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Moulding a complete citizen through comprehensive and meaningful education

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Lessons my mother taught me

By Desamanya K H J Wijayadasa, former Secretary to the President

Education can be defined as the imparting of systematic instruction aimed at intellectual and moral upliftment as well as the development of character. Martin Luther King has defined education as follows. (I quote) “The function of education is to teach one to think critically. Intelligence plus character; that is the goal of education.” (Unquote). Traditionally education was by and large relegated to book learning and passing of examinations. Over the years education has evolved as an all encompassing, comprehensive and meaningful science which is aimed at moulding a complete citizen of high learning, sound morals and strength of character.

However, we should not forget the fact that the primary objective of education is imparting knowledge. Knowledge thus gained enables a person to practice a remunerative and worthy profession in addition to realizing the full potential of a human being. Even though Sri Lanka is lagging behind in comprehensive and meaningful education, we have achieved a 92 percent literacy rate, universal primary education, gender parity and free education including at tertiary level. This means that Sri Lanka should have a high proportion of literate, numerate, well groomed and capable young people ready to take on the world and deliver to every given specification.

But, unfortunately, this is not so. The present education system faces several major challenges related to poor quality, mismatch of curriculum with existing labour market demands, lack of trained teachers, inefficient administration and worst of all turning out half baked misfits rather than well rounded complete citizens who have gone through the mill of comprehensive and meaningful education.

The whole education system of Sri Lanka appears to be stagnating in a quagmire of indecision and confusion. While many countries have moved on to progressive teaching methods that enable children to think and make independent decisions, children in Sir Lanka still learn by rote or committing to memory and regurgitation or ruminating at examinations from memory. It is high time that Sri Lanka discarded this archaic system and replaced it with the more widely accepted system of guiding children to acquire knowledge and valuable skills through observation, enquiry and experimentation.

Also, the archaic educational system which caters largely to the study of languages, arts subjects and aesthetics should be scaled down paving the way for a shift to technical, scientific, technological, vocational and electrodynamics studies. English and Information Technology should be made compulsory subjects at the secondary level in order to keep pace with the rest of the world.

The more progressive educationists are of the view that examinations which are designed to judge a student’s ability by stating memorized facts should not be the sole method of assessing a student’s ability. Instead only the core subjects should be tested and the rest assessed through assignment work thus enlarging their thinking capacity. School education should include social and emotional training and personal development. The rationale being that, if children learn to manage their own inner selves, they will become reasonable people in their own communities.

Further, education when it is stereotyped and mechanical, can be boring and monotonous. There should be a lot of variety in course content and flexibility in the selection of subjects. In addition to book learning and passing examinations every child should be encouraged to participate in extra curricular activities such as athletics, sports, scouting and cadeting as well as literary and aesthetic activities.

In addition, the active participation of children in travel, recreation and interaction with the environment surely would inculcate qualities of patience, tolerance, team spirit and the noble quality of give and take in them.

Moulding a complete citizen through comprehensive and meaningful education is certainly neither the sole preserve nor the responsibility of teachers alone. In this endeavour the role of parents is a lot more critical. Normally, a child is admitted to school at the age of six years. Accordingly, a child spends the first five years in the sole care and custody of his/her parents. According to psychologists 90 per cent of the brain development of a child takes place during these early years. Therefore, it is the prime responsibility of parents to inculcate in the child good values and norms, good habits and manners, sound ethics and principles as well as basic skills and aptitudes of life during these early formative years.

It is also the bounden duty and responsibility of both parents and teachers to inculcate in children the noble qualities of patriotism, equality, benevolence, generosity as well as the virtues of caring and sharing. They should also ensure character building by infusing elements of honesty, integrity, truthfulness, self reliance and frugal living. The spiritual, cultural, social and aesthetic advancement of a child is as important as his or her academic and professional development. This is where parents have to play a major role.

It has been said that it is every woman’s wish to marry a handyman. Therefore, every child should be afforded the opportunity of learning basic vocational skills especially masonry, carpentry, plumbing and electricity. I remember attending such practical training classes during my primary school days, but unfortunately all this is history. It has been found that engaging in practical work enhances brain development, especially thinking capacity.

