Connect with us

Features

Continuing waste of educational plant

Published

on

By Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha

In the past few weeks, I have been going through the letters I wrote way back in 2014 to try to get some productive action from the Rajapaksa government, for my peregrinations round the country had made it clear to me that the people were tired.

I have been annotating some of these letters on the Council for Liberal Democracy Facebook page, but it struck me that the particular issues raised in one letter deserved wider provenance. I refer to a letter I sent the then Secretary to the Ministry of Education, Anura Dissanayake, an able public servant who is now, in fact, Secretary to the Prime Minister, though whether he can do anything in that position is a moot point. In 2014 he had to deal with Bandula Gunewardena.

I referred first in the letter to the Northern Education Sector Review produced under the aegis largely of Nagalingam Ethirveerasingham. Anura had in fact supported the initiative, which produced splendid ideas, but he was not able to take them further, given the constraints under which he had to work. Later I tried to get the National Education Commission interested, but they started with the useless idea of asking other Provincial Ministries to produce similar plans, whereas what I had wanted was a draft of basic ideas from which all such Ministries could choose what to proceed with, while the central government could assist with whatever appealed to many of them.

Later in the letter, I tried to get Anura to make better use, as the Review had proposed, of the computer centres that had been set up in several schools at vast expense. But it seemed that this was only for political capital, not educational, for I found in my peregrinations that many centres were not opened which meant the expensive equipment lay there unused. The delay was because a formal opening for some politician to get kudos was awaited. And by 2014 the plan was to wait for the Presidential election, to boost Mahinda Rajapaksa. By dint of fussing at the Education Consultative Committee, I got a few opened, but not enough.

The other problem was that the centres, even when opened, were not used for most of the day. I remember Lalith Weeratunge telling me how there had been a study showing that school plant was wasted because it was made use of for just a few hours for only half the year, but, of course, he did nothing about it. The only effort to do more arose from my setting up of Vocational Training Centres in schools, but, that was a negligible contribution, for this was only in a very few schools in the Northern and Sabaragamuwa Provinces through my decentralised budget.

When I was State Minister of Higher Education, I prepared a Cabinet paper to provide some sort of solution to several problems through the establishment of centres in every Division to conduct classes in basics over weekends on the pattern of the General English Language Training Programme I had coordinated. But of course, Minister Kabir Hashim, who, as he had told me know nothing about education, but through whom I had to present Cabinet papers after he was put on top of me, largely to sack the UGC Chairman, did nothing. He was in any case concerned then only, as he had told me, with electoral success in the forthcoming general election, but perhaps too he had no idea about the different problems to which this would have provided some sort of education.

The utter lack of concern of the politicians with no professional capacity given authority is something else President Gotabaya Rajapaksa should have looked into when he took office, but instead of introducing proper planning into politics, he, too, turned into a politician, to everyone’s disappointment, concerned primarily with electoral success. When he was elected, we thought he would introduce discipline amongst politicians, but this he has singularly failed to do, and it seems no one amongst his hundreds of advisors, has any inkling of the changes the political culture of this country so urgently needs.

The letter of many years ago, still relevant, not least when alternative educational structures are so urgently needed –

July 2014

Anura Dissanayake

Secretary, Ministry of Education

Dear Anura,

I was glad to see representatives of the Ministry at the release of the Northern Education Sector Review Report, and that the Ministry has been extending its fullest support to this and other initiatives. It is an excellent document and I hope the Ministry will agree that some of the ideas should be mainstreamed. I hope mechanisms can be developed to do this, and would suggest that you send copies of the report to all Provincial Ministries and then arrange a workshop at which the ideas can be discussed. I am sure that UNICEF would be happy to sponsor such a workshop and I will write to them suggesting this.

At the ceremony it was mentioned that one school that had benefited with 40 computers had just two students, and it would be desirable if mechanisms were developed to ensure better use of the facilities that have been provided. The Governor, in his speech acknowledged this and said that it was up to the Principals to ensure this, but you may need to give clear instructions about how this should be done. In this context do please build on the suggestion in the Report that ‘‘At least three IC and/or IAB schools in a Zone should conduct classes for students who could not continue studies for whatever reason so that they can come back to school to learn employable skills when the school is not in regular session’.

