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‘AXING ARTS’ – a response

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Please allow me to disagree with your editorial of September 8th – “Axing Arts”.

The subject reminded me of a cartoon that appeared in your own newspaper a few weeks ago. In it, a young man is consulting a fortune-teller who looks into her Crystal Ball and exclaims – “that’s unusual! It’s blank. I can’t see any future for you at all!” He replies. “How can it be? I even have a Master’s Degree in Humanities”.

It’s a fact of life that the Arts graduates almost worldwide are no-hopers, with no hope of employment in the open Job market with, perhaps, the road to Parliament and Politics, as their only lucrative career path. Overseas, PM Boris Johnson, and Chris Patten, ex-Hong Kong governor are examples.

Your editorial has conjoined two issues, namely, that [reflected in the UGC action is the government thinking that preparing students for the job market is the be-all and end-all of university education, and] the Arts stream is something to be tolerated, not promoted”, (true) but it does not necessarily follow that “government thinking is that preparing students for the job market, is the be-all and end- all of University education.” In today’s world of worldwide unemployment and recession, the government is fully entitled to expect that the products of the 15 years of ‘learn by rote education” at taxpayer expense, is at least fit for some kind of Job, (other than “teaching” – i. e. making more replicas of him/herself).

A typical local Arts graduate – with almost zero mathematical ability, minimal General Knowledge, unable to either read or speak English, therefore unable to access and properly use the Internet, is (in your words), ” Not attractive enough in the job market”. So should we, the public, having paid for this ‘useless’ education, have to subsidize his/her employment as well?

Not only should the external Arts programmes be axed completely but the internal ones as well. The Arts programme should be limited to an elite small group of talented artistes who have earned their place due to exceptional, (not mediocre), talents in Art, Language, Music or Drama etc. Because of the limited output and high competition, these graduates will find ready employment, not burden the taxpayer, nor need to go on strike for their imagined ‘rights’.

It is a known fact that the main perpetrators of ‘ragging’, a form of Sadism on our campuses, not seen anywhere else on earth, are Arts faculty students. Many of our politicians had their early “training” in leadership, via the “Ragging” process, if many reports on Social Media are to be believed. Your Editorial quotes at length from an American source- “The American Academy of Arts and Sciences”, which is largely irrelevant to us – for instance, they ask, ‘who will lead (America’s) Foreign Service and Military through complex global conflicts?”

Does Sri Lanka have the leadership in such ‘complex global conflicts’ to worry about? The so-called “richest country on Earth”, and Europe, may have the resources to disburse/waste on Liberal Arts graduates who can later make their way (at taxpayer expense) in Politics (Boris Johnson and Hong Kong ex-governor Chris Patten are good examples), but in these multi-crisis days , WE CERTAINLY DO NOT!

 

JAYANTHA KURUKULASURIYA

 

Editor’s note:

The main thrust of our editorial was based on the following quotation from the ‘Heart of the Matter’ report put out by the Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences, appointed by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (emphasis added): “The future will still need the human skills that the liberal arts promote, and perhaps will need them more than ever: skills in communication, interpretation, linking and synthesizing domains of knowledge, and imbuing facts with meaning and value … [social sciences and the Humanities] help us understand what it means to be human and connect us with our global community.”

It was at the request of the US Congress that ‘The Heart of the Matter’ report was produced and the commission included a large group of leaders in higher education, government, business, the arts, and other sectors of society. Presented to the US Congress in June 2013, the report’s intent was ‘to advance a dialogue on the importance of the humanities and social sciences to the future of our [American] nation’.

What is needed is to update the arts degree programmes here as other countries have done, and not axe them at the whims and fancies of politicians, who should be able to understand the difference between universities and technical colleges and that there is much more to universities than preparing students for the job market.

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Opinion

Road accident killer:

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One every three hours

There is a spike of serious traffic accidents and the number of fatalities reported from all parts of the country during the last few weeks. They have snatched many precious and valuable human lives. Media reports, quoting Traffic Police sources indicate, despite the country being in lockdown for three months due to COVID–19, that this year from January to the end of August, 1,418 persons have been killed in traffic accidents

A person is killed every three hours on our roads due to road accidents, and annually 3000 persons die in road accidents. Nearly 8000 serious accidents take place annually, and in many instances the victims end up never to lead a normal life again. In the last four years – in 2016 there were 3017 fatal accidents, while in 2017 it was 3147. In 2018 according to World Health Organization (WHO) data, Road Traffic Accident Deaths in Sri Lanka was 3590, and has been identified as the 10thcause of death in Sri Lanka’s top 50 causes of death, beating other serious diseases causing death in the country. In 2019 there were 2851 fatal accidents.

On September 2nd, a serious accident occurred in the Colombo city at Mattakkuliya. As reported in the media, in that accident three people died instantly when two three-wheelers were hit by a speeding lorry. Apparently, speeding, and driving the lorry without a valid license to drive, is sheer negligence and lack of responsibility of the lorry driver. Lack of care and responsibility for the life of others who share the road is a serious problem. Instilling road discipline in our drivers is paramount for the safety of all road users.

 

Drivers of motor vehicles need to be responsible and realise, the moment he/she sits at the driver’s seat and holds the steering wheel you are in control of a piece of heavy equipment, at high speed is mere seconds from a potential innocent victim. Furthermore, speed, while greatly increasing the risk of serious crash, increases the odds of an accident and increases its severity.

