I saw a letter in the newspapers the other day purported to be from “prominent persons” in society. Now every single person in that collective had appended their signature and it was virtually a directive to the President to follow certain instructions issued by these people. Firstly, there was no detailed plan just instructions to do as “we say”. Secondly, I was left wondering as to how one becomes a “PROMINENT PERSON”? If you have held down a government job, not achieving anything of any consequence for your entire working life, or wormed and slimed your way through the mercantile sector to the detriment of countless dozens of your fellow workers, does that make you prominent? Furthermore, can you appoint yourself as a prominent person? Should you not be recognised by an established and more importantly a credible body, preferably with international credentials? What happens in a failed state? Are prominent people prominent failures? Heartfelt apologies to our Dear Mr. Haniffa, purveyor of all knowledge logical to the Royalists of my era!
Now, I am not saying all those prominent persons who had signed that letter fitted the above description. No doubt there are people who have been of great service to the Pearl and even the world. My point of contention is why have they got to call themselves prominent people? Of course (in my opinion) it is a clear indication of their ineffectuality, the fact that they have not included any plan how to get a hold of the number of vaccines required not to mention how to administer them and circumnavigate the inherent, corrupt system that is in place. Maybe their prominence would be better established if they could use their “prominence” and in some cases, international credibility, to get some doses of the vaccine by ensuring fair distribution of same? Rather than simply issue directives (probably in a feeble attempt to assuage their consciences’ and maintain their prominence in their own estimation), they should offer to get involved or better still abandon their refuge in academia and put forward some practical ideas on how to ensure fair distribution. These are undoubtedly (in some cases) some of the best minds left in our country, surely, they can come up with a plan? If they can’t can a bunch of barely O’-level-qualified parliamentarians and army officers do better? To venture into the ridiculous, if the aforementioned members of parliament (read as the scum of the earth) do come up with a plan does that make them “PROMINENT”!
On the subject of what is published in the newspapers and featured on the web of the Pearl, it seems like the discarded leader of the Yahapalanaya regime, and I say this because even if he wasn’t on paper (or prominence) the leader, he was and certainly should have been, Ranil Wickremesinghe is beginning to worry “the powers that be”, again. Virulent descriptions of him and his supposed perversions in the form of a crudely worded obituary is doing the rounds. Surely, all those who condemned him in all possible ways CANNOT be thinking “could we have been wrong”? The two-thirds of the oh so “literate” voter base who gave a clear majority to an established cohort of robber barons to take over and continue to decimate their country, couldn’t be wrong? The “prominent citizens” who either stayed silent or actively promoted this electoral result with nothing but selfish ulterior motives couldn’t be admitting to the fallibility of their “judgment”? BTW another petrol price increase, the super cars that are being imported for the MP’s will help finish the petrol and thereby leave less petrol for the people to waste their money on! Another referral to the convoluted logic of today that also decrees that printing money will have no effect on inflation.
I see a typically innocuous statement from the Covid reprieved leader of the opposition, saying that he would donate his shots of the vaccine to the people of the country. One wonders if this statement has had input from his advisor on foreign affairs! Is there any use of vaccines for someone who has already had the disease? The answer is pretty obvious even to this “unprominent” person. Therefore, the grandiose and dramatic statement that this doubtful specimen of humanity, will not be vaccinated until every last citizen of his beloved country is vaccinated falls into the category of unadulterated excreta of a bullock, as does most of the other things he says.
When the prominent citizens of this country survey the aforesaid alternatives for leaders in their motherland. The selection between robber barons, retired army officers, and moronic parliamentarians, leaves the purportedly sexually deviant well in the lead, doesn’t it? I must admit that I never ever thought that this line of reasoning would ever be activated!
The inquiry into who was really responsible for the Easter massacre, the strong words of the Cardinal and any possible action by the Attorney General seem to have been swept under the carpet by the various diversions that have either been put into place or that have fallen into place, due to the “curse of Kuveni” that dogs the past present and future of our beloved ex-pearl of the Indian ocean. It is up to the people of the country to make up their own minds, based on the available evidence and at least now decide, not to allow people with even a semblance of doubt attached to them, anywhere near the seats of power. That is assuming they get another chance in the form of another democratic election. The possibility of which does not look too good at present!
