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Myopia in arts stream education in state universities in Sri Lanka

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By Samanthi Senaratne and Sunil Dahanayake

(Continued from yesterday’s Midweek Review)

We noted improvements in English language teaching and learning at the arts faculties of the USJ and University of Sabaragamuwa. The Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences (FHSS) of the USJ offers two compulsory English courses with a credit value of 06 (i.e., 300 notional hours of teaching and learning) for all first year students and a compulsory English course of 01 credit value for all third year students. Further, compulsory credit courses in English language are offered in the second year for the students who follow their degree programmes in the Sinhala medium. The Department of English and Linguistics of FHSS, the USJ has pioneered in offering English as a degree programme to the students who have not studied English Language and Literature as a subject at GCE A/L. They have also pioneered in introducing an honours degree in Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL). The University of Sabaragamuwa offers four compulsory courses in English with 10 credit value for the first and second year students of the Faculty of Social Sciences and Languages. These courses have been designed to provide a progression in grammar, speaking, listening, reading and writing in the English language to the students. Furthermore, the students selected to this faculty can study TESL as a minor subject in any honours degree and major or minor in general degree programmes. They also have the opportunity to specialise English in arts degree programmes, even if they have not studied English as a subject for the GCE A/L.

These changes made by the arts faculties have also contributed to improve the employability levels of their graduates. The AG’s report highlights that the FHSS of the USJ has been able to reduce their graduate unemployment rate from 52.1% in 2016 to 12.2% in 2018. We are of the opinion that all state universities of Sri Lanka need to include at least one compulsory subject in the English language and literature, preferably in the first two years, with formal examinations similar to the other subjects, in all faculties. When the university students master the English language skills, they can improve the other soft skills as their social interactions will increase both nationally and internationally.

These success stories show that the Ministry of Education and the UGC need to increase the opportunities available for the students to learn English. This includes the provision of qualified English teachers, teaching resources and learning opportunities at schools and universities. It is also required to increase the number of students who take English as a GCE A/L subject as they can be trained as English teachers, through teacher training colleges and universities.

Emeritus Professor and former State Minister for Higher Education, Dr. Rajiva Wijesinghe, who has made some effort to improve this situation, expressed the following comments on the 26th of November, 2013 – at a national conference on the theme ‘Supplementing ELT through Language Arts & Theatre’.

“We had also made plans for better use of the Regional English Support Centres to upgrade English Teacher Training, and provide ready access to degrees that would improve the professional capacities of English teachers. But all this was reversed, largely because of lethargy, and the incapacity to think and plan coherently which has so adversely affected our education system over the years. And, in addition, there is, I fear, also continuing suspicion of English, and a determination on the part of decision-makers to prevent our rural populations from having access to the language which is the only way of ensuring equity and equality of opportunity in the current age. In short, English continues to be the possession of the privileged, and in particular those in authority who use the language of nationalism to keep the less privileged in check, whilst, of course, ensuring that their own children have English, and English medium education, and often foreign degrees.”

We share similar sentiments and believe that all English Departments of state universities in Sri Lanka should understand the ground reality of arts education in Sri Lanka and focus on their legitimate role of propagating English knowledge among university and school students.

The Issue of Unemployment of Arts Graduates

One puzzling question comes to our mind is why these liberal arts graduates, produced by the arts faculties of Sri Lankan universities, cannot make a living, based on their education, and fit into the society with their degrees. Why they are sitting on the wooden platforms in front of the Fort Railway Station and various other public places is a question that needs to be answered by these academics who have expressed concerns against the AG’s report. As graduates of a state university, we feel sad, embarrassed and have sympathy for these graduates, who are doing ‘Satyagraha’ to get others’ attention on their unemployment and living issues.

