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Midweek Review

A Familian Perspective “Till The Mountains Disappear”

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…by Avishka Mario Senewiratne and Late Fr. Stanley Abeysekera

(Review By Sr. Cynthia Mendis PH)

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The (246+ XIV) page, A4 Size book is priced at LKR 2000. Copies can be obtained by calling +94766122345

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The story of St. Joseph’s College titled, “Till the mountains disappear” fell into my hands in a surprising way and I thank God who has often been a “God of surprises” in my life as a Religious Sister. The one who spoke of it first to me was my cousin, Capt. Elmo Jayawardene, a non-Josephian but a writer of worth himself. As a result of it, I met Avishka. Finally, when this “mountain” or monument of work on St. Joseph’s College, compiled over six years, came to me I was intrigued by the chronicle of events, facts, figures, men and matters enumerated therein. The research done by a young writer and the serious look into various archives, lives of former Rectors, past issues of the Blue and White magazine, interviews with dedicated teachers and distinguished students makes a mosaic to be treasured by any loyal Josephian. It offers also a run through the history of Catholic education, especially in the early difficult times, and its contribution to our land over many years.

Therefore, reading Avishka’s book brought back many poignant memories of a College we still care about – though no one there knows us now. Such memories can never be erased. I am thankful to Avishka for reviving those embers of a fire that once burned within us. Avishka took me to a vivid past. His book will be treasured by our family.

My “attachment” to St. Joseph’s dates back to the time I was at Holy Family Convent, Bambalapitiya. Our convent school is mentioned in the book with reference to Noel Crusz’ film “Little bike lost” which I remember seeing in school. Fr. Noel, then, was a regular and popular visitor to the convent since he promoted the devotion to St. Maria Goretti, even taking our “tuck-shop” to make a shrine room with relics of the Saint he had brought from Nettuno. Very soon we had a big school bus called, “Maria Goretti,” with a big-made Irish Sister as a ‘body-guard’ to the girls! The bus was blue and white … St. Joseph’s colours!

I never considered St. Peter’s our “brother” school as was the custom. For me, right through life, St. Joseph’s has been THE one best boys’ school in Colombo. How come?

Well, it has a history dating back to the time before I was born. My father Leslie Mendis made a “jump” from St. Benedict’s College to St. Joseph’s as the family had also moved to a house on Darley Road, almost opposite the College. I remember him speak often of Fr. Maurice Le Goc O.M.I., especially as Daddy loved Botany and gave me too a love for that subject and the Botany book by Fr. Le Goc. My father’s elder brother, Eric Mendis, who lived with us, was our “academic father.” He had joined the College staff in 1922 as a Science and Maths teacher. He graduated during the time he was teaching and the College gave a half-day holiday. He continued for over 50 years, very faithful to the College he loved, and we used to say, “he is married to the College,” as he remained a bachelor. Cricket was also in the mainstream of College life for us. Priya Perera, who captained the Team, was my first cousin. My two brothers Percy and Eardley had their entire education there and together played in the first XI in 1960-1962. As a family we attended all the matches in which my brothers played whether in Colombo, Kandy or elsewhere. We formed part of a cheering squad with other families of cricketers. As youngsters we also enjoyed the food and drink taken in the boots of our cars by our parents. It was great fun calling out “nicknames” of cricketers or jeering at the opponents.

Many of our relatives also began and ended their schooling there. No wonder then that we “girls” in the family considered ourselves Josephians and up to now I say, “I am a Josephian at heart.

I have a soft corner for St. Joseph’s.” Even today, each time I ask a little boy or a young adult which school he attends and he replies, “St. Joseph’s” I always add that it is the best school ! I remember the year 1960 when our entire family of seven went with Uncle Eric to “squat” near the grotto, together with others, as a protest over the school’s take-over. Many are my memories of College Carnivals where we ran a family “stall” or helped our Uncles or Aunts to run theirs. My memories go back to Bonjean Hall visited so many times, especially when Uncle Eric had his Magic Shows, often in aid of the St. Vincent de Paul’s Society. In fact, I myself was “produced” by him from an empty box, fully checked by a volunteer from the audience as empty and there I come out as “Miss Terious.” I was offered “bribes” by many to share the secret! Uncle Eric, popularly known as Professor Enrico, had a knack of making up very appropriate titles for his items. One trick done with eggs was called an “Eggsperiment.”

