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Opinion

Moving from #GotaGoHome to #SystemChange

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By Kaushalya Perera

#GotaGoHome captures a diverse range of demands. One of these is the demand for ‘kramaya peralamu’ or systemic change. If the emotional fallouts, resulting from the appointment of the new Prime Minister show us anything, it is that the struggle for long-term change in Sri Lanka’s socio-political structures will take longer and be much harder than finding ways to deal with the economic crisis upon us now.

Today, I focus on the systemic changes necessary in education. The role of education in building a livable country should be self-evident. It is telling, for instance, that during this time, we citizens have had to educate ourselves on the fundamentals. What is the demarcation between state, government and politicians’ whims? Why did companies accept a tax rebate, knowing it would damage the country’s economy so much? Can a president resign and what happens then? How does one act in a peaceful protest? What happened in Sri Lanka in 1953? And so on.

Why were we caught unawares? One would imagine that the role of education is to teach us to apply what is learnt in class to what happens around us. To reflect on our own actions. To speak up when necessary. It should allow us to examine our values and understand when individual interests and actions are harmful to society. Yet we obviously don’t have such an education system, because education itself has been in crisis for decades. How can we create mindful citizens when the very foundation of education has disintegrated?

Here’s a brief overview of the current problems in education:

Multiple ‘systems’ of education co-exist uncomfortably in the country. Pre-schools are unregulated; pre-school teachers are paid a pittance. National, provincial and private schools work under different regulations while international schools operate as companies or charities. Tertiary education is provided via technical colleges, state universities, private higher education institutions, etc.

School teachers are recruited under multiple sets of criteria to the state (national and provincial), private and international schools. Novice teachers in the state system receive approximately Rs 40,000. One might expect teachers, in private or international schools, to be paid more but this, is rarely the case. A majority of the country’s teachers (whatever the sector) learn on the job, or if they receive training before being appointed, they probably won’t receive any opportunities for in-service training.

School syllabi are similarly defective. National school syllabi are usually boring, at times outdated, and do little to counter the sexism and racism at large in our society. Foreign syllabi used in international schools may not have the same problems but are unsuitable in that they cater to life outside rather than within Sri Lanka. Tertiary education is also problematic as we regularly discuss in this column.

The state has convinced its citizens to spend their private monies on education and has thereby divested itself of the responsibility to educate its own people. The low teacher salaries in state schools is one example of neglect. Here’s another – the monies set aside for ‘welfare’ in the budget estimate of 2022 (presented last year): Rs 2,445,500,000 was allocated for welfare in Defence, as opposed to Rs 1,825,000,000 for welfare in Education and Rs 2,000,000,000 for welfare in Health. This might explain for instance, why the school meal programme—crucial in alleviating malnutrition in school-going children—was funded through a foreign grant rather than state funds (and still does not explain why the programme stopped during the Covid-19 period). Meagre state funding for education means that citizens spend their own money for education-related expenses, including transport and stationery, continuous ‘donations’, events, private tuition, cooking meals, cleaning the schools, etc.

The Aragalaya—as we have come to call it—is a time of hope for many. Yet sustained work is necessary within the institutions where we work, if we are to take this struggle beyond this specific time and place.

Politicisation, corruption and cronyism have seeped into all our institutions, including the UGC and the universities, and if this is not glaringly obvious, it is because such practices have become normalised. We have seen little critique, or resistance, against politically-backed appointments in universities over the past two decades, for example. The principle of conflict of interest is sometimes forgotten by academics. Unquestioning compliance is an illustration of our own apathy in the state higher education sector. Change is too much trouble.

The impact of a system decaying from within is slow to be felt and therefore, it will be difficult to achieve significant change in our education system. We have seen evidence of this already. Teachers’ unions have not been able to change the decline of the education sector and sustained FUTA campaigns to ‘save free education’ has not led to democratised universities.

The current crisis has shown us that successive governments have neglected the education of its citizens. We have not learnt to be citizens. With their inefficiency, corruption and callousness, our governments have shown us that we can only rely on our own networks to ‘get things done’. The ability to see these as things that need to change—to feel the need to speak up and speak out about these issues, to resist in lawful ways—are all part of educating ourselves.