Our opinion is that finding productive employment for the arts graduates of state universities in Sri Lanka has evolved over a period of time since the late 1960s. The youth insurrections in 1971, 1988 and current violent political student movements in state universities may be a result of these unemployment issues and hopelessness in youths due to limited opportunities available for them in terms of employment and resulting implications on their living standards. The government policy-makers, university administrators and academics in the universities are responsible in varying levels for the current state of the problems faced by Arts stream university students and graduates of Sri Lankan universities.

Based on the audit report of the AG and our experience, we have identified several interrelated issues associated with the unemployment of arts graduates in Sri Lanka as follows: lack of English communication and IT skills; limited opportunities for internships; reluctance to adapt to the social environment; and inflexible academic enrolment system in the universities.

The Inflexible University Academic Enrolment System in State Universities

Sri Lankan state universities are compartmentalised and adopt the model of offering degree programmes with one subject major. There are limited opportunities available for the students for inter-faculty and intra-faculty enrolments and doing more than one subject major similar to the universities in developed countries. This need has to be addressed by the UGC and the Ministry of Education, and the students of Sri Lankan state universities should be allowed to complete double major degree programmes within a four-year period instead of the conventional model of one major degree programme. These double major degree programmes are also identified as a mechanism allowing the university students for inter-faculty and intra-faculty subject enrolments. For example, a student in the Arts stream can be allowed to complete Business Administration, Accounting and Finance, IT, Law or Science as a second major. On the other hand, Accounting or Business Administration students can be allowed to complete a second major in English, Political Science, Sociology, Law or IT subjects. In developed countries, the students are allowed to complete two or three major subject areas for their undergraduate degree programmes. The inter-faculty enrolment will increase the importance of arts education in Sri Lanka. The arts faculties should be happy to take students from other faculties, such as Management, Engineering, Medicine and Science so that the university students will become valuable citizens enriched with ethics, values and their ability to think out of the box will be developed. They become productive citizens who can understand the problems of the society as they get the opportunity to study subjects such as Economics, Political Science, Literature, History and Sociology as part of the degree programme. The role of arts faculty academics will also be expanded under such academic structure. We feel the time is opportune for us to broadly review the existing system of education in state universities of Sri Lanka.

Further, we noted that some state universities namely Moratuwa, Wayamba and Uva-Wellassa do not have arts faculties. However, we noted that leading technological universities, such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the California Institute of Technology (CalTech) (USA) have faculties of arts and humanities as they provide the liberal arts knowledge required for the students, who major in technological subject streams. These two universities are ranked as the numbers 1 and 6 respectively in the world university rankings (QS Rankings, 2021). We suggest that every state university should have an arts faculty to inculcate the languages and social sciences for the students to understand the environment in which they work and live.

Developing Positive Thinking in University Students and Graduates

The students at state universities in Sri Lanka should be inculcated with the attitude to undertake the employment opportunities without considering the status of the job from the undergraduate days. They should be made aware that we live in an egalitarian society and not to be embarrassed about the status of the job. The undergraduates should be encouraged to do casual or part time jobs as self-financing opportunities to meet their needs while studying for the degree programmes. We noted that the university students engage in such part time jobs in Australia and the USA to finance their education, even the students coming from rich families. Doing such jobs for self-financing also provides the university students an exposure to various activities and organisations. The universities should provide the students with adequate computer labs with flexible hours to improve their IT skills.

Conclusions

The Auditor-General’s report on “Propensity to Tend Education under the Arts Stream and the Unemployment of Arts Graduates”, and subsequent dialogue indicate that Arts stream education should be reformed in schools and universities. We suggest that the improvement of the English language competency of school and university students should be a high priority of the country, in this context. We conclude that the lack of English language skills, inflexible student enrolment systems of universities and inadequate social skills have contributed towards the unemployment of arts graduates coming out of state universities.