We also went for Fr. Ignatius’ Choral Society concerts as Uncle Eric was a skilled violinist in it. I know he did so much for the College and for Josephians who visited him at our home to share confidences. They seemed to us like coming for “confession” to “Father Eric.” He was a devout gentle-man attending daily Mass and initiating us also into it. In 1990 when he was feeble, he requested me, as a Religious Sister, to collect the award he received for distinguished service to the College. Back I came to Bonjean Hall, “proud” to represent him. I believe his portrait, done perhaps by an old boy, hangs in the Staff Room. I saw it there once.

What I appreciate much in Avishka’s book is that he encourages future research, gathering of more information on the Josephian heritage to “fill the gaps this book may have left.” He even apologizes for “any unintentional omission” and accepts his limitations as an amateur as he takes us through a 125-year journey of the College. It is not often that one can “spy” the gift of humility in a writer! As much as I enjoyed and marvelled at the writing in the book, I admired the “boy” behind the book. His wisdom has been stolen from the distant mountains and his humility will be there till the mountains disappear. I wish to encourage Avishka Senewiratne to fly as a Professional, Yes, but also to keep on reflecting, researching and writing. Good luck and God bless you.



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Midweek Review

Rajiva Wijesinhas’s ‘Exploring India’

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Reviewed by Goolbai Gunasekara

When a professor, a novelist, a writer, a politician, an educator, an international speaker, a teacher, a former university Vice Chancellor and a respected academic writes a book on travel it jumps, perforce, onto the “must read” list for all serious readers. Add to the above that he is much in demand as a judge at Literary Competitions, both in Sri Lanka and the UK, and when one tops it all by mentioning that he is also a Gratiaen Prize Winner, one realies that here is a Modern Day Renaissance Man (His various careers are naturally not in given order of importance).

Rajiva Wijesinha dates his long love affair with India to his boyhood when he accompanied his mother, the well-known Girl Guide Commissioner, Muktha Wijesinha, to Madras when she was on Girl Guide business. Arriving in modern Chennai, he took off by himself on a tour in which no other teen-aged schoolboy would be even remotely interested. That Rajiva was considered a child prodigy was accepted at the time, but his intellectual curiosity exceeded all normalcy and has led him down unusual avenues of exploration for the next 50 years of his life.

With having an Indian father, who was himself an academic, I thought I was pretty high up on the ‘know India’ landscape scale, but after reading ‘Exploring India’ I realize I have barely scratched the surface of understanding the scope of that vast and intriguing country. India’s ruins and architectural marvels and many that are off the beaten track are revealed with a love and understanding of that great sub-continent’s history.

Punctuated by excellent photographs taken through the years of his travels, fascinating descriptions of cities, palaces, forts, temples and varied historical sites make “Exploring India’ difficult to put down.

Parts one and two describe his travels as a student and a teacher along with educational and academic perspectives. Parts four, five and six comprise intensive sightseeing of both old and new India. While this book is mainly about India, Rajiva takes in his tours of the other SAARC countries in section seven of this comprehensively written book. Such an undertaking would have been impossible had not Rajiva kept detailed diaries all his life. He was preparing to write this book from his teen years, perhaps!

Among the plethora of pictures I found several which were of particular interest. The Fort of Jhansi, for instance, recalls an early heroine of mine (and of many Asian women). Pictures of Pakistan were particularly poignant as I had schooled in Karachi while it was still ‘Undivided India’ and had visited beautiful Lahore frequently as modern Pakistan was my family’s home in Sind before British haste messed up the Partition of India. Also in Lahore are tombs and works undertaken by Nur Jehan (another heroine) the famously manipulative and beautiful wife of Jahangir.

