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The Legacy of Sam Wijesinha on His 100th Birth Anniversary



by Anila Dias Bandaranaike, Ph.D.

(nee Wijesinha),

One of the best influences in my life was my father, Sam Wijesinha. He was among the most perceptive, intelligent, humane and non-judgemental human beings I have ever known. Throughout his life, Sam used the gifts he was endowed with to help others. He passed away in 2014, at the age of 93, his mind razor sharp to the end.

Sam’s Life

Born to a privileged, land-owning family in Getamanne, Sam, the youngest of six children, had three sisters and two brothers, each sibling four years older than the next. Letters to him from his oldest nieces, demanding particular items and books to be delivered to their school hostels, conveyed how comfortable was their relationship with their young uncle.

Throughout his life, he loved children unconditionally. He was as happy giving a three-year-old a “horsey horsey” ride seated in his “haansi putuwa”, as getting a promising child from a non-elite home into a good school, or coaching a deserving student for a scholarship or job interview. Until his death, he was never lonely, because so many sought his company. His four grandchildren adored him and he, them.

My grandfather died when Sam was still a student. But my Uncle Eddie, his oldest brother, ensured that his youngest brother continued with his education. The love and esteem in which my father held Uncle Eddie touchingly conveyed his gratitude.

Sam brought distinction to his family and Getamanne. He went from Rahula, Matara, to Ananda and then, to St. Thomas’, Mt. Lavinia. There, he completed his school career with distinction, as a leader, team player, scholar and sportsman. He qualified as a lawyer, collected a University Degree, joined the Attorney General’s Department, collected a master’s degree in Canada, served as Secretary General of Parliament for almost 20 years and as the first Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration (Ombudsman) for 10 years. In retirement, he served several institutions until he died.

Sam never forgot his roots. Living in Colombo, he used his contacts and resources to provide opportunities for promising youth from his village to achieve their potential. He had great faith in education as a means to betterment. He was proud of the many village families whose children qualified as professionals during his lifetime. His outreach was not limited to Getamanne or relatives. He never witheld the support he could give to any promising young person, of whatever social, ethnic or religious background, whom he spotted or who came to him for help – finding schools, scholarships, jobs or funds.

Sam came from a traditional Sinhala, Buddhist family in the rural South. My mother, Mukta, came from a Christian, English-speaking family in Colombo. Her father, Cyril Wickremesinghe, was a leading Civil Servant of the time. The much loved and admired young Mukta had her pick of several eligible suitors, but she was perceptive enough to choose Sam. So, he met, wooed and married Mukta, and then lived happily ever after in her home, Lakmahal, together with Mukta’s mother Esme, until she died on June 27, 1994. My father used to say that he had a perfect relationship with his mother-in-law, until she chose to die on his birthday!


Sam’s Philosophy of Life

Mukta and Sam were global citizens, never limited by thoughts of race, religion, political affiliation, colour, social status or wealth. Their home, presided over by Esme, was open to all. Growing up in Lakmahal, my two brothers and I never knew how many or who would sit for a meal round the table –relatives, friends and friends of friends from around Sri Lanka and overseas.

It was the same with spare rooms and beds. Luckily, Lakmahal was a large house. Some stayed for days, others for months or indefinitely. A few, who lost their homes to the race riots of July 1983 and terrorists, lived at Lakmahal for years. We were privileged to engage with so many diverse people, from paupers to kings, with the same ease, because of my parents’ generosity of spirit and philosophy of life.

When my mother died in 1997, Sam was shattered. Yet, he pulled himself together to live a productive life for another 17 years, helping more people along the way. There was never a moment when he did not miss her, but he soldiered on, fiercely independent, doing things “My Way”.

Years after his death, from letters he kept, we keep learning even more of his unfailing kindness – of how, as a student, he had helped his friend’s widowed mother pay rent; of his support for a great love affair; of his room as a haven to which troubled souls came for solace.


Lesson on Harmony

: Mukta and Sam taught by example, that the richness of our culture is unity in diversity. My parents readily agreed to host weddings of relatives, friends and neighbours – Sinhala, Tamil, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim and Christian at Lakmahal. My father believed that ethnic tensions could be eased if citizens could talk with each other, by learning all three languages in schools. He gave his three children Tamil lessons.

Sam and Mukta donated school prizes for excellence in Tamil for Sinhalese children and Sinhala for Tamil children. As Secretary General of Parliament, he had approached Badiuddin Mahmud, Minister of Education in the 1970s, and asked “Why don’t you have a policy to teach Sinhala children Tamil and Tamil children Sinhala in all schools?” If the Minister had listened to my father, perhaps we could have avoided decades of ethnic strife.


Lessons from Parliament

: My father would tell us that very few MPs used the Parliament Library. One rare exception was Ranasinghe Premadasa. As a very junior MP, he would use the library extensively and come to Sam to learn about issues he did not understand, which my father taught gladly. Sam would also decry paper waste, as most MPs did not even read relevant material. He decided to sell Parliament waste paper and use the proceeds for an education fund for the children of Parliament staff. How happy my father was when clerical and support staff would proudly tell him of a child who had graduated from university or qualified as a professional with help from that fund.

