23 July, 2019

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On Bandula Gunawardane’s Point: The Historical Context

By Uditha Devapriya

Uditha Devapriya

The first of a series of essays delving into the problems of our education system

It’s difficult to agree with a person when the point he/she makes is made in a wrong way. And yet, I agree with Bandula Gunawardane. Not because I believe international schools should be shut down, not because I believe that equating students from these schools with those from government/private schools in terms of examination results is wrong, but because the issue he spoke about makes evident some unpalatable truths about our education system. Where I disagree with his contention, of course, is his remedy. As far as the problem goes, I am with him.

In a context where public schools have put pressure on students and parents, it is natural that an alternative education system should crop up to serve the needs of a specific milieu that has either been excluded from or has grown disillusioned with the public sector. This can be traced to three factors: historical, economic, and social. It’s not easy to separate the one from the others, but if we are to dissect the issue, they have to be considered in turn. First and foremost, then, the historical.

Sri Lanka’s education system has mostly run on dualistic lines. When the British brought the country under its rule in 1815, the policy was to prevent the indigenous population from taking part in the administration. Over the years though, thanks to a booming plantation economy, the breakdown of the traditional order, and the need for intermediaries between the elite and locals, this attitude changed, and education, left to the missionaries – the Baptists from 1812, the Wesleyans from 1814, the American Mission from 1816 – was taken up by the government after the Colebrooke-Cameron Reforms, because of which a system was developed to be catered, as J. M. Haward the Director of Public Instruction noted in 1904, to “the higher education of the few” over “the elementary education of the many.” This distinction between the many and the few was an integral part of colonial education policy.

The history of education under British rule can be divided into five periods. Each saw that distinction being maintained one way or the other: between 1796 and 1835, when authorities exhibited an attitude of hostility (as with Governor Barnes) or appeasement (as with Governor Brownrigg) towards missionary schools; between 1835 and 1867, when the government took over the running of certain schools and prioritised English education; between 1867 and 1880, when the Morgan Committee reversed this trend and prioritised the establishment of vernacular schools; between 1880 and 1927, when periods of recession followed by growth were reflected in sudden shifts in policy; and between 1927 and 1948, which culminated with the Report of the Special Committee on Education in 1943 and the Education Ordinance of 1947.

It’s clear from this that colonialism separated education into two categories: English and vernacular. The elite schools in the country were artificially transplanted from the public school model in England without taking into account local cultural specifics (roughly the same argument made of international schools now), and the outcome was an “accepted policy of vernacular education for the masses and English education for a small elite.” Education policy thus served two needs: the education of an indigenous elite to serve imperial interests, and the education of the rural child to equip him with the “humble career which ordinarily lies before him.”

The educational divide in the country was geographic and it continues to be reflected in the way academic achievement varies from region to region: in 1883, for instance, average attendance at schools ranged from one in 21 in the Western Province to one in 222 in the North Central Province. From archival documents, we can get an idea as to how legislators viewed and rationalised this rift. Calls had been made since 1799 for an English educated elite to transform the upper echelons of traditional society; over the years English education consequently became the ideal route through which the local elite could capture, retain, and accumulate political power.

By contrast, schools “in the backward rural areas were exclusively vernacular and the rural child had access only to an elementary form of education” (Warnapala 2011: vi). This does not seem to have bothered the colonial administrators: in the 1880s, Bruce’s Revised Education Code, drafted along Lowe’s Revised Education Code of 1860 in England (which codified education for the working class), sought to discourage entry to government English village schools (the mushrooming of which ran counter to the “accepted policy”) by charging high fees and shutting them down whenever there was a missionary school within a distance of two miles (in 1874 the prescribed distance had been three miles; in 1891 it would be brought down to a quarter mile).

Here the antipathy of colonial authorities towards rural schools differed from that of the local elite. In colonial societies like Sri Lanka, where the “national” bourgeoisie never became militant or clashed with these authorities, entry to the bureaucracy or the professions was the ideal path for the bourgeoisie. As such their antipathy was not towards English education for the masses; it was towards the idea of any education at all for them. J. P. Obeyesekere vented out his class interests in this regard when, at the time of the enactment of the Revised Code, he castigated ignorant villagers who got into debt “because of the fastidious notions of their English-educated children” (de Silva 2017: 419). Rural children accordingly had to be schooled to “follow such avocations as they are fitted for by nature.”