What is noteworthy about all these photographs is that they do not contain only the much pictured and widely reproduced tourist pictures. Little known aspects and lesser known attractions of India dot its pages. For example, Babur’s tomb in Kabul, the minarets of Lahore, monks at play in Bhutan, schoolboys in Thimpu wearing uniforms of sartorial elegance, the island temple of Pokhara in Nepal, etchings in the palace of Bikaner et al. All these go to enthrall a reader.

Buddhists will be particularly interested in one fact of which most of them are ignorant . While exploring the higher reaches of areas round Harrapa and Taxila, Rajiva heard of tribes that still practice Buddhism though he did not actually get to meet them. There he found wondrous examples of Gandhara Art. From Peshawar he walked up a hill to the monastery of Takht –i-Bahi, 2000 years old! In the area, high up in the Karakorum range, lies a fabulous engraving of the Buddha out of rugged rock.

The chapters are interspersed with well-known names, thanks to Rajiva’s many academic connections and also his contemporaries at Oxford. In Karachi he asked a gentleman why the men of Pakistan disapproved of Benazir Bhutto and was told that they felt diminished at being ruled by a women. Also they had heard that she went to nightclubs in England! Rajiva thought it prudent to remain silent about the fact that he had himself taken her to a nightclub in their Oxford days!

Rajiva’s accommodations in India causes the reader considerable amusement. As an inveterate traveler he often went along on whims of the moment without making proper bookings. This led him to sharing a berth on a train with an old man and his grandson and then in stark contrast to having Nirmali Hettiaratchi as a fellow guest at the posh Hyatt Regency in Kathmandu. He has had dinners with our High Commissioners in India like Sudarshan Seneviratne and Austin Fernando who must have been considerably bemused by the sweep of Rajiva’s fascination and encompassing knowledge of India. He has enjoyed stays with Oxford friends at Bishop’s Palaces and pleasantly relaxed teas in Karachi with Benazir Bhutto, his old friend from Oxford, who remembered his penchant for chocolate cake.

The educator in Rajiva is never quiescent. It surfaces all the time and his visits to India were often for literary and educational reasons. During the time he was a Member of Parliament, Rajiva was in in Delhi for an Indo-Sri Lankan Dialogue being held at the India International Centre. Our High Commission arranged for discussions with Indian Foreign Secretary, Nirupama Rao, an old friend of Rajiva’s from her days as High Commissioner to Sri Lanka. The discussions were on the sad state of English in our country while India’s standards were zooming up by the day. Other well-known participants in the discussions were Nihal Rodrigo, Sajith Premadasa and Harsha de Silva. Mrs. Rao was happy to provide him with all the necessary aid but the Government of Sri Lanka changed and the scheme was very unfortunately dropped.

There are too many names, too many incidents, too many pictures, too many amazing stories to relate in a short Review. So let me just say “READ the Book”. India is our closest neighbour. Let us get to know her every facet as best we can. Rajiva Wijesinha’s “Exploring India” will do just that for the reader.

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Midweek Review

Making vocational training an impressive choice

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By Dr. Ajith Polwatte

Globally, a significant number of young persons choose vocational and technical training so as in Sri Lanka as the way for developing a livelihood for their life. At the same time, the Government and non-governmental organizations trying hard to increase the enrollments for such training using range of methods, including media and other promotional programmes. This article presents some of the important things which the responsible agencies can adopt to make vocational training an impressive choice for youngsters as well as adults for them to be able to develop a livelihood.

Vocational training is referred to as training of persons for specific occupations in the industry. In Sri Lanka, with the inception of National Vocational Qualifications (NVQ) system, the vocational training system has improved significantly nevertheless, due to number of reasons, still it is not impressive enough to be an alternative choice for youngsters. They still view vocational training as “inferior” product to other educational choices thus as said before, responsible agencies in vocational training sector are compelled to spend resources to promote vocational training.

