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Midweek Review

Death of a President: rush to judgment

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UNP’s Defeat-III

By Jayantha Somasundaram

“An attack upon a King is considered to be parricide against the state, and the jury and the witnesses, even the judges are the children. It is fit on that account that there should be a solemn pause before we rush to judgement”

Lord Chancellor Thomas Erskine

By 1993, the UNP had been wracked by internecine warfare that had seen its leader locked in a destructive frenzy.

On 23 April 1993, while addressing an election meeting Lalith Athulathmudali was shot and killed. His funeral was a replay of Denzil Kobbekaduwa’s; opposition supporters turned ugly, attacking supporters of Premadasa and his government. “The assassination of Lalith Athulathmudali has removed from the Sri Lankan scene the politician most hated by President Ranasinghe Premadasa. Few observers of Sri Lankan affairs were surprised at the speed with which the authorities discovered the corpse of the alleged gunman, who just happened to be carrying his identity papers which showed he was a member of the Tamil Tigers. Athulathmudali’s family were not impressed by the diligence of the police. They refused to permit either Premadasa or any of his cohorts to mourn at their house.” (The Independent, London 27/4/93)

“First they pick on an underworld gunman, reputedly the best marksman of the lot, and train him on the firing ranges of the STF. Then you kidnap an innocent helpless Tamil…when Athulathmudali is killed you bump off Ragunathan and dump him identity card and all, close to the spot where the shooting took place.” (Editorial The Observer 24/4/96)

“Scepticism was widespread and anti-government violence broke out during Athulathmudali’s funeral. Anonymous leaflets sent to embassies alleged that a government minister had hired two professional killers to do the job…After Premadasa’s death many Sri Lankans clearly felt that a kind of justice had been done.” (Far Eastern Economic Review 13/5/93)

Radhika Coomaraswamy recalled that Lakshman Kadirgamar “was loyal to friends – when Lalith Athulathmudali was assassinated he stood firmly by his widow, interrogating and questioning Scotland Yard as they had been put in charge of the investigations, insisting that it was not the LTTE but another force that had killed his friend.” (DBSJeyaraj.com 13/8/15)

Mrs Srimani Athulathmudali “called for a commission to probe her husband’s death because she believed that President Premadasa was the force behind the assassination.” (Daily News 13/1/98) On the basis of the commission’s findings four accused, including a UNP Provincial Council Minister and two members of the police were charged but were released in 2003 due to the lack of evidence.

Agence France-Presse reported on 7 October 1997, “An investigation into the killings of former minister Lalith Athulathmudali and army General Denzil Kobbekaduwa found that President Premadasa was “directly responsible for the two killings.”

Fatal Mistake

The assassinations of Athulathmudali and Kobbekaduwa were fatal mistakes. Both leaders commanded the loyalty of the military hierarchy, Athulathmudali going back to his time as Minster of National Security. Many in the military were bitter about Premadasa arming the LTTE. “Every time one of my men gets his leg blown off,” said an army captain in 1990,”I think of our president.” (Asiaweek 12/5/93)

The response was therefore immediate as it was devastating. A week after the Athulathmudali assassination on May Day, Premadasa, his supporters and his security detail including Ronnie Gunasinghe were killed in a massive bomb blast in Colombo. It was not an assassination. It was the obliteration of Premadasa by his detractors.

At the inquest DIG CID Amarasena Rajapaksa, who was an eye witness said, “I was under the impression that the President had been taken away to safety. That was because the President’s vehicle and his security staff (including Ronnie Gunasinghe) were missing.” Only Premadasa’s wristwatch survived.

Evidence if any was immediately removed. “A mysterious force ordered the washing of the murder scene as soon as my father was assassinated,” complained Premadasa’s son Sajith, “critical of the conduct of the UNP-led government after the assassination.” (BBC 31/8/05)

Premadasa’s supporters vented their fury on the opposition. “Opposition supporters in Mount Lavinia complained of attacks apparently by government supporters,” reported the London Times. “Mount Lavinia was the stronghold of Athulathmudali, who was assassinated just over a week ago. Lalith’s party had blamed the government for his murder.” Newsweek (10/5/93) said “Premadasa’s assassination may have been in retaliation for Athulathmudali’s.”

