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Prevent growth of extremism through stronger institutions

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Priyantha Kumara, who was lynched in Pakistan

By Jehan Perera

The killing of a Sri Lankan, in Pakistan, by a frenzied mob, who accused him of committing an act of blasphemy, serves as a grim reminder of the ever-present danger of pent-up emotion exploding in society. Over the eons, religion has served to humanize the more primitive nature, lurking within human beings.  “Be kind to the stranger in your midst, because you were once strangers in the land of Egypt,” is the biblical injunction too often ignored by the very people who profess to follow its teachings. It is not only in Pakistan that such inhuman acts have occurred, especially when there has been a failure of national leadership to instill a higher ethos of morality in the people, too often for the sake of electoral gain.

Prime Minister Imran Khan of Pakistan has been accused of defending Pakistan’s blasphemy law and promoting Islamic fundamentalism to come to power and now to shore up support for his government that is failing to solve the problems of the people.  A clause of the constitution mandates the death penalty for any “imputation, insinuation or innuendo” against the Holy Prophet.  Presently Pakistan faces economic sanctions by the EU, as does Sri Lanka, due to its adherence to this law and other human rights issues.   The EU has raised issues related to the protection of journalists, religious extremism, misuse of blasphemy laws, and forced conversion in some parts of the country. A compromised political environment in which there is impunity leads people to take the law into their own hands according to their notions of what is right and wrong.

Mobilising the emotions of people, whether by religion or ethnic nationalism, to gain and retain power, is like sowing the wind and reaping the whirlwind.  President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and other members of the Sri Lankan government have expressed their strong condemnation of the heinous crime against its citizens and demanded justice.  Prime Minister Khan has pledged justice and referred to the “day of shame” for Pakistan.  More than a hundred alleged participants in the crime have been arrested. There have also been images of Pakistani civil society groups saying sorry for what has happened.  Likewise, Sri Lankan civil society will also recall the support that Pakistan gave to Sri Lanka during the years of war and, diplomatically, on the issues of human rights violations raised by sections of the international community.

DANGEROUS MIX

It is also necessary for Sri Lankans to be mindful about what has happened within Sri Lanka itself during the JVP insurrection, the 1983 riots, and, more recently, in Aluthgama, Digana and Kurunegala.  In all of these instances, there was a measure of state complicity, or inaction, which is worse than the savage deeds of a mob as the state represents the civilization of the country.  This state failure has been on account of the over-politicisation of the state machinery to the point where senior officers of the state, most of whom have joined the state for idealistic reasons, cannot and do not perform their duties due to political interference.  In a manner similar to Prime Minister Khan, President Rajapaksa, and the current government, won elections by catering to the nationalism and fears of the ethnic majority, with some of its allies spewing hatred towards the ethnic and religious minorities.

There are disturbing signs that the situation of state failure is growing more serious in Sri Lanka.  The release of former Governor Azath Salley after he had been in remand jail for eight months on charges that the court said were not sustainable. All charges against him by the Attorney General were dismissed as they lacked merit.  The injustice done to him and his family, the loss of eight months of his life and his reputation, require reparations which may be forthcoming as he is a person of stature.  There will be countless others who are less able to fight their cases, like the former Governor did.  In addition, there have been several killings in police custody of prisoners who are alleged to have tried to escape when taken to find their store of weapons or in cross fire or by suicide.  Making matters worse is that in some of these cases the families and lawyers of the imprisoned persons have given advance warning that those held in custody are scheduled to be killed, but nothing is done and the deaths take place.

The same inability or unwillingness to ensure accountability can be seen at multiple levels, be it in relation to the manner in which the three-decade long war ended, or the Easter Sunday bombings, or the Central Bank bond scandal, or the sugar tax scandal, the Yugadanavi Power Plant issue and, most recently, the explosion of large numbers of cooking gas cylinders which have led to deaths and burning down of people’s homes.  In none of these cases has investigations led to the masterminds being found and meted out justice. With time, the cases might be forgotten and the wrongdoers get away with their crimes. Perhaps it is in apprehension of the potential crisis situation in the country that the Supreme Court has written a strong judgement in a case that is representative of the people’s sense of compassion and care for all living beings as directed by the sacred religious texts.   This was with regard to whether elephants captured from the wild and taken to homes and temples as objects of social prestige should be returned to their supposed owners or released to the wild or sent to protected sanctuaries.

