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Making O/L English literature more accessible



In his feature article, titled “Reduce O/Level STRESS”, appearing in The Island of 03 May, Anton Peiris makes a timely intervention to introduce an alternative mathematics course for O/L students, which will be tailored to suit the capacity of a considerable number of students who find the customary mathematics paper too challenging. This is surely a more pragmatic and student-friendly approach, because for the past few years we have been trapped in the split between two extremes: either in support of a pass in math to be made compulsory for all A/L students or the exemption of Arts students from this requirement. “Maths Studies” would be a happy compromise between the two extremes, which would stand in good stead for many O/L students. with a gift for Arts subjects to pursue their goals without math being an undue hindrance or, conversely, its total exemption turning out to be a free license for laxity.

O/L English literature seems to be another subject not available to many students due to at least two reasons: first, the want of qualified teachers and, second, the standards being set too high for the average student, as in the case of math. This deters many students who are not competent enough to meet the high-end demand for “appreciating literary texts” from gaining many other benefits literature would otherwise offer them, if provided as a more watered down package, as in “Maths Studies.” In short, the introduction of a less daunting variant such as “Literature Studies” for the average student, for whom the regular “English Literature” is virtually a taboo, can ensure the same gains “Maths Studies” intends to bring to those less proficient in math.

Such leniency would not be wholly out of tune with the learning outcomes of O/L English Literature, enunciated in the relevant syllabus issued by the NIE, which states:

The national goal of making an informed reader means a critical thinker as well. The learner must be able to appreciate any “well written” book and recognize a “good book” when he sees one. It is a training for life. But the whole enterprise of studying literature has been coloured by non-educational, even non-humanistic objectives. For most students and more for their parents, English literature has become a symbol of prestige, culminating in a fantasy of a distinction pass at the GC.E. (O/L) examination. (

This goes to provide at least two good reasons for introducing a less demanding option like “Literature Studies” for the average student. As the latter part of the above paragraph admits, for many students, as well as their parents, studying English literature has become a “symbol of prestige.” This is sad because promoting such snobbery flies in the face of all the lofty ideals contained in the first three sentences, such as making the student well informed, critical and sensitized enough to appreciate good literature, etc. As such, it would not be undesirable, in the least, to aim at moulding a reasonably broadminded and sensitive person, by adjusting the syllabus to focus more on increasing their general awareness of the richness of world literature, without making the study of O/L literature a strenuous exercise of gaining a set of “skills,” which may be more suitable for the purpose of grooming critics rather than making students read for pleasure. Arguably, the emphasis on critical appreciation of the texts might be one reason why the students end up becoming stuck-up, as described in the above passage.

There is no doubt that the regular O/L literature course prepares the student to study literature at the A/Ls – hence the need for its continuation. However, a more student-friendly variant intended for encouraging the average student to read literature, without the unnerving prospect of having to write a critical essay on each of the prescribed texts she has to read, is sure to cultivate the reading habit among students. The performance evaluation defined in the NIE syllabus cited below proves the rigid test-oriented and technical nature of the process:

Appreciation of English literary texts is tested as a component of the G.C.E. (O/L) examination formatively as well as summatively at the end of a two-year course of study. At school level, it is assessed formally at term tests. It is also assessed informally in the classroom using a variety of techniques, both oral and written. Conventionally literature is tested by written examinations. The test items most frequently used are the context question and the critical essay. The context question is more effective since it directly tests the candidate’s familiarity with the texts.

Undoubtedly, a more student-friendly and less formulaic syllabus intended for coaxing the average student to read for pleasure, may ideally minimize the focus on critical writing aspect and the emphasis on a knowledge of the textual mechanics. Instead, such a syllabus may include a prudent selection of interesting biographical details of writers and their famous works, their dominant themes and the relevant social contexts, short samples of texts not intended for critical evaluation but for familiarizing them with various writing forms, etc. – anything that will stimulate the reading habit of the student who may even be encouraged to read the translations in their mother tongue, if time permits.

