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Tribute To My Alma Mater- Kingswood College, Kandy



The 132nd Anniversary of the founding of the famous boys’ school in the hill capital, Kingswood College, Kandy by Mr. Louis Edmund Blaze’ fell on 04th May 2023. At the time the school was established, it was known as the Boys’ High School. All past and present students should be proud of the vast strides made by Kingswood during this period of over one and a quarter century from its very modest beginnings in Pavillion Street.

Mr. Blaze’, after obtaining his matriculation was recruited as a teacher in Trinity College, Kandy, his alma mater. However, after teaching for some time he left for Calcutta to read for his degree. After obtaining his degree he secured teaching appointments in Calcutta and Lahore, where he saw a great difference in the normal teacher-student relationship, which was much more friendly than what he was used to in Ceylon. On his return to Ceylon in January 1881, after his teaching stint in Calcutta and Lahore, Mr. Blaze’ dreamed of establishing a school of his own, a school to be different from what he had been used to as a student and a teacher, and to run it his own way.

Five months after his return to Ceylon, his desire to start his own school was fulfilled when the Boys’ High School was established in a small building in Pavilion Street, Kandy with 11 pupils on the roll. Mr. Blaze’ wanted his school to be one in which the friendliest relations would prevail between teachers and pupils after he had learnt of the cordial relationship in the English Public schools system which he came to know during his stay in Lahore.

He also wanted his students to be really educated in the right atmosphere and not to be trained to merely pass examinations. He encouraged a sense of obligation, duty and loyalty among the students. A testimony to this loyalty and manliness imbibed into his students by Mr. Blaze’ was the largest number of volunteers from Ceylon for service overseas during the First World War being old boys of Kingswood College.

In July 1884, Mr. Blaze’ handed over the management of the school to the Methodist Mission. In 1897, the school was registered by the Government as a Grant-aid school. There had been a rapid growth of the school during this period and therefore, this made it necessary to shift the school to a larger premises in Brownrigg Street which was done by the end of 1897. It was in 1898 that the Boys’ High School took the name of Kingswood College.

Mr. Blaze’ had learnt the game and the rules of rugby football when he was teaching in India, and it did not take long for him to introduce the game to his students. In 1893 Kingswood became the first school to start rugby football and later Trinity, Royal and other schools too took to the game. The first rugby football match between two schools in Ceylon was between Kingswood and Trinity at Bogambara grounds on August 11, 1906, and quite appropriately it ended in a six-all draw. While the Kingswood team was captained by HS Perera, the skipper of the Trinity team was PW Van Langenberg.

In sports, Kingswood assisted St. Anthony’s College, Katugastota to play the first football match between two schools , St. Anthony’s being the first school to introduce soccer to school. The Kingswood- Dharmarajah big match is the oldest big match in Kandy. Kingswood College had the distinction of producing the second schoolboy cricketer of the year in 1958 when Maurice Fernando, captain of cricket was chosen fro this award.

In 2005, a student of Kingswood, Ransilu Ranasinghe brought credit to his school and country when he won a Gold Medal for weightlifting at the Junior Commonwealth Games held in Australia, which was the first time that a sportsman from Sri Lanka had won a Gold Medal at an international competition of this nature.

Kingswood was one of the first schools to start cadetting. As in the case of rugger, Kingswood gave up cadetting after some time. A few years ago, cadetting was reintroduced and in 2004 Kingswood fared very well annexing the Herman Loos Trophy at the annual Diyatalawa camp.

In the early 1950s, a road safety program was begun where the senior students controlled the vehicular and pedestrian traffic on The Kandy-Peradeniya Road in front of the school. This experiment proved to be a tremendous success that later some of the other schools followed suit including leading girls’ schools. The first leader of the Road Safety Squad was successful in gaining selection to the Police Department on the basis of the experience he had gained in forming the squad and taking an active part in it.