The Opposition celebrated. “When his death was announced hundreds across the country lit firecrackers,” reported Asiaweek (12/5/93) “Police were quick to blame the Tamil Tiger separatists for both assassinations. But many people suspected the President’s men killed Athulathmudali and these same people are ready to believe that Athulathmudali’s followers murdered the President in revenge.

“There is growing suspicion among grief-stricken Sri Lankans that the two political leaders … were killed by one another’s supporters,” concluded Asian commentator Andre Malan in The West Australian (4/5/93)

“A statement from the opposition party, the Democratic Front, issued by Gamini Dissanayake, a former government minister, said: “This is a culmination of a process of violence which has accumulated during the last four years (Premadasa was President of Sri Lanka from 2 January 1989 to 1 May 1993). The fact that very valuable men were victims of that violence will perhaps be the epitaph of this regime.” (The New York Times 2/5/93)

Premadasa’s death was not mere murder it was a political coup. The vacuous Wijetunga became President but it was Ranil Wickremesinghe, who stepped in as prime minister, retaking power for the UNP’s Govigama establishment. Every Premadasa loyalist from Cooray downwards was stripped of office. All Premadasas functionaries in the police from DIG A. C. Lawrence downwards were neutralised. Gamini Dissanayake returned to lead the UNP and the following year and was selected as the UNP candidate for the presidential election. However, Premadasa propagandists reserve their bitterest invective for Ranil, sensing that he was the fifth column planted by the Govigama establishment inside Premadasa’s inner circle.

Conspiracy Theories

On October 24th 1994 Gamini Dissanayake along with 53 others, many of them his close supporters, were killed by a bomb explosion. The Economist (29/10/94) speculated that “possible suspects include Sinhala Buddhist chauvinists (who assassinated Mrs Kumaratunga’s father in 1959), senior army officers (who tried to stage a military coup just before August parliamentary elections) and anti-Tiger paramilitary groups. After three decades of frequently controversial political activity, Mr Dissanayake also had made many enemies, some of them within the UNP itself. In most countries, such possibilities would be dismissed as conspiracy theories. But in Sri Lanka the customs of civilised democratic life have yet to recover from a decade of violence and dislocation.”

“Sri Lankan investigators have closed probes into the assassinations of Ranasinghe Premadasa and Gamini Dissanayake … while the Premadasa assassination probe was dropped as ‘there was no evidence to indict any of the suspects,’ the Dissanayake case was ‘abandoned’ as all the ‘files had been lost.’” (The Hindu 5/9/05)

The UNP had disintegrated in a brutal internecine struggle to the death which decimated its leadership. The party had effectively consumed itself. No one from the UNP has since been able to secure the presidency that Jayewardene crafted for his party. So, the first time it was a tragedy with the score in 1994 at half time reading one nil.

The UNP leadership devolved on Wickremesinghe while the Premadasa loyalists never returned to the UNP; they distanced themselves from the party. That is until Sajith Premadasa entered politics. He marked time for two decades waiting for Wickremesinghe to step down so that he could claim what he considered his birthright. When this prospect grew dimmer the tussle of the past began to re-emerge with a haunting familiarity.

After a shabby term in office the UNP handed Premadasa Junior a poisoned chalice in 2019, when he was given the UNP nomination for the Presidential Election. It was almost as if the UNP old guard wanted the young man to lose and discredit himself and thereby permanently undermining his claims to party leadership.

Nine months later when the Parliamentary Elections came around in August 2020 the UNP compelled Sajith Premadasa to go it on his own, denying him the political imprimatur of the Grand Old Party. Perhaps, the motive was to ensure that Premadasa failed a second time and would be humiliated and discredited so that his challenge to the prevailing UNP leadership would be squashed and rendered no longer credible.