In conclusion, I wish to emphatically state that comprehensive and meaningful education is the foundation for success and stability in life. In this endeavor, undoubtedly the role of parents is critical and indispensable. It is they who can make or break the onward march of a child to realizing the full potential of comprehensive and meaningful education. I still carry nostalgic memories of a Sinhala verse which my mother drilled into me repeatedly from my very young days on the virtues of education which drove me in to take to studies diligently. This is how it went:

‘‘අල්ලට සිඟාවත් රස නැති කැවිලි කකා

කල්ගිය රෙදි වැරලි ඇඳ දැළි කුණෙන් වකා

වල්කොල බිම අතුල නිදි නොලැබ දුක්කකා

ඇල්මෙන් අකුරු උගනිව් ඉදිරි වැඩ තකා”

The English rendering of this verse is as follows:

“Begging for food and surviving on tasteless meals,

Donning discarded clothes full of dirt and grime,

Sleeping in discomfort stretched on a bed of leaves,

Learn the lessons diligently to ensure a better tomorrow”.

Last but not the least, I attribute my successful journey in life through the University of Ceylon, Peradeniya, Oxford University and the now defunct Ceylon Civil Service to the highest Administrative position in Sri Lanka of Secretary to the President largely to my mother and father who were both trained teachers. They knew exactly how to teach, what to teach and when to teach. All the knowledge they imparted is still enshrined in my mind. It is retrievable at any time. That’s the beauty of their teaching.



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BRICS emerging as strong rival to G7

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It was in the fitness of things for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to hold a special telephonic conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin recently for the purpose of enlightening the latter on the need for a peaceful, diplomatic end to the Russian-initiated blood-letting in Ukraine. Hopefully, wise counsel and humanity would prevail and the world would soon witness the initial steps at least to a complete withdrawal of invading Russian troops from Ukraine.

The urgency for an early end to the Russian invasion of Ukraine which revoltingly testifies afresh to the barbaric cruelty man could inflict on his fellows, is underscored, among other things, by the declaration which came at the end of the 14th BRICS Summit, which was held virtually in Beijing recently. Among other things, the declaration said: ‘BRICS reaffirms commitment to ensuring the promotion and protection of democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all with the aim to build a brighter shared future for the international community based on mutually beneficial cooperation.’

It is anybody’s guess as to what meanings President Putin read into pledges of the above kind, but it does not require exceptional brilliance to perceive that the barbaric actions being carried out by his regime against Ukrainian civilians make a shocking mockery of these enlightened pronouncements. It is plain to see that the Russian President is being brazenly cynical by affixing his signature to the declaration. The credibility of BRICS is at risk on account of such perplexing contradictory conduct on the part of its members. BRICS is obliged to rectify these glaring irregularities sooner rather than later.

At this juncture the important clarification must be made that it is the conduct of the Putin regime, and the Putin regime only, that is being subjected to censure here. Such strictures are in no way intended to project in a negative light, the Russian people, who are heirs to a rich, humanistic civilization that produced the likes of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, among a host of other eminent spirits, who have done humanity proud and over the decades guided humans in the direction of purposeful living. May their priceless heritage live long, is this columnist’s wish.

However, the invaluable civilization which the Russian people have inherited makes it obligatory on their part to bring constant pressure on the Putin regime to end its barbarism against the Ukrainian civilians who are not at all party to the big power politics of Eastern Europe. They need to point out to their rulers that in this day and age there are civilized, diplomatic and cost-effective means of resolving a state’s perceived differences with its neighbours. The spilling of civilian blood, on the scale witnessed in Ukraine, is a phenomenon of the hoary past.

The BRICS grouping, which encompasses some of the world’s predominant economic and political powers, if not for the irregular conduct of the Putin regime, could be said to have struck on a policy framework that is farsighted and proactive on the issue of global equity.

There is the following extract from a report on its recent summit declaration that needs to be focused on. It reads: BRICS notes the need to ensure “Meaningful participation of developing and least developed countries, especially in Africa, in global decision-making processes and structures and make it better attuned to contemporary realities.”

