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Education: Personal goals attuned to social progress

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by Susantha Hewa

Education, for an overwhelming majority of students and their parents, is the one and only way for gainful employment, financial success, upward mobility and social recognition. Yet, it is just where education is made to function in its most utilitarian gear, grooming the individual for a livelihood. Education is also a handy tool for the fashioning of a cultured person who can contribute towards both individual and social wellbeing. However, in an exam-oriented, competitive system, which is primarily designed to provide workers to run the economy, the above broader function of education naturally gets underrated and overlooked. This has produced two factions debating about the primary function of education: whether it should prepare individuals for jobs or guide them to be refined citizens, who can contribute towards social progress.

It’s no good eternally arguing whether education is for jobs or, alternatively, for making students to be good, intelligent citizens as well as furthering overall social progress. We often seem to think that these targets are mutually exclusive, which may not be the case.

Those who favour job-oriented education seem to consider ‘inculcating values’ as too naïve and wishy-washy. Conversely, those who overemphasize education’s role of value-inculcation seem to dismiss job-oriented education as starkly materialistic. Both parties seem to look at these two broad aims of education with some bias. However, the fact is, those seemingly opposite aims need not be contradictory. Education can be made to meet both these ends: employability and the inculcation of values for individual fulfilment and social cohesion. There is nothing to prevent proficient employees being broad-minded citizens and vice versa. What we need is the political will and the pooling of expertise of all interested parties including educationists, economists, psychologists, administrators, academics and professionals of arts and sciences to achieve both personal and collective goals.

In fact, education plays a crucial role in promoting self-fulfillment as well as social advancement. All beings are naturally self-centered and continuously look for opportunities for self-gain. Hence, it’s not strange that today, for each person, education appears to be one of the safest means of achieving their personal goals – wealth, comfort and social recognition. There is nothing reprehensible at all in it. After all, as a means of achieving those desirable things in life, education is more society-friendly than most other options available, specially, for those who don’t rely much on education: deceit, profiteering, theft, money laundering, sale of liquor and dangerous drugs and, last but not least, dabbling in politics. So how can we condemn those who pursue education for moving from “rags to riches”?

One may say that education should not be seen as a magic formula for prosperity and that learning is too sacred a pursuit to be regarded as a key to material success, power and social status. However, such a view often fails to recognize that education, in its different forms, serves as the best bet for securing a decent livelihood for many people in a civilised world and also, that it has taken the place of the brute force characteristic of primitive life which happened to be a relentless struggle for survival. As such, if one condemns education being used as a way to personal success, one may do it at one’s own peril, for the alternative paths available may turn out to be starkly antisocial.

In fact, our aversion towards higher education being used as a way of producing “employable graduates” seems to come from our disapproval of it being used to sustain a profit-oriented economy which divides education as ‘useful’ and ‘useless’ according to how it serves to maximise profit of a handful of elites while leaving an overwhelming majority in dire poverty. Further, we forget that ‘employability’ assumes that derogatory sense only in a context where the economy absorbs graduates to maximise profits of a few.

There would be nothing sinful about being groomed to be employable, if we happened to be living in a world where economic growth were an indicator of individual happiness and social wellbeing. George Monbiot, the author of “Out of the wreckage; a new politics for an age of crisis” captures the sense of cynicism of the average citizen living in a consumerist society, when he says, “Defined by the market, defined as a market, human society should be run in every respect as if it were a business, its social relations reimagined as commercial transactions; people redesignated as human capital”. The idea of ‘employable graduate’ should not be thrown out with the noxious bathwater of extreme competition and individualism.

The low estimation of humanities and social sciences in higher education is not an indication of their so-called irrelevance. The discriminatory attitude cannot be easily got rid of since it is the corporate interests that decide their ‘value’ in a competitive society. It is due to this that the disgruntled voices about arts stream subjects being neglected continue to fall on deaf ears. It would be an uphill task to raise them to the level of the subjects favoured by the business world. So far as the economic growth of a country remains to be just impressive statistics on paper without them reflecting the physical and mental wellbeing of the common people, the humanities and social sciences are going to look lacklustre in the eyes of those who call the shots.

Questioning, researching, analyzing and critical thinking that are often marketed to assert the importance of the so-called ‘soft subjects’, as against hard sciences, are not likely to cut much ice with those who want education to simply spawn workers, including professionals, to keep the economy going and huge profits flowing into their hands. In such a setting that workers, both skilled and unskilled, are not paid for their questioning or critical thinking skills cannot make headlines.