Kingswood established traditions which none of the other schools in Sri Lanka had. Mr. Blaze’ established the tradition of reciting a prologue at the annual prize giving of the school. The prologue was written in verse describing the important events that had taken place that year in the school, country, and the world. Mr. Blaze’ himself wrote the prologue during his lifetime, and thereafter it was one of the old boys who did it, but maintaining anonymity. It is with a sense of pride that all Kingswoodians, past and present, would vouch that the prize giving has been held annually without a break. The then Governor-General, Lord Soulbury graced the occasion as the Chief Guest at the prize giving in the Diamond Jubilee year of Kingswood in 1951, which in fact was the last prize giving that Mr. Blaze’ attended.

The other tradition Mr. Blaze’ established was addressing the students as Gentlemen of Kingswood, which set a standard for each Kingswoodian to live up to. Mr. OL Gibbon, Principal from 1929 to 1937, had stated as follows in respect of this tradition, ” Kingswood College has a tradition that its students are Gentlemen of Kingswood regardless of religious or social background, they form a brotherhood, loyal to the highest ideals and keen to serve their families, their social circle and the nation.”

It was in the year 1925 that Kingswood moved to Randles Hill on Peradeniya Road, the location the school presently occupies. Kingswood was able to move into these premises through a very generous donation given by Sir John Randles, who was a Member of Parliament and a distinguished Methodist in England. This enabled to purchase the land and construction of the buildings. They included two for the upper and lower schools and two dormitories for the hostelers.

Kingswood had the distinction of being the first school a lady teacher on the staff when Mr. Blaze’ appointed the first lady to teach in Standard One and Two. At the beginning this appointment of a lady was criticized by those who were averse to change. But when it proved successful, other boys’ schools too followed suit.

I still remember that we had lady teachers from Baby Class to Standard four and they were the persons who really moulded the Gentlemen of Kingswood. The old boys who had been in Kingswood in the 1940s and 1950s would recollect with gratitude those gracious ladies, Miss Jacob (Baby Class), Miss Clements (Lower Kindergarten), Miss Thorpe (Upper Kindergarten), Miss Elias (Standard Two), Miss Lekamge and Miss Abrahams (Standards Three and Four) who taught with dedication, kindness and care as a service rather than a job. Their work did not end in the classroom; they inculcated good manners and habits like walking on the right hand side of the road where there are no pavements. Today one finds many walking on the wrong side of the road.

In addition to Mr. Blaze’ Kingswood had been served by some of the finest educationists in the land who continued the traditions introduced by him and some did even more. Messrs. OL Gibbon, MA Utting, PH Nonis and Kenneth M de Lanerolle were some of these stalwarts who contributed immensely towards the uplift of the students of Kingswood and the maintenance of its traditions.

Lest I forget, mention should be made of the other teachers who had taught at Kingswood with dedication and helped to mould the students into gentlemen before they ventured out into the world. We will never get teachers of the calibre of Messrs. CH Lutersz, DEA Shockman, BA Thambapillai, CV Abeyratne, AP Samarajiwa, JO Mendis, Winston Hoole, Sydney Perera, Anton Blacker and Leonidas James. And of course, Mrs. Arieth Perera and Miss Joyce Da Silva.

The dedication of the teachers during the time we were in school was such that the teachers who were good in sports coached the college teams free of charge. Whilst we had Messrs. Thambapillai, Hoole, Roy Abeysekera, RAV Dharmasena and Blacker in charge of cricket, Messrs. James and Sathananthan coached the athletes. Mr. James also coached the hockey team. He was so good in hockey that he was selected as the captain of the Kandy District team in the first Hockey Nationals held in Colombo.

Mr. Blaze’, with the knowledge of the English public schools that he had gained whilst teaching in Lahore, established the Houses in the school named after four of the most prestigious public schools in England, namely Eton, Harrow, Rugby and Winchester which are continued to this day. It is a credit to the school that the conducting of the affairs of the Houses are left entirely in the hands of the student captains and vice-captains.

