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Can a punishment teach?

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by Goolbai Gunasekera

This seems a silly question since all punishments are supposed to ‘teach’ or to teach discipline at any rate. But does a school child always understand all this? Do present day punishments ensure that the student does not repeat the same little misdeed again?

They do not. I speak from experience when I say this. Let me explain. All schools have rules governing poor behaviour. But given the many areas of `sinning’ these days, modern schools are unable to foresee all the varied sins that students commit. Fifty years ago, falls from grace were minor affairs and did not have the undertones of real crime that is unfortunately found in schools nowadays.

School children 50 years ago had nothing of great value to steal. Perhaps a wristwatch. Perhaps a pen. But no one thought of stealing our shoes because they were all from shops like `Batas’,’ Majestic Boot Works’ and other local shoe shops. Ballet slippers were all from Union Boot Works. You can see what I mean. Rarely, if ever, did children have anything too special. No one was envious of the “haves.”

But now! Mobiles phones range from Rs. 4000/ to Rs. 100, 000/ and I am told such expensive items are the norm rather than the exception among Colombo’s students. Nike, Adidas and other Sport’s attire likewise. Nobody bothers about plain old wristwatches these days. Very few International School kids wear Bata. And nobody yearns for a Parker pen as I did all my school life.

I eventually got my first Parker pen from my Dearly Beloved at a time when he was still a hopeful Dearly Beloved. My parents had no intention of supplying me with expensive paraphernalia. My tennis racquet was a hand me down from my Mom’s University days and I managed to comfortably win the occasional match with it.

Today no serious tennis player would be seen dead with just one racquet. All hopeful champions have name brands in duplicate or triplicate which they twirl with panache and style. Parents go overboard with equipment.

Jealousy is natural. Now all good students, good sportsmen or good student performers seem to afford the earth. Those who cannot may resort to theft. In schools kids change their shoes for basketball games, for PE classes, for ballet lessons etc. Expensive equipment and gear are left lying all over the place.

One child lost two pairs of Nike Sports shoes within a fortnight. In spite of immediate searches, they were never found. Their cost? Rs. 25,000/ each pair. I asked the angry mother why she was teaching her son the wrong values by sending him to school with such expensive equipment. Her answer is worth repeating. You and I do not have the same values Mrs. G. I can afford such things and I see no reason not to buy them.”

Such skewed thinking only adds to the rate of theft. Young kids give in to feelings of envy and steal. Of course, if caught they face grave punishments. Suspension – or even expulsion for repeated offences.

An unfortunate problem now raises its ugly head. How do parents take the punishment of their light-fingered child? They take it in the most appalling fashion.

Far from correcting their child they blame the school for over-reacting. They whisk the young miscreant off to another school. The punishment has not taught anyone in that family anything. In fact, I have watched disbelievingly while one mother comforted her sobbing son (who continued to deny a proven fact) saying “Never mind Putha. Don’t cry. You don’t have to come back to this school”.

“Mrs. Bhanu,” I tried to reason. “Don’t take that attitude. Help him to realize he has done something disgraceful. Take him away if you wish but at least YOU must punish him in some way,” Of course nothing was done and the young `criminal’ will certainly steal again, albeit, elsewhere. The suspension was never felt by the arrogant young man as his parents refused to accept he had done anything wrong. So I cast around in my mind and recalled this story which proves that worthwhile correction can be given to junior wrongdoers.

A group of cousins were playing cricket on one of those spacious lawns commonly seen in Colombo 60- years ago. They were told to stop play by six pm. My friend, Rohini, the only girl in the group, was a real tomboy and her parents openly despaired of turning her into a lady. It was just her bad luck that one day the group continued playing till well after six pm and while making a run, Rohini tripped and hurt her ankle. She was immobilized for a week. Parents of the two youngsters took counsel, how best could they punish both children for breaking the rules and I still applaud their creativity in meting out punishment.

Rohini’s cousin, Nihal, had to give up every evening’s play that week and sit by Rohini’s bed and read to her for an hour. The books were of his father’s choosing. Both Rohini and Nihal benefitted from the chastisement in that the reading was interesting and actually taught them something. The cricket never carried on till after six again.

Now THERE is the sort punishment I wish I could use. Obviously, theft of shoes will not be cured by enforced reading. But I wonder. Cannot such civilized punishments somehow work in today’s atmosphere of junior violence? Perhaps we should seriously give it some thought.

(From Gunasekara’s recently published book The ‘Principal’ Factor. It was first published some years ago in Lanka Monthly Digest).



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SL defenceless, warn experts

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New COVID variants

By Rathindra Kuruwita

Due to the lax testing at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA), there is a strong possibility that any new variant of COVID-19 entering the country, College of Medical Laboratory Science (CMLS) President, Ravi Kumudesh told The Island yesterday commenting on the detection of a new coronavirus variant spreading in South Africa.

Even a travel ban would be useless unless the country enhances its testing and surveillance capacities, Kumudesh said.

Kumudesh said that PCR tests were not conducted on passengers on arrival and that it was likely that even those not fully vaccinated were entering the country. “Gene sequencing in respect of those infected with COVID inside the country was at a minimal level, and therefore, there is no way we can find out whether a new variant has entered the country until it is too late.

“There are two state-of-the-art labs in the BIA but no tests are done there. We are not ready, at all. Several nations are imposing travel bans on travellers from South Africa and the region. Perhaps, we should follow suit. However, the fact that we don’t test those coming in means that even a travel ban might be useless,” he said.

Kumudesh added that the number of PCR tests conducted had dropped to such a low level that reagents used in some labs for PCR testing are now nearing the expiry dates. The attitude of health officials at the airport is such that everyone operates on the basis that testing of passengers is not important.

