Time to Break the Boundaries – Part II
BY Shivanthi Ranasinghe
(Part I was published last Thursday)
Notwithstanding the deep worries and many difficulties in keeping children home, parents have not responded well to the reopening of schools during the second pandemic. This may be because of the gap between the issued health regulations and the practicality of implementing it.
‘Do not share’, for instance, is one such regulation. In an exam, this is understood. Every child must have his/her own stationery and are disallowed from borrowing even an eraser. Candidates understand that during an exam to breach these regulations would be grounds for disqualification. They would also be given their own desk and chair at least a foot away from the other and once seated, are discouraged from any interaction with each other.
While even the least studious would comply with this strict discipline during an exam period, it is highly doubtful this would be the case on a regular school day. Unlike in an exam hall, desks are often crammed together for lack of space in overcrowded classes. In this environment, it would be very difficult to stop students from sharing not only stationary, but other personal items such as water bottles.
Most children enjoy school not so much for the lessons but for the company of their peers. Even without a pandemic, school authorities thus have a hard time controlling children from huddling and chatting.
It was recently revealed that people reporting to work comply with all the prescribed regulations at the work place’s entry point. However, it has been found that especially during the lunch break people resort to old habits such as sitting together, thereby putting each other at great risk. If this is the situation in the adult world, then to expect a different scenario from children is surely being overoptimistic.
In this context, ensuring the one-metre radius from each other at all times would be most challenging. Furthermore, students once out of school gates are no longer the school’s responsibility. Children who use public transport especially act on their own discretion. How religiously they will then follow the health regulations or even remember these over time is questionable.
At the same time the situation in schools without water for drinking or basic sanitation cannot be overlooked. It is doubtful if these schools could provide the extra facilities to wash and sanitize hands regularly or monitor body temperature. Especially when it rains, it is also doubtful if all children would be able to comply with the Ministry’s regulation to wear a freshly laundered uniform daily to school when all some children possess is one set of uniforms.
The Pre-Pandemic Era
Clearly, the ‘new normal’ needs more than a face mask, social distancing and regular hand sanitizing. This redefining is further complicated by the many lacunae in our education system.
Uneven Educational Platform
Many schools are without facilities as running water, sufficient teaching staff and equipment for a library, computer or science lab or even grounds to play or for sports activities. There are schools with sheds for classrooms and trees for roofs. Recently, a news report highlighted the plight of a school in Badulla so deprived that the students learn their music lessons on a keyboard drawn on a piece of paper. These schools over time close down permanently.
It is these ground realities that make the Grade V Scholarship exam so important. Earning the opportunity to a better facilitated and a ‘recognized’ school is theoretically sound. Practically, it is mired with problems. To be separated from family from age 12 onwards is a mean feat and discounts the importance of a family bond and security in a child’s development. This is further aggravated by unwarranted problems many face in boarding houses. Naturally some students lose their momentum and do not perform as well in higher grades and exams.
The braindrain suffered as a nation when our graduates migrate to better economies is a matter of concern. The Grade V Scholarship exam too promotes children with potential to leave their villages. Thus, these villages do not see a return on the investment made on its future generation. Without knowledge or the power of the educated, these areas remain poor and underdeveloped.
Ironically, students from these rural areas may gain university entrants with a lower aggregate than those studying in better facilitated schools. As a result, those who won the Grade V Scholarship studying in ‘better’ schools have to work harder and gain a higher score than their friends who were left behind in the village. This is just one example of the chicken wire and chewing gum solutions applied to keep a flagging education system propped up.
This anomaly that forces some students to perform better was even twisted to justify a separatist war in the country. It was after great sacrifice that the war was ended. Yet its ghosts continue to haunt the nation. Therefore, this situation should not be allowed to continue any longer.
Limited Capacities in Universities
While over 150,000 qualify annually for university entrance, due to lack of capacity only about 30,000 can be accommodated. Over the decades, millions are thus denied their right for a higher education.
Despite the overemphasis on mathematics and science subjects in our syllabus, only 10 percent of our schools can allow students to follow the science stream. Due to lack of foundation in secondary education a larger percentage are forced to follow the Art stream than science, computer or mathematics fields that offer greater employability. Therefore, many of the graduates have followed the Arts stream.
