23 September, 2023


What A Husky, Golden Retriever, Chihuahua Can Teach Us About Sri Lankan Educational System

By Kasun Kamaladasa

Kasun Kamaladasa

When looking for smart dog to be your next best friend, what kind of traits would you consider the “best”?

Would you go for a golden retriever that blindly obeys your every command or a Husky that could understand boundaries but will not play dead to be fed a cookie?

Even though you most probably never owned a golden retriever, a Husky or any kind of dog, depending on your life experience and upbringing you’d probably pick one of these dogs because of its obedience or independence.

All dogs have their perks and quirks but the interesting thing about choosing a dog is there is no absolute “best” dog. Depending your needs, we can choose a playful partner for our children, guide dog for our blind aunt, sheep herding dogs for our uncle at the farm or a guard dog to guard our houses and riches.

Why did you pick the Husky or the Golden Retriever?

I may have misled you with my question asking about two dogs instead of asking simply which dog breed is the smartest. I attributed qualities normally people would have very strong opinions about further blinding you to the fact that these dogs might have other good or bad qualities. I also withheld information about possibilities of training a Husky with a dog trainer or that even a golden retriever might be disobedient depending on its upbringing. Most importantly I mentioned an ambiguous quality, “smarter”. Which is a quality that is hard to measure objectively.

Asking the correct questions when addressing a problem could shape the way we perceive our world. So ask yourself, who do we consider smart in society? what is our measurement stick? How has this measurement stick tainted our perception of children and students? How could you be smart in different ways? what other questions do you need to ask when we pick a candidate for a University or a Career?

Benchmarking “intelligence” (Who is smart)

Most of Sri Lanka seem to be convinced that sole measurement required for a University or Job is intelligence and that intelligence can be measured accurately with A/L and O/L. Countless trade unions keep trying to use this excuse to Limit representation in their fields from people with different experiences and abilities.  From university entry criteria to entry in to professional circles and even the requirements for government positions all point to the same fact. A/L and O/L marks are inexplicably significant.

You could argue that A/L results do really give a proper intelligence rating and that is sufficient for entry criteria for Universities or Jobs. The trouble is our society is taking it a few steps further. We are equating A/L results to absolute intelligence and black marking students with lower grades.

Doctor’s unions, Engineering student bodies and other groups claim that private universities are bad for the country because they will allow “less intelligent” people to get degrees in Medicine or Engineering. They are convinced that this as a selfless act and only way of preserving ethics and standards of their profession but time has failed to prove this hypothesis.

Coming back to our question “are A/Ls really the cut-off criteria we should use to grant access for higher education?”

A lesson from our neighbors

The same way you would choose a Husky or a Golden retriever depending on what kind of traits you would like, lot of countries have multiple criteria to fulfill for university entry, in hopes of making their admissions reflect a broader range of social qualification. Some have exceptions for people who have not had the luxury to do A/L properly when they were young, to qualify for jobs and higher education. Back to school initiatives in US, second career programs in Canada, Pre-bachelor courses in Australia and Foundation courses in UK are a few examples.

Some universities value progress and success in workplace; for example, if you worked as a technician in an engineering company that would translate to earned credits in state universities in the US. Performance in athletics and sports which showcase a students’ resilience and adaption will grant the student athlete into prestigious “Ivy-League” colleges.

So dear reader, even if the dog you dream of is a one with a golden coat, you don’t always have to limit yourself to a Golden Retriever, you will find that you may as well be happy with Cocker Spaniel or Finnish Spitz just by understanding what the real requirement is.

The real requirement

So how can we broaden our success criteria so that students with a wider range of intelligence get a chance at higher education without risking the quality of enrollment? That is obviously up for discussion by the experts, but here are a few things that can be used to distinguish whether a student is accomplished in other ways than just plain old A/Ls.

  • Work experience that would give an insight on to the practical skills of a student
  • Volunteering experience that would show the compassionate side of the student
  • Individual projects that showcase project management skills as well as communication skills
  • Standardized and specific aptitude tests like GRE, MCAT, GMAT that would give the student another chance at redeeming themselves
  • Inclusion of interviews that showcase the communication and presentation skills of the student.

All the above criteria are measured in countries such as UK, Australia, Germany.

Because you don’t want an ordinary Poodle or a vicious Wolf guarding your sheep nor would you choose a German Shepherd who cannot run due to an accident or old age.