The above are worthy goals that need to be pursued vigorously by global actors that have taken upon themselves the challenge of easing the lot of the world’s powerless countries. The urgency of resuming the North-South Dialogue, among other questions of importance to the South, has time and again been mentioned in this column. This is on account of the fact that the most underdeveloped regions of the South have been today orphaned in the world system.

Given that the Non-aligned Movement and like organizations, that have espoused the resolution of Southern problems over the decades, are today seemingly ineffective and lacking in political and economic clout, indications that the BRICS grouping is in an effort to fill this breach is heartening news for the powerless of the world. Indeed, the crying need is for the poor and powerless to be brought into international decision-making processes that affect their wellbeing and it is hoped that BRICS’s efforts in this regard would bear fruit.

What could help in increasing the confidence of the underdeveloped countries in BRICS, is the latter’s rising economic and political power. While in terms of economic strength, the US remains foremost in the world with a GDP of $ 20.89 trillion, China is not very far behind with a GDP of $ 14.72 trillion. The relevant readings for some other key BRICS countries are as follows: India – $ 2.66 trillion, Russia – $ 1.48 trillion and Brazil $ 1.44 trillion. Of note is also the fact that except for South Africa, the rest of the BRICS are among the first 15 predominant economies, assessed in GDP terms. In a global situation where economics drives politics, these figures speak volumes for the growing power of the BRICS countries.

In other words, the BRICS are very much abreast of the G7 countries in terms of a number of power indices. The fact that many of the BRICS possess a nuclear capability indicates that in military terms too they are almost on par with the G7.

However, what is crucial is that the BRICS, besides helping in modifying the world economic order to serve the best interests of the powerless as well, contribute towards changing the power balances within the vital organs of the UN system, such as the UN Security Council, to render them more widely representative of changing global power realities.

Thus, India and Brazil, for example, need to be in the UNSC because they are major economic powers in their own right. Since they are of a democratic orientation, besides pushing for a further democratization of the UN’s vital organs, they would be in a position to consistently work towards the wellbeing of the underprivileged in their respective regions, which have tremendous development potential.

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Queen of Hearts

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She has certainly won the hearts of many with the charity work she is engaged in, on a regular basis, helping the poor, and the needy.

Pushpika de Silva was crowned Mrs. Sri Lanka for Mrs. World 2021 and she immediately went into action, with her very own charity project – ‘Lend a Helping Hand.’

When launching this project, she said: “Lend a Helping Hand is dear to me. With the very meaning of the title, I am extending my helping hand to my fellow brothers and sisters in need; in a time where our very existence has become a huge question and people battling for daily survival.”

Since ‘Lend a Helping Hand’ became a reality, last year, Pushpika has embarked on many major charity projects, including building a home for a family, and renovating homes of the poor, as well.

The month of June (2022) saw Pushpika very much in action with ‘Lend a Helping Hand.’

She made International Father’s Day a very special occasion by distributing food items to 100 poor families.

“Many are going without a proper meal, so I was very keen, in my own way, to see that these people had something to keep the hunger pangs away.”

A few days later, the Queen of Hearts made sure that 50 more people enjoyed a delicious and nutritious meal.

“In these trying times, we need to help those who are in dire straits and, I believe, if each one of us could satisfy the hunger, and thirst, of at least one person, per day, that would be a blessing from above.”

Pushpika is also concerned about the mothers, with kids, she sees on the roads, begging.

“How helpless is a mother, carrying a small child, to come to the street and ask for something.

“I see this often and I made a special effort to help some of them out, with food and other necessities.”

What makes Pushpika extra special is her love for animals, as well, and she never forgets the street dogs that are having a tough time, these days, scavenging for food.

“These animals, too, need food, and are voiceless, so we need to think of them, as well. Let’s have mercy on them, too. Let’s love them, as well.”

The former beauty queen served a delicious meal for the poor animals, just recently, and will continue with all her charity projects, on a regular basis, she said.

Through her charity project, ‘Lend a Helping Hand,” she believes she can make a change, though small.

And, she says, she plans to be even more active, with her charity work, during these troubled times.

We wish Pushpika de Silva all the very best, and look forward to seeing more of her great deeds, through her ‘Lend a Helping Hand’ campaign.