But on August 5th the tables were cynically turned. While Premadasa and his freshly minted party proved no match for the Rajapaksa juggernaut, he emerged unquestioningly as the Leader of the Opposition in the Parliament to be. And it was Ranil Wickremesinghe and the UNP that suffered a crushing fatal defeat, greater than 1956; being virtually driven out of national politics.

It was almost as if history repeated itself, but this time as farce.

In August 2020, it is the final whistle and the score reads one each.

(Concluded)

 

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Midweek Review

The Uphill Trudge

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By Lynn Ockersz

You are on a painful trudge,

Collecting bric-a-brac,

To make your hearth’s flames rise,

But for the ‘nation-builders’ on high,

Eyeing the GDP growth track,

You count for nought,

But the warmth in your run-down hut,

Kindles joyousness all around,

In the margins of the land,

While walled citadels,

In the shimmery metropole,

Take the sun out of simple lives.

 

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Midweek Review

Research for people’s benefit

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Culture shift

By Prof Athula Sumathipala and Dr Buddhika Fernando

Peaceful elections, without posters, cut-outs or violence, came and went without too much of a fuss, unlike in the past. The new cabinet and state ministers have now been sworn in and the parliament is in session. Is it going to be ‘business as usual’ in the research community anymore? We think not.

In the very first hour after assuming duties in November 2019, His Excellency the President ordered the display of the state emblem in government offices, instead of personal photographs, earning the respect of even those who did not vote for him. Through that simple act, he displayed how norms can be challenged through setting an example at a personal level. The response to such change was reflected in the election that followed: floating votes ensured the two-thirds mandate the President requested, paving the way for a new political culture.

People sent a powerful message via a two-thirds mandate not only to politicians but also to government officials, and importantly, to intellectuals, academics and scientists – they want to see a culture shift in all these arenas. ‘Vistas of prosperity and splendour’ has now been transformed from a presidential candidate’s election manifesto into state policy and therefore any planned activities including research should be aligned with it for policy impact. For researchers, it is no longer merely ‘publish or perish’, it is not business as usual and the entire research ecosphere needs to see a culture shift towards research for people’s benefit.

Research and Development, Innovation and Technology Transfer

The post-industrial knowledge economy of today clearly displays the close correlation among economic growth, innovation and indigenous research capacity. University-based research has been the most effective driver of such economically-relevant innovation. Furthermore, there is a clear association between a country’s health and research and development (R&D) investment.

As a result, leveraging the public investment in universities to stimulate innovative R&D is now a critical need for a country to remain competitive in the global arena. Most high-ranking universities in the world are no longer just teaching universities but have transformed into to research universities. In the same vein, Sri Lanka needs a paradigm shift to make research and innovation core components of tertiary education. Research and innovation need to be incorporated not only into postgraduate education, but also into undergraduate education in order to produce individuals with both a creative vision for innovation as well as the sufficient intellectual breadth and depth to realise that vision.

What is a strategy?

We believe strategy is about capturing opportunities arising in a dynamic world, as scientific opportunities cannot always be foreseen. The flexibility to respond to novel ideas with solid potential is therefore crucial for success. For example, the Covid-19 pandemic has created an unprecedented window of opportunity for research in as-yet fully unexplored subject matters. Sri Lanka requires innovative R&D contributions to re-stabilise the economy, to ensure national security and for sustainable development in strategically important areas.

Culture shift – what does it entail?

Any culture shift demands change in the triad of thinking, feelings and behaviours. According to cognitive theory, thoughts are central to any feelings or behaviour. The way people think determine how they feel and behave. Therefore, ‘attitudes’ which are a significant component of thinking, need to change for any modification in thinking or behaviour to happen.

What is success?

At the end of the day what we all want, either as individuals or as a society is ‘success’; but how do you define success?

