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Queues – the most seen, disturbing and persistent now occurrence

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Who would have thought queues would be miles long; of people, motor bikes, various types of vehicles with even a toy car parked to mark a place for a queue-er. And who would have imagined the varied activity of queued people: eating, drinking, often impromptu partying, birthing and even dying in queues, beside vituperation and fisticuffs leading to assault and battery. It seems tame to speak of queues which connote orderliness against what is current.

I write this article soon after Ranil W (now given the surname Rajapaksa!) was elected to serve out GR’s balance term. We wishfully hope it will not stretch that long. The loud protesters, not the original aragalaya peaceful lot, threatened to come out if this happened. I shiver with fear as to what may happen. We so hoped for peace and a settling down of the people, with a Prez being voted by the MPs, approved of by the people spoken for by trade unionists and much of civil society. But what happened shows the caliber of most of our MPs and that corruption is far from quelled; rather is it further fueled supposedly by one individual. And the queues will continue for some time more, most hopefully not in the midst of renewed civil disobedience.

Reasons for choice of topic

First reason is that we in this Paradise sent completely wonky and bankrupt by a few persons (or devils incarnate, I should say) and living lives dominated by scarcity of the most basic of necessities, formed queues to get them. I need not elaborate on that.

The next reason was reading an article in the New York Times: In Sri Lanka the queues are ubiquitous – and orderly by Mujib Mashal, Emily Schmall and Skandha Gunasekera dated July 19. In it, with many pictures, they write of the humaneness of people in queues and elsewhere in these times of terrible deprivation and difficulty; of meals being cooked and shared and the immense help given to hospitals by out-of-country groups and governments.

I was also sent an article about queues formed in Wimbledon for tickets to the tennis from end June to early July. I watched most of the center court matches this year and palpitated each time my favourite player faced an opponent. I mean here Novak Djokovic with his calm, restrained skill. Thank goodness he ended up winner at Wimbledon this year too. That’s a venue he says he loves, having first played there in 2006 aged 19. This year’s win at the only grass courts in the Grand Slam in four locations, makes it seven in a row for Djokovic now counting 21 Grand Slam wins.

Personal observation

My first mindful acquaintance with a queue was in Kandy as a teenager – that’s long ago. Expositions of the Tooth Relic saw the first queues in the town snaking their way to the side entrance of the Dalada Maligawa each day of the period of exposition; needless to say people in them increasing by the day. Mother being devout was a frequent pilgrim, but never through standing in a queue. At that time the Diyawadana Nilame was voted in by Kandyan District Revenue Officers and thus these DROs and their near relatives were offered passes which entitled direct access to the place of exposition and even invited to the holy of holies to watch the procedure of removing the casket containing the relic from is gold jewellery encrusted outer casket. Mother, with a son and son-in-law DROs, would go even to the innermost sanctum. Not me. I stood outside totally embarrassed and wishing I could have made my way in the queue.

Then with population increase and me getting involved with banking, paying bills etc, it meant standing in queues and watching some just push themselves in. What annoyed and perplexed me most was why people had to press against each other. You had your place so stand in your own space. No. It meant the person behind’s breath would be on your cringing-with- distaste neck. Covid precautions put paid to this awful habit, so also of the person behind you stretching his hand over you, almost touching your shoulder, to hand in something to the counter clerk.

A friend’s experience

I must narrate one of my friend’s experience in queuing which she has done latetely for both gas and petrol. V is a young widow, managing her life by herself. Though seemingly naïve and looking helpless – having had a privileged life – she gets tough when the going gets rough. She said she spent many an hour in gas and petrol queues, but the longest for a gas cylinder was 19 hours. She would take her place in the queue after having parked her car and when nearing the top of the line, she would get her cylinder from the car boot and roll it to her spot on the line. She says she encountered various characters but most were considerate and decent.

I could hardly believe her when she said that more than once she spent the entire night in her car for petrol or gas. She made friends with many fellow-sufferers, and mentioned a couple who was in front of her once. The man would walk off to bring his wife food and drink. From the first he offered to bring her food and beverages too. She very nearly fainted (she thought it was a heart attack!) in a car queue, but was saved in time by the kind offer of a bottle of Fanta and shared sandwich by the man in the car in front of hers.

If standing in a queue, she just plunked herself down to sit on a ledge, a parked three wheeler with the driver sprawled in the front, or even on the bare road or pavement. A well got up woman went up and down the line once, putting it into shape. Those in the queue ignored her, but warned my friend to be aware – saying she’d creep in or steal your bag. This parading act was again enacted by another woman showing much flesh, heavily made up and sun-glassed. No one knew why she was walking back and forth along the queue.

A three wheeler twosome worked out their strategy: one handled both their vehicles, moving them as required, while the other takes a long rest at home. He returns rejuvenated when it’s the other’s time for R&R.

The very worst of this situation we are still undergoing is that it is man-made: the consequence of criminal mismanagement and cruel unconcern for the welfare of the less privileged – by those who were/are in power. Many still in office seem only concerned about their own detested skins. We do hope a further step of looking after themselves will not be taken by ordering tougher measures to control protesters, who are sure to swarm the streets again.

However, humaneness is seen all over the island and by all sorts of people. Daily domestic workers are paid more in kind and cash; three wheeler hires are up, yet the driver is paid more for he would have stayed hours in a queue to get the fuel for half day’s running, LOLC, MTV 1 and Candle Aid are three organizations that have been distributing dry rations to poorer households. Many are the impromptu street kitchens that mushroom themselves.

Queues at Wimbledon

The All England Club, which conducts an annual ticket lottery and also has season-ticket holders, has a daily capacity for around 42,000 spectators. It reserves about 500 seats each on Centre Court, No. 1 and No. 2 for those in the queue who pay face value for tickets. Those who fail to get a main court ticket among the thousands in the queue, can still buy a grounds pass for access to the outside of the courts. Even this accommodation could mean a long wait. We have seen on TV the orderly crowds outside the actual courts, picnicking and watching the matches on wide screens. Often people stay another night in a tent to try their luck for a main court viewing spot.

A definite date for first queuing for tickets is not known but a British tennis historian and author puts it down to 1927 with people lining up at dawn. Overnight queuing started in the 1950s and is now almost a sport in itself. Queues are formed in hired tents with hired air mattresses, pitched in numbered rows on the grass near a lake adjacent to the All England Club. Food trucks, unisex bathrooms, a first-aid center, guards and stewards are a-plenty. Volunteers rouse tent sleepers at around 5 a m giving them plenty time to pack their belongings, check them in at the huge storage tent and then join the queue for the issue of tickets which begins at 10 a m.Would-be ticket holders are issued a card with a number starting at 00001 when they arrive at the park. Needless to say demand for tickets is greater when the most famous play, like during the Federer years when people camped two nights in a bid to get a ticket.



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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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