 

A driver under the influence of alcohol is as deadly, and similarly at risk of serious accidents. The harmful influence alcohol has on the crucial decision to drive is great. Drinker’s self assessment about whether he/she can drive safely is critical. The deadly influence alcohol has on the driver is great. Alcohol impairs the drinker’s ability of self-assessment. Reduces the driver’s ability to react to things that happen suddenly. The alcohol also blurs vision, impairs attention and reflexes are slowed.

The road accidents having reached such a horrendous proportion, random measures to instil road discipline in errant drivers are not effective. Speeding, reckless driving, and driving under the influence of alcohol are the major causes of serious traffic accidents. The Police launching limited enforcement and special operations during festive seasons, and operations targeting certain Police areas or specific Traffic Rule violations, are not enough to address this tragedy. Police must implement comprehensive long term programmes, employing technology and modern devices to detect traffic rule violations and make roads safe for all road users.

According to Colombo Traffic Police, there are 106 CCTV cameras operating in Colombo and use 3 Mobile CCTV Surveillance Vans to monitor traffic. Surveillance of Colombo using the Road Safety Camera system alone is not sufficient. Road Safety Cameras; Red Light violation detecting cameras, and combined Red Light and Speed cameras can detect a host of Traffic Rule violations. Sri Lanka Police should seriously consider expanding this method of surveillance using the Road Safety Camera system countrywide.

Road Safety Cameras installed at intersections in all cities and major towns, at strategic locations and high risk roads along the country’s entire road network, would be a deterrent to speed maniacs, and other road rule violators who know they are being watched all day and night. These cameras can be used as both detective and preventive measures. It’s a 24/7 surveillance.

The camera captures a host of data including the vehicle number plate, date, time and location of the offence etc., sufficient to prove the offence committed by the driver. In addition, mobile cameras mounted on Police vehicles positioned at strategic locations, and hand held cameras, could be used to book speeding drivers and other road rule violations.

As for alcohol-impaired driving, the government can do more to reduce the number of drunk-driving instances. Couple of years ago the National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol (NATA) proposed to reduce the maximum Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) level of drivers; at present it is 0.08 grams per 100 mm, to 0.03 grams per 100 mm. There is no indication thus far of any initiative of the government taken in this regard. Australia and most European countries have the BAC level of drivers at 0.05. Norway and Sweden in Europe, and China has this level at 0.02, while in Russia it is 0.03. Canada, USA and some countries have it at 0.08.

The government could look into lowering the legal BAC level to 0.03 as proposed by the NATA. This approach would better respond to discouraging drunk-drivers. The government could also consider making instances of driving while exceeding the legally permitted BAC limit, a criminal offence; initially applying it to drivers exceeding the legally permitted BAC level and meeting with accidents, and finally extending to exceeding the permitted BAC level under any circumstances, a criminal offence.

Clearly, the law can’t work on its own. The key factor in the reduction of Traffic Rule violations is enforcement and stiff penalties. Police should be provided with technology and modern devices used in other Police Forces around the world. Police should be given authority to stop and demand to undergo testing from any driver at the roadside more often, rather than testing after accidents occurred.

 

RAJA WICKRAMASINGHE

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Opinion

Cross-disciplinary learning to meet graduates’ skills shortages

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President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has emphasized the importance of matching the skills acquired by University students with the demands of employers. Over the years, criticism has been directed at Humanities and Social Sciences programmes in local Universities, questioning their relevance to the needs of a developing economy. Besides, some of these graduates had problems finding jobs in the private sector. They have historically relied on public sector jobs, an expectation almost all recent governments have had to grapple with.

The employability of Humanities and Social Sciences graduates is not a puzzle unique to Sri Lanka. In Singapore, I encountered several contemporary students who feared their degrees were not well sought after by the industry. I have seen such students putting a lot of effort into studying a minor in fields of study that could give them an edge over their peers. A minor comprises a set of courses which helps a student to develop secondary expertise in addition to the degree requirements of one’s major field of study. Completing a minor is not compulsory in most cases, but it sends a positive signal to employers on the quality of their potential hire. Some of the most popular minors among my batch mates were Business, Computing, Economics, and Entrepreneurship. 

Promoting such cross-disciplinary learning could be an immediate solution to the expectation set by the President. Local Universities already possess resources to implement such programmes. It eliminates the need for a hurried overhaul of the curricula in universities. Most importantly, a rapid increase in the output of graduates with qualifications demanded by the industry, could just be the solution to the critical skills shortage faced by sectors such as Information Technology.

 

ARAVINDA KARUNARATNE
aravinda.uga@gmail.com

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Opinion

Depositors and Stock Exchange

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State Minister Nivard Cabraal recently requested Sri Lankans who have deposited money in banks and finance companies to use that money in shares on the Colombo Stock Exchange. Our ministers and officials who control state finances do not know that most of those depositors maintain those deposits not as investments. They live on the interest they receive monthly from those deposits.

Before 2015 too, Cabraal as Governor of CBSL and many others, encouraged those depositors to invest in shares, and many learnt the lesson as they were caught in the game of “pumping & dumping” by groups of some big fish. Cabraals are in a way hitting those depositors by ad-hoc reducing of interest rates, and now they ask them to follow the more easier path to think of committing suicide.

 Have the higher-ups in the government ever investigated why people maintain those deposits and how many use the interest they receive to meet their daily needs, before playing around with interest rates in order to please the borrowers and lessees?   

 

B PERERA

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