The definition of ‘success’ is determined by one’s attitude towards ‘success’. It could mean personal success or material gains for one’s own benefit or it could mean the public good arising from one’s efforts. The attitude towards success is the driving force for the vision, strategy and focus and a wrong attitude can lead to a ‘success’, which could even be destructive. The classic example for such a harmful attitude and focus is the LTTE separatist war, the war that brought destruction to every one irrespective of the language spoken. Similarly, where knowledge is power, that too can lead to a destructive end.

Success in research

For a researcher, the institution he is affiliated to may have a proud history, it may be a place of research excellence with a reputation for cutting edge research, an institution supporting future research leaders. However, what does it mean to an ordinary citizen? What could such an institution offer them? This is the standard ‘so what’ question, as it is applicable to the ordinary citizen.

For whose benefit is research carried out? It is high time to reflect on this question.

An academic or research institution can be a place that can offer a degree, a job, a better life, a promotion, a good marriage, a patent, the opportunity to see the world through academic travel, publications, a thesis to gather dust in a library. However, we need to question ourselves regarding the purpose of research – aiming for public good and benefit beyond personal gain.

Serious reflection on achieving something beyond personal gain is an urgent need; that is what the culture shift – research for people’s benefit demands. A paradigm shift is necessary in the way we look at the benefits and the impact of our research. In the simplest terms, impact means making a difference to people’s lives.

Why is such a change necessary? We are products of free public education, we use public funds for research, and even public knowledge; knowledge is also on most occasions something others have left behind and we are merely enhancing such past knowledge through our current research. We therefore have a moral and ethical obligation to think beyond personal gain. It is not only politicians who should be transparent and accountable. We academics too are answerable to the public. This is a salient feature not usually recognised by academics, and a part of the necessary culture shift.

In the journey towards such a ‘culture shift’, the ethos and attitudes are crucial. Bad attitude is like a flat tire, you cannot go anywhere without changing it. We also need to remember that change is generally resisted and challenging the ‘norm’ may be faced with significant animosity, especially from ego centric, self-centred, insecure personalities and power brokers.

Achieving an attitude change starts from within oneself. Such an internal change will ignite the change externally. It’s a synergistic process. That is why we started this article by noting the President’s attitude of not having his photograph at state institutions. It was a small step which had an impact and we saw a leap that will have an incremental journey. Who would have believed that an election could be run without posters at every wall and culvert? That is where agents of change are needed, as a prerequisite for a culture shift.

Agents of change for this culture shift to research for people’s benefit, should be scientists and researchers themselves. We need far sighted future research leaders to be role models, genuine and committed research leaders. Such leadership attributes will count much more than academic brilliance.

We need to realise that action without a vision is drudgery and vision without action is only dreaming. Never dream, because dreams are easily forgotten, have targets instead. A vision coupled with action can change the world.

 

 

We should remember that any change, especially a culture shift towards research for people’s benefit needs good teams and the ethos to ignite transferable and sustainable changes. In such teams we need visionaries, theoreticians, but also pragmatists and activists. All these attributes will be rare in one person, and that is why we need teams. A true leader in a team is different from a manager or a boss. Leaders manage the future and managers manage the day to day ‘mess’. However, a ‘boss’ is also different to a manager. A true leader is a coach, a mentor, relies on goodwill, generates enthusiasm among the team members, say ‘we’, develops people, gives credit to others and shares benefits while accepting the blame and defeat. They bind team members together. However a ‘Boss’, demands and relies on authority only, says I, uses people, takes credit for success but blames others for failures, and thinks only about ‘ my way’. Such ego centric and self-centred attributes could be the worst enemy within any professional and will hinder team work and progress. Therefore, self-reflection becomes an essential component of the culture shift we discuss.

The art of science is very different from science. Most scientists are generally good at science, but lack the art of science – the art of delivering scientific benefits by communicating the research findings to policy planners and converting the research findings into products and services. Ironically this conceptual framework is mostly non-existent in our part of the world.

