24 October, 2019

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Two Repeatedly Used Words Today Are Education And The Acronym, FUTA

By Duleep De Chickera

Bishop Dulip De Chickera

Two repeatedly used words in formal and informal conversations in several parts of the country today are education and the acronym, FUTA (Federation of University Teachers’ Associations). Where people gather with seriousness; clarification, explanation and interpretation of the current educational crisis takes place. The media have kept the debate alive with extensive coverage.

The good thing about the three-month long FUTA action is that it is educating the people on education. People are learning that free, quality education from the primary to the tertiary level is a fundamental responsibility of the State ; that good university teachers must be employed, retained with contentment and provided security of tenure if our universities are to flourish; that a governments seriousness in this task is measured by the money set aside for education and the degree of independence that educational institutions are given; and that there are worrying gaps between these primary obligations and existing realities.

Another welcoming feature about the FUTA action is its rare island-wide collaboration. In embracing academics of all communities from north and south, east and west it has demonstrated that the people of our country can rise above sectarian agendas in pursuit of a common cause.

Lessons in democracy

But the learning curve is not limited to education only. The issue is becoming a profitable case study in the pros and cons of democratic governance in Sri Lanka today. For instance, there is a relearning that governments are formed by the people and exist for the people; and that an important test of democratic governance is the extent to which governments are accountable to the people and willing to hear public opinion. People have also been reminded that it is their money (taxed and repayable loans) that governments use to run a country and that this task must be exercised with prudent planning. And many understand that there is therefore a breach of trust if governments stand outside the circle of accountability and arbitrarily reduce expenditure on essential welfare services such as education and health, which impacts initially on those already and most deprived.

Lessons in solidarity

Increasing sections of the people are also learning that if the various issues raised by FUTA are resolved favourably, both, education and future generations will stand to benefit. It is for this reason that there is growing public endorsement of the FUTA action. Sustaining an action of this nature is costly. Those directly involved and their families have come under threat repeatedly. Public endorsement must also condemn these threats and offer moral support. Those directly involved and their families have forgone their salaries for almost three months. Public endorsement must find ways and means of offering appropriate support with respect for the dignity of the person and the person’s commitment to democracy. Those involved and their families continue to go through uncertainty, review and stress. Public endorsement must spill over to befriend, encourage and accompany these courageous but vulnerable persons.

A long term lesson

The crux of the FUTA action questions the assumption that politicians know best when it comes to education. It is the uncontested acceptance of this dangerous principle that has over the recent past led to drastic cuts in spending, inappropriate academic and administrative appointments, careless ‘mistakes in educational routine such as assessments at public examinations, an arbitrary educational ‘policy and the inability of those in authority to engage in self- scrutiny and healthy dialogue.

Consequently the long term lesson for us is the need to shift from this monopoly of education towards an independent and structured discourse on educational policy between policy makers, administrators, teachers and the public. Our most creative educationists drawn from the public and private sectors should be invited to participate. So must representatives of students and deprived communities and groups; who will offer pertinent insights into the harsh realities of life with which education is called to engage. The willingness to learn from creative global trends will further enhance the discourse.
Lessons in social justice

Such initiatives will undoubtedly be more sensitive and better equipped to address the discrepancies and discriminations in the current educational policy. For instance, the rapid closure over the last decade or so of primary schools will then be addressed and poor parents relieved of the extra burden of having to either transport their children to distant schools or be forced to have their children drop out.

Such initiatives are also likely to respond to the anguish of the Tamil plantation community which has had for decades to battle with scarce schooling facilities, especially in the Sabaragamuwa region; compelling this community to face the most unreasonable options of either forcing their children to study in the Sinhala medium or in a Muslim school, and thereby gradually lose their language and cultural identity, or simply foregoing their education to remain trapped on an estate for the rest of their lives.

Since educational challenges, like all social challenges will recur, initiatives of this nature will have to be mandated to continue to wrestle with the vision of an independent educational service which benefits the people most. Such a discourse will do well if it sees itself as a continuing bridge between the mess we keep returning to and the heights to which we are still capable of rising. Such a process will contribute in producing independent institutions and independent thinking persons, so essential for safeguarding the wider democratic ethos of a nation.

Lessons on closure, continuity and change

At the end of the day however any organised action on public issues cannot go on forever. It is hoped that sooner than later this particular FUTA action will be successfully brought to completion. The repeated public position taken by FUTA that they are ready for a compromise through negotiations so long as there is respect and seriousness regarding the issues raised, is encouraging and can be built on.

But FUTA cannot be expected to work alone for these changes. The sustained collaboration of an informed, civic minded public is indispensable and will make a significant difference.