In other words, we as a society have to ask what good is a doctor with good grades who cannot arrive in time to their own appointment. Or a doctor that talks over a patient or tries to prescribe medicine before you even tell him how you feel? What good is an engineer who has a gold medal in his studies but can’t communicate his mathematical understanding to his construction crew? What good is a salesman who can’t sell a single car but has A+ in marketing strategies?

One of the best cases for how honoring work experience could be rewarding for both individuals and society comes from a man name John Hunter who was born in 1728 in the Scottish Isles. He suffered from dyslexia hence performed poorly at school. He could not get entry to Medical school but was able to learn anatomy by assisting his elder brother William with dissections in William’s anatomy school in Central London. Hunter later became the pioneer in experimental surgery. Hunter’s approach to experimentation in surgery was novel for the time, and remains the standard for surgical research to this day.

Responsibility of Educators when having an adaptive Educational system.

There is a possibility that somewhere down the line you realize you can’t maintain a Husky because you failed to ask the correct questions and that you are better off having a Golden Retriever. You have to consider giving the Husky up for adoption or getting help looking after it or maybe exchanging it for a Golden Retriever instead.

Setting new criteria would mean that educators should always double check if they achieved the expected out-come from the students they picked. At least every 5-10 years we should see whether the new engineering graduates we picked can really communicate as we expected. If not, we need to make extra effort to train them on these skills or allow for a career transition and make arrangements to figure out how to assess communication skills in future candidates.


There are countless examples in the world which show integrating people from different professions and backgrounds have made breakthroughs and advancements in fields that would never have been possible with people within the same profession.

One interesting example is Professor Alison Marsden. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering in 1988. In 2005, she was able to work with a fellow professor in developing “Fontan reconstruction” a method used to treat Heart Defects (ventricle defects in children). Now she is an associate Professor of Pediatrics (Cardiology) and of Bioengineering who has published more than 80 peer reviewed journal papers.

Make belief self-value. You are not your A/L results.

Perhaps the greatest tragedy that our younger generation face, is the public humiliation when they receive their A/L results. The examination is such a cornerstone of coming of age in Sri Lanka, that everyone who goes through it have to involuntarily disclose their results to friends, relatives and even coworkers or general acquaintances they meet in later life.

The inevitable inferiority complexes or superiority complexes that result in part of this public display of examination results, leaves a burden on students that cannot be redeemed. It is on par with persons who are physically or sexually abused that associate themselves as partially to blame and cannot escape the guilt of the incident. Modern society accepts that dressing inappropriately or getting drunk doesn’t put the blame on the raped victim. Yet people who do poorly at examinations are made to feel that they are not capable, and do not deserve a second chance.

The beauty of a dog is in the eyes of the beholding owner. If you picked the Husky because you thought she was pretty, does it mean that the Golden Retriever was ugly and worthless? Our education system and society seems to think so.

Chihuahuas – a lesson in classification

Thanks to our innate human ability to seek resemblance and classify things most of us, if we were even shown a Chihuahua would never consider it as a real dog.  Whatever we may feel looking at this small toy like dog, a Chihuahua in its own right is a dog. A dog that many people who live in flats could enjoy thanks to its small size and uniqueness.

How does this apply to education you may ask? Think about the times that you’ve pictured an ideal student. Are they constantly getting A+s on quizzes and obedient and well kept? The classification of a “good” student that deserves a higher education is ever changing with the requirements of the industry. An unorganized student with limited long-term memory but with a slight OCD, might be ideal for debugging code. A compassionate, attentive student with higher emotional intelligence might be better suited for a managerial position or a HealthCare worker.

The excellence of an educational system should be measured by how we capture both these qualities and expand our classification of a “good student” so that they can pursue satisfactory careers that contribute to society.

My hope

As we found out in the previous paragraphs, finding the perfect dog for may turn out to be a ridiculously difficult task. But it gets even more ridiculous if you limit yourself to a box and ask “Chihuahua or Poodle?” rather than looking at the traits that you really want in a dog. No matter which dog you choose, you will always have a pet. You will have to look after them and they will have different problems during upbringing and different solutions depending on where you live, how you live and what you can afford.

Sadly, not all your friends and family will like the same dog that you do. They might need a different breed or even a cat.