Perhaps, you could draft a circular to put this idea into action. As you may know, I have with my decentralised budget, started Vocational Training in five centres in the more deprived areas of the Northern Province, and this could perhaps be replicated elsewhere, too. I have written accordingly to Members of Parliament from the area, but encouragement from the Ministries, both yours and the Provincial Ministry, would help in this regard.

I have informed Mr Weeratunge of the Report and wonder if you could kindly send him a copy and perhaps discuss with him how its ideas could be taken forward.

Also, please let me know if all the Computer Centres, recently built and equipped, have been opened. At the last consultative committee, I brought to the attention of the Minister that some were lying unused, which is not good for computers. Though initially he said that they were waiting for dignitaries to open these, he agreed at the end that this was not appropriate and promised to commission the buildings so that students could benefit as soon as possible. I would be grateful for assurance that this has been done.

Yours sincerely

Rajiva Wijesinha

c. Lalith Weeratunge, Secretary to the President



Features

BRICS emerging as strong rival to G7

Published

on

It was in the fitness of things for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to hold a special telephonic conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin recently for the purpose of enlightening the latter on the need for a peaceful, diplomatic end to the Russian-initiated blood-letting in Ukraine. Hopefully, wise counsel and humanity would prevail and the world would soon witness the initial steps at least to a complete withdrawal of invading Russian troops from Ukraine.

The urgency for an early end to the Russian invasion of Ukraine which revoltingly testifies afresh to the barbaric cruelty man could inflict on his fellows, is underscored, among other things, by the declaration which came at the end of the 14th BRICS Summit, which was held virtually in Beijing recently. Among other things, the declaration said: ‘BRICS reaffirms commitment to ensuring the promotion and protection of democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all with the aim to build a brighter shared future for the international community based on mutually beneficial cooperation.’

It is anybody’s guess as to what meanings President Putin read into pledges of the above kind, but it does not require exceptional brilliance to perceive that the barbaric actions being carried out by his regime against Ukrainian civilians make a shocking mockery of these enlightened pronouncements. It is plain to see that the Russian President is being brazenly cynical by affixing his signature to the declaration. The credibility of BRICS is at risk on account of such perplexing contradictory conduct on the part of its members. BRICS is obliged to rectify these glaring irregularities sooner rather than later.

At this juncture the important clarification must be made that it is the conduct of the Putin regime, and the Putin regime only, that is being subjected to censure here. Such strictures are in no way intended to project in a negative light, the Russian people, who are heirs to a rich, humanistic civilization that produced the likes of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, among a host of other eminent spirits, who have done humanity proud and over the decades guided humans in the direction of purposeful living. May their priceless heritage live long, is this columnist’s wish.

However, the invaluable civilization which the Russian people have inherited makes it obligatory on their part to bring constant pressure on the Putin regime to end its barbarism against the Ukrainian civilians who are not at all party to the big power politics of Eastern Europe. They need to point out to their rulers that in this day and age there are civilized, diplomatic and cost-effective means of resolving a state’s perceived differences with its neighbours. The spilling of civilian blood, on the scale witnessed in Ukraine, is a phenomenon of the hoary past.

The BRICS grouping, which encompasses some of the world’s predominant economic and political powers, if not for the irregular conduct of the Putin regime, could be said to have struck on a policy framework that is farsighted and proactive on the issue of global equity.

There is the following extract from a report on its recent summit declaration that needs to be focused on. It reads: BRICS notes the need to ensure “Meaningful participation of developing and least developed countries, especially in Africa, in global decision-making processes and structures and make it better attuned to contemporary realities.”

The above are worthy goals that need to be pursued vigorously by global actors that have taken upon themselves the challenge of easing the lot of the world’s powerless countries. The urgency of resuming the North-South Dialogue, among other questions of importance to the South, has time and again been mentioned in this column. This is on account of the fact that the most underdeveloped regions of the South have been today orphaned in the world system.