If this collaboration were to include academics and the wider public from all over the Island its’ dividends could well bring a bonus far beyond the educational sector. There is every possibility that it could release a fresh energy for wider democratic change in the country.

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Latest comments

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    In primary, secondary and tertiary healthcare, there’s state-run operations as well as privately-owned ones. There is a strange aversion to private tertiary educational institutions, even as those who don’t want such institutions are not averse to ‘private practice’. 6% without a radical restructuring of education will mean more money being thrown into a bad system. you are not going to get happy results (EVEN IF this 6% thing makes economic sense; a lot of economists in FUTA are theoretically opposed to ‘free’ things, education or otherwise). Yes, education about education is a positive outcome. There should be education about mis-education too, including the mis-education that gets scripted in when you indulge i caricature, which is what sloganeering amount to.

    Also, check the photos of the rally…the ‘informed, civic-minded public’ were in full force….right in front. sorry, RIGHT in front. The ‘politicial right’, that is. :)

    ‘Civic’ should be unpacked, if not for anything, because ‘civil’ was a vehicle that Chandrika used in 1994. She (and the PA) contested. The ‘civic’ were duly turned into voters.

    The rest, as they say, is history.

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      FUTA is morphing into a social movement for regime change due to the stupidity and arrogance of the Rajapakse Brothers an the militarization of Lanka.
      the godaya from Hambantota Rajapakse today is swollen with super luxury living after looting public resources and has lost his head. Hid ego needs to be pricked and he will burst like the bubble economy his corrupt cronies have created in Lanka today. Rajapakse supporters were at the T-20 cricket match where the BMWs and Audis line up and the rich are entertained at the expense of the poor in Lanka even — as the FUTA marched to Hyde Park.
      FUTA must seek to broaden its social base — speak to university alumnai, particularly the cricketers, who benefited from the education system and get them to join the broader FUTA campaign for a DEVELOPMENT POLICY CHANGE.

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        Once the ignorant and arrogant Rajapakse Bros. Inc. regime proves incapable of policy change and good governance FUTA will have to lead the battle for regime change!

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    Excellent analysis Rev. Duleep Chickera,
    The civic education of Lankans has indeed started and the Dons are finally doing what they should have done long ago – been good public intellectuals and educate the people of the right kind of development..
    We are all re-learning the basics of holding Govt accountable – basic principles that had been obfuscated by 30 years of violence and now increasingly Rajapakse led state terrorism and militarization.
    On specifics:
    The Sri Lanka rupee has crashed 30 percent this year. To even get the same wage in dollar terms, (never mind an increase to slow the brain drain from Lankan university system), FUTA needs to ask for a 100 percent increase in salaries of Dons. Those academics who work in the US or Singapore know that PhD academics are paid between 6,000- 12,000$ per month. A Senior lecturer, with a PhD. is offered a starting salary of 42,000Lankan rupees (320$). What an insult.

    This filthy and crooked Rajapakese regime is about making the family dictatorship and cronies ricvher by impoverishing the middle and lower classes in the cournty. This to end this joke and go for regime change.

    1. GOOD GOVERNANCE AND DEVELOPMENT POLICY CHANGE. Unfortunately, the University Economists have been abysmally silent on the wrong economic development policy path taken by the Rajapassa regime, and need to do a better job on this by generating public debate on the corrupt Rajapakse economic development policies which are indebting and impoverishing the middle class to subsidize the rich..

    2. FUTA needs to develop an EDUCATION WHITE PAPER on up grading Higher education. The economist and social scientist must work together while they can during strike to formulate a comprehensive WHITE PAPER on how an increase in budget would be utilized to better facilities and infrastructure for research, students etc.

    3. End to militarization, state criminality and military capital expenditure cut back and diverted to education sector. Investigation of the killing and disappearance of students in Colombo and Jaffna.

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    Who should be resposible for Education in Sri Lanka? Common perception is:-

    The President? We see successive Presidents having advisors tinkering with the system.
    The Ministers? We dont really know what they do. In the distant past the real powers seemed to be in the hands of the Permanent Secretary.
    The UGC? These seem to be political appointees. UGC is were all the demonstrations converge.
    The Vice Chancellors? Nothing much heard about them.
    The Principals of Schools? Some of them especially the National Schools some decades back did take the initiative to improve their schools.Some of them improved themselves as well.
    The teachers? These days most teachers are just doing a job.

    A far cry from the system left for us by the British. A poem we learnt when we were in middle school in the 1960’s by Sir Henry Newbolt.