That is why there is plenty of research describing the problem (descriptive research) but no intervention research to rectify the problem. For example, there is extensive descriptive research on CKDU (Chronic Kidney Disease of unknown origin) but people continue to suffer from kidney failure. Similarly, although there is a wide body of research on the human – elephant conflict, people continue to die from elephant attacks.

 

A culture shift towards research for people’s benefit is therefore critical. We need to next consider the process of achieving such a shift.

The new government has a State Ministry of Skills Development, Vocational Education, Research and Innovation which is led by a dynamic and able professional with the suitable background. However, is it only the duty of the Minister, the Ministry officials and the scientist and the far-sighted research leaders.

The public has an equal responsibility as they should not be expected to be passive recipients of the benefits. The criticism that the general public does not have any insight into the word research is a serious misperception that needs to change if one expects a tangible culture shift.

Patient and public involvement and engagement (PPIE) or community engagement in medical research is firmly established in the West. It is now extending as a fundamental element of health research in low and middle income countries (LMIC). It places public contributors at the centre of research and its outcomes, and helps ensure that its scope, processes, and evaluation are more relevant, appropriate and beneficial to the end users of research. There is overwhelming research evidence that the public frequently prioritise themes and topics for research that are different to those of academics and health professionals. Research evidence also demonstrates that the quality and appropriateness of research is enhanced and the likelihood of successful recruitment to studies increased, and implementation of the findings is improved when the public are involved and engaged in research.

It is a process of active partnership between researchers, professionals, and members of the public in prioritising, designing and delivering research. It is defined as “research being carried out ‘with’ or ‘by’ members of the public rather than ‘to’, ‘about’ or ‘for’ them”. This change is absolutely essential if one is serious about making this culture shift towards research for people’s benefit.

We have brilliant researchers who are world-leading in terms of the conventional indicators of ‘success’ and from an academic point of view. This is however fragmented and patchy. An overarching research culture is the necessity of the day, but even that will not deliver effective results if it is ‘business as usual’.

Finally, a culture shift also demands working within truly respectful and mutually beneficial partnerships rather than in separate silos. In such an ethos, plagiarism (taking someone else’s work or ideas and passing them off as one’s own) should be thoroughly condemned as it is a moral violation of research ethics. Patents will never be the sole protection against plagiarism. The silent good majority researchers should also be educated and empowered to strictly adhere to broader research ethics principles. Such a collective effort with public engagement and involvement will pave the way for the culture shift towards research for people’s benefit which is the slogan of only a minority right now. But it can be made ‘infectious’.

We therefore once again reiterate that we need a culture shift towards research for people’s benefit.

Let’s work collectively not just to make Sri Lanka the granary of Asia, but also the intelligence warehouse/hub of Asia.

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Midweek Review

The purpose of education and educational reforms

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By Kirthi Tennakone

Education offers two categories of benefits to people — an avenue for acquiring necessary skills for occupation to earn material wealth and an intellectual enlightenment. These two virtues of education are interlinked, inseparable and equally important. Yet, most individuals and societies blindly overemphasise the former hoping to reap quick economic returns. Educational reforms planned to be introduced in Sri Lanka and generally elsewhere in the developing world seems to prioritise the first category of benefits, believing the second leads to unemployment and poverty. Nevertheless, the quality that paves way towards rational thinking, innovation and empathetic social cooperation is the second intension. In the long run its neglect curtails the material advancement as well.

The technological weakness in developing nations and misbeliefs detrimental to social progress prevalent in deprived as well as affluent regions of the world originate largely from deficiency in intellectual aspects of education. The both the components of education, occupational and intellectual are absolutely essential – cutting down the second to accommodate the first would be counterproductive and disastrous.

What is education?

The term ‘education’ evades precise definition. If definable there would be clear-cut methods of achieving it and assessing the level of competence. Exams, degrees and skills mastered are not real measures of education. The meaning of education goes beyond the common dictionary definition – gaining knowledge and acquisition of skills.

