Free education: A mythical dimension
By I. P.C. MENDIS
We in Sri Lanka tend to very loosely refer always to the scheme of Free Education in the country. As for Free Education in proper perspective, nothing seems further from the truth, in the context of the open prevalence of private schools, both fee- levying and non-fee-levying, International schools, private Montessori schools, private tuition centres, private universities represented by agents of numerous foreign universities, and institutions, etc. Truly, aren’t we really consciously duping ourselves?
So, what indeed is all this fuss and fury about the Kotelawala National Defence University Bill? As at present, is there any assurance for any student entering University that he or she would be free of any harassment through excessive or indecent ragging; that he or she would be out of the University at the end of the prescribed term without the term being compulsorily extended by reason of closures due to student unrest? Could there be any assurance that students from recognized or reputed schools will not be discriminated against by others? Or those well versed in English are not ill-treated through the “Kaduwa ” mentality? Could there be any assurance that they are not compelled to beg on the streets and in public transport, for causes initiated by revolutionary parties or participate in demonstrations politically motivated? Could there be any safeguards against doing menial assignments as punishments for not doing the bidding of seniors or those of a particular political persuasion?
Could there be any guarantee that students enrolled under the free education scheme will be given preference over others for employment purposes in the private sector? What about those outside the free education scheme who are, in any case, free to sit for public examinations? Isn’t that privilege eating into the Free Education system? Could there be a dire need for private fee-levying educational institutions run by some teachers themselves (possibly now vociferously in the forefront against the KDU Bill), if the same effort is available in the school classroom? These are only a few of the obstacles and disadvantages faced by those under the jurisdiction of the University system presently under the UGC.
Free education per se is a misnomer. Yes, indeed, no fees are levied but charges like facilities and other fees are in place, accompanied by rampant corruption in admissions, etc., in vogue in many places. Tuition has become a ‘sine qua non’. Free Education did lose its glamour in its early stages, prompting Collette the cartoonist of yester-year to baptise it as the ‘Pearl of Great Price”! Regrettably, the Free Education Scheme as of now is a long shot from what was envisaged by the late Dr. C.W.W. Kannangara !
First things first, and the government has a sacred duty and responsibility of instilling discipline in Universities, which has been grossly neglected by successive governments. The present government feels that the KDU will be the ideal institution to make a start with its strict code of conduct, not necessarily of the military variety applicable to recruits to the armed forces. The government itself appears to have unnecessarily forced the pace to introduce the KDU Bill during this particular time of unrest among the Teachers’ Unions for a completely different cause. It has afforded an impetus to the likes of IUSF, influenced jointly by the JVP and FLSP, and the JVP itself in their protest campaign.
It seems prudent to take the wind off their sails and postpone the introduction of the KDU Bill till after the settlement of the problem with teachers. The FUTA which spear-headed the campaign against the Rajapaksa regime (pre 2015), demanding a funding of 6% of GDP for education and in virtual slumber during yahapalana, has awoken now like Rip-Van-Winkle, to oppose the KDU Bill. One would have expected the professorial types not to act selectively with bias in terms of personal political choices or preferences, but be consistent, independent and fair in their outlook.
Indeed, on the face of it, teachers seem to have a genuine grievance that an agreement reached some 24 years ago has still not been implemented by successive governments. It is a matter for conjecture as to why and how they were content to be at rest for over two decades, without agitation for implementation. Our law clearly stipulates that one cannot sleep over one’s rights and any responsible group of workers will not be patiently bearing up for over two decades unless there was a hitch. It would be interesting and indeed relevant to examine whether the said Agreement had been arrived at after due consultation with the Ministry of Public Administration, the General Treasury and the Department of Management Services. If not, deep trouble will result. There could possibly be a hitch in the solutions offered then as otherwise successive governments and the unions will not be bearing up for over two decades. Be that as it may, it may affect decisions taken subsequently in many other services, without such an Agreement being on the table, in which case ad hoc implementation at this stage sans examination of the effect it would have on the overall salary structure of the public service, would be disastrous for a trouble-free management and more-so for the tottering economy.
The government needs to tread extremely cautiously, not surrendering to blackmail and threats, if it is to act with due care and responsibility. Let what is immediately possible be granted and compromise solutions found for others. It is a moot point whether the teacher services could bear comparison directly with certain other public services, with glaring differences such as in hours of work, term holidays, time for private tuition etc. There is no doubt whatsoever that the demonstrations are politicized and interested parties seek to strike when the iron is hot.