In addition to the English language skills, the other areas that should be improved are IT literacy, inculcating positive attitude towards life and work, and provision of internship opportunities alongside subject specific knowledge and skills. The university students should be allowed to do double-major degree programmes with inter-faculty and intra-faculty enrolments. When there is a proper policy direction and pragmatic programmes for arts education, they can be used as the basis for fund allocation from the national budget to promote arts education in the country. The academics of arts faculties can play a lead role in policy-making, curriculum development and programme implementation. This will enable them to legitimately claim that they have contributed towards producing liberal arts graduates in true sense and these graduates will not be a burden to the society.

The word “myopia’’ is taken for this article from the classic article of “Marketing Myopia’’ published in the Harvard Business Review (HBR) by late Marketing Professor, Theodore Levitt in 1960. Levitt argues that the companies are in the process of producing goods and services without understanding the long-term needs and wants of customers and consequently perish in the long run. Likewise, if arts faculties of state universities in Sri Lanka fail to understand the long-term needs of the students, graduates and social, political and economic environment in which they work, they will be producing graduates without knowing the customer needs. It is better to be far-sighted and introduce necessary changes to be compatible with the aspirations of the society.

 

The first and corresponding author is Senior Professor in Accounting at the Faculty of Management Studies and Commerce, University of Sri Jayewardenepura. Her email address is samanthisenaratne@sjp.ac.lk.



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Features

Amusement ride brought to life on big screen Jungle Cruise

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By Tharishi Hewavithanagamage

Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra from screenplay written by Glenn Ficarra, John Requa, and Michael Green, ‘Jungle Cruise’ is loosely based on Walt Disney’s theme park attraction of the same name. After success of the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ franchise, it comes as no surprise that Disney wanted to create another ride-based movie, this time featuring one of its first rides. The riverboat amusement ride was the only attraction to exist in the Adventureland themed section on Disneyland’s opening day in 1955. The live-action riverboat adventure stars Dwayne Johnson, Emily Blunt, Jack Whitehall, Jesse Plemons, and Paul Giamatti.

The film is set in 1916, and follows Dr. Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt) in a fervent search for a mystical tree whose petals known as Tears of the Moon, are said to have healing properties. Her strong belief that she could bring about medical breakthroughs and save numerous lives, prompts her to embark on the adventure of a lifetime, deep into the Amazon rainforest.

With a map in hand, Lily along with her brother McGregor (Jack Whitehall) enlist the help of skipper and swindler Frank Wolff (Dwayne Johnson) to help navigate the vast waters of the rainforest. Coveting the mystical petals for their own goals are Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons) and a team of 400-year old cursed conquistadors led by Aguirre (Edgar Ramírez). In a race against time, the bad guys and the jungle, Lily must place her trust in Frank if she is to ever reach the tree, but it’s easier said than done.

The latest Disney movie is definitely fun to watch. It’s a classic, and far too predictable, adventure, where a small group of protagonists venture into the unknown. The movie obviously borrows heavily from big screen hits like ‘Indiana Jones’, ‘The Mummy’ franchise, ‘Anacondas: Hunt for the Blood Orchid’ and even the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ franchise. This film is a patch-work of tropes.

The two-hour movie also packs a lot, which is precisely why the plot gets murkier as the audiences and protagonists cruise through. The big picture is brimming with smaller side stories which include characters that aren’t essential to the plot and in the end remain forgettable, like Paul Giamatti’s crusty harbormaster Nilo, who unfortunately falls into the margins of the movie. And scenes such as Prince Joachim talking to bees, makes the film utterly nonsensical. However, the strongest points of the movie are seen in the strengthening relationships and character development, which receive just about enough screen time to hold the story together. And while there is no overarching theme for this tale, it handles themes like women empowerment and exoticism.

‘Jungle Cruise’ offers audiences an imaginative look at deeper areas of the Amazon. The titular jungle, Frank’s beloved boat and adorable pet Jaguar Proxima are CGI highlights, whereas most other effects, notably the ragtag supernatural conquistadors, who look like they hung out with Davy Jones for too long, fall flat.