My father supported the pension scheme for parliamentarians, thinking that it would discourage them from making money elsewhere for their retirement. He also believed that improving the calibre of the country’s legislators through better education would help the country. He therefore recommended that being a member of Parliament be recognised as an eligibility criterion to enter Law College. Mahinda Rajapaksa was a beneficiary of this policy. Judging from the allegations against our present-day parliamentarians, it appears that on both counts my father’s logic failed.

Having dealt with parliamentarians under several governments, my father believed that those who lost power needed friends more than those in power. So, when Sirima Bandaranaike lost her civic rights in a dubious manner under the J.R. Jayewardene government, and could not contest elections for years, Sam always found time to visit her. Today, we see those in power isolated from reality by many false “friends” and those without power with no friends.


Lessons from Relationships

: My father moved closely with many political leaders. Ranil Wickremesinghe was his nephew by marriage. Sam knew D.A. Rajapaksa and his family very well. Even as President, Mahinda Rajapaksa would visit my father unannounced, late evening with no entourage, climb upstairs and chat in my father’s bedroom. I was at the Central Bank when he was President.

Once, I visited Lakmahal after work and ranted to my father about a ludicrous policy decision saying, “Tell Mahinda ….!”. My father waited until I finished and said to me calmly, “I never give advice unless I am asked. What if I give him advice and he does not take it? Where would that leave us both?” He never gave unsolicited advice to my cousin Ranil either.

It was only later, that I understood the wisdom of his answer. If you give unsolicited advice to someone who is close to you and they do not take it, they know that they can never ask you for advice again and you know that you can never give them advice again. His wisdom left his door open.



On his 100th birth anniversary, I think of how my father used his advantages of birth and brains to help others. I reflect on the legacy of tolerance, kindness, humanity, professionalism and able leadership that he left behind. I see the paucity of those characteristics today and how far humanity has fallen. Perhaps, Sam is sitting somewhere, wondering what else he could have done to make things better on this, his 100th birth anniversary.

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They do it differently…



Michelle and husband Chanitha

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.



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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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Teachers’ pay hikes: An unjust call



By K. L.L. Wijeratne

The current teachers’ protests and trade action jeopardising the education and future of our younger generation need an objective analysis as to whether there are genuine anomalies in relation to respective salaries of principals and reachers.

Let us examine the origin of the purported salary issue affecting the teachers, principals and the members of the Education Administrative Service. Prior to the establishment of the teachers’ service on 06 October, 1994, teachers’ salaries were based on their qualifications as trained teachers, non-trained teachers, honours graduates, general degree holders and diploma holders. As such, there were nearly 25 categories of teachers with five salary scales as follows:

This salary structure did not provide a grading system, or promotional scheme for teachers. Therefore, the need for a Teachers’ Service with a grading system and promotional scheme was deemed reasonable and justifiable.

On September 27, 1994 then Minister of Education and Higher Education, Richard Pathirana in a note to the Cabinet sought approval for issuing a statement on World Teachers’ Day (October 6, 1994) announcing the establishment of the Teachers’ Service with effect from 6/10/1994. The structure and the salary scales of the proposed Teachers’ Service were also included in this note to the Cabinet.

The observations of Chandrika Kumaratunga, the Minister of Finance, Planning, Ethnic Affairs and National Integration, dated October 4, 1994, while accepting, in principle, the establishment of a Teacher Service, noted that the proposed salary scales for the principals and teacher educators, if given, would create anomalies in the Public Service Salary Structure. She further emphasised the need for such proposed salary scales to be examined, in depth, and in comparison to other sectors of the Public Service depending on work norms and other conditions of service.

Teachers work 180 five-hour-days (around 900 hrs) a year. Whereas other public servants work 240 eight-hour-days (around 1900 hrs) a year. In view of the complexity of creating new designations and assigning of new salary scales, the task was to be referred to the Salaries and Cadres Commission for examination and report before decisions were made.

However, irrespective of these observations, the Cabinet Paper 94/14/13 was approved by the Cabinet of Ministers on 28 September 1994, for the establishment of the Sri Lanka Teachers’ Service with effect from 06 October 1994, and for the implementation of the salary scales proposed for the Sri Lanka teachers service with effect from 01 January, 1995.

In response to the above Cabinet Decision, in her Note to Cabinet No: BD/356/86/34(K) dated October 1994, Minister of Finance Chandrika Kumaratunga further sought Cabinet approval for amending the Cabinet decision of 28/9/94 (item 40) by including the words, “it was decided to refer the proposals to the Salaries and Cadres Committee for a comprehensive examination and report before implementing the proposals” as the last sentence after removing the words, “and implement the salary scales proposed for the Sri Lanka Teachers’ Service with effect from 01.01.1995.”