Executive Director of the Institute for Health Policy (IHP), Dr. Ravi Rannan-Eliya yesterday said the detection of the new South African variant was potentially very bad news for all countries, and certainly for Sri Lanka.

“We still don’t have sufficient data on this, but I am very worried. It was only discovered a few days ago, but the scanty evidence strongly indicates that this new variant is driving a rapid increase in infections in S Africa. Only 100 cases have been confirmed officially, but reports indicate it may be 90% of new cases since Wed in Johannusburg,” he said.

Dr. Rannan-Eliya said that his best guess was that three out of four South Africans had been infected by COVID during the pandemic. Thus, a large number of them had acquired natural immunity. Moreover, 25% of others have been vaccinated.

“So this rapid spread despite a lot of immunity is very disturbing. This really points to this new variant—B1.1.529—being both more infectious and also significantly immune resistant. Something that also matches with its particular mutations,” he said.

Dr. Rannan-Eliya said he was not surprised at the emergence of the new variant because contrary to many experts who drink the kool-aid, there is no scientific basis to think SARS-CoV-2 had matured in its evolution. It might still have a lot of potential to evolve greater immune evasion and virulence, and that we should act on that basis.

“Second, because most of the world is following the misguided strategy of just accepting the virus (hey you – USA, UK, Sri Lanka…), the virus has plenty of chances to keep on mutating more because the truth is more of the virus is circulating than ever before. Third, despite a lot of nonsense about how T-cell immunity is going to protect us, there’s really no evidence that either infection or current vaccines and boosters will ever give us long-lasting immunity. We simply don’t know.”

Countries like South Africa, Peru, etc., who had such high levels of infection that much of their population was infected more than once, still continue to suffer new waves of infection.

“So this is bad news for all of us humans on planet earth, but very definitely for us in Sri Lanka. Why? Because based on how our medical establishment and govt authorities think, we will be slow or refuse to put the necessary border controls in to prevent this entering. And when it does enter-which is inevitable if this variant spreads globally–we will be slow to detect its entry, we will refuse to sound the alarm, and we will do everything but actually attempt to stop it. That’s been our track record, so why would it change? Worth noting that if this starts a new wave in Southern Africa, it’s just three to four months after their third wave. So just as immunity starts waning appreciably from natural infection (or vaccines). That gives us a strong hint of what our future holds unless we end this pandemic.”

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Navy deploys lagoon craft at Kurinchankerny until construction of new bridge

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Residents waiting for the boat

Sri Lanka Navy began providing transport facilities at the Kurinchankerny lagoon following the recent tragedy that claimed several lives. This service will continue until the construction of a new bridge at Kurinchankerny, Kinniya in Trincomalee is completed.

This initiative was set in motion following the directives of Commander of the Navy, Vice Admiral Nishantha Ulugetenne. The Navy deployed a Lagoon Craft, capable of carrying 25 passengers safely at a time from Thursday (25) under the supervision of the Eastern Naval Command. The lagoon craft will be in service from 7.00 a.m. to 8.00 a.m. and from 12.00 noon to 2.00 p.m. each day. Further, the Navy erected a temporary jetty to allow passengers to board the vessel safely.

A schoolgirl on her way to the ferry
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UN Assistant Secretary General during talks with President pledges to work closely with Sri Lanka

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The United Nations will always work closely with Sri Lanka, said Khaled Khiari, UN Assistant Secretary General for Political, Peacebuilding and Peace Operations. Khiari made these remarks when he met President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the Presidential Secretariat, on Thursday (25).

UN Assistant Secretary General Khiari is visiting Sri Lanka as a follow-up to the bilateral meeting with the President and the UN Secretary- General Antonio Guterres held in September this year on the sidelines of the 76th Session of the UN General Assembly. Khiari conveyed the best wishes of UN Secretary-General Guterres to President Rajapaksa and said that the UN is willing to engage in a constructive and positive engagement with Sri Lanka.

Expressing satisfaction over the President’s affection and interest in the environment, the Assistant Secretary General appreciated Sri Lanka’s commitment to achieving the Millennium Development Goals. The President explained that steps are being taken to plant 100,000 mangroves with the assistance of the Navy and actions are being taken to prevent climate change through environmental conservation programmes.

President Rajapaksa expressed gratitude to the UN agencies and donors that have assisted Sri Lanka through the COVAX facility to make the vaccination drive successful and in facing other challenges in the face of the COVID-19 epidemic.

The President pointed out that the government’s development programme implemented in the North and East after the end of the war in 2009 had brought about rapid development. The President recalled his invitation made while participating in the UN General Assembly to the diaspora to work together with all communities after visiting Sri Lanka. The President said that he hoped that the invitation would be met with positive initiatives.

The two sides exchanged views on unity and relations between communities. An environment where all communities can live freely has been made available in Sri Lanka. The President pointed out that the Minister of Justice is from the Muslim community, the Attorney General is from the Tamil community and many of those holding other key posts are of different communities. President Rajapaksa said the government has undertaken a great task in building unity among the communities and therefore, no one should have any doubt in this regard.

Both sides were of the view that education was fundamental to unity among the communities. President Rajapaksa said that the process by which South Africa has been able to end apartheid and move forward will be studied and the lessons that can be learned from it and what can be implemented will be looked into. The President also expressed hope that the United Nations will provide assistance in this regard.

Secretary to the President Dr. P.B. Jayasundera and Principal Advisor to the President Lalith Weeratunga, Resident Coordinator of the United Nations in Sri Lanka Hanaa Singer-Hamdy, and Political Officer at the UN Peace Operations Department’s Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Department Chiaki Ota were also present.

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