Among the whole gamut of worrisome issues in education are: resource-depleted rural schools, heavy workload for both students and teachers, obsolete teaching methods, long school hours, dependency on tuition industry, lack of opportunities for students for recreation, disproportionate homework, tedium, teachers burdened with redundant paperwork, obsession with continuous testing and crippling exams, insufficient scope for creative work, aesthetics, sports, soft skills, segregation of schools on ‘ethnicity’ and lack of timely upgrading of content and teaching methods., etc. All these problems cannot be separated from economy and politics. It would be a hard job for those who are sincerely concerned about using education’s many capacities for promoting good and eliminating vice, because education cannot be prevented from being putty in the hands of those with personal and political agendas.

Obviously, those who are ensconced in power and affluence cannot be expected to suffer education serving in any way to undermine their positions. Prof. Alvin Toffler in his book “The Third Wave” (sequel to his book “The Future Shock”) writes, “schools produced, just as factories do, employees who could fit into the slots of the hierarchical structure of industrial societies by programming them through a ‘covert curriculum’ to be compliant, dutiful and diligent”. This may not be far from the truth, because greedy politicians and business magnates who control the economy will always want the prevailing system to go on with the least resistance. They wouldn’t want to tap the full potential of education to prompt students to question and challenge anything established including the present economic order favouring the elites.

The fact is, our education system primarily appeals to the individual’s sense of self-aggrandisement in a society, in which being educated is to become humiliated if what you have studied has no market value. Unlike the students of science, IT and commerce streams, the graduates of history, sociology, literature, etc. cannot help business magnates to fatten on their profits. Therefore, education in humanities and social sciences, which doesn’t equip students to find their convenient niches in a profit-oriented economy, wouldn’t be favourably viewed at all by the major players.

Therefore, it would be futile to think that enhancing the quality of education will bring about a just society unless the natural desires of the student are aligned with education’s capacity for uncovering the essential link between individual happiness and social progress. In other words, the more ambitious the student is to realize his dreams, the more momentum it should give for social advancement.

The present situation of arts stream subjects inexorably receiving stepmotherly treatment cannot be changed until there remains a strict division between arts and science subjects. And, it is only when the so-called economic growth is made to serve all the people and not a lucky few that the society will be able to create meaningful space for humanities and social sciences to play a role in society as important as the hard sciences. It goes without saying that the economy should be made people-friendly instead of remaining self-serving and profit-friendly. In his book “Ruptures in Sri Lanka’s Education: Genesis, present status and reflections”, Prof. Panduka Karunanayake correctly points out that “when local industries pick up and overseas ones open up to our workers, qualification inflation will ease – educationists can then fruitfully focus on the broader issues in education, including the inculcation of civic values, etc.” Although he is optimistic that the growth of economy, in its present form itself, will pave the way for educationists to step in to play a broader and more important role in education, the point he emphasizes here, among other things, is the importance of harnessing education to realise full human potential instead of it being woefully underutilised to providing livelihoods. However, what is undeniable is that what role we get our economy to play – whether we leave it in the hands of those VIPs for money making or use its massive potential to primarily serve society – will have a lasting impact on the whole education system.

It is only within a humane model of governance, which makes economic interests subservient to human interests that education can be made to foster social cohesion rather than furthering division and estrangement.



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Breathtaking new paintings found at ancient city of Pompeii

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The frescoes depict Greek mythology: Paris kidnaps Helen which triggers the Trojan War (BBC)

Stunning artworks have been uncovered in a new excavation at Pompeii, the ancient Roman city buried in an eruption from Mount Vesuvius in AD79.

Archaeologists say the frescoes are among the finest to be found in the ruins of the ancient site.

Mythical Greek figures such as Helen of Troy are depicted on the high black walls of a large banqueting hall.

The room’s near-complete mosaic floor incorporates more than a million individual white tiles.

BBC/Tony Jolliffe The Black Room

The black room has only emerged in the last few weeks. Its white mosaic floor is almost complete (BBC)

A third of the lost city has still to be cleared of volcanic debris. The current dig, the biggest in a generation, is underlining Pompeii’s position as the world’s premier window on the people and culture of the Roman empire.

Park director Dr Gabriel Zuchtriegel presented the “black room” exclusively to the BBC on Thursday.

It was likely the walls’ stark colour was chosen to hide the smoke deposits from lamps used during entertaining after sunset. “In the shimmering light, the paintings would have almost come to life,” he said.