The most important outcome would be to make them keen readers. The essential fine-tuning with regard to the selection of teaching materials and testing can be done by the syllabus designers and teachers who know the terrain well. Thus, as in the case of math, the modified syllabus of literature would help students who are not adequately proficient to follow the standard literature course, to find a more manageable way of developing a liking for literature.



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Simple rituals replaced at Buddhist temple



The other day I had gone to our temple to do a Bodhipooja for my granddaughter who was ill. This is is an age-old Buddhist practice to invoke the blessings of the triple gem and pray to the gods for the speedy recovery of the sick.

As I was walking from the Vihare to the Buduge, I saw this fantastic sight of a handful of beautifully dressed women in silk, satin and lace walking into the temple. They were not carrying the usual malwatti of homepicked flowers but ornate arrangements straight from a florist.

I was taken aback. I had not seen such a sight before, certainly not in a temple. I paused to see what was happening and found they too were doing a Bodhipooja, whether for a sick relative or not I did not find out. But it was done in grand style.

In retrospect, I wonder, what has happened to the simplicity of Buddhist religious practices of going to temple in simple white clothes, carrying a malwatti to worship at the main shrines, lighting oil lamps and saying our prayers softly or in silence. It seems that at most Buddhist events, this simplicity has been replaced by unseemly ostentation.

Padmini Nanayakkara

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Apparently there has been a proposal that our country’s plans for future energy requirements, has, among its options, included nuclear generation also as an alternative to fossil fuels (coal and petroleum).In an open letter to the President0 as published in the The Island of Mar. 30 Emeritus Prof. Dharmadasa (Sheffield), has extensively cautioned against any precipitate action in pursuing the nuclear option for Sri Lanka. His is a voice to be heeded. He has, comprehensively supported his viewpoint. The basic points are:

It is a fallacy to regard nuclear as “green or renewable energy.”

The installation costs are beyond our means.Technically qualified and expert operators are required and we do not have them. Competence and discipline are imperative.

Nuclear accidents are difficult to handle. Corrective measure are urgent and costly. Large areas have to be abandoned after such accidents and remain so for decades (or even centuries or millennia) before they can be safe again. Major accidents have already occurred, Three Mile Island (USA), Sellafield (formerly Windscale) (UK), Chernobyl (USSR/Ukraine) and Fukushima (Japan). Damage to plants can be triggered by cyclones, typhoons, hurricanes, tidal waves, earthquakes and tsunamis.

In a telling remark, Professor Dharmadasa makes reference to the fact that German Chancellor Angela Merkel (a Ph.D in Physics,) decided to close down all 17 operational nuclear power plants in her country following the Fukushima accident.

Nuclear fuels are expensive and demand special safety protocols.Nuclear waste is difficult to dispose. If buried, they require heavy, concrete “Sarcophagi”. Even then, the land cannot be farmed or inhabited for a very long time.

Symptoms or illnesses (like cancer), show features suggestive of exposure to nuclear radiation.These are very valid reasons for older installations in rich countries to be abandoned as reliance on nuclear energy is no longer seen as an option; nor even long established facilities retained. No new installations would be considered by them.

India meanwhile, have operating nuclear power plants in the South (Kalpakkam and Kundalkulam). Hopefully, this would not cause problems for us. On the other hand, would they have surplus power which we could buy?.

In regard to the difficulty in handling a nuclear accident, we have an experience which may be indicative. In Seeduwa on the Negombo/Colombo Road was the Milco powdered milk factory. This caught fire sometime in the late seventies. The destruction was horrendous and he fire lasted for days.

Needing to pass this site, virtually daily, I could see it smoldering for weeks. There were many fire trucks standing by, apparently inactive. I was prompted to ask why they remained inactive and was given the shocking answer: “There is no water available for the fire hoses”.Tells us something about the suitability of nuclear plants for us, does it not?