There are several things which would help making vocational training a good choice for young persons. If a vocational training system lacks the factors discuss in this article, people say the system is inferior thus cannot be trusted as a pathway for life success. Let us discuss those factors which would determine choosing a vocational training program a better choice as discussed below.

Demand-driven courses

* Training centres with right number of courses and students to reflect good image

* Use of modern technology in teaching

* Up to date technology with appropriate level of digitalization

* Qualified, competent and committed Teacher / Trainers

* Attractive learning environment

* Merit-based enrollment

* Opportunities for extra-curricula activities

 

Demand-driven Courses

The term demand-driven is a bit familiar term in vocational training system of Sri Lanka (especially after inception of NVQ system) however, those who involve in training management need to understand the real meaning of the term. The “demands” are the work requirements or the expectations of the employers in the industry. In other words, it is what the work setup expects from the workers to do. The workers are supposed to fulfil those expectations thus the training centres need to train own trainees in such a way that they would be able to fulfil those expectations. Then such courses are titled as “demand-driven” courses.

Due to internal as well as external pressure factors, not all courses run by training centres are demand-driven. Internal factors include staff issues, available equipment and buildings, etc., whereas external factors include needs of the general public, opinions of influential persons, etc., which are referred to as “social demands”. Especially, the public sector training centres tend to deliver “social demand-driven courses” due to the said pressure factors. Social-demand driven courses not always ensure employment but real industry-demand driven courses ensure employment within or outside of the country. The outcome of vocational training should be a gainful employment and earnings thereof thus when youngsters making choices one of the key determinants would be the assurance of an employment upon completion of training. Designing of courses thus shall be based on industry needs rather than social needs. Therefore, it is better making all the vocational training courses “industry-demand-driven” towards the march for a better vocational training system.

 

Training centres with right number of courses and students to reflect good image

There is a proverb called “small is beautiful”. Though there is a perceived truth behind this proverb, the vocational training setup has exceptions. When a training centre provides 1-2 courses, there would be no room for social interaction thus the centre becomes an unattractive and monotonous place for the trainees. Also, the unit cost of training increases as few numbers of trainees are trained. Whereas if a centre is able to provide around 10 courses instead of few courses it can get “economies of scale” thus unit cost of a trainee decreases. As large numbers of trainees are trained, social interaction increases which makes the training centre a livable and attractive place to general public. Most people love to be part of “big places” than “small places”. Big places mostly have opportunities for extra curricula activities than small places which makes a significant impact to people’s minds in making choices. Therefore, those responsible for vocational training better start thinking about “big centres” than smaller centres for the way towards a better training system. On the other hand, school leavers, for number of years in schools, used to be in a spacious environment with room for extra-curricular activities admire and expect similar environment in vocational training centres as well.

 

Use of modern technology in teaching

Use of face-to-face and “chalk’n talk” method of teaching in vocational training is no longer an attractive method for youth of 21st century. Modern teaching is based on mix method of internet, audio and video, simulations etc. In vocational training, mostly it should be based on practical approach than classroom-based teaching approach. Successful application of competencies at work is the hallmark of vocational training. Practical abilities matter at work which are supported by related knowledge thus teaching methods need to be improved to make vocational training impressive for the youth. Scholars A. Michael and K. Marinos (2018) of CityUnity College / Cardiff Metropolitan University, Larnaca-Aradippou, Cyprus discusses the value of using a combine teaching methods by considering class-dynamics and students’ personal learning style with in-class activities supported by modern audio-visual means as a positive factor to be able to stimulate vocational centre students’ learning appetite. Thus it is necessary to innovate modern approaches to teaching at vocational training centres of our country.