The film also delivers meticulously choreographed action sequences that showcase each individual character’s physical prowess. Everyone gets a chance to throw a punch with good form, not just The Rock. The film also draws in ideas and references from the actual ride. The humor, a courtesy of Frank’s pun-laden jokes is an actual reference to the theme-park attraction. The ride is known for its corny jokes, all delivered by skippers who narrate the adventure to visitors. Everything comes together to make the film a fun-filled experience. It falls short of a strong plot but is driven forward by the performance of the two leads.

An unlikely pair, both Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt showcase their stellar acting skills. Blunt brings a strong charisma as an intrepid scholar and adventurer, breaking barriers in ‘a man’s world’ through her role as Dr. Lily Houghton. Blunt expertly navigates the character’s inner nerd and heroine in doing amazing stunts and even takes on Johnson’s muscular self. Johnson pours his heart and soul into his character Frank. At first glance Frank comes across as a rogue character with no depth and mainly supplies humor to the tale, but as the story unfolds Johnson taps into deeper aspects of the character. The Blunt-Johnson pairing oddly makes their banter fun, but the sense of awkwardness can be overwhelmingly uncomfortable in some scenes.

Jack Whitehall’s role as Lily’s not-so-adventurous brother McGregor, is Disney’s latest attempt to introduce a gay character, but fails to leave a deep impression. It also seems like it’s never a good adventure without the nefarious Germans trying to kill everyone, but Jesse Plemons brings more comedic relief than menace to his role as Prince Joachim. The conquistador villain Aguirre played by Edgar Ramírez, remains sidelined and underused.

At the end of the day, ‘Jungle Cruise’ is a fun summer adventure that everyone can enjoy. Although the film doesn’t meet the standards set by their cooler counterpart ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’, ‘Jungle Cruise’ brings its own unique quirkiness that saves it from drowning completely.

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Astrologers suggested he be ordained

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Ven. Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Thera

Ven. Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Thera was an eminent scholar monk in the nineteenth century. He was the founder of the Vidyodaya Pirivena.

He was born in the village of Hettigoda in Hikkaduwa on 20-01-1827.

As was the Sinhala custom, his horoscope was cast by an eminent astrologer who predicted that the child was under the evil influence of the planets and that he will have a life of misfortune, with a suggestion that he be ordained. The parents then consulted several other eminent astrologers who too, made similar predictions.

(As later events proved, the predictions happened to be from those who had not properly mastered the science of astrology, or due to the inaccurate time of birth recorded).

As per the predictions, his parents then decided to ordain him. With that in view, he was given only a temple-oriented education, with no formal schooling.

When he was about 14 years old, preparations were made to ordain him at an auspicious time. But, as the auspicious time was fast approaching, he was found missing.

After he was found, he told his father not to ordain him and bring the Buddha Sasana into disrepute, as his astrological predictions were adverse.

However, he was ordained later as Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Thera, of his own volition.

Nobody ever thought, at the time, that he would one day be a scholar of great repute.

The following year, he sojourned at the Mapalagama Temple, in the Galle District during the Vas Season (rainy season) with his preceptor Mobotuwana Revatha Thera and several other monks.

This young Sumangala Samanera (novice) endeared himself to the devotees, with his disciplined demeanour and with his sermons, based on the Jathaka stories (stories of the former lives of the Buddha). One such devotee – John Cornelis Abeywardena, an English scholar (an ancestor of the present day Galle politician Vajira Abeywardena) volunteered to teach English to this young inspiring preacher.

It was a time when some bhikkhus were engaged in native medical treatment. And Sumangala Thera, then still a novice, was to answer this question as to whether the bhikkhus could engage in such a practice.

He construed that it was harmless to treat the hapless, destitute patients, friends or relations, provided it was not for any material gain and that it was not a serious violation of the Vinaya rules.

While travelling by train, one day, this Samanera met a group of pilgrims from Siam (now Thailand), coming down south, after a pilgrimage to Anuradhapura.