Dr. U.Pethiyagoda.


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Winning hearts and minds of community



‘Winning the Hearts and Minds of the Community’
Author: Dr. Kingsley Wickremasuriya
Senior Deputy Inspector General of Police – (Retired)

Book Review
by Major-General (Retd) Lalin Fernando

This is an interesting memoir of a police officer who having served in the Volunteer force may have done equally well, in either the army or the police. He chose the police and was an exemplary if reserved senior. This is not an action-packed adventure book of daredevils or roller coaster recollections of the sharp end of police life but more about human relations with the public. Sadly and regrettably, he states that he was deprived of the highest command by the frailties of politicians. The choice of the politicians was a travesty, abnormal but not unusual. In this case, the chosen person, mentioned in the book had deserted the police years before and left the country when posted to Jaffna but had the audacity to claim political victimisation years later when the government changed. A silly claim, stupidly upheld. A chapter on political interference would not be out of place.

The book would have been much more interesting and relevant if it had recorded the terrible events of that time from the JVP terror and atrocities (1971 and 1988-9) to the murderous Eelam conflict.Here was a police officer whose mission appears to have been to build up public relations as practiced elsewhere in a terrorist setting as in Jaffna and later Batticaloa by setting up “Community Oriented Policing Programmes” to bring about law and order and harmony when relationships were under heavy strain.

This is pleasant, well-written, and easy to read. It shows in equal measure both the vicissitudes and skullduggery of the worst and best of humanity during his service in the police. It is an honest, moving, and personal insight into an eventful career with defining moments that affected the lives of many. It was a life of tackling not only lawbreakers but careerists among his own ilk while having to bear, not exceptionally, the burden of interference by power-mad, smooth-talking, corrupt politicians, their slights, and machinations. It finally ended his career prematurely.

It has fascinating tales that are humane, enlightening, and informative. It is a studious book by a prolific writer. It is a compelling story with a lively and not-too-subtle style of writing, with considerable research material included. It is close to real life, relaxing, entertaining and not too heavy. It should be made available in Sinhala and Tamil, not only in the Police Training School and Academy, police stations, zones, districts and divisions but in the reading lists of schools.

His was also an attempt as by many others to change the mentality of the police from a colonial to a national one. Colonial police would use firearms freely. National police should not. A Colony would use the army to buttress the police. A national army should only be used as a very last resort. The police are a country’s first line of defence. For this to be workable, SL’s police force should first be made independent of politicians by law as reasonably possible. A greater strength (presently nearly 75,000), higher pay, better equipment and facilities, imposing office buildings, good accommodation, improved communications, reliable transport including access to helicopters and high standards in recruitment are essential under knowledgeable leaders whose integrity is impregnable.

The book is also heartwarming, sad and at the end, maddening. It is opportune too as the author’s life work to keep the peace is falling to pieces thanks to the incorrigible, venal, mainly poorly educated and therefore easily misled and misleading, utterly corrupt and cowardly politicians the people have bred for their own selfish, cruel, greedy and bullying interests. They portray the police as aliens. The people must realise that the police reflect society and never the other way around. They will then accept their own faults, just as the police would wish to do whatever correct thinking people want them to do. If spectators rush onto the field of play to question the referee bringing the match to a halt, the police if in attendance do not arrest the referee. They disperse the mob.

It is only the police that prevented total anarchy in the country last year (2022) as those who promoted it well know. This book should be a clarion call to the police to lift themselves up by their jock straps. They, possibly one of the first (1866) if not finest police forces in the region have so far kept the country far safer than many others as even their worst critics must admit. This is despite carping criticism by those who are no better or worse than the police. There is no dearth of respected, tough-minded, well-disciplined, and fearless police officers as good leaders at all levels. They have proved themselves as fearless guardians of the law, especially when all others have failed. Thanks are due to the standards set by senior police officers, like the author and others he identifies in his book, who was affectionately known to older generations.

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