It is well known that the unions, sponsored and backed by the JVP and Front-line Socialist Party, are in the fore-front of the demonstrations and much in sympathy with the demands. Their ‘modus operandi’ is to make political capital, embarrassing the government. It is an accepted fact that trade unions are a necessary, useful adjunct or concomitant of any political party. It has been so with the then more recognised political parties, such as the LSSP, CP and SLFP. The UNP being a rightist capitalist outfit realised it much later, and formed the JSS and even began celebrating May Day! There is, therefore , nothing to hide. Yet the JVP and FLSP seem to be unready to admit their influence and power over the IUSF and certain other outfits. A leader of a teachers’ union strongly in the fray appeared on the Swarnavahini talk-show ‘RATHU IRA” on Thursday, 29th July 2021, and while admitting his JVP connections dissociated himself with any influence or power over the union he was leading. One was tempted to tell him – “Tell it to the Marines”! Media interviews with the leader of the FLSP was no better. The “Iscole” teledrama on Derana TV depicts beautifully a JVP type teacher who trots about the school doing the minimum but upsetting the efforts of others, by always harping on “system change” derailing the equilibrium. They tend to use the unions to pressurize governments and achieve political ends. Most of the membership are unaware of these moves, as they tag hidden motives to wage or service demands, and the membership remains none the wiser, but elated at the support!
It seems, according to what the teachers ’unions say, that 24 years ago certain assurances had been given but not implemented by successive governments. The law of the land says that one cannot sleep over one’s rights. Much water has flowed under the bridge since then, and the particular demands have to be considered in terms of current contexts if the demands are to be conceded, without up-setting the overall salary structures in the public service as a whole. Be that as it may, even to concede some, any responsible government has to be mindful of the effect on other services and the overall economy. Coming as it does from ” gurus” who are respected as “Gods” and who should know better, it is pure selfish and irresponsible for them to time their demand at this particular time, when everybody is worried about the raging pandemic, the economy is in a shambles, and on the edge of the cliff about to nose-dive into the depth of bankruptcy. Like in the Health sector where there was a chain reaction when nurses were given hand-outs, one can be certain as night follows day, there will be unrest among other categories as well. It is dangerous to make piece-meal adjustments which only a Salaries Commission could be equipped to do, after due careful overall examination and study. Let wiser counsel prevail!
Jayantha Dhanapala, a star in a Trinity galaxy
It was about one and a half years ago that I contacted Jayantha Dhanapala to find his Kandy address in order to send him two of my books. On that day he informed me of the death of Mr SML Marikkar, his classmate at Trinity College, Kandy and my student to whom I had taught the classical languages. In an appreciation of Mr. Marikkar I had used the well known Latin dictum, “seniores priores” to indicate that in death too the older should take precedence over the younger as in matters of ordinary life.
As I commenced teaching the classical languages I was more than surprised that I had to teach another subject to the students of the University Entrance class . It so happened that the students learning this subject were an exceedingly outstanding group of Arts and Science students. Among them were Jayantha, Marikkar, Sarath Amunugama, Arjuna Aluvihare, Nihal Perera, Breckenridge and Karaliyadde.
The subject was called General English, a motley combination of general knowledge, language, precis writing and current affairs . In my school by the Beira this subject was taught by the Rector, Very Rev. Fr. Peter Pillai, a mathematician turned a teacher of Government to senior students.
Why the Trinity Principal, Mr Norman Walter selected me, a green horn, to teach this subject was a mystery to me. Sometimes I was out of depth. Some of these outstanding students would help me by raising very appropriate questions in class before I got “drowned.” They were Jayantha Dhanapala, SML Marikkar, and Sarath Amunugama. The last two later joined the Civil Service. Sarath even became my boss when I returned to the public service, the SLAS, after premature retirement with full pension rights.
Jayantha won the open Essay prize at Trinity in his final year. The English teacher Rev. Eliott shortlisted the competing essayists selecting two Jayantha’s and JKL Pereira’s as the two best and asked me to be the final arbiter. Though my talents were elsewhere, in the logic of grammar and in figures and less in literature it was clear that Jayantha should be the winner.