GOOD GOVERNANCE

In a decision that can have far reaching ramifications for the rule of law, and for the system of checks and balances, and wisely in a case that is less politically controversial, the Court cited a famous judgement by Lord Denning in the English Courts where he said, “It is settled in our constitutional law that in matters that concern the public at large the Attorney General is the guardian of the public interest.  Although he is a member of the government of the day, it is his duty to represent the public interest with complete objectivity and detachment.  He must act independently of any external pressure for whatever quarter it may come.”  The Court said that “these observations aptly apply to the role of the Attorney General of Sri Lanka.”  Notably the respondents in this case were the Prime Minister and Minister of Wildlife.

If positions, such as the Attorney General, are to be filled with persons who will make decisions in line with the Court judgement above, it is necessary that they should be persons with integrity and competence.  They also need the space to be able to do their work without political interference.  It was to achieve this objective that two different governments, headed by two different political leaders from two different political parties took steps to ensure the passage of the 17th and 19th amendments in 2001 and 2015 respectively.  These two amendments had the common feature of reducing the President’s powers and seeking to increase the independence of state institutions from political interference.  A police force that is independent of political influencers, who act behind the scenes, is more likely to act with integrity in dealing with the impunity that is growing in the country.

The government’s pledge of a new draft constitution, before the end of the year, provides an opportunity to reform the system of governance and put an end to the multifarious violations and weaknesses in it that breeds impunity and resentment which is the fuel for extremism of all sorts. The political space should be kept secular, unlike in the case of Pakistan with its religious law, and kept free from religious or ethnic nationalist biases. The reintroduction of the scheme of appointment of higher officials of state, through a multi-partisan constitutional council consisting of members of government, Opposition and civil society, would lead to better appointments than the President alone making the appointments.  The members of the constitutional council would together select the most appropriate persons to high offices of state and to insulate them from politically-motivated interference.  This is particularly important in the case of the higher judiciary, the last bastion of freedom in a democracy that is going wrong.  The present deterioration in the integrity and quality of decision-making at multiple levels and in multiple institutions highlights the need for a strong system of government, based on checks and balances–real good governance.



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From a ‘Clash of Civilizations’ to a ‘Dialogue among Civilizations’

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A meeting of BRICS leaders

As the world continues to reel from the ‘aftershocks’ as it were of the October 7th Gaza Strip-centred savagery, what it should guard against most is a mood of pessimism and hopelessness. Hopefully, the international community would pull itself together before long and give of its best to further the cause of a political solution in the Middle East.

It is plain to see that what needs to be done most urgently at present is the prolongation of the current ceasefire, besides facilitating a steady exchange of hostages but given the present state of hostilities between the warring sides this would not prove an easy challenge.

Considering that there are no iron-clad guarantees by either side that there would be a longstanding ceasefire followed by a cessation of hostilities, what we have at present in the Middle East is a highly fraught ‘breather’ from the fighting. There are no easy answers to the currently compounded Middle East conflict but the external backers of the warring sides could alleviate the present suffering of the peoples concerned to a degree by bringing steady pressure on the principal antagonists to drastically scale down their hostilities.

If they mean well by the communities concerned, these external backers, such as the US, as regards Israel, and those major Middle Eastern states backing Hamas and other militant groups, would set about creating a conducive climate for a negotiated settlement to the conflict.

De-escalating the supply of lethal military hardware to the warring sides is a vital first step towards this end. External military backing is a key element in the prolongation of the war and a decrease in such support would go some distance in curtailing the agony of the peoples concerned. The onus is on these external parties to prove their good intentions, if they have any.