Obeyesekere belonged, of course, to the old elite, but the nouveau riche who would clamour for and get representation in the legislature were no different; to give just one example C. W. W. Kannangara had to clash with D. S. Senanayake over the question of abolishing tuition fees at all levels of education, and had to wait until the latter had gone to Britain in 1945 to obtain the endorsement of the State Council. Senanayake would return in October; Kannangara managed to get the endorsement three months before he did. Nidahas adyapanaya would not, in other words, have seen the light of day with the man hailed today as nidahase piya.

It’s not hard to ascertain why the elite were adamant on maintaining the old divisions between (at the time of the Kannangara reforms) “[g]overnment schools and voluntary schools” on the one hand and “English education and Vernacular education” on the other hand, because education under colonialism became a marker of the social status of an elite that had already buttressed its economic and political status over the course of several decades. The international school, in that sense, is now the equivalent in a globalised world of the English school that was instituted in a colonised world: the aim of both was, in the words of David Golding, to “transform Sri Lankan culture by privileging the global and marginalising the local.”

Today, of course, there is nothing “colonial” about our education system. But the distinctions continue. The popular schools (in 1985 there were 18 of these) starve off the less popular schools by dint of the inequalities which persist between the village and the city: as of 2017, less than 10% of schools in here have facilities for science subjects at the A Levels, and of this number around 32% are national schools; the rest, presumably, are central and provincial schools. The system moreover has enriched the petite bourgeoisie, who have been able to “rise” through free education and the Grade Five scholarship to popular schools and form a class of their own (a phenomenon that deserves a separate study to itself).

The truth is that our education system has broken down due to two disparate yet related forms of differentiation: between the elite and the non-elite sectors in the government system on the one hand, and between the government and private sector on the other. The former form of stratification subsists between the petite bourgeoisie (now the majority occupants of elite schools) and the subaltern (filtered out of those schools) largely as an extension of colonial educational inequalities, while the latter subsists between these two groups and the new urbanised elite, i.e. the present day consumers of private sector secondary education.

This peraliya from the bourgeoisie to the petite bourgeoisie has not been delved into properly, and for me, any discussion of international schools must be prefaced by an at least cursory examination of how elitism in local public schools has shifted from the conservative elite, who railed against educating the rural child, to the children of the gramasevakaya, the polisiye mahaththaya, and the principal of the game iskolaya, who have spawned a new form of social inequality within the system. Colonial class distinctions did not survive free education, but in the absence of a profit motive which automatically separates those who could afford an education from those who could not, the old distinctions had to give way to new; as Tennyson once aptly put it, “The old order changeth, yielding place to new”.

It did yield gradually, so much so that today, even an equitable scheme like the Grade Five scholarship (which as statistics point out tends to exclude the truly poor student, who rarely sit for the exam) has served to compound these new distinctions against the spirit of free education that, according to the likes of Mr Gunawardane, is in danger from the proliferation of international schools. The latter problem, of course, cropped up in the eighties; the problems of differentiation in the other schools predate it by as much as three decades. Mr Gunawardena knows these problems, and, I suspect, only too well. What he does not seem to know is the history behind them.

Uditha Devapriya is a freelance writer who can be reached at udakdev1@gmail.com

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Latest comments

  • 0
    1

    businessmen from the west wants Education privatized. So, the politicians do it because it is commis. See how they began SAITM and closed it all by the same people.