The motto of Kingswood College “Fide Et Virtute” and the school song which begins “Hill throned where nature is gracious and kind” are two things that Kingswoodians past and present, cannot easily forget. The boys who pass through the portals of Kingswood College cherish the memory of the unforgettable time spent in school and the traditions and discipline inculcated in them during that time. The spirit of Kingswood is such that all those who have had their education at Kingswood express their appreciation by the sign “Kingswood for ever” (KFE).


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Demystifying Buddhism: Need of the hour?



by Dr Upul Wijayawardhana

Mystification is undoubtedly one of the most effective techniques adopted by all religions to ensure that their followers toe the line. After all, who wants to go against religion and face eternal damnation? However, the world has moved on since the inception of all religions and now even scientists agree that there is nothing permanent; not even the universe! By the way, impermanence as a key concept was introduced by the Buddha more than two and half millennia ago. At the moment there is global concern over yet another creation of the human mind: Artificial Intelligence!

Some industry leaders are warning that AI would wipe out humanity, joining nuclear war and pandemics which are the leading contenders to do the same. Geoffrey Hinton, so-called ‘Godfather of AI’ resigned from his job at Google stating that the tools he helped create may be used to end civilisation. AI language tools such as ChatGPT are already being used by students to cheat but would someone go a step further and use similar tools to weaponise ‘fake news’ or develop deadly chemical weapons? One can argue that religion can play an important moderating role in preventing such things happening but, on the other hand, it could be questioned whether they can do so if religions are removed from reality by mysticism?

Perhaps, all religions need demystification but I shall confine myself to Buddhism as it is the only religion I know a bit about. Further, I fear any criticism of other religions may earn me the reputation of someone attempting to promote religious discord. We live in a world, which is becoming increasingly intolerant of free speech whilst clamouring for the same! Oxford Union, once the bastion of free speech, nearly stopped Philosophy professor Kathleen Stock from expressing her view that trans women were not women.

Having failed to cancel the event, transgender activists attempted to sabotage her presentation. Interestingly, they did not attempt to challenge her views instead, perhaps because they are bereft of facts! Though we Buddhists do not do so often, the Buddha gave us the freedom of thought and promulgated the Dhamma by means of discussion. The Buddha was in search of the nature of reality and it perplexes me why and how the religion built around those teachings is full of mysticism. Though it may have served some purpose in the past, my contention is that the time is ripe for demystification.

The month of Poson is of special significance to us, Sri Lankan Buddhists, as according to ancient chronicles Buddhism was formally introduced, on the full moon day of this month 2270 years ago by Arahant Mahinda who was the son and emissary of Mauryan Emperor Ashoka. Though it is very likely that Buddhism spread to Sri Lanka from India much earlier, Arahant Mahinda’s visit resulted in the embracing of Buddhism by King Devanampiyatissa and Sri Lanka becoming a Buddhist country, officially. Arahant Mahinda established Bhikkhu Sasana and as there was a clamour to establish Bhikkhuni Sasana, his sister Sanghamitta followed six months later, carrying with her a sapling of the Bodhi tree, under which the Buddha attained enlightenment. The famous writer H G Wells in the chapter, “The Rise and Spread of Buddhism” in his 1920 book “The Outline of History” refers to this as follows:

“In Ceylon there grows to this day a tree, the oldest historical tree in the world, which we know certainly to have been planted as a cutting from the Bodhi-Tree in the year 245 BC. From that time to this it has been carefully tended and watered.”

Whilst Sanghamitta story tells us that she travelled by land and sea, landing in Jaffna, Arhant Mahinda, who came to Sri Lanka with seven others, including two close relatives; Sumana Samanera, the son of Sanghamitta and Bhanduka Upasaka, the son of his maternal aunt’s daughter, is supposed to have arrived by supernatural means. Is this another instance of mystification! Even if one assumes that Arahants had developed the supernatural power of teleportation, it does not explain how a samanera and upasaka travelled, as an Arahant is not likely to have the ability tag along another person in teleportation.

