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Education worthy of this moment of crisis



By Shamala Kumar

I can’t remember the exact words, but remember the sentiment: Nobody is happy with our education, not one person. Education should be about imagining a better world, a country, and a future. Our education does none of that, it’s simply designed to perpetuate the system, blindly and uncritically.

The group, contributing to this column, the Kuppi Collective, was still forming, early into the Covid-19 lockdowns, when Anushka Kahandagama expressed thoughts such as these. In the months to follow, we tried to articulate what kind of education would foster such imaginations, thinking and doing.

The education system, to which we belonged, then and today, is not transformative, not in the way we envisioned. As far as education was concerned, the solution to the lockdown was to merely move from on-site to online, with little acknowledgement of the students who disappeared from our classrooms because of access issues, financial and mental health struggles. We continued, generally, to teach the same content, seemingly blind to the chaos that surrounded us. This suspension from reality, as if universities, our jobs, and education, operate in a vacuum, continues. Only last week, Sudesh Mantillake, another from the Kuppi Collective, stated in frustration, “We work as usual when around us the world disintegrates.”

Therefore, I reflect on this current moment, and how we seem to have lost touch, alienated from students, society, and even ourselves. I wonder what happened!

The university and the present moment

We, as a university community, were slow to situate ourselves in this present crisis. Recently, in my Department, we noted the lack of seminars and discussion, within the university. Somebody responded, “All we seem to do is administration; there’s no time to think”. We have become an institution of automatons and paper-pushers. Where are the topics that spark controversy, fuel debate and disagreement?

The day Sudesh spoke about his frustrations of going on as usual, I met our students as they seemed withdrawn and tired. They were working part-time to support their families, feared for the future and were grappling with the trauma of the past two years. One student said in anguish, “Madam, all of us are depressed”. Students had immediate and practical concerns. Food prices were rising daily and travelling home was expensive. They spent Rs. 600 a day for food, I learnt.

Our Faculty has been supporting students who needed help, but as problems compound and needs expand, we are at a loss. “How do we help them? We have no answers”, said the lead staff member responsible for student welfare. Yet we persist, teaching the same, researching the same, and demonstrating quality the same.

Quality as abstract

Perhaps the greatest transformation, happening at universities these days, is the quality assurance process. Practically all academic staff are busy collecting documents to show that we deliver quality. Quality is, of course, defined from above, at the University Grants Commission. Little discussion of what exactly we are doing in pursuing quality has occurred at my university. The quality assurance process construes the student and teacher as equally dispassionate. The teacher, a technically sound, professional, delivers carefully planned lessons designed to create “employable” “products” suited to the job market. Whether the student is indeed a product, what employable means in a non-existent job market, and whether our students could aspire to something else – such as changing the world – have never truly been discussed.

The system is static and sterile and all the planning, based on predetermined prototypes for “products” (the graduates), have made the system and us distant from the problems that surround us and that we confront in our own lives. Our teaching does not capture the charged experiences of our students, the country’s disarray, compounded by war and violence around the globe.

Similarly, in research undertaken at universities, “Quality” is judged by journal rankings. The more desired publications, the ones the system salivates over, are inaccessible to us as our libraries cannot afford them. Content these outlets deem hot and sexy, and worthy of publication, may do little to address our problems. The problems and content, such publications attract, are designed to respond to the needs of academics and publishing companies in distant lands, who control the academic publishing industry. Quality in research has removed us from this moment and the reality that is our crisis.

This, to me, is a significant part of the sluggishness with which universities have responded to our national problems. Another is likely to be our salaries that have cushioned the blow that has affected much of our population. My bigger point, however, is to highlight the reform process through which universities are trying to improve, that it does little to address the present needs of the nation.

An alternative in the making

I see within the ‘GotaGo’ protests an alternative forming. There’s a fluidity, an openness, a space for all within those places of protest, to speak and be heard. This is by contrast to universities, with their heavily guarded gates that let only the legitimate in, CCTV cameras, dress codes, and a hierarchy that stifles the other.

Of course, the seeming openness of the protests is limited. Some students tell me that critique of the IMF is out of bounds, although who makes these determinations is unclear. Symbols of patriotism, the national flag and the national anthem are very much a part of protests – symbols that for minorities can be intimidating and marginalizing.

