By Dr. C. S. Weeraratna
Former Professor, Ruhuna and
During the last two decades, most of the South and South East Asian countries have developed considerably with the involvement of the academics. In Sri Lanka, the universities, and postgraduate institutes are maintained at a huge cost. In 2018 the expenditure related to university education was around Rs 60 billion. The universities are under the jurisdiction of the University Grants Commission (UGC), and have a total academic strength of around 6000, most of them with postgraduate qualifications. Among these 6000, about 825 are professors, and 5,200 are senior lecturers and lecturers. The main objective of the universities in Sri Lanka is to develop human resources to meet national development, through appropriate programmes. These include teaching, research and outreach programmes.
Education at university level providing appropriate technical knowledge is critical to the building up of a knowledge society and knowledge-based economy which are the latest catch words in the field of Education. Proper use of science and technology is vital for achieving the objectives of a knowledge-based economy, but, to what extent the human and other resource base of our universities have been used to meet national development needs through innovative educational, research and outreach programmes?.
Universities and socio-economic development:
In Sri Lanka, government funds the state universities and expect them to contribute to socio-economic development of the country. But, the vast intellectual and infrastructural resource base of the universities has remained almost untapped or underutilized. It is obvious that the authorities should, initiate /implement programmes to mobilize and channel the resources available in our universities for regional/national development. The socio-economic challenges which we face in Sri Lanka have increased considerably during the last few years. Among these are a. High Cost of Production in the plantation and non-plantation (domestic) sector, b. Land Slides mainly in Badulla, Kandy, Matale, Nuwara Eliya districts , c. Water shortage in many parts of the country., d. Chronic Kidney disease of unknown etiology which is affecting nearly 200,000 people in 10 districts, e. Poverty mainly in the rural sector;.f. Effective disposal of solid waste, g. Malnutrition among children, h. Power shortage and alternative sources of power.
To find solutions to these issues, appropriate public-private sector organizations need to collaborate with the academics of the universities to implement short /medium/long term programmes. But, there appears to be no effective mechanisms for the university academics to be involved/coordinate with the appropriate public-private organizations to effectively address the challenges faced by the country. It is necessary that the government institutions need to establish systems to collaborate with appropriate academics, if the authorities are really keen to find solutions to the pressing problems indicated above. A few years ago there were attempts by the Ministry of Agriculture to coordinate with the university agriculture faculties to find solutions to the pressing problems in the agriculture sector. But, these attempts appear have died down. If such coordination was effectively established, we would have found solutions to some of the pressing problems such as the Weligama Coconut Wilt and other issues facing the country.
Quality of Education:
It is essential that the total student population passing out from the universities needs to be given satisfactory education/ training. The quality of education in a university depends to a considerable extent on the standard of the academic staff and the other related facilities such as library, laboratory and field. In most of the faculties in the recently established universities, these basic facilities are not at a satisfactory level. The students passing out from such universities also tend to be of lower quality, not because of their faults.
Closely related to academic standards in universities is the relevance of the courses offered by the universities. While a large number of graduates remain unemployed or under –employed, employers complain that the graduates are of no use to them. They say that their standard of English is inadequate. The total annual expenditure by the UGC is in the region of Rs 60 billion. What is the use of spending so much money, if the country cannot make use of a large number of the graduates passing out. If what the employers say is correct, has there been a concerted effort by the UGC to modify/change the university courses so that the graduates are more useful? The Dept. of National Planning should play a more active role; interact with the employers and advice the UGC on the modifications/changes that need to be carried out. Perhaps these changes may not need additional expenditure.
Should the country continue to spend billions of rupees on higher education if it has no significant impact on the socio-economic development of the country? It does not mean that the universities should be closed or privatised as what was done in the case of some public sector organizations. What needs to be done is to examine what ails the university system and take appropriate measures to rectify them so that the universities could contribute positively towards achieving a knowledge-based economy.