In fact, Arahant Mahinda’s visit was a much-planned visit and was postponed till the death of King Mutasiva as it was felt that the aging king would not be able to grasp the complex concepts of Buddhism. This makes it very likely that the dramatic meeting described in ancient texts is nothing but a mystification. Anyway, how Arahant Mahinda arrived with others does not matter. What is important is that there is plenty of archaeological evidence to prove that both Arahants Mahinda and Sanghamitta lived in Sri Lanka till their deaths, serving our ancestors. Therefore, they deserved to be remembered on Poson and Unduvap Poya Days, respectively.

The Buddha showed us the way to overcome the sense of dissatisfaction that pervades all aspects of life and also the power of the mind. He showed us the way we could develop our mind and introduced the concept of mindfulness. He showed the path for ultimate detachment. What happened subsequently was converting this Dhamma to a religion by enveloping it in rituals and mysticisms; very practices denounced by the Buddha.

Instead of accepting the Buddha as a normal human being but with an exceptional intellect, he was made supernatural by mystifying his life. He walked immediately after his birth and said it was his last birth. This is mysticism mixed with predetermination but what follows is the truth. In spite of all the luxuries, with increasing dissatisfaction with life, Prince Siddhartha leaves lay life in search of the underlying cause of dissatisfaction. He experiments with extreme torture to the body, a method very popular among sages at the time, which he finds of no use and discovers the Middle Path, the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path.

The Buddha walked the length and breadth of India barefoot, washing his feet himself, when he entered a house. This message of simple living dedicated to the service of others is distorted and some of the Sangha today live in the lap of luxury and indulge in every activity the Buddha advised them against.

The Buddha’s Dhamma explains a path to tread on, and studying how he explored the mind to arrive at this itself gives so much academic satisfaction. Teaching this would ennoble our youth but what is often heard in Bana preachings or lectures are mystical stories or gross distortions, the best example being Dana: giving is a means to getting rid of attachment but is portrayed as a means of guaranteed returns thus increasing greed. I can go on and on.

If Buddhism is to survive, we need to understand and practise what the Buddha taught. The first step in this process is demystifying it so that we may understand the true nature of things.

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Artificial intelligence and reality of life



by Dr D. Chandraratna

Ever since President Ranil Wickremesinghe announced his desire to use Artificial intelligence (AI) to develop all sectors, from banking to agriculture, in Sri Lanka several correspondents have enthusiastically endorsed those sentiments in the print media. There is no gainsaying that technology has already made huge inroads into our lives, the latest paradigm adopted and articulated by the developed countries is thrust upon all mankind as the harbinger of a beautiful new world. Just as in an earlier time when the liberative potential of science created an understandable anguish about its misuse, similar forebodings are felt about the future curated by the super machines. Though unlike in the earlier debates where the misuse was calculated in terms of unlikely human catastrophes the current anguish is more about its ever -present transformative potential of the human world.

Most of the developed countries in the Western world, and Australia have launched statutory guidelines in the ethical use of AI. The Chat GPT, it has been cautioned in some quarters, poses such a risk to humanity that it must be subject to stringent regulation as nuclear power. Open AI founder Sam Altman has said that within a decade AI system would be capable of exceeding human expert skill levels in every domain. Given its possibility to be powerful than all other technologies experts predict that AI poses an existential risk like nuclear energy and synthetic biology. Silicon Valley experts are talking the need for a global regulatory body like the international Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

In the field of education, it risks accuracy and reliability of knowledge, the sources of information, academic integrity, student learning capabilities ending up with a humanity’s self-perception. Six months after Open AI launched ChatGPT, Australian University teachers have stated that they are unable to prove students who cheat with AI because still there is no regulatory body. At a conference held in Sydney last week Senior academics have railed against AI as ‘a tool in education’ because of ethical concerns, built in biases, fake knowledge and hate speech. AI is also generating enormous wealth through education in the hands of a few white male billionaires who are living off surplus value created mostly by brown and black workers.