    • 5
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      Lanke society is filled with Bandula Gunawardhanas, Wimal Weerwanse and Udaya Gonthadipilas. :
      .
      These men all have something in common:
      :
      That is they the ones would drum to the tune of any GOD fathers that would please them and their selfish gains.
      :
      Right at the moment, Bandhula Gunawardhana or the like men, being well-off (untouchably rich) by their Parasite style-tution teacher business, they have been searching for a way to keep the POWER to as a show-off tool. That is why he behaves always not being far away from searching solutions for the upliftment of the destitutes who are really in need.- WHO STRUGGLE for their 3 meals almost everything.
      :
      Wimal Weerawanse – School drop out, from the day one on, he is a prasite, a candidate who has no adequate knowledge about anything but about Rable rousing.
      Searching all along to hang on to a bang wagon and become popular through any low level performance. His style men would NEVER help anyone but their families. These men emerged, unfortuantely as curse to this nation. But people get easily misled by his rhetoric as a singer would sing soul song written by an unique composer.
      :
      Udaya Gondthadipila – is a real fox. Cheating as no others. Even the last cent of the poor mans pockets were collected for his campaigns but did nothing. He made his pockets fatter by being close business men in Australia. There are provable facts this man is a birth failure – may be a plan of the god to destroy this nation. No meaing whatever comes out of his cesspit, but he does not care, knowing lanken MAJORITY foks are grass eaters..
      .
      The Karmaya is ALL THESE 3 model men are RAJAKAPSKEH loyalists that would even be ready to swallow the toiletts of RAJA on onego.

      • 0
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        Me thiunk that slitting the cheek from ear to ear is the solution. See what good it will do to the three ugly bears.

  • 1
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    I believe PRIMARY education must be not only the responsibility but also SOLELY in the hands of the government. All children must grow up in an environment free from deprivation, want, jealousy and class conciousness. Public/private choice may takeover from that point onwards.

    Soma

    • 6
      1

      somass

      “All children must grow up in an environment free from deprivation, want, jealousy and class conciousness.”

      Now this explains as to why you are not only envious of “Others” and their material achievements, but why you loot, destroy, kill, rape, …. anything that you consider non Sinhala/Buddhist.

      • 0
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        NV
        You can’t be treated in Sri Lanka. I hear advanced facilities for paranoia are available in Tamil Nadu where the problem is common. You have communicated the disease to many donkeys on CT. CT should foot the bill.

        Soma

        • 2
          0

          somass

          “I hear advanced facilities for paranoia are available in Tamil Nadu where the problem is common.”

          Is it a genetically transmitted disease?
          Is it why South Indian descendants like you easily succumb to fear mongering?

          “You have communicated the disease to many donkeys on CT.”

          Have I?
          I don’t think I have any medical training ever in my life time?

          I hope you will take me with you when you riot next time. I love to experience the thrill of being part of mob.
          I am counting on you.
          I assure you you could keep all the loot to yourself.

        • 0
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          Soma, please go to the VD clinic at Norris Canal Road. Severe VD tand to make one mad.

    • 2
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      Soma, How nice if it could be done.
      If it is implemented, we will see billionire school principals, not that there are a rear commodity even now.
      Free education was for the needy. Today even the blood sucker fathers and crooked businessmen, the drug dealers send their children to schools doling out free education. The GMOA shamelessly tried to force their children on Govt schools.- free education. They can on their own finnace many private fee levying schools.The SAITM issue was not for free or quality doctors but for them to milk the patients with no competition.Two years ago a Consultamnt charged at most Rs 1000.00 to see a patient. Today it had shot upto Rs 3500.00. If the patient is late he has to pay again.He has to pay in full to show the pathological reports.- and we have a SLMC – what a farce?
      After all Naki who performed the fiorst HEART TRANSPLANT was himself employed as a gardener, but had acquired the skills.

      The students attending private schools are also from families that pay taxes.Even the beggar pays taxes – indirect ones at that.They have the right to sit any public examination which are partly finnaced by the taxes their parents pay.