The pilgrims knew only their Siam language and the Pali language, resulting in they being cut off from the local populace.

One of them, half-heartedly spoke to this Samanera in the Pali lanugage. It was then that he realised that he was spaking to a Pali scholar. This resulted in exchange of views between the two of them.

Later he continued with his higher learning under several reputed venerable preceptors and also authored several valuable books.

During the Vas Season, in that year 1858, he sojourned at the Bogahawatta Temple, in Galle, and commenced publishing a newspaper for Buddhists named “Lanka Loka”.

He was a close friend of Col. Henry Steele Olcott, who arrived in Ceylon in the year 1880.

During those colonial days, the first class compartments in trains were more or less reserved for the white masters. Quite often, these compartments were seen going empty, except for one or two of them, while the second and third classes were crammed. Though some Sri Lankans had the means to travel first class, they didn’t have the courage to do so. There were others who did not care a damn for the white skins and unhestatingly travelled first class.

One day Sumangala Nayaka Thera was travelling to Kandy and entered a first class compartment, occupied by two high- spirited Englishmen.

With characteristic arrogance they subjected the Nayaka Thera to a barrage of vulger comments and rude insults.

“This old fellow has, by mistake, got into this compartment” one of them said.

“No, this is not a mistake. He is purposely, fraudulently, travelling first class with a third class ticket.”

“Shall we hand him over to the Railway Authorities?” asked the other.

The Thera gazed at them silently with a benign smile on his face.

At Polgahawela, the train was shunted into a siding, for the train carrying Sir Arthur Gordon, Governor of Ceylon, who was returning to Colombo, after a holiday, was due at any moment.

The train arrived and the Governor’s special compartment drew up right alongside the one occupied by the venerable monk. Glancing out of the window, the Governor saw Sumangala Thera and a smile of pure pleasure shone on the Governor’s face. For he and the learned monk were close friends. Scholars both, they visited each other quite often and spent many hours in erudite discussion.

“My dear High Priest! Fancy meeting you like this!” said Sir Gordon, opening the door of his compartment and walking into the one occupied by the Thera. They were engaged in a lively conversation, in English, and the train was 11 minutes late.

With the Governor’s departure, the two louts now crestfallen and repentant at their boorish behaviour, profusely apologised to the Thera.

With a smile on his face, the Thera, accepted their apologies with a brief exhortation. Thereafter they were engaged in a lovely conservation till the journey’s end.

Once there was a clash between some Buddhists who went in a procession and some Catholics at Maggona, resulting in the death of a Catholic.

As a sequel, a Buddhist named Seeman Fernando was sentenced to death. On representations made by the Nayaka Thera to the Governor, Seeman Fernando was released.

One day, a group of pilgrims that also included some members of the Cambodian Royal Family, went to Kandy with the Nayaka Thera for an exposition of the Tooth Relic.

It was a non-event as no prior intimation had been made to the Dalada Maligawa authorities in time.

The next morning, the Thera was walking leisurely along the Nuwara Wewa, when Governor Gordon, who was going in a horse drawn chariot saw the Nayaka Thera and after greeting him indulged in a lively conversation. When he told him about the non-event of the exposition of the tooth relic the previous day, the Governor took immediate steps for a special exposition, directing the Government Agent to make the necessary arrangements.

In the year 1873, he founded the Vidyodaya Pirivena – a seat of Buddhist higher learning. It was his greatest service to Buddhism.

When the permit to have a perahera was first introduced at the turn of this centry, the Nayaka Thera, as Head of Vidyodaya, sought permission to hold the annual perahera of the Pirivena. Permission was at first refused, but mysteriously granted a few days later.

Despite the refusal, the Nayaka Thera had gone ahead with the arrangements to hold the perahera, and when a senior police officer on horseback brought the permit personally to the High Priest, he contemptuously rejected it and sent the officer away.