The consequence of producing more Art graduates than needed is tragic. They often end up in the streets, agitating governments to absorb them into the State sector. After receiving an education at State expense, their expectation from the Government to provide them with a job as well is looked upon with contempt. Their reluctance to join the private sector adds to this scorn. This is interpreted as being lazy and desiring a job only to ‘heat the seat’.
In Pursuit of Paper Qualifications
Children are naturally inquisitive. Yet, special techniques are needed by primary educators to hold young students’ attention. This curious situation has arisen because our education system is exam oriented on regurgitating facts than geared for actual learning. The system expects children to keep up with the curriculum. There is neither the provision for different learning curves, nor interests or talents. Our education system is without proper stimuli to arouse curiosity in a child, promote creativity or encourage problem solving. Children are expected to follow instructions than take initiative.
Increasingly the curriculum is narrowing on mathematics and science subjects with other important interests as language, music and aesthetics falling on the wayside. The emphasis is more on spellings and grammar than reading and storytelling. The whole learning process has become so clerical, that it is like a diet of vitamin and mineral pills than actual food.
Until Ordinary Levels, students are annually pushed up a grade regardless of their grasp or interest on subject matter. Afterwards, subjects are selected not on interest but on the ability to pass exams. Obtaining this paper qualification, even if it does not guarantee a job, has become the overriding factor.
The free education that is compulsory for every child in Sri Lanka has been obviously lagging behind in many ways. COVID-19 that is demanding a ‘new normal’ might be just the equalizer needed to provide equal opportunities for all children.
(Part III will be published on Monday)
Ranil power: Stop stoning the search for Democracy
The Aragalaya has moved into a ‘gal keliya situation. The Aragala protesters were never throwing stones. But there is a new spread of stone throwers, legal and political stones, mainly targeting the Aragala activists. These are by political strikers carrying stones targeting the Aragala activists and key supporters to push them to remand prisons and cases in the courts with a captivating range of offences from sitting on the president’s chair, eating a papaw from the president’s fridge, wrapping the former president’s flag around one’s waist, and sleeping on the Gotabaya’s bed, all in the President’s House or the old Queen’s House … and much more of warped thinking.
This is the stuff of the post-Gota “Ranil Gal” exercise, certainly giving delight to the Rajapaksa hangers-on showing a new rise in dirty politics.
The Aragalaya gained its immediate goal, removal of President Gotabaya from his office; he unexpectedly fled to the Maldives, Singapore and now Thailand. It also had other scores such as the resignation of former President and PM – Mahinda, former Finance Minister Basil, the removal from the Cabinet of brother Chamal and nephew Namal in the questionable ‘democratic’ country, where four members of one family held office in the Cabinet. These certainly are matters for celebration by the Aragalaya activists, and the masses who supported them. But the rise of Ranil’s ‘gal keliya’ exercise, certainly gives new concerns to the people, and to whoever or whatever comes as the next wave of the Aragalaya – a wave that must rise against the Ranil-Rajapaksa sway of ‘pavul balaya’ or the family that seeks to remain in power against the will of the people.
There are very interesting issues which need to be raised about the ex-President Gotabaya abroad. What made him choose such a costly hotel in Singapore – as a temporary home for him, his wife and the four security officers who went with him after his escape from this country? It certainly cost several millions in Sri Lankan currency and dollars; and was that approved by the Ranil-Rajapaksa government? Gotabaya certainly remains a Sri Lankan citizen, but holds no office although having a valid presidential passport.
There is no reason whatsoever for the Sri Lankan state to bear the cost of supporting a man who has fled the country. Or, was that massive amount settled by anyone who benefited from the crooked business during the Gota era?
The Thai authorities have given him an opportunity to stay there for 90 days, but have been very clear that he should be confined to his hotel, and should not engage in any politics while he is there. Thailand certainly does not want the good relations with Sri Lanka to be affected by a defeated politician, fleeing from home and seeking shelter elsewhere, or possibly back at home as brother Mahinda has suggested.