When we ask for policy change, let us ask for policies that are radically different to those we have now. Currently, education is a place where we build skills that will help us compete with each other, rather than build communities. The number of qualifications we acquire is more important than how we learn or the quality of our learning. By changing these things, we can demand an education that makes us more aware of country and community; one that helps us navigate our moral and ethical quandaries as well as our economic and political ones. And to do this, we need to change our own stance towards education and move away from the individualistic, competitive ethos that has overtaken us today.

If we want an educational environment that would deliver radical change, we must begin by asking for teachers who want to teach, whether in a Montessori, primary school or university. This also means demanding that school teachers are paid a higher salary and that they receive the training they need to be inspiring and committed educators. We must also ask that our curricula be changed. None of this will happen unless the state sets aside the required resources for education and creates informed policies.

These demands may seem idealistic. How can a country in crisis, with no money for fuel or food, demand funding for education? Yet a few months ago, we would have thought that a protest in front of the President’s residence, in Mirihana, was impossible. Political scientists, language teachers, science teachers, economists and historians all have work to do. As Black feminist author bell hooks says the classroom is the ‘most radical place of possibility’. #GotaGoHome is a metaphor for a larger call for ‘system change’. I ask that we begin to imagine this change and work towards it. We can imagine more.

(Kaushalya Perera teaches at the Department of English, University of Colombo)

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



Opinion

Our long-forgotten friend can help mitigate impact of fuel shortage

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The importance of the bicycle as a mode of transportation is seemingly re-emerging in Sri Lanka. This sudden drive is mainly attributable to the ongoing economic crisis the country is faced with. The forex crisis, together with ever increasing fuel prices, has made the Sri Lankans remember their long-forgotten friend––the bicycle.

We see more and more people taking to cycling today for their daily activities out of desperation more than anything else. However, this trend needs to be encouraged not only for its economic benefits but also for its health, environmental, social (and many other) advantages.

The benefits of promoting cycling

Economic

– The economics of transportation has become a major woe. The main energy source used today in transportation in Sri Lanka is fossil fuel. This amounts to 2,081 Mn USD (or 64 % of the total fuel cost of the country) a year. In terms of percentage spending of the total foreign imports, this amounts to a whopping 10.3 %. (Source: Kumarage AS, Repositioning Sri Lanka’s Transport and Logistics Sector to lead the Economic Recovery in Sri Lanka, Organization of Professionals’ Association Journal, April 2022). By promoting the use of bicycles, we can expect to reduce a sizable amount of this colossal expenditure.

Cycling is also known to be conducive to the small-scale trader, as he comes in contact with the cyclists more often than the motorists. Thus, cycling will positively influence the small-scale economy of the country as well.

Health

– A number of studies have shown that cycling reduces the risk of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as Acute Myocardial Infarction, Coronary Heart Disease, Cerebro Vascular Disease, Type 2 Diabetes, stress and many psychological diseases. Cycling, while improving the overall health of the people, will also reduce the healthcare costs, appreciably in the long term.

Environmental

– Increased use of fossil fuels for transportation has in turn become one of the leading causes of environmental pollution, global warming and climate change, the world over, three of the major calamities the world has come to be plagued with today. By cycling we can reduce air pollution by reducing the noxious gases, such as carbon oxides, nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide, benzene and particulate matter. It also reduces noise pollution, and helps in mitigating global warming and climate change.

Social

– Cycling is also known to promote social interactions among people by encouraging networking and collaborations between them. This will influence the social health of the community positively.

The activities proposed

– The programme to promote cycling should be implemented, as a pilot project, with the participation of the state sector employees in some selected districts. Depending on the success thereof, it could be extended to the other sectors and districts.

1. As the first step towards promoting cycling nationwide, we propose that it be promoted among the state employees as their main mode of travel (to work). In this regard, we propose that they be paid an incentive in keeping with the distance they cover.

2. Bicycles could also be used by those who live far away from their workplace; they can cycle to the main bus or railway station. In both these situations, the cyclists should be paid accordingly.

3. Cyclists should be provided with facilities for bathing and changing at workplaces.

4. The government should take all measures aimed at making travel, safe and hassle free for cyclists. New laws should be made for this purpose, if necessary.