Knowledge society and knowledge-based economy are the latest catch words in the field of Education. Knowledge, skills and resourcefulness of people are critical to the building up of a knowledge society which is crucial for achieving the objective of a knowledge-based economy. Universities play a prominent role in achieving this objective. At present there are 15 universities in Sri Lanka. Graduates qualifying from these universities have a very significant role to play in all the different professional/non professional spheres of the country which are important in achieving a knowledge–based economy. However, only about 20% of students who get qualified to enter universities get admitted. For example in the year 2016, ,103,000 students who sat for GCE (A level) qualified but only 19,000 (18.52 %) were admitted. Current data are not available.
Inability to utilize a large percentage of human resources in the country to contribute to the endeavours in achieving a knowledge society tend to retard to a great extent the socio-economic growth in the country. Insufficient opportunities for higher education cause serious problems leading to youth unrest, and as a result of inadequate local opportunities for higher education, a large number of students go overseas to follow various courses. In the year 2009, the total outward remittances for educational purposes were around Rs. 2 billion.
University Academic staff:
The success/achievements of a university deepened to a considerable extent on its academic staff. Currently there are around 5,700 in the academic staff of the 15 universities. Nearly 2,500 of them have postgraduate qualifications.
By being involved in research/extension and other related activities, they could make a significant impact on the socio-economic issues affecting the country. A large number of them are highly committed and go out of their way to contribute to improve the output of their institutions. If not for them, the various programmes and activities of professional societies, such as Sri Lanka Association for the Advancement of Science (SLAAS), which have an catalytic effect on the socio-economic development of the country, would come to a halt. All these are done on a voluntary basis.
Most of the university academic staff have to work under very trying conditions. Some of the basic facilities necessary for the staff to carry out their work satisfactorily are not available to them. Although staff quarters available for the academic staff of Peradeniya University, most of the staff in regional universities such as Wayamba, Rajarata etc. do not have proper places to stay and they have to pay a considerable portion of their salaries on accommodation. Communication and transport facilities are limiting. I am aware of some university academic staff members who have to start early morning, walk to the bus/train station, and travel hundreds of kilometers to attend to various academic/professional meetings in Colombo or Peradeniya. These are done on a voluntary basis. When the staff member has to stay overnight in Colombo or Kandy, he/she has no place to stay and has to depend on a friend or a relation. Thus they have to face untold difficulties in attending to their professional work.
Most of the recently recruited probationary academic staff need to obtain post-graduate qualifications so that they could provide a better service. It will also raise the standards of the respective universities. Some time ago, there was a programme to send the university probationary academic staff for post-graduate training to overseas. This made it a possible to have a well-qualified academic staff. However, there is no such a programme at present. It is essential that this programme is continued if we are to maintain/raise the academic standing of our universities.
The university academic staff is expected to do research and extension. Their research out-put is given due consideration when they are given promotions. They need to publish their research findings. I brought to the notice of the UGC through the Chairman of the standing committee in which I was a member, the need to have a compendium indicating the research projects, conducted by the academic staff of universities of Sri Lanka, and to publish the research papers of the university staff, at least in an annual journal. But this was not done.
Conducting research, especially laboratory/field research is a real challenge. Most of the basic requirements for research such as laboratory (equipment and chemicals) /communication/transport etc. are limiting. In spite of many difficulties, a large number of university academics conduct research. How have these research benefited the country? Ideally the UGC should have a programme to commercialize/make use of the research findings of the university staff. It is necessary to have an effective mechanism to interact with the industry so that the research findings could be used by them. It is then only that the research conducted by the university staff universities can have an impact on the socio-economic development of the country. Merely conducting research is not going to be of use.
Employment of graduates:
A substantial percentage of those passing out from our universities and other higher education institutes are unemployed or under-employed. Thousands of graduates have been appointed as Development Assistants in many government offices and are not involved in productive work. Inability to utilize a large percentage of human resources in the country to contribute to the endeavours in realizing the objectives of a knowledge-based economy tend to retard to a great extent the socio-economic growth in the country. There are many enterprises in the fields of industries and agriculture where there are opportunities for the graduates to find productive employment. But, the previous governments have not being able to increase employment opportunities so that those passing out from the universities can be gainfully employed. Instead they simply gave employment to thousands of graduates as Development Assistants who do not have much development work to do. This may be one of the reasons for the widening trade deficit. It is extremely important that the numerous organizations such as Industrial Development Board, Export Development Board, and Institute of Post-Harvest Technology develop appropriate programmes which will have a positive impact on employment opportunities in the country. Inability of the government to create adequate employment opportunities so that the graduates can be gainfully employed would cause serious problems leading to youth unrest, which the relevant authorities need to give serious consideration.