One Deakin University academic has said it is only a data exchange service and an academic from Macquarie University said that ChatGPT app could easily be used by weak students to obtain enough marks to pass examination. Teachers may have to use open assessments and other examination methods to evaluate students. Students may be tempted to undermine their own desire to acquire knowledge in preference to the attraction of credentials to further their career prospects. Given the fact there is in the developed world a phenomenon of ‘degree inflation’ the quality and value of higher education will diminish. If cheating with the help of AI increases one’s chances of gaining the credentials thereby reducing the lure of understanding many students will not scruple to do so.

It is also the case that AI has the potential to make many employment opportunities ‘surplus to requirements’ in the knowledge economy for AI is efficient and cost cutting. Data analytic employment in multiple industry sectors will vanish overnight. Because of the fears of ChatGPT share prices of many education organisations have plummeted overnight. With the announcement of the ChatGPT, US company Chegg, which produces homework study guides, lost heavily on the stock market with more than half its workforce facing retrenchment.

There are other dangers. The value of education as character building, knowing yourself, examining one’s life, becoming wise, which are the wider objectives of education lose their appeal. Education is reduced to a process of credentialising to make us employable. AI is driven by a few mega corporations whose commercial motives are not aligned with the wider purposes of education beyond the why and the how. Education in the AI era will be concentrating on skills for employability. It can change the current paradigm of education. AI has the potential to cultivate a narcissistic and misguided anti-intellectualism which can shut out reasoned debate on public issues.

This existential threat to our sense of personal autonomy and human agency cannot be ignored. We must legislate to protect those aspects of humanity that are exclusively human and vitally important to the functioning of democratic communities. We should be alert to the fact that AI cannot replace nuance. It is soulless, cannot feel pain or loss, has no heart and no intuition. AI like all replacements to the original will disappoint us at the crucial hour for it cannot replace years of experience, innate ability, and intuitive wisdom.

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Palm oil growers await green light for sustainable production



A young oil palm plantation having a thick legume cover crop

By Emeritus Prof. Asoka Nugawela

Palm oil is a versatile commodity. It is used in numerous products world over. The global usage in 2022/23 is estimated as 76 million metric tons. Accordingly, the average global per capita usage is in the range of 10 kg per annum. Sri Lanka too recorded similar usage during 2018/2019 period, prior to economic downturn in the country. Palm oil usage is very much higher than the usage of other vegetable oils such as coconut, soya, canola, sunflower, rape seed and olive. One major reason for the relatively high per capita usage of palm oil is the affordability to purchase and its availability. Per unit land area, the oil production is four times greater in oil palm when compared with coconut. When comparing with other crops grown for vegetable oil production it is about tenfold higher. Further, oil palm, coconut and olive are perennial crops whereas soya, sunflower, canola and rape seed are short term crops. With short term crops the capital cost component is relatively high with yearly land clearing, land preparation and planting activities to be undertaken. Oil palm with a high oil yield and having a 30-year economic life cycle has the ability to provide a relatively cheaper vegetable oil than from other crops. With perennial crops the disturbance to the soil properties and biodiversity is less than in annuals and is a positive attribute as far as sustainability is concerned.

One other reason for palm oil to be the preferred vegetable oil is because it contains both saturated and unsaturated fatty acids in almost equal proportions. Thus, it is different from coconut and other vegetable oils which contain a relatively high percentage of unsaturated fatty acids, around 90%. Palm oil with its 1:1 balance of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids is the preferred choice for many applications in the food industry.

Both the type and the number of fatty acids of fat in our diets are known to influence health and wellbeing. The present global advice is to increase the consumption of unsaturated fatty acids at the expense of saturated oils and fats. For optimal health we require a mixture of fatty acids to be present in our diet. In this context among the sources of dietary oils and fats palm oil could be viewed as a relatively better option for its ‘mixed’ fatty acid profile (saturated, mono and polyunsaturated fatty acids).