It is significant to note that despite the well considered observations submitted by Kumaratunga as Minister of Finance, on the issues of Teacher Service salaries, the situation changed due to the presidential election held on 06 November 1994. UNP Presidential Candidate Srima Dissanayake issued a full-page notice (ref. Divaina Newspaper of 31 October 1994) promising to implement the proposed salary scale for teachers and re-structure the Principals’ Service, Teacher Educators’ Service and Education Administrative Service.

The other presidential candidate, Kumaratunga, not to be out done, got the Government to issue Gazette Notification 843/4 of 31/10/94 on the same date as the Press Notice on the subject issued by her rival presidential candidate Dissanayake detailing the following:

This was the only instance where a salary scale was gazetted before establishing a Service! Significantly enough, this was the same as that which was proposed to the Cabinet and Kumaratunga had submitted her reservations and observations on previously.

It was only on 03 April, 1995 that a gazette Notice 855/3 was issued establishing the Teachers Service duly giving the above salary scales.

Hence we see that Chandrika Kumaratunga, as a presidential candidate rivalling the promises of her opponent Srima Dissanayake, reneged on her earlier well considered position on the issue of teachers’ salary structure.

Anomalies arose due to this arbitrary manner of fixing teachers’ salaries without giving due consideration to those services in the education sector and other parallel services.

The new salary scales of teachers created serious anomalies with the Principals Service salaries. For example, Principal Grade I was placed on a much lower salary scale than a teacher Cl.2 Gr.II Subsequent legal action initiated by Principals in the Supreme Court (Supreme Court Cases Nos. 453/97, 454/97, 390/99, and 362/99) resulted in the Supreme Court decision to rectify the anomaly by increasing the salaries of the Principals.

This created anomalies between the salaries of Teacher Educators Service and the Sri Lanka Education Administrative Service (SLEAS) with the latter filing their plaint in the Supreme court (Supreme Court Cases No: 305-307/03)

In 2006, the government issued a new National Wage Policy with a salary structure and promotional scheme considering all the grades of the Public Service i.e. from Labour Grade to Senior Executive (Public Administration Circular 6/2006 of 25/4/2006.) This removed the anomalies between the Principals Service and the SLEAS and therefore the Supreme Court proceedings were terminated. It is evident, therefore, that there are no anomalies between the Principals Service, the SLEAS and other Services due to the overall, overarching comprehensive new salary structure and promotional scheme adopted across the entire Public Service. With the active consultation and participation of all trade union representatives, the government decided to maintain a salary ratio between the labour grades and the senior executive grades.

It is significant that the formulation of the new Public Sector Salary Structure introduced through the Public Administration 6/2006 Circular was a mammoth task and hitherto unprecedented achievement.

Prior to 2006 there were 126 salary scales for public servants in Sri Lanka. This was reduced to 37 salary scales with the policy decision of the government to establish an agreed salary ratio of 1:4.2 between the lowest grade in the public service and the highest grade of Secretary to a Cabinet Ministry. This new and revised salary structure was accompanied by various other important benefits for all public servants such as grade-to-grade promotions without any cadre restrictions and nonstagnation in reaching maximum salary point.

Therefore, it is clear that any other Salary Reports such as the B.C. Perera recommendations 1995 (quoted by the teachers), have now been nullified by the new salary structure for all public service categories established in 2006. Any attempt to tamper with the present salary structure for all public servants in favour of a particular group/category of Teachers, Principals, will inevitably open a Pandora’s Box.

In fact, it has been mentioned by the Supreme Court FR No:362 /99 that “it is not only legitimate, but sometimes essential to compare the salary scales of different services in order to determine salary scales (having regard to the required qualifications, knowledge, experience, skills, functions and responsibilities) and salary differentials.”

Moreover, the pensionable salary of all public servants has been increased by more than 100 percent between 2016 to 2020. Currently, these public servants are enjoying the benefits of such salary increases which were given in five instalments. For example, a teacher’s initial pensionable salary in Grade One, which was Rs. 21,750 in 2015 has now been increased to Rs. 44,950 as at 2020. Similarly, it is vital to realise that currently teachers, principals along with other public servants are obtaining more than 100 percent salary increases given by the government. As a result, there will be a tremendous increase in the total pension bill.

Another demand of the teacher unions is that their salaries be increased by declaring theirs as a ‘Closed Service’. It is already a closed service in that teachers cannot be transferred to any other departments or ministries. If the government declares it a closed service with salary increases for such services being granted, that will lead to similar demands from other so-called closed services like the Health Sector, Postal Services, Railway, Customs and Inland Revenue.

The hitherto balanced national salary structure across the public service will be upended with multiple demands being made in all sectors for salary increases.


(The writer, K.L.L. Wijeratne, Retd. Sri Lanka Administrative Service, was the Secretary, Salaries and Cadres Commission of Sri Lanka from 2006 to 2009 and Chairman of the Salaries and Cadres Commission from 2016 to 2019)

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