Two set-piece frescoes dominate. In one, the god Apollo is seen trying to seduce the priestess Cassandra. Her rejection of him, according to legend, resulted in her prophecies being ignored.The tragic consequence is told in the second painting, in which Prince Paris meets the beautiful Helen – a union Cassandra knows will doom them all in the resulting Trojan War.

BBC/Tony Jolliffe One of the "black room" frescos discovered in Pompeii, showing Apollo trying to seduce the priestess Cassandra

The god Apollo is depicted on one of the frescos trying to seduce the Trojan priestess Cassandra (BBC)

The black room is the latest treasure to emerge from the excavation, which started 12 months ago – an investigation that will feature in a documentary series from the BBC and Lion TV to be broadcast later in April.

A wide residential and commercial block, known as “Region 9”, is being cleared of several metres of overlying pumice and ash thrown out by Vesuvius almost 2,000 years ago.

Staff are having to move quickly to protect new finds, removing what they can to a storeroom.

For the frescoes that must stay in position, a plaster glue is injected to their rear to prevent them coming away from the walls. Masonry is being shored up with scaffolding and temporary roofing is going over the top.

BBC/Tony Jolliffe Fresco protection

A plaster glue must be injected behind a fresco or it is likely to come away from the wall (BBC)

Chief restorer Dr Roberta Prisco spent Tuesday this week trying to stop an arch from collapsing. “The responsibility is enormous; look at me,” she said, as if to suggest the stress was taking a visible toll on her. “We have a passion and a deep love for what we’re doing, because what we’re uncovering and protecting is for the joy also of the generations that come after us.”

BBC Map showing excavations in Pompeii

Region 9 has thrown up a detective story for archaeologists.

Excavations in the late 19th Century uncovered a laundry in one corner. The latest work has now revealed a wholesale bakery next door, as well as the grand residence with its black room.

BBC/Tony Jolliffe Reception Hall

In the reception hall, rubble in the far right corner is from renovation at the time of the eruption (BBC)

The team is confident the three areas can be connected, physically via the plumbing and by particular passageways, but also in terms of their ownership.

The identity of this individual is hinted at in numerous inscriptions with the initials “ARV”. The letters appear on walls and even on the bakery’s millstones.

Dr Sophie Hay explained how a rich politician left his mark on the buildings

“We know who ARV is: he’s Aulus Rustius Verus,” explained park archaeologist Dr Sophie Hay. “We know him from other political propaganda in Pompeii. He’s a politician. He’s super-rich. We think he may be the one who owns the posh house behind the bakery and the laundry.” What’s clear, however, is that all the properties were undergoing renovation at the time of the eruption. Escaping workers left roof tiles neatly stacked; their pots of lime mortar are still filled, waiting to be used; their trowels and pickaxes remain, although the wooden handles have long since rotted away.

Dr Lia Trapani catalogues everything from the dig. She reaches for one of the thousand or more boxes of artefacts in her storeroom and pulls out a squat, turquoise cone. “It’s the lead weight from a plumb line.” Just like today’s builders, the Roman workers would have used it to align vertical surfaces.

She holds the cone between her fingers: “If you look closely you can see a little piece of Roman string is still attached.”

BBC/Tony Jolliffe Plumb line

It’s possible to see a remnant piece of string around the neck of the plumb line (BBC)

Dr Alessandro Russo has been the other co-lead archaeologist on the dig. He wants to show us a ceiling fresco recovered from one room. Smashed during the eruption, its recovered pieces have been laid out, jigsaw-style, on a large table.

He’s sprayed the chunks of plaster with a mist of water, which makes the detail and vivid colours jump out.

You can see landscapes with Egyptian characters; foods and flowers; and some imposing theatrical masks.

“This is my favourite discovery in this excavation because it is complex and rare. It is high-quality for a high-status individual,” he explained.

BBC/Jonathan Amos Ceiling fresco

The archaeologists have had to piece together a ceiling fresco that was shattered during the volcanic eruption (BBC)

But if the grand property’s ceiling fresco can be described as exquisite, some of what’s being learned about the bakery speaks to an altogether more brutal aspect of Roman life – slavery.

It’s obvious the people who worked in the business were kept locked away in appalling conditions, living side by side with the donkeys that turned the millstones. It seems there was one window and it had iron bars to prevent escape.

It’s in the bakery also that the only skeletons from the dig have been discovered. Two adults and a child were crushed by falling stones. The suggestion is they may have been slaves who were trapped and could not flee the eruption. But it’s guesswork.