      Somebody had suggested that “Me thiunk that slitting the cheek from ear to ear is the solution. See what good it will do to the three ugly bears.” That suggestion should be taken seriously

      :”

    • 0
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      Soma. Bull shit

  • 2
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    A well-written article by Uditha Devapriya supporting the statement made by Bandula Gunawardene on the high performance of a Sri Lankan student from an international school. No one can put a barrier or criticize the performance of a school child regardless of the school where he or she studied. Such bright students will excel wherever they study and it is our moral responsibility to encourage and support them. Hats off for that child and the proud parents. Bandula Gunawardena is jealous of that student who performed outstandingly well from an international school. Bandula Gunawardena’s political party and his generation had been critical of English education in Sri Lanka. During the late 60s and early 70s, the educationist of that era introduced standardization which led to turmoil witnessed the exodus of the younger generation seeking higher education in the UK and elsewhere.

    • 1
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      Bandula G is suffering from a mental aberration.

      He himself benefitted in Billions of Rupees from FEE PAYING students.

  • 0
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    Uditha,
    “children of the gramasevakaya, the polisiye mahaththaya, and the principal of the game iskolaya, ”??
    And lost in statistics??
    Gamarala

  • 10
    2

    Thanks, Uditha, for undertaking this very important task; that is assuming that you will stick to it, and not get lost in your efforts to “educate” us on all sorts arcane subjects.
    .
    The most important task before this country right now is to get rid of old stagers from the leadership of political parties. There isn’t much progress that can be expected until that is done. But after that Education may be the most important area of administration that ought to receive our attention.
    .
    Education is a huge mess at this moment. “What [we] do not seem to know is the history behind them.” Yes, please start with the facts. Getting those right, will clear the decks for us to start facing upto the shortcomings. Please give us all those without ambiguity. For instance who is “J. P. Obeyesekere”? As far as I know, there was one guy in each of generation, much like American dynasties. You will do the country a great favour by just outlining the FACTS.
    .
    Yes, I will follow the comments here, but only make my voice here only if it is necessary.

  • 9
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    A well researched article, but the point that is missed, is that there is a new elite being formed with the proliferation of English language international schools. This is what is worrying Bandula Gunawardena and his likes.

    It would also be interesting to note here that Bandula and his clan in the SLPP and the SLFP (except for a few) are not very fluent in the English language and would struggle in its presence. It is their inherent jealousy and inferiority complex which brings out such statements from Bandula, Wimal and the likes.

    It is mostly the children who are being educated in the English medium of study especially in the international schools who are going on to study at all the foreign universities that are being set up here and also have access to universities abroad.Their command in the English language provides them the needed stepping stone which is denied to the vernacular educated.

    In comparison to the recent introduction of the English medium, it is a classic case of the “Blind leading the Blind”, this I say because the teachers who are tasked to teach, are themselves not well adept in the English language.

    In a future Sri Lanka if it is not so today too, the corporate private sector would be controlled by the English educated professionals whilst the public sector would be controlled by the vernacular speaking professionals.

    How these two important branches of our society would take our country forward “ONLY TIME WILL TELL”.

    • 8
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      Dear AshyD,
      .
      Yours is an excellent comment based on common sense.
      .
      I’m a retired teacher of English, and I’m determined not to get too involved in all this, at least at this stage. Let Uditha set forth the facts; I hope it is in English comprehensible to all. Let me also hope that he doesn’t start digressing the way I will now, in an effort to fine tune. The larger picture is more important than my nit-picking.
      .
      There currently is another article on a somewhat similar subject written by a guy only slightly older, who appears to know at least three languages, English, Sinhalese and Russian:
      .
      https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/expanding-our-tool-set-to-build-utopia-drawing-a-line-with-religion/
      .
      Today, there are two categories of schools: those Recognised by the State (the majority of them directly run by the government), and those that are NOT Recognised. The intention of the State was to not introduce an English Medium, but to have a Bilingual Stream. This is where the methodology is drawn from:
      .
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Content_and_language_integrated_learning
      .
      One of our “problems” is that far too high a standard of English prevails among some Sri Lankans, and the huge prestige attached to the language scares learners off. So, the idea is to focus on the content, and overlook the quality of the English.
      .
      All fine in theory, but now everybody wants it certified that they studied in the “English Medium,” and yes, the blind do seem to lead the blind – especially in Universities. Please tell me this: have you heard of “kuppi panthi”? I don’t want to labour the obvious.
      .
      By the way, the word “vernacular” is politically incorrect; its Latin etymology recalls that such languages are for slaves. That may be chillingly correct.