Given that the Non-aligned Movement and like organizations, that have espoused the resolution of Southern problems over the decades, are today seemingly ineffective and lacking in political and economic clout, indications that the BRICS grouping is in an effort to fill this breach is heartening news for the powerless of the world. Indeed, the crying need is for the poor and powerless to be brought into international decision-making processes that affect their wellbeing and it is hoped that BRICS’s efforts in this regard would bear fruit.

What could help in increasing the confidence of the underdeveloped countries in BRICS, is the latter’s rising economic and political power. While in terms of economic strength, the US remains foremost in the world with a GDP of $ 20.89 trillion, China is not very far behind with a GDP of $ 14.72 trillion. The relevant readings for some other key BRICS countries are as follows: India – $ 2.66 trillion, Russia – $ 1.48 trillion and Brazil $ 1.44 trillion. Of note is also the fact that except for South Africa, the rest of the BRICS are among the first 15 predominant economies, assessed in GDP terms. In a global situation where economics drives politics, these figures speak volumes for the growing power of the BRICS countries.

In other words, the BRICS are very much abreast of the G7 countries in terms of a number of power indices. The fact that many of the BRICS possess a nuclear capability indicates that in military terms too they are almost on par with the G7.

However, what is crucial is that the BRICS, besides helping in modifying the world economic order to serve the best interests of the powerless as well, contribute towards changing the power balances within the vital organs of the UN system, such as the UN Security Council, to render them more widely representative of changing global power realities.

Thus, India and Brazil, for example, need to be in the UNSC because they are major economic powers in their own right. Since they are of a democratic orientation, besides pushing for a further democratization of the UN’s vital organs, they would be in a position to consistently work towards the wellbeing of the underprivileged in their respective regions, which have tremendous development potential.

Continue Reading

Features

Queen of Hearts

Published

on

She has certainly won the hearts of many with the charity work she is engaged in, on a regular basis, helping the poor, and the needy.

Pushpika de Silva was crowned Mrs. Sri Lanka for Mrs. World 2021 and she immediately went into action, with her very own charity project – ‘Lend a Helping Hand.’

When launching this project, she said: “Lend a Helping Hand is dear to me. With the very meaning of the title, I am extending my helping hand to my fellow brothers and sisters in need; in a time where our very existence has become a huge question and people battling for daily survival.”

Since ‘Lend a Helping Hand’ became a reality, last year, Pushpika has embarked on many major charity projects, including building a home for a family, and renovating homes of the poor, as well.

The month of June (2022) saw Pushpika very much in action with ‘Lend a Helping Hand.’

She made International Father’s Day a very special occasion by distributing food items to 100 poor families.

“Many are going without a proper meal, so I was very keen, in my own way, to see that these people had something to keep the hunger pangs away.”

A few days later, the Queen of Hearts made sure that 50 more people enjoyed a delicious and nutritious meal.

“In these trying times, we need to help those who are in dire straits and, I believe, if each one of us could satisfy the hunger, and thirst, of at least one person, per day, that would be a blessing from above.”

Pushpika is also concerned about the mothers, with kids, she sees on the roads, begging.

“How helpless is a mother, carrying a small child, to come to the street and ask for something.

“I see this often and I made a special effort to help some of them out, with food and other necessities.”

What makes Pushpika extra special is her love for animals, as well, and she never forgets the street dogs that are having a tough time, these days, scavenging for food.

“These animals, too, need food, and are voiceless, so we need to think of them, as well. Let’s have mercy on them, too. Let’s love them, as well.”

The former beauty queen served a delicious meal for the poor animals, just recently, and will continue with all her charity projects, on a regular basis, she said.

Through her charity project, ‘Lend a Helping Hand,” she believes she can make a change, though small.

And, she says, she plans to be even more active, with her charity work, during these troubled times.

We wish Pushpika de Silva all the very best, and look forward to seeing more of her great deeds, through her ‘Lend a Helping Hand’ campaign.