There are no absolute benchmarks to assess the value of a student. The requirements of society change and our education system should broaden its

enrollment criteria to offer students a fair chance of redeeming themselves

according to their own merits. By changing the narrow classification of a perfect

student, we should bring back the dignity and respect that most people seem to

lose in life after A/Ls. After all, higher education is our great social leveler. Perhaps the only thing that allows a person to change their level in society other than marrying a rich spouse or winning a lottery. Are we really in the right by denying all these students admission by saying that someone who has “bad” marks in A/Ls do not have enough intelligence? After all, when it comes to the great social leveler, we should at least give it the same amount of thought that we would when choosing our next dog.

This is a complicated metaphor and I hope most readers are capable of understanding this. It’s high time we understand the limitations of our measurements and learn how to implement better ones. If not, we will remain slaves of our own senseless creations forever.

*Kasun Kamaladasa physician graduated from Stavropol State University, Russia

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Latest comments

  • 3

    Our Colonial mentality is we are dnot invention oriented, we are not imaginative looking for new ideas. We wait for the ship for everything. Ask busienssmen for ideas. they just try to duplicate foreign ideas. Now, Politicians do not like even that. they like importing everything because that gives them commis. Our universities are also sloths. Because their only thinking is go overseas do some crappy Ph D come and read the same old lecture note.. Policies are not made to get lecturers to think new, introduce courses applicable to the country. I think their worry is salry, to earn and to go overseas to earn a few more bucks. Some times, we here, they give away resources endemic to sri lanka, because they get a foreign trip, a scholarship or a grant. On the other hand, universities do not have sufficient freedom to act controlled by the dumb politician who never had an education other than the LAw college. their knowledge on law tells us how grand the law college education is. Just notice Sujeewa wijesinghe and Namal Rajapakse and even Ranil. Anyway, University graduates should be trained to be inventive and imaginative. the concept of Patents should be popularized in the university. The self employment should be explained. University education is just a manufacturing plant rolling out graduates usless for the country. Those who are worth, they go overseas because, the country is not liveable.

  • 0

    Sorry to hear your knowledge about Sri Lankan public University system. See real situation: Fake professor appointment and bogus Colombo University PhD factory graduates are running now University system.

  • 3

    the teaching methods should change, we are producing factory workers in the information age. the way children are seated in rows, is the factory set-up. we need to create individuals who can think strategically and ethically. what we have is morons who follow morons because of herd mentality. if a country is to progress, we have to take away the slave mentality away.

  • 2

    Points made by the author and Jim softly need to be taken seriously and corrected. Free Education was a good idea. To that it is important for students over 16 in school and university students should work for a portion of their free education. The schools and universities should identify and group work skills the the author refers to and place students at work places that the students can learn, contribute and earn.

    Admissions to universities and tertiary institutions should require work experience, group work experience and social service. The O/L and A/L examination should not just be Paper and Pencil tests. It should also test whether the student can demonstrate practical skills and express his knowledge verbally.
    Improvement of the current curricula, teaching, examination and teacher education is now being discussed by the National Education Commission’s Standing Committee on General Education composed of leading educationists in the country. They have the same concern and the improvement discussed by the Author and Jim Softly will be addressed.

    Sri Lanka school system has three mediums of education. Ensuring that all three mediums are equal in educating the students is a challenging task.

    • 0

      Thanks, Ethir.

      You talk sense in a comprehensible way.


      I find the article itself tiresome in its “cleverness”. Apologies to the author.

      • 3

        Intelligence is the capacity to acquire knowledge. Intelligence leads to nothing. Not every person of intelligence is an intelligent person. An intelligent person will have, in addition, the ability to apply that knowledge to fulfil a purpose.
        Yes, the presentation is tedious.
        As regards to how best the high intelligence of our manpower could be taken advantage of, the thinking has not passed beyond the stage of experimentation.
        Testing the practical ability of each candidate is easily said than done. During our time, a viva voce was conducted – to those who had reached the cut-off point – to determine the suitability of the candidate, to enter the University course chosen. Alas, that practice has been done away with, for sheer convenience.

    • 0

      Are you the high jumper or the pole vaulter,or a bit of both?