  • 3
    0

    Don’t take Bandula too seriously..

    The important thing is to allow Uni entrance to every kid who get necessary marks at ALs and it does not matter whether the student is from a GOVT school or private school.

    • 1
      0

      Let us tie Bandula to a lamp post , strip him and them whip him. Ugly foul mouthed idiot

  • 5
    0

    “The international school, in that sense, is now the equivalent in a globalised world of the English school that was instituted in a colonised world: the aim of both was, in the words of David Golding, to “transform Sri Lankan culture by privileging the global and marginalising the local.” “
    *
    That is gross oversimplification.
    The elite always ensured that their children mastered the “master’s language”.
    JRJ facilitated it, as well as planted the seeds of private education in the name of “International Schools”.
    Most of the “International Schools” are a racket to make money. There are a few decent schools, but at a very high price.
    Globalization is only for the big investors and financial speculators. The US has already retreated, because the competition proved too hot.
    The surrender of our elite to the language of the master was voluntary. Look at the name boards of shops in the cities.
    Sinhla only is only to irritate the Tamil speaker and Tamil language rights seldom matter if there are instructions in English to draw money or fill a form.

  • 0
    0

    Thank you Devapriya for the investigative journalism educating us the facts and not fictions. Most appreciated.

    I read all your writings. Cool.

  • 2
    0

    History is all well and good, blaming the colonial master is easy, but the inconvenient truth is that for 70 years the education system run by the government has suffered from political buggering until today when it is a truly basket case. More.better/effective teaching is reputedly done in the local tutories.

    In such a situation it is only natural that there will be a proliferation of ‘International’ and private schools committed to giving parents the better education that they demand for their children.

    Those fortunate enough, will send their children overseas to be ‘properly’ educated.

    What a damning state of affairs.

  • 7
    2

    Dear Uditha,
    .
    You had promised us “a series of essays delving into our education system”, but now I find you writing about the castes of Ambalangoda:
    .
    https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/the-ambalangoda-that-once-was/
    .
    There is enough in Education to keep anybody occupied full-time for months. Already, JD, PARAMANATHAN, AshyD, and the brilliant Prof. Sivasegaram (SJ), have made some observations. SJ correctly identifies most of this talk about effectively teaching English to non-elites as eyewash. Venugopal as clearly identifies you as one of the few young guys with sufficient English to undertake “investigative journalism”, but then you don’t often follow-up or tackle the central problems realistically.
    .
    The charms of Ambangoda in the past, I consider escapism. Ignore caste, it’ll then die out. Of course a scholarly work on it, for a limited audience, would be welcome, but that must follow a life-time of study.
    .
    Let me give you a success story about the Bi-lingual stream in State Schools, but also how there are inadequacies. That will follow later today.

    • 2
      0

      Dear SM

      As a learner from all your lovely writings I enjoy very much can I ask what are the central problems you are referring please???

      I also want record that I learn English from this young man……..he loose me at times with his Superb Royal English. I do make an effort and learn new words at the same time.

      I studied in Tamil up to my A/L in Jaffna. Is hard to catch up ever since now I am 55 years if age. My Father sent me to learn Sinhala in Karainagar as we had a wonderful teacher in our home turf to do that. I can understand and write then but with no practice am completely lost it all.

  • 3
    2

    Dear Thiagarajah Venugopal,
    .
    I’m glad that someone from Karainagar is reading these articles, and appreciating them. Yes, I agree that Uditha has an amazing array of vocabulary, and also has the ability to use long complex sentences with perfect control. He knows how to then dramatically use a couple of words, followed by a period to heighten dramatic effect.
    .
    This is a welcome change from reading articles from writers who struggle with the language; However, the problem is that all of this diverts attention from the subject that is being dealt with, to the manner of presentation. As you say, on the other hand, you appreciate your language skills being stretched. Sometimes he selects subjects that are not worth dealing with, and also occasionally what CT readers would be interested in. But I stand corrected because you say that you read all his writings.
    .
    Some writers intervene with comments; others like Uditha don’t do so because they have written carefully to start with; but I did expect him to be preparing the next article on this complicated subject.