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Hope and political change:No more Appachis to the rescue

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KUPPI on the current economic and political crisis: intervention 1

by Harshana Rambukwella

In Buddhist literature, there is the Parable of the Burning House where the children of a wealthy man, trapped inside a burning house, refuse to leave it, fearful of leaving its comfort – because the flames are yet to reach them. Ultimately, they do leave because the father promises them wonderful gifts and are saved from the fire. Sri Lankans have long awaited such father figures – in fact, our political culture is built on the belief that such ‘fathers’ will rescue us. But this time around no fathers are coming. As Sri Lankans stare into an uncertain future, and a multitude of daily sufferings, and indignities continue to pile upon us, there is possibly one political and emotional currency that we all need – hope. Hope is a slippery term. One can hope ‘in-vain’ or place one’s faith in some unachievable goal and be lulled into a sense of complacency. But, at the same time, hope can be critically empowering – when insurmountable obstacles threaten to engulf you, it is the one thing that can carry you forward. We have innumerable examples of such ‘hope’ from history – both religious and secular. When Moses led the Israelites to the promised land, ‘hope’ of a new beginning sustained them, as did faith in God. When Queen Viharamahadevi set off on a perilous voyage, she carried hope, within her, along with the hope of an entire people. When Martin Luther King Jr made his iconic ‘I have a dream’ speech, hope of an America where Black people could live in dignity, struck a resonant chord and this historical sense of hope also provided inspiration for the anti-Apartheid struggle in South Africa.

This particular moment, in Sri Lanka, feels a moment of ‘hopelessness’. In March and April, this year, before the cowardly attack on the Gota Go Gama site, in Galle Face, there was a palpable sense of hope in the aragalaya movement as it spread across the country. While people were struggling with many privations, the aragalaya channeled this collective frustration into a form of political and social action, we have rarely seen in this country. There were moments when the aragalaya managed to transcend many divisions – ethnic, religious and class – that had long defined Sri Lanka. It was also largely a youth led movement which probably added to the ‘hope’ that characterized the aragalaya. However, following the May 09th attack something of this ‘hope’ was lost. People began to resign themselves to the fact that the literally and metaphorically ‘old’ politics, and the corrupt culture it represents had returned. A Prime Minister with no electoral base, and a President in hiding, cobbled together a shaky and illegitimate alliance to stay in power. The fuel lines became longer, the gas queues grew, food prices soared and Sri Lanka began to run out of medicines. But, despite sporadic protests and the untiring commitment of a few committed activists, it appeared that the aragalaya was fizzling out and hope was stagnant and dying, like vehicles virtually abandoned on kilometers-long fuel queues.

However, we now have a moment where ‘hope’ is being rekindled. A national movement is gathering pace. As the prospect of the next shipment of fuel appears to recede into the ever-distant future, people’s anger and frustration are once again being channeled towards political change. This is a do-or-die moment for all Sri Lankans. Regardless of our political beliefs, our ideological orientation, our religion or class, the need for political change has never been clearer. Whether you believe that an IMF bailout will save us, or whether you believe that we need a fundamental change in our economic system, and a socially and economically more just society, neither of these scenarios will come to pass without an immediate political change. The political class that now clings to power, in this country, is like a cancer – poisoning and corrupting the entire body politic, even as it destroys itself. The Prime Minister who was supposed to be the messiah channeling international goodwill and finances to the country has failed miserably and we have a President who seems to be in love with the idea of ‘playing president’. The Sri Lankan people have a single existential choice to make in this moment – to rise as one to expel this rotten political order. In Sri Lanka, we are now in that burning house that the Buddha spoke of and we all seem to be waiting for that father to appear and save us. But now we need to change the plot of this parable. No father will come for us. Our fathers (or appachis) have led us to this sorry state. They have lied, deceived and abandoned us. It is now up to us to rediscover the ‘hope’ that will deliver us from the misery of this economic and political crisis. If we do not act now the house will burn down and we will be consumed in its flames.

Initiated by the Kuppi Collective, a group of academics and activists attached to the university system and other educational institutes and actions.

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