Continue Reading

Features

Hope and political change:No more Appachis to the rescue

Published

on

KUPPI on the current economic and political crisis: intervention 1

by Harshana Rambukwella

In Buddhist literature, there is the Parable of the Burning House where the children of a wealthy man, trapped inside a burning house, refuse to leave it, fearful of leaving its comfort – because the flames are yet to reach them. Ultimately, they do leave because the father promises them wonderful gifts and are saved from the fire. Sri Lankans have long awaited such father figures – in fact, our political culture is built on the belief that such ‘fathers’ will rescue us. But this time around no fathers are coming. As Sri Lankans stare into an uncertain future, and a multitude of daily sufferings, and indignities continue to pile upon us, there is possibly one political and emotional currency that we all need – hope. Hope is a slippery term. One can hope ‘in-vain’ or place one’s faith in some unachievable goal and be lulled into a sense of complacency. But, at the same time, hope can be critically empowering – when insurmountable obstacles threaten to engulf you, it is the one thing that can carry you forward. We have innumerable examples of such ‘hope’ from history – both religious and secular. When Moses led the Israelites to the promised land, ‘hope’ of a new beginning sustained them, as did faith in God. When Queen Viharamahadevi set off on a perilous voyage, she carried hope, within her, along with the hope of an entire people. When Martin Luther King Jr made his iconic ‘I have a dream’ speech, hope of an America where Black people could live in dignity, struck a resonant chord and this historical sense of hope also provided inspiration for the anti-Apartheid struggle in South Africa.

This particular moment, in Sri Lanka, feels a moment of ‘hopelessness’. In March and April, this year, before the cowardly attack on the Gota Go Gama site, in Galle Face, there was a palpable sense of hope in the aragalaya movement as it spread across the country. While people were struggling with many privations, the aragalaya channeled this collective frustration into a form of political and social action, we have rarely seen in this country. There were moments when the aragalaya managed to transcend many divisions – ethnic, religious and class – that had long defined Sri Lanka. It was also largely a youth led movement which probably added to the ‘hope’ that characterized the aragalaya. However, following the May 09th attack something of this ‘hope’ was lost. People began to resign themselves to the fact that the literally and metaphorically ‘old’ politics, and the corrupt culture it represents had returned. A Prime Minister with no electoral base, and a President in hiding, cobbled together a shaky and illegitimate alliance to stay in power. The fuel lines became longer, the gas queues grew, food prices soared and Sri Lanka began to run out of medicines. But, despite sporadic protests and the untiring commitment of a few committed activists, it appeared that the aragalaya was fizzling out and hope was stagnant and dying, like vehicles virtually abandoned on kilometers-long fuel queues.

However, we now have a moment where ‘hope’ is being rekindled. A national movement is gathering pace. As the prospect of the next shipment of fuel appears to recede into the ever-distant future, people’s anger and frustration are once again being channeled towards political change. This is a do-or-die moment for all Sri Lankans. Regardless of our political beliefs, our ideological orientation, our religion or class, the need for political change has never been clearer. Whether you believe that an IMF bailout will save us, or whether you believe that we need a fundamental change in our economic system, and a socially and economically more just society, neither of these scenarios will come to pass without an immediate political change. The political class that now clings to power, in this country, is like a cancer – poisoning and corrupting the entire body politic, even as it destroys itself. The Prime Minister who was supposed to be the messiah channeling international goodwill and finances to the country has failed miserably and we have a President who seems to be in love with the idea of ‘playing president’. The Sri Lankan people have a single existential choice to make in this moment – to rise as one to expel this rotten political order. In Sri Lanka, we are now in that burning house that the Buddha spoke of and we all seem to be waiting for that father to appear and save us. But now we need to change the plot of this parable. No father will come for us. Our fathers (or appachis) have led us to this sorry state. They have lied, deceived and abandoned us. It is now up to us to rediscover the ‘hope’ that will deliver us from the misery of this economic and political crisis. If we do not act now the house will burn down and we will be consumed in its flames.

Initiated by the Kuppi Collective, a group of academics and activists attached to the university system and other educational institutes and actions.

Continue Reading

Trending