  • 1
    0

    Hi SM

    I felt you were inviting me for a discussion from your comment earlier hence I asked…….What is the central problems please….as I now begin to feel a bit of sacarsim in your comment too with regard to someone not meeting your criteria of how a ‘subject’ should be handled/presented??

    what is it troubling you SM??

  • 4
    2

    Hi, Thiagarajah Venugopal,
    .
    I know enough about you to value a discussion with you; I have had such discussion with Uditha ‘ere now. He and I are very different. My day is almost done, but I’m sure that Uditha has a bright future ahead of him.
    .
    You’re right about my not toeing exactly the same line as him. Few adults think identically with other adults. However, that is precisely why views ought to be carefully expressed. When that happens, the result helps both.
    .
    I’ve been scattering my contact details are “everywhere”. Why don’t you get through to me?

    • 3
      0

      Dear SM

      Thank you for the clarity. I hear you say you do not agree with the article content/argument or rather the style perhaps.

      More so on lack of depth to the argument from what I am reading….

      ‘Venugopal as clearly identifies you as one of the few young guys with sufficient English to undertake “investigative journalism”, but then you don’t often follow-up or tackle the central problems realistically’

      from my part I confirm did not say any of the things above.

      I said the writing seem to be unbiased and presenting the passing of time/history/facts without the standard politics/without an attempt to rewrite the history/withholding the truth from our minds………it is indeed a critical subject I agree then one need to hear everyones view point too?? as you have correctly pointed out Sir. Celebrating history WITH FELLOW COUNTRY MEN.

  • 2
    1

    Dear Thiagarajah Venugopal,
    .
    Let us hope that we will have more articles on Education by Uditha. This is what I mean; there isn’t much point in writing one good essay, and then forgetting the subject entirely.

    • 0
      0

      Dear SM,

      I have never read your writings however I like this young mans style of looking at matters from a fresh eye without the historical narratives……………it may be difficult for us to grasp that since we have been brain washed to believe certain narrative dramatised to an extent my ‘children’ went about taking up arms supported by Countries who practice ‘preferential’ quota system for their citizens……..infact both the main parties compete for this percentage…………as the so called loosers taken to the street is rather sad.

      Therefore getting the balance right is critical to all the citizens so we have every one on board??? it is an interim measure overshadowed by war now has made real mockery of all the good intent in the first place???

      This is also a good way to diversify the economy too……..insted we discussed fairness and quality of the product…….same insane argument made in Malaysia by the same….who enjoyed the colonial spoils……..now sorted but could have been much quicker had they accepted the journey.

      I want to cherish Hon SWRD who put his life on the line to give Tamil some application but not curse. This is also part of the journey too.

  • 1
    0

    Dear Thiagarajah Venugopal,
    .
    Good to see that Uditha is continuing with his series of articles, but unfortunately it looks as though the two comments by “nimal fernando” are all that have been received. I have no idea who this “nimal” is; he had once said something to the effect that his name all spelt with simple letters is a pseudonym; he appears to live in some “Western” country. However that may be, I certainly find his comments incisive. Both Uditha’s article and nimal’s comments are most thought provoking. I think that I must make a comment to set the ball rolling, because it is very important for various opinions to come out.
    .
    I don’t want to say too much because I have been a teacher myself. I get far too involved in things when I do write. This is one of my articles; judge for yourself:
    .
    https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/the-thomian-pharisees-are-unrepentant-why-this-matters-to-all-sri-lankans/
    .
    Uditha has seen this article. Like his, this, too, is full of facts – but mine seems to have been of limited interest. They concern only four schools, really. But Uditha has made some pretty shrewd comments on one of them – the one at Mt Lavinia. Canon R.S. de Saram was before my short time there, but, yes, was a formidable man, whom I had met. He passed away a long time back.
    .
    I hope that you will be making more comments on THAT article.

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