I also worry that just as past governments have used these symbols of nationhood to consolidate power, and shy away from issues that truly reflect our human experiences, this time, too, they will be used to hide the problems of the economically, socially and politically marginalized; silenced for the good of the collective. We see this already. Concerns that are particularly of importance to minority communities, such as the removal of the PTA, acknowledgment of war-related disappearances, demilitarization, and issues of displacement, are shoved aside as divisive and secondary. Yet, the ‘GotaGo’ protest spaces offer a contrast to the universities in which we have no time to even think. It offers us new conceptions of free education, free universities, that can feed our process of reforming education.

The place for the Arts in Free education…

I see the Arts as central to such reforms. In this column, we have expressed concern over the systematic marginalization of Arts subjects, within our educational system. Policies underfund these subjects, treat them as cheap alternatives to the hard sciences and technologies. Yet, these are the very subjects that can harness our imagination, help us articulate the most profound of ideas, and potentially be transformational.

Last week, at the GotaGoGama, someone got on a stool and spoke. I took a good look at her; thinking I would see more of her in the future; I wanted to remember her face for when that happened. She drew a huge crowd through her impassioned speech. At one point she dismissed those who rejected the art, music, and drama at GotaGoGama as a carnival that diluted the cause. She named a series of artists, poets, authors, who changed the world. “Weren’t they revolutionaries?” she shouted, “Didn’t they spark revolutions? Didn’t they change the world?”. It is also the Arts that play centerstage in the GotaGoGama teach-ins. Strong Arts programmes can give us the language to envision and create the democratic and peaceful future that we all crave right now.

Grounding ourselves and opening spaces

I hope this moment transforms our universities and education system. I continue my work — teaching my predesigned classes, getting ready for quality assessments, working as usual. I worry about our students and the lack of funds to operate, and worry about my son, and shortages of cooking gas and food at home. Within this space, between normalcy and chaos, lies small opportunities to participate in this moment, whether simply participating as an individual, or as FUTA in protests, or in discussions. We are doing this now, in small ways.

My wish, however, is for something more for my university and work. I would like my teaching, research and everything I do at the university to reflect the reality of our country, to address the problems that we face as a society, particularly those on the margins. If we can transform our universities to have that organic quality, which conceives of “quality” as being immediately responsive to our problems, of being transgressive, as free education should be, and as very much a part of the moment, then as far as education is concerned, this moment will have had an unmeasurable effect on our collective future. We would then be teaching and researching in a way that moves with the people and the moment. How beautiful that would be…

(The author teaches at the University of Peradeniya)

Kuppi is a politics and pedagogy happening on the margins of the lecture hall that parodies, subverts, and simultaneously reaffirms social hierarchies.

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Glimmers of hope?



The newly appointed Cabinet Ministers leaves Cass un-uplifted. She need not elaborate. She wishes fervently that Dr Harsha de Silva will leave party loyalty aside and consider the country. Usually, it’s asking politicians to cast aside self-interest, which very rarely is done in the political culture that came to be after the 1970s. Thus, it is very unusual, completely out of the ordinary to appeal to Dr Harsha to forego party loyalty and do the very needful for the country by accepting the still vacant post of Minister of Finance. We are very sorry Eran W too has kept himself away.

Some of Cassandra’s readers may ask whether she is out of her right mind to see glimmers of hope for the country. She assures them she is as sane as can be; she does cling onto these straws like the dying man does. How else exist? How else get through these dire times?

What are the straws she clings to? News items in The Island of Tuesday 24 May.

‘Sirisena leaves Paget Road mansion in accordance with SC interim injunction.’ And who was instrumental in righting this wrong? The CPA and its Executive Director Dr Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu. It is hoped that revisions to the system will come in such as giving luxury housing and other extravagant perks to ex-presidents and their widows. Sri Lanka has always lived far beyond its means in the golden handshakes to its ex- prezs and also perks given its MPs. At least luxury vehicles should not be given them. Pensions after five years in Parliament should be scrapped forthwith.