 

Up to date technology with appropriate level of digitalization

In Sri Lanka vocational training setup, use of up to date technology and application of digital methods in training and assessments is at lower level compared with developed countries. In training, as said before, ICT and online methods with mix modes need to be adopted. In assessments, it takes place as formative and summative throughout the course duration. Formative assessment are done on continuous basis by the teachers and the summative assessments are done by the certification body when national certificates are issued. During both of these assessment methods, it is better if online assessment tools be used where applicable. For formative assessment, one example may be the use of “Blogs” where students discuss and talk around an issue on internet-based Blog which the teachers monitor and give marks which are considered for pass marks. Blogs can be made social-media compatible so that with less cost students can access such assessment tools with lots of interest. These kind of modern assessment methods add value to vocational training setup. Designing Question Banks (Q-Banks) for summative assessments and releasing part of the Q-Bank to common practice (using mobile phones) may energize students to learn with enthusiasm.

 

Qualified, competent and committed Teachers/Trainers

Teaching is considered to be a noble profession which demands capacity in terms of knowledge and dedication. Also being updated with new development is mostly matter for teachers as knowledge is accessible via internet in modern world. Those who join teaching profession due to the fact that there are no other jobs make teaching at vocational training setup very unattractive. It is better industry practitioners in relevant trades could be brought in to the training centres and if vocational teachers could be sent to industry for exposures which would definitely increase of the quality of vocational teachers. Subject matter training and training-method training matter equally to be a good teacher. Vocational teachers are the first party who interact with students thus good teachers make good vocational training centres. Providing at least once-a-year industry exposure would increase capacity of a teacher to be able to teach well in the centre.

 

Attractive learning environment

Quality of vocational training mostly determines by the quality of learning environment. Quality of learning environment makes mainly the teaching and use of machinery, equipment and tools in teaching. In Competency based Training (CBT) introduced with the inception of the NVQ system tried to create a learning environment similar to what is prevailed in the industry. Thus the CBT method has been able to make a difference in the vocational training setup nevertheless it is still argued that there is a mismatch of technology being used in the centre and that prevails in the industry.

Due to several constraints, training administrators find it difficult to update training centres with new equipment. Nevertheless it is a good idea to be in par with the industry in the quest towards a better and impressive training setup.

 

Merit-based enrollment

Enrollment of a vocational training centre is such an important activity where the centre brings “inputs” to make “outputs” at the end of a training course. If a centre selects wrong “inputs” obviously the centre ends up with wrong “outputs”. Therefore, at the enrollment, the centre needs to select the most suitable, capable, committed and creative set of students who would follow the course up to the end. Therefore, a merit-based enrollment scheme is necessary with selection tests and interviews being held to select the best set of students. Then the training centre would be able to give the industry a good output of skilled persons who can actually work successfully.

 

Opportunities for extra-curricular activities

One of the things which make a good vocational training centre is the availability of room and space for extra-curricular activities i.e leisure sports, aesthetic activities, leadership and team building activities, literature, drama and arts activities etc. Training centre need to be large enough in terms of trainees to be able to build teams for these activities. Such social activities make training-life of students enjoyable which may have positive impact for proper learning at the centre. Extra-curricular activities inculcate soft-skills among trainees and training administrators better develop a system to recognize those soft skills for final pass marks.

The factors discussed above and the other positive things would contribute in different magnitude towards making vocational training centres impressive for the youth as well as for adults which encourage them to join vocational training centres. With these attributes in effect, people tend to see vocational training an impressive alternative pathway to learn vocations for life success.

 

 

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Midweek Review

Dawn

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By Lynn Ockersz

 

Once again, the growing multiverse is ablaze with light,

As night withdraws in a slow diffusing dance,

Leaving on all things on earth a sublime shine,

And the reminder comes,

That light is the essence of life,

Along with the hope that with every dawn,

Comes a whole new lease of life,

For the linking of hands among humankind,

And for marching towards a great new awakening for all,

Leaving none behind in a backward slide,

While every day becomes a time for a new resolve,

To bring big sparring minds to act peacefully as one,

And for putting behind the negative grasp of night,

That makes the spirit a lumbering carrier,

Of the cumbersome luggage of the past.

 

 

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