Traffic in Colombo and suburbs: Is it unsolvable?
By Praying Mantis
People curse this phenomenon called traffic congestion in Colombo and the suburbs. However, it has to be unequivocally conceded that the populace has to get about on their daily chores and obligations. The result is traffic, with or without congestion, and we have to come to terms with the fact that it will be there, whether we like it or not. Many deem traffic congestion to be a spectacle that is an eyesore. But it can be solved and the current apparently impenetrable problem can be mitigated to a large extent. What is required is a little bit of intelligence, some meticulous planning, and strict implementation of the rule of law, irrespective of all other mundane considerations.
One important aspect of trying to sort out the problem is judicious timing and usage of traffic lights. These can be set to a computer-assisted or time-controlled operational mode. It needs careful study of the movement of traffic across these junctions where traffic lights are already installed. Steps also need to be taken to install these lights in areas where they are really required but are not installed as yet. All traffic lights should have digital clocks so that the drivers behind the wheels can get ready to move decisively once the colours change to green. All vehicles should move promptly when the traffic lights change from amber to green. At present there is a considerable delay in their starting off from the blocks. In the Western countries, you will be charged for unduly delaying your take off from the stationary position. At the same time, speed limits should be very strictly enforced. Road hogs, who block traffic on the outside fast lanes, should also be prosecuted.
We are quite sure that our excellent engineers, especially those in the Moratuwa University, can set up a system or some devices that would allow the green to come on at consecutive colour lights, suitably timed to enable the traffic to move steadily and reasonably fast right across all traffic lights on a main highway. We are quite sure that this would not be such a problem for our excellent engineers. We do not need to get down foreign experts for this.
A directive from the political hierarchy should go out immediately to the police that they SHOULD NOT switch off traffic lights under any circumstance. This will solve a lot of problems. ALL TRAFFIC LIGHT INTERSECTIONS should have yellow criss-crossed ‘no waiting’ areas. Those who wait on these lines, blocking the smooth flow of traffic, should be instantly fined or charged. The traffic policemen could intervene appropriately, even with the traffic lights functioning, to prevent grid blocks and unnecessary lawless blockages. The police are so trigger happy to switch on constantly blinking amber lights at the drop of a hat and take over directing traffic. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The policemen love to take ‘absolute power’ over the motorists into their own hands by switching off the traffic lights, and make a complete mess of it all by themselves. The computerised traffic lights would do a much better job than the brains of stupid traffic policemen with IQs about 10 below plant life. They seem to have one-track minds and most of the time they think that in the mornings, only the traffic going towards the centre of Colombo should be allowed and, in the evening, only the traffic going away from Colombo need to be given preference. The police patrol (four- and two-wheelers) should be used to apprehend road traffic rule violators. At present they are parked on our roads, sometimes blocking traffic, all by themselves, with all the officers engaged in chats, in person, or through mobile phones. Our traffic police should take examples from the Highway Patrol Vehicles of the Western countries, particularly the California Highway Patrol fleet. Catch the offenders and punish them, irrespective of their political connections. Our traffic policemen are “PAVEMENT POLICEMEN.” They should catch and deal with all the traffic rule violators, notwithstanding any of their powerful connections. These include motor bicycles that weave in and out of traffic, those on two-wheelers who go on the pavements, those that overtake on the left, three-wheelers and buses which are a law unto themselves, lane jumpers of all types who could not care less for the other road users, the speedsters that weave in and out of lines of traffic, those who wilfully cross centre double and single lines just to get a micro-second advantage in time, just to mention only a few.