Gotabaya certainly has a place in Sri Lanka, his home – and for more than a decade his dual home – when he was a US citizen. He has every right to return to Sri Lanka, and possibly live peacefully at his home at Mirihana, where the protests against him began. But, his presence here will certainly require his attention, respect for and observance of the country’s laws unlike in his days of power. There are certainly many laws and offences that will require him being brought before the courts.
Gotabaya’s return here will and certainly must make him come before the law in the many cases that have been filed, and the several others that await action. New evidence, hidden under his presidency and the other Rajapaksa days, has called for the courts to deal with him. He will certainly have to resume facing action on state funds being used to build the monument to his father and mother at Hambantota, which was targeted by attackers on or after 09 May this year.
Will he be ready to face legal action in connection with the murder of Lasantha Wickrematunga, the Editor of The Sunday Leader; a fresh probe by the Yahapalana government, when Ranil W was PM, pointed to new evidence on the planning of this killing. Will there be more evidence as regards the disappearance of cartoonist Prageeth Eknaligoda? And the public will be glad to know what role the defence personnel played in the killing of rugger player Wasim Thajudeen.
All of this is not confined to Gotabaya Rajapaksa; Ranil W, as the President, should also be a key player in bringing these matters before the courts. His acceptance of the presidency even as an unelected MP requires his complete respect for the Constitution and the rule of law.
This is the new age of Ranil Play, for however long it lasts. From some of the clues and signals we see today, this Ranil Era may certainly look more corrupt than the Gota days. We are moving to a Giant Cabinet which may be much bigger than the ones we have seen. There will be a massive number of Deputy Ministers too. And the Ranil Power Play will see a whole range of unelected UNPers holding Advisory Positions in the government.
The initial call for a government of unity among all parties in parliament is fast moving to one of major disunity with the dominance of parliamentary power clearly moving to the Podujana Peramuna – SLPP.
The voters of Sri Lanka will have to be considering how they can have a government of clear unity with the election as MPs of candidates who have moved away from the corruption of the Rajapavula of Hambantota, the political twists and turns of JR Jayewardene, and move to a genuine democracy.
The next few months with increased hardships for the people will certainly call for another mass reaction, a much larger Jana Aragalaya, that can achieve the many changes in the Constitution to make this a true Democracy, and have MPs who don’t profit from parliament, but serve the people in the true Spirit of Democracy – and not of corrupt leaders.
An enforceable global law needed to curb terrorism
by A. K. MERCHANT
As we remember the victims of terrorism, offer homage to millions of innocent people who have perished, terrorists continue to strike at will, utilizing the latest that technology has to offer such as missiles and drones, which extend the reach of their attacks. Terrorist groups are taking full advantage to consolidate their networks making the spread of propaganda and recruitment easier. The acts of violence carried out by lone individuals or small, non-state groups of people, bring great tragedy into other people’s lives. At the same time it must be acknowledged that even greater damage is done when terrorism is state-sponsored. Terrorism of any kind destroys efforts to establish peace among nations. Terrorism is rooted in every human being’s need to belong to a group of peers. In these times it has become ideologically acceptable to indiscriminately murder innocents to meet a terrorist’s goal.
Every year hundreds of people are killed through suicide attacks resulting in untold pain and destruction. The terrorists, like the egotist, somehow cannot consider the feelings or the life of others as important. They require instant, exact and complete obedience to their orders and tenets, as verified by the actions of human suicide bombers. Part of the background to the current waves of terrorism is the lack of a proper balance between the liberty of the individual and the needs of society. The rights of an individual to act as he or she wishes can never be absolute. Such craving for extreme freedom leads to sedition and overstepping of the bounds of propriety, while it debases the individual to depravity and wickedness. Even when the cause which the terrorist group espouses is driven by a sense of injustice, there is no real justification for the acts of violence. A United Nations Convention for prevention of terrorism is still a work in progress. In addition to treaties that address particular manifestations of terrorism, the international community has endeavored to develop treaties that address terrorism on a more inclusive basis. India first proposed this convention in 1996.