‘Letter of demand sent to IGP seeking legal action against DIG Nilantha Jayawardena.’ Here the mover is The Centre for Society and Religion and it is with regard to the Easter Sunday massacre which could have been prevented if DIG Jayawardena as Head of State Intelligence had taken necessary action once intelligence messages warned of attack on churches.

‘CIABOC to indict Johnston, Keheliya and Rohitha’. It is fervently hoped that this will not be another charge that blows away with the wind. They do not have their strongest supporter – Mahinda R to save them. We so fervently hope the two in power now will let things happened justly, according to the law of the land.

‘Foreign Secy Admiral Colombage replaced’. And by whom? A career diplomat who has every right and qualification for the post; namely Aruni Wijewardane. If this indicates a fading of the prominence given to retired armed forces personnel in public life and administration, it is an excellent sign. Admiral Colombage had tendered his resignation, noted Wednesday’s newspaper.

‘Crisis caused by decades of misuse public resources, corruption, kleptocracy – TISL’.

Everyone knew this, even the despicable thieves and kleptocrats. The glaring question is why no concerted effort was made to stop the thieving from a country drawn to bankruptcy by politicians and admin officers. There are many answers to that question. It was groups, mostly of the middle class who came out first in candle lit vigils and then at the Gotagogama Village. The aragalaya has to go down in history as the savior of our nation from a curse worse than war. The civil war was won against many odds. But trying to defeat deceit power-hunger and thieving was near impossible. These protestors stuck their necks out and managed to rid from power most of the Rajapaksa family. That was achievement enough.

Heartfelt hope of the many

The newly appointed Cabinet Ministers leaves Cass un-uplifted. She need not elaborate. She wishes fervently that Dr Harsha de Silva will leave party loyalty aside and consider the country. Usually, it’s asking politicians to cast aside self interest, which very rarely is done in the political culture that came to be after the 1970s. Thus, it is very unusual, completely out of the ordinary to appeal to Dr Harsha to forego party loyalty and do the very needful for the country by accepting the still vacant post of Minister of Finance. We are very sorry Eran W too has kept himself away. As Shamindra Ferdinando writes in the newspaper mentioned, “Well informed sources said that Premier Wickremesinghe was still making efforts to win over some more Opposition members. Sources speculated that vital finance portfolio remained vacant as the government still believed (hoped Cass says) Dr Harsha de Silva could somehow be convinced to accept that portfolio.”

Still utterly hopeless

Gas is still unavailable for people like Cass who cannot stand in queues, first to get a token and then a cylinder. Will life never return to no queues for bare essentials? A woman friend was in a petrol queue for a solid twelve hours – from 4 am to 4 pm. This is just one of million people all over the country in queues. Even a common pressure pill was not available in 20 mg per.

Cassandra considers a hope. We saw hundreds of Sri Lankans all across the globe peacefully protesting for departure of thieves from the government. The ex-PM, Mahinda Rajapaksa’s answer to this was to unleash absolute terror on all of the island. It seems to be that with Johnson a younger MP stood commandingly.

Returning from that horror thought to the protesters overseas, Cass wondered if each of them contributed one hundred dollars to their mother country, it would go a long way to soften the blows we are battered with. Of course, the absolute imperative is that of the money, not a cent goes into personal pockets. The donors must be assured it goes to safety. Is that still not possible: assuring that donations are used for the purpose they are sent for: to alleviate the situation of Sri Lankans? I suppose the memory of tsunami funds going into the Helping Hambantota Fund is still fresh in memory. So much for our beloved country.

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Ban on agrochemicals and fertilisers: Post-scenario analysis



By Prof. Rohan Rajapakse

(Emeritus Professor of Agriculture Biology UNIVERSITY OF RUHUNA and Former Executive Director Sri Lanka Council of Agriculture Research Policy)

There are two aspects of the ban on agrochemicals. The first is the ban on chemical fertilisers, and the second is the ban on the use of pesticides. Several eminent scientists, Dr Parakrama Waidyanatha (formerly the Soil Scientist of RRI), Prof OA Ileperuma (Former Professor of Chemistry University of Peradeniya), Prof C. S. Weeraratne (former Professor of Agronomy University of Ruhuna), Prof D. M. de Costa University of Peradeniya, Prof. Buddhi Marambe (Professor in Weed Science University of Peradeniya) have effectively dealt with the repercussion of the ban on chemical fertilisers which appeared in The Island newspaper on recently.