5. To lessen traffic congestion and increase safety of the cyclists, one-way traffic for the motorists in parallel roads should be encouraged wherever possible.

6. Cyclists should be provided with facilities to purchase bicycles, spare parts and accessories at discount rates.

7. Encourage production of bicycles, spare parts and accessories in Sri Lanka. Promote bicycle repair services countrywide.

8. Plant and maintain trees on the roadside for the benefit of cyclists. This will also help reduce air pollution and ambient temperature.

9. Liaise with major cycling associations in the world like the World Cycling Association, the Dutch Cycling Embassy, etc, in order to update knowledge and skills relating to promoting cycling in the country.

10. In keeping with the principle of “polluter pays” a dedicated tax could be imposed on motor vehicles, and the revenue therefrom used to promote cycling.

Dr. PRASANNA COORAY

President

Consumers & Customers Union

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Opinion

Catastrophe that has hit Ukraine

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The coup, or revolution, in Ukraine in 2014, as a result of the Maidan Square uprising, enabled extremist forces to take control of Ukraine. Many of them have Fascist ideology even to this day. In 1945, Russia had chased the German Nazis back to Berlin at a terrible cost in Russian lives. Now, people with this same mentality have taken power in Kiev with the devilish help of the American CIA – and they are hostile to Russians in Russia and even Russian-speaking Ukrainians, who number about a third of the total population of 60 million Ukrainians.

This minority of Russian-speaking people are mostly located towards the East of the country, with many centred in the towns and cities known as the Donbas. These people did not want to be subjected to Nazi, Fascist unpleasant treatment, so they agitated to be independent. They formed their own militias, men from the army defected and brought weapons from the army! The army and the militias fought each other to a standstill. In response, the Ukrainian army-built lines of trenches and other defences along the Donbas, especially near towns with important or vital industries.

Over time, relations deteriorated and the army started indiscriminately shelling the Donbas – they were killing their own people! This tragedy occurred for a period of eight years. About 14,000 civilians were killed by illegal random fire. No reporting on this in the “morally correct” west, and this story was ignored. Fascist thugs made Mariupol steelworks their headquarters in the Donbas. Early this year, 2022, the Ukrainian army was seen massing nearby for a full-scale attack on the rebels of the Donbas. Around 200, 000 of the best fighting men of all the Ukrainian army were to be used to finally crush the Russian-speaking rebels of the Donbas.

At the same time, the US was gearing up to take some land in the Donbas area – possibly in Crimea. The US considered Ukraine as their backyard, and they wanted to control the Black Sea and pin down Russian access to the sea – more devilish ideas to undermine and weaken Russia!

Russian ‘Special Military Operation

’:

But Russia was watching, and on 24 February, it launched its ‘Special Military Operation’ to counter the hostile actions in the Donbas. The first thing they did was to destroy all the ground radars, rendering the Ukrainian air force incapable of targeting accurately. Then came a great parade of propaganda and lies about Russian failures and losses, all fictions and distortions which were untrue, but were misleading to those without access to the facts. President Putin had so many ailments he alone could fill a hospital! All fiction. The west’s propaganda war is a remarkable feature of this military excursion.

At the outset of the Special Military Operation there were many similarities between the Russian and Ukrainian forces, and their equipment. But there were some glaring differences, too.

Russian forces were full time, professional soldiers, well trained in the specific tasks they were responsible for: they were a fully professional, competent army operating advanced equipment. They had high-tech equipment and knew how to handle it and use it to its fullest, to its best.

Each aircraft, battle tank, drone or radar station carries electronic equipment. This creates a node forming part of a computer network which exchanges information. The information fed into this network is processed by powerful computers. The result is that the targeting of enemy positions is exact, resulting in highly efficient warfare. It is efficient, not least because the Russian army wants to avoid targeting civilians. In the Donbas, all the people were related kinsfolk, being Russian speakers.

This required much caution in targeting, as the Ukrainian army was hiding among the civilians. The Russian army was obliged to advance slowly, so as to do as little damage as possible. This targeting efficiency also had the benefit of using ammunition economically. It was a progressive, brutal de-militarization of the Ukrainian army in Donbas using the combined military forces of Russia.