Meanwhile, major states of the South in increasing numbers are making their voices heard on the principal issues to the conflict. One such grouping is BRICS, which is now featuring among its prospective membership, countries such as Egypt, Ethiopia, Argentina, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Iran. That is, in the foreseeable future BRICS would emerge as a greatly expanded global grouping, which would come to be seen as principally representative of the South.

Since the majority of countries within the BRICS fold are emerging economies, the bloc could be expected to wield tremendous economic and military clout in the present world order. With China and Russia counting among the foremost powers in the grouping, BRICS would be in a position to project itself as an effective counterweight to the West and the G7 bloc.

However, the major challenge before the likes of BRICS is to prove that they will be a boon and not a bane to the poorer countries of the South. They would be challenged to earnestly champion the cause of a just and equitable world political and economic order. Would BRICS, for instance, be equal to such challenges? Hopefully, the commentator would be able to answer this question in the affirmative, going ahead.

The current issues in the Middle East pose a major challenge to BRICS. One of the foremost tasks for BRICS in relation to the Middle East is the formulation of a policy position that is equitable and fair to all the parties to the conflict. The wellbeing of both the Palestinians and the Israelis needs to be staunchly championed.

Thus, BRICS is challenged to be even-handed in its managing of Middle Eastern questions. If the grouping does not do this, it risks turning the Gaza bloodletting, for example, into yet another proxy war front between the East and West.

Nothing constructive would be achieved by BRICS, in that the wellbeing of the peoples concerned would not be served and proxy wars have unerringly been destructive rather constructive in any way. The South could do without any more of these proxy wars and BRICS would need to prove its skeptics wrong on this score.

Accordingly, formations, such as BRICS, that are genuine counterweights to the West are most welcome but their presence in the world system should prove to be of a positive rather than of a negative nature. They need to keep the West in check in the UN system, for example, but they should steer clear of committing the West’s excesses and irregularities.

More specifically, the expanding BRICS should be in a position to curtail the proliferation of identity politics in the present world order. The West has, thus far, failed to achieve this. The seismic convulsions in the Gaza re-establish the pervasive and pernicious presence of identity politics in the world’s war zones, so much so, one could say that US political scientist Samuel Huntingdon is being proved absolutely right in his theorization that world politics over the past 30 years has been essentially a ‘Clash of Civilizations’.

After all, current developments in the Middle East could be construed by the more simple-minded observer as a pitting of Islam against Judaism, although there are many more convoluted strands to the Middle East conflict than a violent clash of these religious identities. More so why the influence of identity politics needs to blunted and eliminated by the right-thinking.

One way in which this could be achieved is the through the steady espousal and practise of former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami’s ‘Dialogue of Civilizations’ theory. While the existence of a ‘Clash of Civilizations’ cannot be denied on account of the pervasive presence of identity politics the world over, the negative effects of this brand of politics could be neutralized through the initiation and speeding-up of a robust dialogue among civilizations or identity groups.

Such an exchange of views or dialogue could prove instrumental in facilitating mutual understanding among cultural and civilizational groups. The consequence could be a reduction in tensions among mutually hostile social groups. Needless to say, the Middle East is rife with destructive politics of this kind.

Accordingly, there needs to be a paradigm shift in the way cultural groups interact with each other. The commonalities among these groups could be enhanced through a constant dialogue process and the Middle East of today opens out these possibilities.

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Their love story in song…

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The duo in the company of Dinesh Hemantha and Jananga

It’s certainly encouraging to see Sri Lankan artistes now trying to be creative…where songs are concerned.

Over the past few weeks, we have seen some interesting originals surfacing, with legendary singer/entertainer Sohan Weerasinghe’s ‘Sansare,’ taking the spotlight.

Rubeena Shabnam, Sri Lankan based in Qatar, and Yohan Dole, living in Australia, have teamed up to produce a song about their love life.

‘Adare Sulagin’ is the title of the song and it’s the couple’s very first duet.

Says Rubeena: “This song is all about our love story and is a symbol of our love. It feels like a dream singing with my fiancé.”

