret in Sri Lanka that they have consulted a humble English teacher, but no, not this guy.
    .
    Even more significant than him, though, was Kumar, the 38-year-old driver who picked me up on Sunday, and brought me back on Tuesday night. He spoke perfect Sinhalese, but answered a couple of phone calls in Tamil. What is astounding is that he had never been to any sort of school. Not one single day, and can neither read nor write any language, except he can manage to put his name together – in English. Having only 26 letters which are seen everywhere, helps, I guess. I couldn’t check with him whether having to contend with capital letters is a hindrance. He said he can make Arithmetical calculations all right. The extent of illiteracy surprised even the doctor, who employs him only part-time, but obviously has great affection for the guy.
    .
    Kumar also told me, as we were passing the Uma Oya site at Mirahawatte, that he was voting for Gotabaya, but by the time we had got to Welimada he knew enough of my views to acknowledge that Gota was the last guy he’d vote for. I had already started explaining the system of Preferences, on which I’m now an expert – as you will realise if you look at what I’ve been saying in comments elaborating what Kumar David has been saying.

    • 9
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      Dear Mr SM,
      you are simply great.If many of our seniors would behave as you do, things would turn out to be all well for all of us in SL. I really dont know anyone that makes that efforts to convince the people of the value of their votes rationally. As many are clear, those who go after Gota has no idea about anything but just hatespeech. See how those commenters for ytube videos act today. Most of them abuse their pen, using vulgär langauge today. They just dont respect anyone, nor would they respect their own mother. That is why indians keep saying, that lanken problems are between two groups – the civilized against the poorly civilized.
      :
      No matter UNP failed to fulfill their pledges during the last 4 years, but why should we allow a NORTH Korean style Dictator to become our future leader ?
      .

  • 2
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    Laksiri, videos can be downloaded from (for example) Youtube. Then they are MP4 recordings. But copyright restrictions are creeping in.
    .
    I’ve downloaded lots of “western classical music” on to an external hard disk, and given my grand-daughters copies on a second HDD. On-going operation. Everything that Beethoven ever wrote, in what I considered the best performances available, panning on the performers. Also, Haydn, Mozart, Brahms, etc. Fortunately, my son-in-law also is interested. It is amazing the quality and variety that are now available, but can all that be listened to in one lifetime?

    Then comes the question of how different these kids are going to be, culturally, from Kavisha (you’re right on the privacy score) and the like. My daughter insists her kids are not for public exhibition. Not put on Facebook, but the closest relatives are sent photos and videos entitled “Chronicles”. No commercial T.V. A non-competitive environment. Not bothered about position in class – learning through doing, and enjoying. Swimming, pony riding, etc. But it costs a lot. My daughter stopped being a Bank Manager the moment the kids were born.
    .
    I’m quite willing to share the music, but no takers!

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