JKLP, who came second, like me chose accountancy as a profession. After finishing the English Honours degree with a good second class, Jayantha had a short stint at my old school at Maradana. In the first Administrative Service examination held, after the abolition of the Civil Service, he was placed first. But he chose the diplomatic service.
I heard that he had chosen to learn Mandarin Chinese as one of the foreign languages that young diplomats were required to learn. He later progressed in his career up to the top as an Under Secretary to the Sec. General of the United Nations. I remember reading in the media how President Clinton had paid a tribute to him on his handling of the complex affairs with regard to the nuclear arms proliferation and disarmament.
I had not met Jayantha while he was serving in the UN. It was only when he attended meetings of the Peradeniya Jayatilleke Hall old boys reunions that I came face to face with him after 50 years or so. He would have been surprised to see me at these reunions ,sometimes playing the piano accordion accompanying the ageing old boys of J Hall singing old favourites. Among them were Rev Fr. Derrick Mendis and his cousin Rev Fr. Egerton Perera, both of whom had qualified as Chartered Accountants and had dedicated themselves to a life of poverty as Jesuits. Sadly they are no more.
Jayantha could have reached the top in the UN outfit had the then SL government sponsored his candidacy with greater vigour. Even in the case of his classmate, Sarath Amunugama, had the recommendation of the late Prof. Carlo Fonseka that Aumunugama be the second in command in managing the affairs of the country been realized, the world and our country would have been better places.
May Jayantha Dhanapala’s soul rest in Peace.
Dr Leo Fernando,
TImely action must be taken to preserve Buddhism in Sri Lanka
As reported on the first page of Sunday Island (June 4) it is indeed very praiseworthy for the government authorities to have taken timely action to safeguard the most venerated Bo tree in the world. It is both an object of worship and symbol of national sovereignty on the majority Buddhist island of 22 million people. It is a well established fact that a sapling of the sacred Sri Maha Bodhi was brought to Ceylon by none other than Indian Emperor Ashoka’s daughter Sangamitta Maha theri, who established the Bhikkuni sasana here.
However it is sad to note that presently the Bhikkuni sasana is not given the due recognition it deserves in our country, though it is common knowledge that our Buddha sasana comprises of Bhikku, Bhikkuni, upasaka and upasika. It is very difficult to fathom why the government authorities are not issuing Bhikkuni Identity cards, while the Bhikkus even though some break the vinaya rules in public from time to time are allowed to continue with their Bhikku identity cards. Why the double standard? Therefore it is of great importance that Buddhists rise up to the occasion and demand that government issue Bhikkuni Identity cards and give them the due recognition they deserve to have in our society.
If timely action is not taken to rectify the situation to protect the Bhikkuni Sasana, it will face the same fate as the Dhamma Chakraya, which symbolizes the Eight Fold Path preached by The Buddha in his first sermon to the Pasvaga mahanunun, after attaining Buddha hood. The ancient Dhamma Chakraya is correctly depicted in all Emperor Ashoka’s pillars which were erected in Buddhist places of worship in India, under his direction and guidance. Needless to say it is in the shape of a cart wheel with eight spokes connecting to the outer circle depicting the Eight Fold Path. It was also accepted as the Buddhist symbol here after Emperor Ashoka’s son Arahat Mahinda Threra introduced Buddhism to Sri Lanka.
However, presently due to unknown reasons the Dhamma Chakraya has taken the form of the helm, (the wheel connected to the rudder to steer a ship), with projections from the outer circle. Presently 90% of the Buddhist establishments, TV channels and print media use this wheel as the symbol of Buddhism which is an incorrect depiction of the original Dhamma Chakraya. Thus it is equally important to take timely action to rectify this to contribute towards stability and continuity of the Buddha Sasana for posterity.
R. W. W.
Appreciation: Nalini de Lanerolle
Peradeniya with its soaring architecture reminiscent of auspicious traditions melding the grace of the sculptured rock and incredible richness of greenery and extravagant streamers and showers of glowing flowers in the space of 1956 to 1959 merged Nalini de Lanerolle’s (then de Silva’s) stores of reading and imagination to a vision of the past in all its splendor.
She graduated from the University of Peradeniya in 1959 where she majored in Sociology. She married Asoka de Lanerolle in 1960, and became the mother of a girl and two boys. From 1960 to 1972, she was a Librarian in the Ministry of Planning; from 1973 to 1975 she was an Instructor in English at the University of Colombo.