Meanwhile the G7 countries have been enjoying a great beach party in Cornwall that extremely picturesque part of England and during the two days of summer that England enjoys, to boot! No Aotearoa NZ at the party, but we are having our own having thrashed England at test cricket and all the Aussie rugby franchises in the trans-Tasman super rugby tournament. I guess parties do happen and the games must go on, regardless of the situation?
Communication the key to representative government
By H. A. J. Hulugalle
The theme is “Social Communications and Youth.” I take social communication to mean the exchange of ideas between different segments of society.
For representative government, there has to be communication between the rulers and the ruled. For rural development, there has to be communication between planners and the peasants. Domestic harmony postulates communication between the older and younger members of a family. Communication between the teacher and the taught is the essential condition of education at school and university. Different communities live in amity when good communication enables them to understand each other’s problems.
The communicators are our pastors and masters, politicians, journalists, filmmakers, broadcasters and other manipulators of mass media. The health of a society demands that they fulfill their functions with intelligence and integrity.
Youth comes into this, because the future is theirs. In their time, they will not only handle the means of communication, but also determine its content.
One of the problems of today, in all countries is youth unrest. Sometimes, but not always, this is the outcome of imperfect communication. The young are impatient with parents, and other elders who will not or cannot understand their aspirations and yearnings. There is a generation gap. To the young people, if they stop to think, life must be more baffling than it was to an older generation. So much is changing around them including media, methods and goals.
Those of us who were able to acquire a knowledge of English had our windows open to the world. In this, young people today are impeded. Ambitious programmes for mass education fail for practical reasons. The temptation to act first and think later is common in newly independent countries. What is good is often scrapped because everybody cannot have it.
Without the religious motive, dedicated teachers are becoming fewer. Schools are ill-equipped, class rooms are crowded and suitable books in the national languages are not available. Students are herded into universities even when they do not possess the basic qualifications. The majority who follow arts courses are not interested in higher education or in the life or the mind. All they want is a job. And they cannot get this because the instruction they receive and the examinations they pass are not relevant to the conditions of the country or the kind of work they may hope to get.
As an American writer has said: “My own opinion, for what it’s worth, is that the college and the university fail to educate their students because they have long since ceased trying to do so.”
How can these facts of life be communicated to the student before he enters the university, and even more important, to the parent who impoverishes himself to give his children “higher education?”
Communication between government and the population at the grass-roots level will always be weak and generally ineffective until, in the words of the Donoughmore Commission, there is drive at the centre and demand at the circumference. The importance of communication for sound local government and economic development need not be stressed.
Every inducement should be offered to children to acquire a working knowledge of the three languages used in SriLanka. It does not require unusual intelligence to do so. Most traders use the three languages freely. In the long run, the people will adopt what is most useful for education, culture and the market place. For the present, the important thing is to be able to communicate freely and get rid of prejudice.
As for the training of youth for the communications industry – press, radio, films, etc – some have a special knack; others acquire it by persevering effort. A good liberal education, wide reading and the ability to convey one’s thoughts easily are useful assets. A pseudo-intellectualism is a counterfeit gimmick. A good journalist is always involved: he participates and is not merely an observer of the human condition. As such, he cannot forget his responsibility to be truthful and fair.
Walter Lippman, one of the most respected journalists of our time, says: “As the Free Press develops, as the great society evolves, the paramount point is whether, like a scientist or scholar, the journalist puts truth in the first place or in the second. If he puts it in the second place, he is a worshiper of the bitch goddess success. Or he is a conceited man trying to win an argument. In so far as he puts truth in the first place, he rises towards – I will not say ‘into’ but ‘towards’ – the company of those who taste and enjoy the best things of life.”
It is possible that the Press, like the pulpit and preaching hall, is too obsessed with politics, thereby distorting values. It should, as far as it is within its power, encourage readers to think for themselves rather than make confusion worse confounded. The appetite of the captive audience for political trivia grows with what it feeds upon. The dialogue should be a quest for truth and not to stir emotions and prevaricate.