The major points summarised by these authors are listed below.


1. These scientists, including the author, are of the view that the President’s decision to totally shift to organic agriculture from conventional could lead to widespread hunger and starvation in future, which has become a reality. Organic farming is a small phenomenon in global agriculture, comprising a mere 1.5% of total farmlands, of which 66% are pasture.

2. Conventional farming (CF) is blamed for environmental pollution; however, in organic farming, heavy metal pollution and the release of carbon dioxide and methane, two greenhouse gases from farmyard manure, are serious pollution issues with organic farming that have been identified.

3. On the other hand, the greatest benefit of organic fertilisers as against chemical fertilisers is the improvement of soil’s physical, chemical and biological properties by the former, which is important for sustained crop productivity. The best option is to use appropriate combinations of organic and chemical fertilisers, which can also provide exacting nutrient demands of crops and still is the best option!

4. Sri Lanka has achieved self-sufficiency in rice due to the efforts of the Research Officers of the Department of Agriculture, and all these efforts will be in vain if we abruptly ban the import of fertiliser. These varieties are bred primarily on their fertiliser response. While compost has some positive effects such as improving soil texture and providing some micronutrients, it cannot be used as a substitute for fertiliser needed by high yielding varieties of rice. Applying organic fertilisers alone will not help replenish the nutrients absorbed by a crop. Organic fertilisers have relatively small amounts of the nutrients that plants need. For example, compost has only 2% nitrogen (N), whereas urea has 46% N. Banning the import of inorganic fertilisers will be disastrous, as not applying adequate amounts of nutrients will cause yields to drop, making it essential to increase food imports. Sri Lankan farmers at present are at the mercy of five organizations, namely the Central Department of Agriculture, the Provincial Ministry of Agriculture, the Private sector Pesticide Companies, the Non-Government organizations and the leading farmers who are advising them. Instead, improved agricultural extension services to promote alternative non-chemical methods of pest control and especially the use of Integrated Pest Management.

Locally, pest control depends mostly on the use of synthetic pesticides; ready to use products that can be easily procured from local vendors are applied when and where required Abuse and misapplication of pesticides is a common phenomenon in Sri Lanka. Even though many farmers are aware of the detrimental aspects of pesticides they often use them due to economic gains

We will look at the post scenario of
what has happened

1. The importation of Chemical fertilisers and Pesticides was banned at the beginning of Maha season 1 on the advice of several organic manure (OM) promoters by the Ministry of agriculture.

2. The Ministry of Agriculture encouraged the farmers to use organic manure, and an island-wide programme of producing Organic manure were initiated. IT took some time for the government to realize that Sri Lanka does not have the capacity to produce such a massive amount of OM, running into 10 tons per hectare for 500000 hectares ear marked in ma ha season.

3. Hence the government approved the importation of OM from abroad, and a Company in China was given an initial contract to produce OM produced from Seaweed. However, the scientists from University of Peradeniya detected harmful microorganisms in this initial consignment, and the ship was forced to leave Sri Lankan waters at a cost of US dollar 6.7 million without unloading its poisonous cargo. No substitute fertiliser consignment was available.

4. A committee in the Ministry hastily recommended to import NANO RAJA an artificial compound from India to increase the yield by spraying on to leaves. Sri Lanka lost Rs 863 million as farmers threw all these Nano Raja bottles and can as it attracts dogs and wild boar.

Since there is no other option the Ministry promised to pay Rs 50000 per hectare for all the farmers who lost their livelihood. It is not known how much the country lost due to this illogical decision of banning fertilisers and pesticides.


1. Judicious use of pesticides is recommended.

2. The promotion and the use of integrated pest management techniques whenever possible

3. To minimize the usage of pesticides:

Pesticide traders would be permitted to sell pesticides only through specially trained Technical Assistants.

Issuing pesticides to the farmers for which they have to produce some kind of a written recommendation by a local authority.