Energetic in temperament, she had many interests. She read extensively from teen-hood: a vast variety of books ranging from the classics to murder mysteries and science fiction to movie magazines and historical novels. In Sinhala, she mentioned having enjoyed W.A. Silva’s Vijayaba Kollaya and Martin Wickramasinghe’s Rohini, at Visakha. She was appointed to the panel which judged the annual Sinhala Drama Festival. She was also a member of the panel appointed to evaluate films and performers regularly. Le Roy Robinson’s “An Interview with Nalini de Lanerolle on Aspects of Culture in Sri Lanka” reveals the scope of her reflections which enriched readers through ‘The Reign of Ten Kings – Sri Lanka – The World 500 B.C. – 1200 A.D.
Alert in judgment, she had had an active mind and capacious imagination which turned mere curiosity to tough questions with firm answers. Why do the Apollo Belvedere and the Gandhara Buddha show distinct traces of similarity? Was there a King Arthur?
Nalini de Lanerolle has not only satisfied her own musings; in her book she has deftly interwoven facts from Lanka’s chronicles and periods of European history to throw light. To quote Manik de Silva “She has done some innovative historical researching and found exciting parallels of kings and epics in the East and West during the same periods.”
According to Sir Arthur C. Clarke ‘The Reign of Ten Kings’ is an “excellent and much neededpiece of research. I hope that her book will bring to the attention of a large audience some of the most remarkable architectural and cultural achievements in history …”.
Nalini in her interview with Le Roy Robins attributes her interest in history to her father, a Government Surveyor who travelled widely in the country and who told stories of Greek Gods to his children pointing out the constellations including Orion striding across the night sky. Her mother too inspired her, reading to her in Sinhala from Milindapanha, which she later discovered was about the questions posed to an Indo-Greek ruler, a contemporary of King Dutugamunu. Parallels always interested her. As she says to Le Roy Robins “I think I was a history addict. It began with the stories of all those kings – King Arthur included.”
Her husband, Asoka de Lanerolle took a keen interest in history as well and to quote her “my husband Asoka has been interested in most of my thinking regarding history, so he has always urged me to write”. I tried out the idea of parallels in history on him and he encouraged me feeling it was “a different way of writing a history of Sri Lanka”.
Asoka having gained his high school education at Royal, graduated from the University of Peradeniya with an Honors degree in Economics and began his career as an Assistant Lecturer in Economics. He then became a Foreign Service diplomat, and later the Marketing Manager at Lever Brothers Ceylon.
In 1972 he was nominated as the Eisenhower Exchange student from Sri Lanka, giving them both the opportunity of living for seven months in the USA and travelling widely soaking in the history of a different continent. When he joined the UN International Trade Center in Geneva, and worked in Somalia, Bangladesh and Nigeria, Nalini travelled extensively enjoying glimpses of history like the sale of frankincense (one of the three gifts to baby Jesus by the kings) in Somalian market places.
She took great pleasure in all her children being avid readers despite the advent of televisions and in the fact that they all strongly supported the publication of her book, helping her by taking photographs, doing line drawings and cross-checking all the years mentioned in the book.
We have lost a historian and an intellectual, one who sought knowledge and thought, for the pleasure it gave – who has left to her country men and visitors to the island and enchanting and enlightening volume.
Dr. Lakshmi de Silva
Showers in Western and Sabaragamuwa provinces and in Galle and Matara districts
SJB MP slams police double standards
Sarath Weerasekera opposes SLT share sale on security grounds
‘Dates have the highest sugar content to fight Coronavirus’
Sunday Island 27 December – Headlines
#Sundayisland Sunday Island- 31 January- Headlines
Opinion6 days ago
Of that proposed ‘Climate Change University’
News2 days ago
‘Genocide’: Dire warning issued over Canadian move, Sabry asked to move resolution in parliament
Editorial6 days ago
A question of legitimacy
Opinion6 days ago
WHO taken hostage by global corporate network
Business5 days ago
Venora Lanka Power Panels to set up assembly plant in Australia
Features5 days ago
Have Humanities and Social Sciences muddied water enough?
News6 days ago
Sweden recognizes sex as sport
News6 days ago
Rosy’s appointment violative of election laws – Mujibur