To survive, the Press, like other forms of private enterprise, must make money. It seeks to cater to the dangers in going too far in this direction.
Henry Luce, the founder of the Time magazine, one of the most successful publishers of the century, has said: “The first and principal danger of the Press that gives the people what they want is that there is no significant restraint on vulgarity, sensationalism and even incitement to criminality. The second danger, which is perhaps even more insidiously deleterious to the public taste and morals, is the fact that there is in this situation an enormous financial incentive to publish twaddle – yards and yards of mediocrity, acres of bad fiction and triviality, square miles of journalistic type.”
These are warnings which anyone entering the professions connected with mass media should never forget. While good, clear fun is necessary for the entertainment of the masses, there are enough serious problems to engage the best minds of the younger generation who can learn from the mistakes of those who have gone before them and benefit by maintaining standards.
(Courtesy Catholic Messenger)
They do it differently…
Duos are there, aplenty, especially in this pandemic scene, but what Michelle and Chanitha do together, as a husband-and-wife duo, is totally different.
This has, no doubt, paved the way for their success, as entertainers, in the entertainment scene, in the Maldives.
Michelle and Chanitha are from Sri Lanka and have been performing, in the Maldives, for the past two-and-a-half years, and, they say, it has been a very fulfilling experience, especially seeing guests enjoying their music, and complimenting them, as well, for their professionalism.
Right now, they are based in a tourist resort and have been doing that scene for the past two years, as the resort’s house band.
“We had the privilege of entertaining guests at the resort’s Christmas Dinner dance (2019/2020) and also ushered in the New Year at two grand New Year Eve dinner dances (2019/2020), at the same resort,” said Michelle who, incidentally, happens to be the daughter of Melantha Perera.
Michelle went on to say that as their music is wide and varied, they also did the Valentine’s dinner dance (2020/2021), and also functions, connected with Women’s Day, and weddings, as well.
The duo’s repertoire is made up of over 600 songs, and they do pop, jazz, RnB, rock ‘n’ roll, rock, blues, and lots more.
“We both sing, harmonise, and Chanitha plays lead guitar standard solos,” said Michelle, adding that their music has been very much endorsed by guests and the bouquets that have come our way have been very gratifying.
Critical thinking and the ‘value’ of university education
By Harshana Rambukwella
‘Critical thinking’ is a term that has become ubiquitous in both general and higher education discourse. One sees this phrase appear frequently in educational policy statements. Many who speak of education reform see it as a key skill that education needs to foster. Those who see education primarily as a tool of producing a productive workforce or ‘human capital’ also see it as a positive attribute. However, there is little clarity about what ‘critical thinking’ means. For many involved in education policy-making it seems to mean something like problem-solving ability and the ability to make reasoned judgments – a so-called ‘higher order skill’ in Bloom’s Taxonomy (a hierarchical categorisation of skills developed by an educational psychologist in the 1950s and widely utilised worldwide). There is a significant body of scholarly literature on higher education and the need to foster critical thinking. This literature tells us that the ‘industry’ needs critical thinkers and that often our universities and undergraduate programmes are failing to produce such thinkers. Critical thinkers we are told will make better doctors, better engineers, better lawyers and a host of other ‘better’ professionals.
But to be ‘critical’ can and does have many other meanings. If we move from the adjective ‘critical’ to the noun ‘criticality’ things begin to become fuzzier. The dictionary definition suggests that criticality is something of great importance, that it is a point at which a physical material like a chemical becomes unstable, that it is an orientation to life which promotes questioning and criticising what you observe in the world and so on. It is this fuzzier meaning of the word ‘critical’ that interests me. Critical thinking, unfortunately, like many other concepts which have a long, complicated and radical intellectual history have been tamed and domesticated when they enter mainstream education discourse.I have been personally puzzled when educators talk glibly about ‘critical thinking’ when all their actions mark the very absence of such a critical spirit or orientation. For instance, within the University system I have been at many forums where we discuss the ever-increasing student load with little or no matching investment or expansion of human or physical infrastructure. On many occasions these discussions veer toward how we can use innovative teaching methods, alternative assessment strategies and other innovations to bridge the gap between increasing student numbers and the inadequacy of resources. It is very rarely that our faculty boards or senates take this question to the next level. Why are we getting increasingly larger numbers? Why is the state investing less and less in higher education? Why is an institution’s contribution to education measured in terms of student output? Clearly there is a larger fundamental set of questions about the nature and purpose of education that need to be asked. However, these questions often become marked as ‘political’ or ‘ideological’ and many educators see their role as one of avoiding such ‘politics’ or ‘ideologies’ and instead focus on the ‘practical’ aspects of education.