This incident was reported to the I.G.P. who, in turn, reported it to the Governor of the colony of Ceylon.

The Governor, a close friend and admirer of Ven. Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Thera, sent his Maha Mudliyar, Sir Solomon Dias Bandaranaike, as his personal emissary, to respectfully request the learned scholar monk to come to Queen’s House to discuss the matter, as His Excellency feared that the act of the Nayaka Thera would be an undersirable precedent.

“I refused to accept the police permit for this reason,” the Nayaka Thera, told the Governor. “When I first asked for permission to hold the perahera, permission was refused. A few days later, permission was granted. This indicates that permits are given, not according to any law, but at the whims and fancies of police personnel, which is all wrong. That is why I refused the permit that was given on second thoughts. The freedom to practise the Buddhist religion and its rites have been guaranteed in the Kandyan Convention, and I shall be grateful if you and your minions will kindly remember that.”

The chastened Governor was profuse in his apologies to the outspoken scholar monk.

The Nayaka Thera was taken ill on the 21st April 1911 and passed away on the 29th (about 110 years ago).

Perhaps he would never have envisaged, that his much cherished Vidyodaya Pirivena would be no more on a tidal wave, in the years to come.

 

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Talented and versatile

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Shareefa Thahir is not only popular, as a radio personality, but she also has a big following on social media. Each time she uploads a new photo, or an event where she is in the spotlight, the ‘likes’ and ‘comments’ keep soaring. Shareefa does the scene at the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (Radio Sri Lanka – 97.4 and 97.6) as an English announcer, and news reader, and she is also a freelance TV presenter, and news anchor, on Rupavahini.

Had a chat with this talented, and versatile, young lady, and this is how it all went…

1. How would you describe yourself?

In just a few words, I would say a simple, easy-going person. And, my friends would certainly endorse that.

2. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

I love myself, and I accept whatever laws I may have. So, obviously, there’s nothing that I would want to change in myself.

3. If you could change one thing about your family, what would it be?

Absolutely nothing because they are amazing…just the way they are (and that hit by Bruno Mars ‘Just The way You Are’ came to mind when you asked me this question!)

4. School?

Melbourne International, and Gateway College. I was the captain of my house and participated in athletics – track events, etc.

5. Happiest moment?

Oh, I will never forget the day I won the Raigam Award for my work on television.

6. What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Accept yourself and enjoy the tiny things in life.

7. Are you religious?

I believe in God, but I don’t think you should go about announcing it. I stay true to my heart.

8. Are you superstitious?

A little …..stitious! Hahaha! Just kidding – not at all!

9. Your ideal guy?

Someone who accepts me for who I am, and who is supportive in my journey…like I would be in his.

10. Which living person do you most admire?

I would say Jennifer Lopez, for the simple reason that she is still very energetic, and active, for her age (52), keeps herself in good shape, and still has a huge fan base.

11. Which is your most treasured possession?

Yes, I would say my talent.

12. If you were marooned on a desert island, who would you like as your companion?

My best friend as I would certainly need someone to chat with! Hahaha!

13. Your most embarrassing moment?

Saying ‘good morning’ to viewers on an evening live show!

14. Done anything daring?

Not yet. I wonder when I would get that opportunity to do something…real daring, like, let’s say, climbing Mount Everest!

15. Your ideal vacation?

A life without social media, in Greece, enjoying the beauty of nature.

16. What kind of music are you into?

Oh, I can go on and on about this; it depends on my mood. I love alternate rock, mostly, but I enjoy reggae, and pop, too.

17. Favourite radio station?

SLBC’s Radio Sri Lanka.

18. Favourite TV station?

Channel Eye (for obvious reasons).

19 What would you like to be born as in your next life?

Myself…again.

20. Any major plans for the future?

I’m hoping to start a new venture. However, I’m keeping my fingers crossed, as right now the scene is pretty dicey, with this virus being so unpredictable.

 

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