It has been pushing for the treaty consistently at the sessions of the UN General Assembly, in 2014 and again in 2016. Although consensus has not yet been reached for the wording of the comprehensive terrorism convention, discussions have yielded three separate protocols that aim to tackle terrorism: the International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings, adopted on 15 December 1997; the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism, adopted on 9 December 1999; and the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism, adopted on 13 April 2005 The negotiations are deadlocked because of differences over the definition of terrorism. The key sticking points in the draft treaty revolve around several controversial yet basic issues. For example, what distinguishes a “terrorist organization” from a ‘liberation movement’? Does it exclude activities of national armed forces, even if they are perceived to commit acts of terrorism? If not, how much of this constitutes ‘state terrorism’? Even so, national governments must make these rules work.
In a system of sovereign states, the role of the UN organization in checking or reversing these human rights abuses remains severely limited and largely dependent upon the political will of the member states. As a consequence, part of the price paid for protecting national security against threats posed by cross border terrorism may well be the curtailment of some human rights and civil liberties within the liberal democratic state. Religion is also frequently used by terrorists as an excuse for their actions, despite the fact that every religion forbids murder, and demands that individuals live in harmony. Until some sort of world laws are established, terrorism can never be eliminated. And different states around the world will continue to offer refuge, supply, finance, train and sponsor terrorist groups for their own ends. Citizens in every country repeatedly voice their readiness for peace and an end to the tormenting trails in their daily lives.
Yet in the same breath uncritical assent is given to the proposition that human beings are incorrigibly selfish and aggressive and therefore incapable of building a social system that is progressive, harmonious, and peaceful. In order to move forward, humanity must overcome this fundamental contradiction; it demands a reassessment of the assumptions upon which the commonly held view of humankind’s historical predicament is based. It also calls for understanding the true nature of human beings and the moral imperatives that should govern the functioning of global community. Such an understanding will enable all people to set in motion constructive social forces which, because they are consistent with human nature and would encourage harmony and cooperation instead of conflict and war. The UN system must evolve into a world super-state in whose favour all the member-states would willingly secede every claim to make war, certain rights to impose taxation and all rights to maintain armaments, except for purposes of maintaining internal order within their respective dominions. Such aspirations should not be dismissed as utopian ideas.
There is no other alternative. The world’s leadership must take affirmative action at this juncture when efforts at ending the war between Ukraine, supported by Nato, and Russia threatens to escalate into World War III. Time is running out, all the forces of history are impelling humankind to take immediate action. Freedom from terrorism is just one important element in the larger scheme of things – climate emergency, unprecedented economic crisis, massive social breakdown, to list just a few.
Whether collective security among all nations is to be reached only after unimaginable horrors precipitated by humanity’s stubborn clinging to old patterns of behaviour, or is to be embraced now by an act of consultative will, is the choice before all who inhabit the earth. It is my firm optimistic conviction that root causes of international terrorism can be curbed not through constant conflicts among nations and within each sovereign state but by enforceable world law, effective global governance and peace education.
Venturing into health tourism and unlocking a world of benefits for Sri Lanka!
by Dr. Gotabhaya Ranasinghe
Sri Lanka is blessed with natural resources and scenic beauty. Famed for the hospitality of the friendly people, the country has a lot more to offer than just delicious food, comfortable lodgings, adventurous nature trails, and the green-blue seas.Sri Lanka is facing a grave financial crisis, of which the repercussions are viciously experienced by many citizens. Its inability to bring in enough foreign exchange has exacerbated its woes.
How can we as medical professionals help the country during a forex crisis? Besides the short and medium-term plans that encourage many foreign donations to the country, shouldn’t we also look for a long-term plan to revive the economy?
Sri Lanka has one of the best education systems in the world and produces skilled professionals to many industries. Sri Lanka’s medical professionals are considered to be highly skilled, and I, as a medical professional myself, feel that there are endless possibilities for us to serve the country if the right opportunities are created.Tourism is a major forex earner, but what about health tourism, which is one of the largest growing segments of wellness and medical tourism?
What is health tourism?
Health Tourism allows people to travel to different countries to receive health services to increase their quality of life, enabling them to improve their physical and mental well-being.