The quotes of persons of eminence reflects the essence and purpose of education. Socrates argued education amounts to drawing out the already existing potential of students. Rabindranath Tagore said the widest road leading to solution of all our problems is education. Nelson Mandela valued his education, declaring education as the most peaceful weapon which can change the world. According to a shloka in ‘Bhagavad Gita’, intelligence enables perceiving the essential and education instill this capacity. Albert Einstein was controversial in his remarks about education, saying “Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learnt in school” and “The only thing that interfere with my learning is my education”. Obviously he was commenting about pitfalls of formal education-closing open-mindedness and fixing tradition irrevocably.

Education excessively biased towards vocational needs, lessening the intellectual aspect, tends to fix traditional orthodoxy against open mindedness in understanding issues and resolving problems. Contrarily all creative works in art, literature, science and technical innovations are products of out-of-the box-thinking. An open mind bends more flexibly towards unconventionality, reason, justice and ethical responsibility.

There are social influences that hinder open-mindedness, creativity, innovations, rationality and ideals of fair play. Educational reforms and social development strategies should take these factors into consideration.

 

Introduction and education

Indoctrination is imposition of beliefs and ideas without providing credible supportive evidence for their validity. Unlike in education, indoctrination discourages questioning and critical analysis. Often doctrines are justified as tradition or faith or something enunciated in scripture or enforcement by an ideology. In earliest days, education and indoctrination were largely indistinguishable. The literate men of antiquity adhered to established doctrines, subjecting them to repetitive discussion and interpretation.

In recent times authoritarian regimes had introduced political indoctrination revising textbooks and school curricula. Communist politics thereby indoctrinated masses promoting vocational education tinted with Marxist ideology.

Greeks were first to deviate from indoctrination and initiate questioning on basis of rational argument. According to recorded history, Thales of Mellitus (626-545 BCE) was the first philosopher who sought answers to natural phenomena by reasoning and evidence. The ideas of Thales were greatly expounded by Aristotle. However, his teachings were continued for nearly 2000 years unquestioned. Without resorting to experiment Aristotle said, if two unequal weights are dropped from a height, the heavier one hits ground first. Galileo, dropping two weights from the Leaning Tower of Pisa, proved Aristotle is wrong – both weights hit ground at the same time.

Breaking away from indoctrination had been an arduous task. The rational conclusions of the wise were opposed – sometimes threatened with imprisonment or death. Socrates died in Athens for free speech and disbelieving gods. The Italian astronomer and mathematician Giordano Bruno (1548-1600 CE) who hypothesized that stars are objects similar to the sun surrounded by planets was declared an impenitent by the Roman Catholic Church and punished by burning alive. Prosecutions for blasphemy continues to date.

The diffusion of the Greek philosophy of seeking rational explanations was the main cause of European scientific and technological advancement and realization of democratic values. The resistance to liberation from indoctrination is greater in the East – perhaps accounting for the comparative weakness. Indoctrination in different forms continue to exist everywhere to a greater or lesser extent. Freeing of society of such brain washings will vitalize human potential, promote innovations and help to eliminate dangerous fundamentalism and ideologies contrasting democracy.

Education in its true spirit begins in early childhood. Parental care and interaction with the environment induce inquisitiveness. Little later parents and elders introduce indoctrination voluntarily or involuntarily. If the child does something considered inappropriate, instead of explaining why what he or she did is bad, an elder would say such acts carry people to hell. They are also told that deeds of charity will reward them similarly in future – inculcating a selfish motive rather than a humanitarian concern.

Exposure to irrational beliefs happens in schools, public discussions and in casual conversation. An environment of such influences is not conducive to creativity, innovation and infusing truly ethical values to a society.