“When we excavate, we wonder what we’re looking at,” explained co-lead archaeologist Dr Gennaro Iovino.

“Much like a theatre stage, you have the scenery, the backdrop, and the culprit, which is Mount Vesuvius. The archaeologist has to be good at filling in the gaps – telling the story of the missing cast, the families and children, the people who are not there anymore.”

BBC/Tony Jolliffe Mosaic floor
There are certainly more than a million tiles in the mosaic floor, possibly up to three million (BBC)
BBC/Tony Jolliffe Roman lamp
Boxes full of artefacts: One of the many oil lamps recovered during the excavation (BBC)
BBC/Tony Jolliffe Fresco showing Leda and the Swan
Another fresco depicts Leda and Zeus in the form of a swan, whose union would lead to Helen’s birth (BBC)
BBC/Tony Jolliffe A piece of moulded cornicing painted in bright colours
Brilliant colours: Ornate cornicing was also preserved under the volcanic debris (BBC)
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Democracy continuing to be derailed in South Asia

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A scene from Sri Lanka’s ‘Aragalaya’ of 2022.

Sections of progressive opinion in Sri Lanka are currently commemorating the second anniversary of the country’s epochal ‘Aragalaya’, which brought down the dictatorial and racist Gotabhaya Rajapaksa regime. April 9th 2022 needs to be remembered especially as the date on which Sri Lankans in their tens of thousands, irrespective of ethnic, religious and language differences rose as one to impress on the country’s political class and rulers that their fundamental rights cannot be compromised or tampered with for whatever reason and that these rights should be realized henceforth.

During the ‘Aragalaya’, Sri Lanka attained nationhood, since the totality of the country’s social groups, standing shoulder-to-shoulder, spoke out for equity and equality among them, from the same platform. Thus was Sri Lankan nationhood born, which is quite different from statehood. It is left to progressives to ensure that Sri Lankan nationhood, thus born out of the ‘Aragalaya’, does not prove to be stillborn.

To express it briefly, political ‘Independence’ or statehood is believed by most Sri Lankans to have been attained in 1948 but this is not tantamount to achieving nationhood. The latter is realized when equity and equality are established among a country’s communities.

Of course, we are a long way from achieving these aims but the historic significance of the ‘Aragalaya’ consists in the fact that the ideals central to nationhood were articulated assertively and collectively in Sri Lanka as never before. The opinion climate conducive to nation-building, it could be said, was created by the ‘Aragalaya’.

It is left to the progressives of Sri Lanka to forge ahead with the process of realizing the ideals and central aims of the ‘Aragalaya’, without resorting to violence and allied undemocratic approaches, which are really not necessary to bring about genuine democratic development.

The ‘Aragalaya’ was a historic ‘wake-up’ call to the country’s political elite in particular, which, over the years could be said to have been engaged more in power aggrandizement, rather than nation-building, which is integral to democratic development. Given this bleak backdrop, it amounts to a huge joke for any prominent member of the country’s ruling class to make out that he has been ‘presiding over the only country in Asia where democracy is completely safeguarded.’

To begin with, a huge question mark looms over Sri Lanka’s true constitutional identity. It is not a fully-fledged parliamentary democracy in view of the substantive and sweeping powers wielded by the Executive Presidency and this issue has been discussed exhaustively in this country.

On the other hand, Sri Lanka is not free of strong theocratic tendencies either because there is no clear ‘separation wall’, so to speak, between religion and politics. The fact is that Sri Lanka’s rulers are constitutionally obliged to defer to the opinion of religious leaders. Therefore, Sri Lanka lacks a secular foundation to its political system. This columnist is inclined to the view that in terms of constitutional identity, Sri Lanka is ‘neither fish, flesh nor fowl.’

Moreover, the postponement of local and Provincial Council polls in Sri Lanka by governments alone proves that what one has in Sri Lanka is at best a ‘façade democracy’.

derailing democracy in Sri Lanka goes Religious and ethnic identities in particular continue to be exploited and manipulated by power aspirants and political entrepreneurs to the huge detriment of the countries concerned.

Needless to say, such factors are coming into play in the lead-up to India’s Lok Sabha polls. They are prominent in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh as well. Statesmanship is a crying need in these societies but nurturing such leaders into existence will prove a prolonged, long term project, which also requires the interplay of a number of vital factors, many of which are not present to the desired degree in the countries concerned.