Elaborating further, especially as to how they fell in love, Rubeena went on to say that they met via social media, through a common friend of theirs.

The song and video was done in Sri Lanka.

Rubeena and Yohan with lyricist Jananga Vishawajith

“We both travelled to Sri Lanka, in August this year, where we recorded the song and did the video, as well.

‘Adare Sulagin’ was composed by Dinesh Hemantha (DH Wave Studio, in Galle), while the lyrics were penned by Jananga Vishwajith, and the video was handled by Pathmila Ravishan.

It is Dinesh Hemantha’s second composition for Rubeena – the first being ‘Surali.’

“It was an amazing project and it was done beautifully. Talking about the music video, we decided to keep it more simple, and natural, so we decided to capture it at the studio. It was a lot of fun working with them.”

‘Adare Sulagin,’ says Rubeena, is for social media only. “We have not given it for release to any radio or TV station in Sri Lanka.”

However, you could check it out on YouTube: Adare Sulagin – Rubeena Shabnam, ft. Yohan Dole.

Rubeena lives and works in Qatar and she has been in the music industry for almost five years. She has done a few originals but this one, with Yohan, is very special to her, she says.

Yohan Dole resides in Australia and is a guitarist and vocalist.

He has a band called Rhythmix, in Australia, where they play at various events.

He has been doing music for quite a while now but doing an original song was one of his dreams, he says

Rubeena and Yohan plan to get married, in December, and do more music together, in different genres.

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Mathematics examinations or mathematics curriculum?

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Some people say that it is not necessary for a Grade 10 student to buy an ordinary scientific calculator because they have smartphones with built-in calculators. If not, it is easy to install a calculator app on mobile phones. A smartphone should not be used as a calculator during a mathematics test or a mathematics exam because it can be used for cheating. In the UK and other developed countries students have to keep their smartphones in their school bags or in their lockers outside the classroom during mathematics tests and exams. 

by Anton Peiris
anton25ps@gmail.com

R. N.A. De Silva has, in a recent article, provided some useful tips to students as regards preparation for mathematics examinations. Trained teachers and graduates with professional qualifications are familiar with this topic.  All mathematics teachers have a duty to help the students with revision.

The more important task is to salvage the Sri Lankan O/Level mathematics students from the abyss that they have fallen into, viz. the implications and the retarding effect of the use of obsolete Log Tables. The Minister of Education, Senior Ministry Officials and the NIA are oblivious to the important and interesting things that have happened in Grades 10 and 11 mathematics in the UK, other parts of Europe, Japan, Canada, China and elsewhere. They have been like frogs in a well for almost half a century. Here are two important facts:

1. O/Level mathematics students in Sri Lanka are 46 years behind their counterparts in the UK and in other developed countries. Ordinary Scientific calculators were introduced to the O/Level mathematics classrooms in the UK way back in 1977. Prior to that those students used Slide Rules to facilitate their mathematical calculations. Ordinary scientific calculators give the values of Sine, Cos, Tan and their Inverses, Log, LN, exponential powers, square roots, squares, reciprocals, factorials, etc., at the press of a button, in addition to performing arithmetic functions. There is no memory to store mathematical formulae, etc. It is an invaluable tool for solving sophisticated and interesting mathematical problems and also problems in ordinary statistics. It has paved the way for achieving high standards in O/Level Mathematics in those countries.

Just compare the maths questions in the Cambridge IGCSE or the London O/Level Maths Exam with the questions in the Sri Lankan O/Level maths exam and you will see how far our students have fallen behind.

The Cambridge O/Level examination was replaced by the GCSE and the IGCSE (International General Certificate of Secondary Education) a few decades ago.

I am not referring to Programmable Calculators and Graphic Display Calculators (GDC), meaning devices with a small screen that can display graphs, perform statistical calculations like the Z- Score for large samples, show Matrix calculations, provide solutions to algebraic equations, etc., at the press of a few buttons. GDC is a compulsory item for A/Level mathematics students in the UK and in all developed countries.