No-body knows when peace will arrive in Ukraine. It seems likely that, after going to all this effort, Russia will continue on and conquer the port of Odessa, and may even continue onwards to link up with Transnistria.

Note that this death and destruction could all have been avoided if Ukraine had implemented the Minsk Accords. They acted in bad faith and now suffer the consequences of that dishonesty.

Wild speculations are made in the West about the dangers of nuclear war. But these generals, colonels and western elites should know, as a matter of personal professional pride, that the official “Russian Military Doctrine” spells out in sections 26 and 27 the criteria for the use of nuclear weapons. This will happen only when outside actions pose an existential (real) threat to Russia. Russia will react with Nukes either: if Russia is hit by a nuclear explosion or if an army invades and approaches the centre, say, Moscow.

A Professional Army using High–tech Equipment:

For this success, Russian soldiers had to be well educated in maths and physics, and because of the extreme complexity of modern war, they must have a serious attitude. They had to know all about military science: operational art and planning, informational nodes, and net centric warfare. The Russian army engages in reconnaissance, intelligence gathering, surveillance, and targeting. Radar can give targeting information in 23 seconds, requiring defence alertness and readiness.

It is unlikely the Ukrainian army is so well educated and trained. Firing indiscriminately on the Donbas and killing people and the use of prohibited cassette munitions as seen on world news sites, does indicate a lack of discipline. This unprofessionalism has cost them dearly.

The Ukrainian army gives losses at approximately: 20,000 killed, 64,000 missing in action, and perhaps 30,000 men wounded. Russians give about: 5,000 men in special Russian holding camps and 2,500 men in Donbas holding camps.

Legal experts in Russia, and Donbas experts, are, even now sifting through all the cases of the detained men. Normal soldiers will be given trials and sentencing for any wrongdoing, but those with a background of supporting Fascism will be shipped to Siberia for further investigation. One of the stated aims of the Russian establishment is to de-Nazify the Ukrainian army.

The Role of Education in Development of a Country

: Throughout their lives Russian children get much more science, physics and mathematics (STEM) than schools in the west. The standard set by the best Russian college entrance examinations is high, putting the American schools and colleges in the shade. There are no multiple-choice questions, answers are either right or wrong. These best Russian schools are attended by many bright, thirsty minds, each waiting to drink up the education offered.

This careful selection and development of bright scientific minds has enabled Russia to develop really advanced weapons and rockets, way ahead of the USA. For example, it launched the orbiting Sputnik into space well before the Americans. This act alone sent the US administration into a panic. They, in response, developed the high altitude U2 spy plane to go and see what the Russians were up to! Recently, because the US Shuttle was out of service, Russia was providing the Americans with a shuttle service to the international space station. A group of young engineers, all under 30 years, designed the SU 57, a highly successful fighter. Russia has designed and successfully tested hypersonic weapons – which the USA is struggling to catch up with.

In truth, the main war between East and West is being played out at the school desk, and Russia is winning!

See Larry Johnson’s film on YouTube – in English

PRIYANTHA HETTIGE

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Opinion

Save us from our govt.!

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When watching daily news bulletins, on several local TV channels, one could observe two significant matters.

One is how Gotabaya Rajapaksa shamelessly meets foreign diplomats and officers of international organizations, who are well aware of the grave situation of the country, and also the prime reason for it.

Remember, as kids, how we hide from our parents, or teachers, when some small mistake happens – that is because we were ashamed, and afraid of punishment. And ther, too, it would have been only our own mistake, not by the whole family of ours!

Next is how the Police and armed forces are let loose on the men, women and children who have been waiting in queues for hours or days. The authorities are not finding ways to stop queuing or at least maintain some order at those places, but chastise the people, for electing as Basil Rajapaksa had said, a stupid, clueless president and an incompetent government.

The greatest disasters we have faced since Independence are the JVP insurrection, the LTTE war and the tsunami in 2004, and during those times the people were protected by then governments; now Sri Lankans have to struggle against the government, which is steadily throttling them to death.

BUDDHI PERERA

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