My submission is that a similar evacuation of the political and ideological aspects of critical thinking happens when we bring it into the curriculum and the classroom. The notion of criticality dominant in mainstream education is heavily appropriated by neoliberal thinking. In this version of criticality students are trained to practice a form of emotional self-surveillance that passes as critical thinking. It ultimately leads students to be conformist and feel guilty about their inability to be ‘productive’ members of society. Take for instance, the practice of ‘reflective thinking’ that has gained much currency in teacher education. To be a reflective practitioner in this understanding is to constantly think about how to be a ‘better teacher’. Are my methods adequate? Am I practicing learner-centered approaches? How good are my lesson plans? The casualty of such thinking is often politics and ideology. Very rarely do we compel our students or teachers/lecturers in training (student teachers), to think about how unequal and classed out education systems are. It is rarely that we speak openly or think about the sexism, classism and even racism of what passes as educational content. By reducing the notion of ‘criticality’ to a ‘skill’ (one among many other ‘productive’ skills that are supposed to be given to students to make them employable) ,a delusion is created that critical thinking is being promoted.
As opposed to this commodified and toothless notion of criticality are the meanings of ‘critical’ that lie on the fuzzier margins of the word. In western philosophical thought ‘critical’ is a term that can be traced from the thinking Socrates, for whom it meant a radical questioning of what appears normal and normative, extending through thinkers such as Erasmus, Thomas Moore, Bacon, Descartes, Russell extending into figures like John Dewey whose thinking has also played a major role in contemporary education philosophy. While the names I have invoked cover a vast range of philosophical orientations and what I am doing here is a kind of gross glossing over of different philosophical traditions, one thing in common here is a radical spirit of questioning the normative. This does not mean that all these thinkers rejected the normative or what was accepted in their societies but their understanding of norms was always tempered by a critical spirit that questioned before acceptance.
This brings me to the notion of ‘value’ in the title of this essay. In his 1997 book The University in Ruins, Bill Readings observes that ‘value’ in the new ‘corporate University is determined by accountants rather than philosophers. This pithy statement captures the dilemma of critical thinking I have been outlining above. Appropriated by a mainstream discourse of education, which in turn is heavily informed by neoliberal values, critical thinking has lost it philosophical edge – its value today lies in its ability as a skill that will provide a competitive advantage in the employment market. Reading’s book as a whole is about this neoliberal transformation of the higher education sector. What he outlined in the 1990s was a process that was gathering pace in Euro-America where modern Universities were increasingly turning both in terms of their administrative structure and in what they taught and how they defined themselves. The ‘ruins’ the title refers to is the notion of a classical university as a site of critical philosophical thought – a site from which to question the normative. In Sri Lanka what we see today is a particularly intense form of this emasculation of the notion of the classical university. Sri Lanka is fast becoming what I would call a ‘frontier market’ of higher education. State policy is guided by a highly impoverished vision about producing ‘employable graduates’ and deregulating the higher education sector so that more and more profit-making entities that offer degrees can be established. Value in this new university culture lies in the numbers of graduates that are produced and their prospective employability. Critical thinking, as I have explored in this essay as a whole, is understood in equally impoverished terms. I offer no ‘practical’ solutions to this dilemma but make these observations in a somewhat polemical style to provoke discussion and debate.
Harshana Rambukwella is Professor in English and Director of the Postgraduate Institute of English, the Open University of Sri Lanka.
Kuppi is a politics and pedagogy happening on the margins of the lecture hall that parodies, subverts, and simultaneously reaffirms social hierarchies.
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