Some teachers say that by using ordinary scientific calculators in Grades 10 and 11, students will not acquire the ability to carry out mental arithmetic calculations. This is not true because

(i). Calculators are introduced in Grade 10. Maths teachers have five years of Primary School and three years of Middle school (Grades 7, 8 and 9) i.e. a total of eight years to inculcate sufficient mental arithmetic skills in their students before the calculators are introduced in Grade 10!

(ii). In the IGCSE and in the London O/Level Mathematics Exams calculators are not allowed for Paper 1. Preparation for Paper 1 requires the acquisition of mental arithmetic skills, e.g., one lesson per week in class in Grades 10 and 11 in which calculators are not allowed. Sri Lanka could follow suit.

Some people say that it is not necessary for a Grade 10 student to buy an ordinary scientific calculator because they have smartphones with built-in calculators. If not, it is easy to install a calculator app on mobile phones. A smartphone should not be used as a calculator during a mathematics test or a mathematics exam because it can be used for cheating. In the UK and other developed countries students have to keep their smartphones in their school bags or in their lockers outside the classroom during mathematics tests and exams.

An ordinary scientific calculator costs less than 10 % of the price of a smartphone.

Sri Lankan students in International Schools sit the IGCSE or the London O/Level mathematics exams where ordinary scientific calculators are allowed. These students have made big strides in learning mathematics by using the calculators. Only the rich can send their children to International Schools in Sri Lanka. Millions of poor Sri Lankan students do not have calculators.

Our Minister of Education has announced that the government was planning to transform the country’s education system by introducing ‘’STEAM’ (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics). Maintaining high standards in O/Level Mathematics is the key to a successful implementation of STEAM programme. Unfortunately, the Education Minister and top education official are not aware of the fact that the only way to improve the standard of O/Level Mathematics is to do what the developed countries have done, i. e., revamping the O/Level mathematics syllabus and to introducing the ordinary scientific calculator in Grades 10 & 11. If they do it, it will be an important piece of curriculum development.

Bear in mind that the UK and other developed countries have taken another important step during the last 20 years; they have introduced the Graphic Display Calculator (GDC) to the O/Level Mathematics class and by providing a Core Exam and an Extended Exam. In the Cambridge IGCSE Mathematics Exams, Papers 1, 3, and 5 constitute the Core Exam. Papers 2 ,4 and 6 constitute the Extended Exam. Calculators are not allowed in Papers 1 and 2.

The Core Exam is a boon to students who have very little or no mathematical ability. More on this in my next article.

By using Log Tables, our Sri Lankan O/Level students have to spend a lot of time to solve an IGCSE (Extended Syllabus) exam problem or a London O/Level mathematics exam problem because the use of Log Tables takes a long time  to work out the Squares, Square Roots, exponential powers, reciprocals , LN , factorials, etc., and that is tedious work while their counterparts in developed countries do that in a few seconds by pressing a couple of buttons in an ordinary scientific calculator.

The Calculator has given them more motivation to learn mathematics.

O/Level students in the UK have graduated from the ordinary scientific calculator to the Graphic Display Calculator (GDC) thereby improving their ability to solve more sophisticated, more important and more interesting problems in mathematics, statistics and physics. Sri Lankan O/Level students are compelled to use obsolete Log Tables.

Hats off to that Minister of Education who introduced the ordinary scientific calculator to the Sri Lankan A/ Level Mathematics classroom and to the A/Level Mathematics Exam a few years ago. That was a small step in the right direction. Minister Susil Premjayantha, please revamp the O/Level mathematics syllabus and introduce the ordinary scientific calculator to Grades 10 and 11 now. That will ensure a big boost for your STEAM programme and yield benefits for the Sri Lankan economy.

(To be continued. Topic 2:  The necessity for introducing an O/Level Mathematics Core Exam and an Extended Exam. The writer has taught O/Level and A/Level Mathematics and Physics for 45 years in Asia, Africa and Europe and is an Emeritus Coordinator for International Baccalaureate, Geneva.)

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