    THERE’S a breathless hush in the Close to-night –
    Ten to make and the match to win –
    A bumping pitch and a blinding light,
    An hour to play and the last man in.
    And it’s not for the sake of a ribboned coat,
    Or the selfish hope of a season’s fame,
    But his Captain’s hand on his shoulder smote
    “Play up! play up! and play the game!”

    The sand of the desert is sodden red, –
    Red with the wreck of a square that broke; –
    The Gatling’s jammed and the colonel dead,
    And the regiment blind with dust and smoke.
    The river of death has brimmed his banks,
    And England’s far, and Honour a name,
    But the voice of schoolboy rallies the ranks,
    “Play up! play up! and play the game!”

    This is the word that year by year
    While in her place the School is set
    Every one of her sons must hear,
    And none that hears it dare forget.
    This they all with a joyful mind
    Bear through life like a torch in flame,
    And falling fling to the host behind –
    “Play up! play up! and play the game!”

    I think this sums up the lesson we learnt at school in the good old days. Those were the days we learnt of books and learnt of men and learnt to play the game.

    Then came the patriots. National minded yet schooled in the hallowed traditions of Oxford and Cambridge. At a stroke of the pen they changed the course of education and the futures of this country. They laid the foundation for a conflict of 30 years and more. Swabasha they claimed was the miracle cure for the newly independent nation.

    Now it seems we have come back to square one or even regressed beyond. A new awakening and new policies are required. But who can retrieve the years we have lost due to the ill sighted decisions of our leaders.

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      Dear Citizen,
      This poem and many others were read,enjoyed & commentaries written as part of the subject called English Literature we offered for the Senior School Certificate – and also was essential for a pass in the London Matriculation examination, in the forties.
      One text was ‘English Book of Lively Verse’.
      CWWKannangara made only english education free.
      Today, every parent in sri lanka wants education in english, or at least a working knowledge of english, for their children – ask any villager in the north or south.
      They know that the ‘english educated’ are the elite of society,irrespective of their social background.
      FUTA and social scientists must insist on english education with one other language,from the primary school upwards.
      English is the portal to knowledge.This is being unjustly denied to a majority of citizens.Today,only the privileged/affluent educate their children in english.This is rank injustice.

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    It was a pleasure to read Bishop Chickera’s comments. He defines the ideals in terms that should edify all of us.

    However, the current situation in the universities reminds me of the situation in the 1970’s at Peradeniya. The Sirimavo government was in power and it was economically a very difficult time for the people. All imports, including cars were severaly curtailed. This was a time the undergraduates at Peradeniya started wearing altered ‘Bale’-second hand -trousers, imported from Japan! A brand new car was imported by a Senior Lecturer with money he had saved during his sabbatical leave abroad, using the permit system then operative. When this car was parked in Peradeniya town one day, its tires were slashed by a resentful public, who could not stand the sight of a shining brand new car amidst their suffering!

    How would the majority of people now, who are struggling to make ends meet amidst an imbalance between incomes and cost of living, accept a substantial increase in salaries for the academics, however well deserved? Would this not set off an avalanche of demands for substantial increases in salaries from all levels of the salaried class? Everyone needs a substantial salary increase. However, is this possible?

    The other questions are:

    1. What is so sacro-sanct about universal free education at this juncture of our history?

    2.Should fees not be charged from those who can afford it, whether they be in schools or universities?

    3. Would this in any way delegitimize the need for social justice for the poorer segments of our society?

    4. Why should not we have private-local and international- universities in this country, when we have permitted international schools and other privately owned ‘Foreign degree’granting organizations to operate? Why this schizophrenia?

    With the money earned from charging fees from those who can afford it and money saved from reducing the student load, our state universities should be able to provide not only quality education, but also pay their staff better.

    Why are we yet insistant on holding on to concepts that have outlived their usefulness?

    Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

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      Unfortunately Bishop (Retd.) Chickera is only good at politics but ignorant of his calling (self calling) to the kingdom of God on which account he is enjoying all benefits!!!!

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    BEFORE IT WAS L T T E AND V P INCORPORATED.

    NOW IT HAS BECOME RAJAPASSA AND STOOGES INCORPORATED.

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    The pretend to be almighty think he knows everything and could deceive everybody through arrogant and self bloated power. His followers are mere bone lickers. Just look at his advisers. Are they competent and educated enough to take on local and international affairs and to develop SL. I had my own experience when attending international seminar, the SL representative even did not know to speak two words in English, leave alone giving a speech.She was just seated in a corner. Why the Govt. send these people to foreign seminars.Politics and development of Sri Lanka should be handled by two different entities. Only professors and academics should be in charge of development and administration.

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