Introduction of new mechanism to dispose or recycle empty pesticide and weedicide bottles in collaboration with the Environment Ministry.

Laboratory-testing of imported pesticides by the Registrar of Pesticides at the entry-point to ensure that banned chemicals were not brought into the country.

Implementation of trained core of people who can apply pesticides.

Education campaigns to train farmers, retailers, distributors, and public with the adverse effects of pesticides.

Maximum Residue Level (MRL) to reduce the consumer’s risk of exposure to unsafe levels.

Integrated pest Management and organic agriculture to be promoted.

1. To ensure the proper usage of agrochemicals by farmers

All those who advised the Minister of Agriculture and the President to shift to OM still wield authority in national food production effort. The genuine scientists who predicted the outcome are still harassed sacked from positions they held in MA and were labelled as private sector goons. The danger lies if the farmers decide not to cultivate in this Maha season due to non-availability of fertilisers and pesticides the result will be an imminent famine.

The country also should have a professional body like the Planning Commission of

India, with high calibre professionals in the Universities and the Departments and

There should be institutions and experts to advise the government on national policy matters.

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Thomians triumph in Sydney 



Nothing is happening for us, at this end, other than queues, queues, and more queues! There’s very little to shout about were the sports and entertainment scenes are concerned. However, Down Under, the going seems good.

Sri Lankans, especially in Melbourne, Australia, have quite a lot of happenings to check out, and they all seem to be having a jolly good time!

Trevine Rodrigo,

who puts pen to paper to keep Sri Lankans informed of the events in Melbourne, was in Sydney, to taken in the scene at the Sri Lanka Schools Sevens Touch Rugby competition. And, this is Trevine’s report:

The weather Gods and S.Thomas aligned, in Sydney, to provide the unexpected at the Sri Lanka Schools Sevens Touch Rugby competition, graced by an appreciative crowd.

Inclement weather was forecast for the day, and a well drilled Dharmaraja College was expected to go back-to-back at this now emerging competition in Sydney’s Sri Lanka expatriate sporting calendar.

But the unforeseen was delivered, with sunny conditions throughout, and the Thomians provided the upset of the competition when they stunned the favourites, Dharmaraja, in the final, to grab the Peninsula Motor Group Trophy.

Still in its infancy, the Sevens Touch Competition, drawn on the lines of Rugby League rules, found new flair and more enthusiasm among its growing number of fans, through the injection of players from around Australia, opposed to the initial tournament which was restricted to mainly Sydneysiders.

A carnival like atmosphere prevailed throughout the day’s competition.

Ten teams pitted themselves in a round robin system, in two groups, and the top four sides then progressed to the semi-finals, on a knock out basis, to find the winner.

A food stall gave fans the opportunity to keep themselves fed and hydrated while the teams provided the thrills of a highly competitive and skilled tournament.

The rugby dished out was fiercely contested, with teams such as Trinity, Royal and St. Peter’s very much in the fray but failing to qualify after narrow losses on a day of unpredictability.

Issipathana and Wesley were the other semi-finalists with the Pathanians grabbing third place in the play-off before the final.

The final was a tense encounter between last year’s finalists Dharmaraja College and S.Thomas. Form suggested that the Rajans were on track for successive wins in as many attempts.  But the Thomians had other ideas.

The fluent Rajans, with deft handling skills and evasive running, looked the goods, but found the Thomian defence impregnable.  Things were tied until the final minutes when the Thomians sealed the result with an intercept try and hung on to claim the unthinkable.

It was perhaps the price for complacency on the Rajans part that cost them the game and a lesson that it is never over until the final whistle.

Peninsula Motor Group, headed by successful businessman Dilip Kumar, was the main sponsor of the event, providing playing gear to all the teams, and prize money to the winners and runners-up.

The plan for the future is to make this event more attractive and better structured, according to the organisers, headed by Deeptha Perera, whose vision was behind the success of this episode.

In a bid to increase interest, an over 40’s tournament, preceded the main event, and it was as interesting as the younger version.

Ceylon Touch Rugby, a mixed team from Melbourne, won the over 40 competition, beating Royal College in the final.

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