The relative advantage in the return on investment the oil palm crop is having over other plantations crops also drives the investments towards this crop. This is true for both plantation and smallholder sectors in major palm oil producing countries in the world. The profitability from different plantation crops grown in Sri Lanka under average management conditions and current agrochemical/material costs & trading conditions are summarised in Table 1. Accordingly, oil palm is by far the most profitable plantation crop in the country. (See table)

The country has a demand for palm oil as a cooking oil and also as a raw material for many other industries. The products made in these industries are essential and widely used. For vigorous growth and high yields oil palm crop should ideally be grown under tropical climatic conditions with more than 2,500 mm of rainfall per annum. The low country wet zone of the country is blessed with such climatic conditions. The return on investment is high with this crop. However, even under such a favorable business environment for this industry, the government of Sri Lanka has taken a decision to ban cultivating this crop in the country. All other palm oil producing countries in the world, i.e., more than 20, are surprised and view this as a wrong decision.

Some repercussions of this decision to ban oil palm cultivation in Sri Lanka are a). dependency on other countries to fulfill our vegetable oil need, b). loss of foreign exchange to the country by importing palm oil, c). loss of income to the potential investors, d). loss of employment opportunities and e). depriving potential smallholders, the opportunity to enhance their livelihood. Prior to the economic crisis in this country, around 200,000 MT of crude palm oil (CPO) had been imported annually. The current global market price of a metric ton of crude palm oil is around 900 US$. Thus, the foreign exchange requirement to import national crude palm oil requirement will be more than 180 million US$ per annum without freight and insurance costs.

In the past, forests have been felled to cultivate oil palm in some major palm oil producing countries. The same approach was adopted for planting other plantation crops as well in the past. Deforestation will invariably lead to further shrinking of already depleted forest cover and loss of environmental services we accrue from natural forests. Natural forests significantly contribute to depleting of greenhouses gases, to the natural water cycle and protects biodiversity, soil, catchment areas, rivers and water bodies. Due to serious negative impacts of deforestation on the environment, a worldwide lobby demanding countries to grow oil palm in a more sustainable manner was initiated. With this lobby changes are now taking place in the manner in which land is selected to grow oil palm. For most crops including oil palm, systems to certify sustainable plantation management have evolved and such certification has become a requirement for marketing of produce from plantations. Basically, issues related to cultivating oil palm had been identified, awareness created amongst parties concerned and interventions for rectification have been put in place. In Sri Lanka however, to start with there was no issue of deforestation associated with oil palm cultivation. The land for cultivating oil palm in Sri Lanka was obtained through crop diversification, a scientifically accepted approach. Even then cultivating of oil palm in Sri Lanka was suddenly banned by the government incurring the investors a loss of more than Rs. 500 million on nursery plants alone. The global lobby was against felling forests to plant oil palm. The reasons for the anti-oil palm lobby in Sri Lanka according to some environmentalists, scientists and politicians are negative impacts to the environment, loss of biodiversity, depleting soil water and threat to the existence of other plantation crops. There is no scientific basis for such allegations. But those who lobby against planting oil palm do not want to understand the difference between ecological impacts when planting oil palm subsequent to felling natural forest cover and as a crop diversification program. Various attempts made had been futile and as the Sinhala saying goes it’s like trying to wake up a person who pretends to be sleeping.

The necessity for a country to produce its own needs is more than evident now with the economic crisis the country is facing currently. With a huge disparity in outflow and inflow of foreign exchange to the country the need to produce our own requirements are very much obvious. As explained earlier in this article Sri Lanka has a conducive business environment for a successful palm oil industry. What is lacking to drive the industry forward in the country is the political will. Politicians may be fearing that a decision to lift the ban on oil palm cultivation will not be a popular decision affecting their vote base. Countries economy is currently shrinking leading significant losses in employment, falling income levels, increased inequality and government borrowings. To recover from such an economic crisis the country should not ignore viable industries that could enhance national production. A reversal to the decision to ban oil palm cultivation will lead to producing national requirement preventing the outflow of millions of dollars each year. Revenue moving out will circulate among all stakeholders of the industry helping to enhance their livelihood and strengthening the economy of the country.

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