  • 0

    While on the subject of dogs, this species provides a very effective way to insult someone if the need arises and some use ‘ballige putha’ to refer to others whom they d not like even in this respectable forum. Son of a Bitch (SOB) or Ballige Putha is used at the drop of a hat without any qualms and without realizing that the use of such words is similar to attacking innocent civilians in a war. It shows how bad their upbringing is and what sort of BP’s they are. Most of the perpetrators of this abuse are fake refugees in the West and pretend to belong to the majority here. The reality is quite different.

    Be that as it may, I wonder why people do not use the term ‘Ballige Duwa’ when they want to insult a woman. They may use Bally but never use Ballige duwa. Makes me wonder.

    • 0

      Interesting question about “ballige duwa”. Well, even in English there are only S.O.B’s but no D.O.B’s. A woman is abused as a B in English and as a H in Sinhala. Isn’t this discriminatory?

  • 2

    Kasun Kamaladasa takes a rather circuitous route to promote ‘SAITM-type (??) private education’.
    His remarks on the opposition of ‘doctors and engineers’ to private education is unfortunate.
    Only the Colombo privileged elites can afford such education and in the present atmosphere will corner all plum jobs. This is a genuine concern.
    Kasun is saying “If you do not want a Golden Retriever, Chihuahua or a Siberian Husky fly down a Swiss German Shepard – divert AirLankan flights if necessary. Heard of ‘kitchen-pointers’ only. These are fed scraps – certainly not imported dog food.
    So to cut a long story short: No sir, we do not want show-offs.

    • 1

      It might well be a good thing if Colombo elites do corner most (not all) plum jobs. Do you think we are better off since the “non-elites” got hold of the system? At least the former crowd did not wallow in superstition astrology and racism (not publicly). They did not need advice from idiotic semi-literate clergy to run the country.
      Whether only elites can afford private education is beside the point. We need QUALITY EDUCATION, private or public. If some cannot afford it, by all means subsidize deserving candidates on actual ability, not A level results.
      Kasun may be wrong about Engineer’s unions. At least in the private sector, engineers get paid on performance, not paper qualifications. But certainly the Doctors are trying to restrict entry based on assumptions of their own “superior” training.

  • 2

    So someone has come from somewhere and wants to show off his newly acquired learning. Please don’t foist it on us Kasun. Go somewhere else and kassanda.

  • 0

    This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2

  • 4

    Percy: Yes I was the high jumper in the fifties and early sixties. I liked teaching and teacher education. Coaching on and off. Last six years with a group of science and math teachers prepared elessons in science and maths for O/L Grades 10 and 11. Have been introducing the dvds and teaching teachers how to use it.

    A group of senior educators in the National Education Commission and its Standing Committee are discussing how to improve the curricula, teaching, examination and teacher education. Education administration needs improvement. The disparity between rural and urban schools are huge. Many classrooms in rural schools are without teachers while in the urban schools there is excess. Nepotism is rampant. The Northern Education System Review, which I facilitated, highlight and address many of the issues. 70% of the issues also applies to the rest of the country. The report is available at http://www.edudept.np.gov.lk.

    Young people should get involved in restructuring and refreshing the education system in Sri Lanka. They should start at the village level and Primary level. But not neglect the Special Children who are second to none.

    • 1

      Well done Ethir .Was it Grant a Little who helped you get a schol to a US University.? You seem to be doing excellent work in mentoring young people. That’s what the country needs.
      When you said Special children I presume you meant Children with Special Needs. Yes they certainly deserve every assistance the community can give. Continue the good work

  • 2

    It was Brayton Norton who was Asia Foundation sponsored Coach who on the advice of Carlton Seneveratne and P..E. Rajendra and Anthony Abeyasinghe (Greatest Coach and Mentor in the world but not recognised in then Ceylon. He was far ahead of his time.) recommended me for admission and Grant in Aid work study program to University of California, Los Angeles. From there I was on my own to Cornell for my Ph.D. with a Research and Assistant grant.

    I in turn coached High Jumper Manjula Wijesekera from Morawaka and Vijitha Central, Dickwella to get admission and scholarship to Univ of Southern California. He was Asia’s best in 2007 and 2010. Went to the Athens Olympics in 2004. He is still jumping at 32.
    I still cant understand why individuals and communities are at war with each other. There is so much to do and achieve if only all believe that individuals and communities are equal and would cooperate. Some day we will. AT 83 there is very little I can do anymore.

    • 0

      Well done Ethir you can be proud of what you have achieved, and most importantly it was your home country that backed you and gave you all the support.

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