An indoctrinated mind fails to utilize knowledge he or she has gained in real situations, but inadvertently resort to the customary tradition. A teacher after discussing heat loss mechanisms in the class room returns home and boil potatoes in an open pan. An engineer ignores bad weather in laying the foundation for his house in favor of a so-called auspicious time. The teacher and the engineer uses scientific knowledge in their professions, but in domestic affairs it is the tradition or occultism! These two hypothetical examples point to a social psychosis adversely affecting progress. Recently, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien said, “we cannot afford to have people who are fearful and distrust science, or who are held captive by groundless anti-scientific beliefs.

 

Education to nuture creativity and innovation

Creativity is conceiving an entirely new concept often preceded by imagination. Innovation means implementation of a new idea. Education is a prerequisite for reaping of outputs from above qualities, but the process of education can either boost or kill them.

Children are born creative and innovative. Initially they interact with parents and animate or inanimate objects displaying the ability to create and innovate – dismantling a toy is an act of curiosity. They need to be persuaded to imagine, telling stories, inspiring words and allowed to play. Instructing the kid how to assemble the toy so that he or she could qualify as a robotic engineer is a mistake.

Today, most parents burden their children with instructions to prepare for a job of their choice which they aspire their sons and daughters to assume decades later – the preference is a profession that allows earning the most money in the shortest time. Private tutors avoid teaching fundamentals and historical development of a subject, coaching students to answer questions without uttering words of inspiration – as their aim is to enable students to pass exams with minimum intellectual effort in the shortest time. The above attitudes almost completely destroy the creative talent, producing persons without capacity to move beyond the routine.

 

Uninspiring and un-pedagogical ways of introducing ideas are also prevalent in schools and universities. In teaching mechanics, Newton’s laws are introduced as if they have come from a disciple in the heavens. These laws are clever abstractions by a mortal – the only validity being the agreement of the derivations from laws with observation. Most teachers fail to emphasize this point. The former approach scares students to attempt things of the caliber of Newton. Whereas the latter motivates students to realize that the subject falls within their reach.

 

Education reforms: Counterproductive approaches

Free education in Sri Lanka is a success – exemplary to the region. The benefits of the national education effort have gone beyond elimination of illiteracy. It has delivered a work force that can do all routine things and ones that require special skills. Citizens are well informed and accommodated in fair living standards cost effectively. Achievements in the health sector owes much to education. People following recommended safeguards against COVID is prime example. Despite all the above positives, the Sri Lankan education system is blamed for not rendering innovations to drive the economy. A proposed remedy has been to revise curricula to make them more relevant. A prevalent erroneous consensus floating around classifies art, literature, humanities and fundamental science as useless and advocate replacing them with vocationally oriented technical themes and business studies. In fact former are the disciplines that motivates students to imagine, think, fathom ideas and learn the art of writing, all students need to be exposed to these themes of learning at least in the school and preferably at the university and vocational training institutions.

The core areas of fundamental science are physics, chemistry, biology and mathematics. The purpose of the faculties of science in universities should be to teach basics of these subjects rigorously and comprehensively. Diluting the curricula with so-called relevant applied themes would be counterproductive, not conducive to nurturing persons of outstanding creative talent.

In countries all over the world universities and few research institutions are mandated to engage in fundamentals studies, generally funded by the government, as such endeavors are an absolute necessity to foster intellectual advancement of the society. Furthermore all major innovation have resulted from such research. Again original findings in fundamental science greatly escalate the scientific standing of a nation. If these institutions indulge heavily in less challenging applied research themes, sometimes trivialities on the pretext of relevance, the consequence of the neglect of fundamental component will be a second class status for science technology. Countries that have attained major economic advances in recent times via technological innovations, have also invested in education and research in basic science and related activities to promote creativity.

The purpose of education is broad and diverse, a preparation for facing untold circumstances and exploring new avenues. One must keep in mind that narrow and rigid education reforms may turn out to be counterproductive. It is essential to keep a balance between disciplines, those expected to deliver short-term economic returns and ones that stimulate the intellect.

Kirthi Tennakone Adjunct Professor at the National Institute of Fundamental Studies can be reached via ktenna@yahoo.co.uk

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