Health tourism allows you to engage in activities, treatments, and therapies that benefit your health and contributes to a healthier physical, mental, and spiritual health.
Why is health tourism becoming a popular segment?
Professional health services
Long waiting lists in countries of residence
Insurance coverage-related matters
Benefits of native treatment
Combination of treatment with holiday
Faster recover in a different environment
Availability of best and professional care / personalised care
Better access to technology and specialists
Availability throughout year
What are the benefits of health tourism?
It’s the perfect gateway for tourists to receive high-quality healthcare at affordable prices.
Why should Sri Lanka contribute to creating a health tourism segment?
Health tourism is a growing industry. The global pandemic (covid-19) made people more cautious and aware of their health, and they are keen and make health and well-being a top priority. People are on the lookout for affordable holiday destinations and combine therapy, treatments, and access to medical procedures that may sometimes be unavailable in their residing country.Sri Lanka is a well-known holiday destination and it is easy to attract tourists who seek the bliss and comfort of health tourism.
Our country possesses skilled and specialised medical professionals who are:
Reliable and possess the required language skills
Empathetic and well-trained to care for patients
Comparatively cheap labour than European countries
Comparatively cheaper overhead costs and expenses
The ability to furnish patients with comfortable lodgings
Sri Lanka is a tropical country and the warm & sunny weather is known to be immensely beneficial for our health.
What treatments can we offer?
Dermatology / Cosmetic/plastic surgery
Native treatment, oil therapies, and access to alternative treatment
Medication and yoga centers
Weight loss or healthy eating retreats
What is stopping us?
I must frankly admit that to cater to the health tourism sector, the state-runt hospitals may need more time to undergo improvements such as patient-friendly lodgings and environment. This might seem a difficult task at a time like this due to lack of funds, but the private hospitals and treatment centers are equipped to engage in health tourism.With some innovative thinking, the private sector is capable of catering to professional health tourism industry.
What we are capable of offering!
Highly specialised medical professionals and well-trained staff
Internationally accredited, state-of-the-art medical facilities
Personalised care – The comfort and the convenience of a private room, interpreter & support staff while receiving treatment and other tailor-made services designed for the patient’s comfort.
Round-trip-travel-support. Teams can offer services from medical treatment to travel assistance to a hotel of the patient’s choice, reservation assistance, visa procedure, etc.,
Significant cost reductions for the international patients Immediate access to treatment – no waiting lists
A change of attitude will make us ready to serve a wider community!
No matter how skilled or specialised our professionals are, there are a few obstacles we are yet to overcome for us to open the country to health tourism. We need to get together as a team and turn a new leaf.
1. The country should introduce a simple visa procedure and allow hassle-free entry for the visitors.
2. Over the years as a medical practitioner, I have noticed that the private hospitals in Sri Lanka don’t quite meet the required standards and quality of patient care. I sometimes wonder if the private sector is far too commercialised and concerned only about earning money and not patients’ welfare. Are the medical support staff trained and experienced enough to care for patients, and to assist with their wants and needs? Are the patient rooms comfortable and clean? Does a patient have complaints about the available facilities even after paying money to obtain services? The specialised skilled services surely require to be more structured and organized.
3. Of course, I understand that private hospitals are profit-oriented commercial ventures. But, are they utilising their profits for the benefit of the patients? Some private hospitals are not equipped with modern or advanced technology on par with standard treatments, especially when it comes to cardiology and perhaps in other areas too. Shouldn’t we address this issue as a national priority? Our private hospitals need improvement in comparison with neighboring countries like the Maldives, India, Singapore, etc., engaged in health tourism.Dr. Gotabhaya Ranasinghe, Consultant Cardiologist, Institute of Cardiology, National Hospital of Sri Lanka
I kindly urge relevant tourism authorities, the Ministry of Health, medical professionals, and private health caregivers to consider these views and create opportunities to implement a growing and nourishing health tourism sector in Sri Lanka to enhance the inflow of foreign exchange.Dr. Gotabhaya Ranasinghe, Consultant Cardiologist, Institute of Cardiology, National Hospital of Sri Lanka.
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