However, of the ‘South Asian Eight’, India is by far the most advanced democracy. It has a Constitution that explicitly enshrines the cardinal rights of the people, for example, including the very vital Right to Life. Such a right is non-existent in the Sri Lankan Constitution, for instance, and this is a huge drawback from the viewpoint of democratic development. Among other things, what this means is that the Sri Lankan state exercises substantive coercive power over its citizens.

On the other hand, the Indian Supreme Court has time and again creatively interpreted the Right to Life, so much so life-threatening conditions faced by Indian citizens, for instance, have been eliminated through the caring and timely intervention of the country’s judiciary. Sri Lanka needs to think on these things if it intends to entrench democratic development in the country. Thus far, the country’s track record on this score leaves much to be desired.

A predominant challenge facing progressives of South Asia, such as the ‘Aragalaists’ of Sri Lanka, is how to forge ahead with the task of keeping democratization of the state on track. A negative lesson in this connection could be taken from Bangladesh where the ideals of the 1971 liberation war under Shiekh Mujibhur Rahman were eroded by subsequent regimes which exploited divisive religious sentiments to come to power. In the process, religious minorities came to be harassed, persecuted and savaged by extremists in the centre.

Whereas, the founding fathers of Bangladesh had aimed to create a secular socialist state, this was not allowed to come to pass by some governments which came to power after the Sheikh, which sought to convert Bangladesh into a theocracy. A harrowing account of how the ideals of 1971 came to be betrayed is graphically provided in the international best seller, ‘Lajja’ by Taslima Nasrin, the exiled human and women’s right activist of Bangladesh.

At page 60 of the 20th anniversary edition of ‘Lajja’, published by Penguin Books, Nasrin quotes some persons in authority in Bangladesh as telling the country’s Hindus during the religious riots of 1979; ‘The government has declared that Islam is the state religion. If you want to stay in an Islamic country all of you must become Muslims. If you don’t become Muslims you will have to run away from this country.’

Not all the post-liberation governments of Bangladesh have turned against the ideals of 1971 and the present government is certainly not to be counted as one such administration. But the lesson to be derived from Bangladesh is that unless progressive opinion in a secular democracy is eternally vigilant and proactively involved in advancing democratic development, a country aiming to tread the path of secularism and democracy could easily be preyed upon by the forces of religious extremism.

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Homemade…to beat the heat

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With lots of holidays cropping up, we are going to be on the move. Ok, that’s fine, but what about the scorching heat! With temperatures soaring sky high, skin issues are bound to surface.

Well, here are some beauty tips that will give your skin some relief:

Aloe Vera: Apply fresh aloe vera gel to the skin. It helps to soothe and heal sunburn. Aloe vera contains zinc, which is actually anti-inflammatory.

Papaya: Papaya pulp can be applied on the skin like a mask, washing it off after 20 minutes. Papaya contains enzymes and helps to remove dead skin cells. Add curd or lemon juice to the pulp to remove tan. Fruits like banana, apple, papaya and orange can be mixed together and applied on the face. Keep it on for 20 to 30 minutes. Papaya helps to cleanse dead skin cells. Banana tightens the skin. Apple contains pectin and also tones the skin. Orange is rich in Vitamin C. It restores the normal acid-alkaline balance.

 Lemon Juice: Lemon is a wonderful home remedy for sun tan because of its bleaching properties. You can apply lemon juice by mixing it with honey on the tanned skin and leave it for 10 to 15 minutes before washing it off .

Coconut Water and Sandalwood Pack: Sandalwood has great cleansing properties, whereas, coconut water is widely known for a glowing skin. Mix coconut water with one tablespoon of sandalwood powder to make a thick mixture and apply it all over the face. Wash it off after 20 minutes. This is a perfect cure for tanned skin.

Cucumber, Rose Water and Lemon Juice:The cucumber juice and rose water work as a cooling means for soothing the brown and red-spotted skin. To use these effectively, take one tablespoon of cucumber juice, lemon juice, and rose water and stir it well in a bowl. Use this solution on all over the face and wash it off with cold water after 10 minutes. This helps to turn your skin hale and healthy.

Milk Masks: Yes, milk masks do give glowing effect to tired skin. Just apply milk mixed with glycerin all over the face. Relax for 15 minutes and rinse with water. The treatment softens, rejuvenates and restores a natural PH balance, thus protecting the skin from the negative effects of the sun. You can also take half cup of milk and add a pinch of turmeric in it. Apply the mixture on your face and wait till it gets dry. Use this solution on a daily basis for exceptional results.

(Yes, time to take care of your skin and beat the heat!)

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