All two-wheeler motor bicycles, three-wheeler tuk-tuks, and buses of all types, should be strictly reined in. The maniacs that ride and drive these contraptions need to be disciplined remorselessly. They cause more traffic jams and accidents than all other vehicles put together. When confronted for their mistakes by other road users they even turn aggressive or make lewd gestures, especially to female drivers of other vehicles. The currently prevalent lane allocation operative during the rush hours in Colombo is doing a little bit to ease the problem. Yet for all that, at all other times it becomes an even deadlier free-for-all, totally ignoring lane-discipline. It is also laughable that a certain controlling big-wig of the Private Bus Mafia has threatened to strike if the three-wheelers and two-wheelers are not taken out of the inside lane. The government should call his bluff and see how they will all come back with their tails between the two rear legs when their income drops down to zero. It has been said that the private buses are generally allowed the freedom of the ass by the police because most of such buses are owned by either policemen or politicians. We have of course not checked the veracity of this contention.
All container carriers, large lorries and other bulky vehicles, except passenger transport buses, should be allowed to get onto the roads only from 9.00 pm to 6.00 am. They should be banned from all our roads from 6.00 in the morning to 9.00 at night. They cause more traffic jams than all other vehicles on our roads.
The DIGs, SSPs, SPs, ASPs, CIs and IPs of traffic police should come out of their air-conditioned cocoons, called offices, and get on to the roads to supervise the way traffic is controlled by the lesser ranked policemen. At present these worthies generally come out only when the so-called top politicians move around in Colombo. Then they crawl back into their own holes, so to speak. Some years ago, a Senior DIG of Traffic with the initials of RML, used to get on to the roads to see how things were. He did a fantastic job and was responsible for creating some of the one-way streets in Colombo. Definitely an officer to be emulated.
NO PREFERENCE WHATSOEVER SHOULD BE GIVEN AT ANY COST TO VVIPs, VIPs AND OTHER ASSORTED POLITICAL ELEMENTS ON OUR ROADS. The violation of all traffic rules by large platoons of support vehicles just to enable one political nincompoop to travel a distance of a couple of kilometres at break-neck speed is a real crime and a crying shame. This is a particular menace down Parliament Road. After all, they are supposed to be servants of the people. If they need to get somewhere in time, they should start off early enough. In other countries, even Kings, Queens, Presidents, Prime Ministers and Ministers, do not enjoy preferential treatment on their roads. Their vehicles obey their own rules and laws.
The flashing red and blue lights on the windscreens of vehicles should be completely banned. The donkeys behind the steering wheels of vehicles with these rapidly flashing lights seem to think that they have carte blanche to do as they wish. They will have those blinking lights on and come at you even on the wrong side of the road. The ONLY vehicles allowed to use these flashing red and blue lights should be ambulances and police patrol vehicles. Incidentally, ALL police officers should be instructed to intervene and provide right of way and a clean fast run to all ambulances with lights flashing and sirens blaring. The really valid reason for this is the fact that it may mean life or death for a patient. As is done in the United Kingdom, that should be the only overriding concession made to vehicles on our roads.
You might say that all this is wishful thinking!!! The powers that be have turned a Nelsonian blind eye to this problem so far. They have certainly acted as if they could not care less. The politicians would not want to give up their exalted positions on our roads. Why should they worry? Their steamrolling juggernauts would get them there in time. Even if they get a bit late, the stupid organisers will wait for them to start the proceedings. The unimportant masses can spend all their time on our roads for all they care.
We hope these suggestions catch the attention of the powers that be in government, the police, people in positions of forward planning and traffic control. More than anything, we hope that the Executive President of our country would read this and act on at least some of these suggestions. He is perhaps the only one who can control this menace on our roads. If he so decides, like many other things he has done so far, this problem could be solved virtually overnight. It can only be done by reading the riot act to the police which would then percolate down to all the miscreants on our roads.
How to transform conflict into co-existence
Humans and elephants killing one another
Eng. Mahinda Panapitiya
M Sc, (Department of Irrigation Engineering) Utah State University, Utah, USA – 1982 , B Sc (Civil Engineering), University of Peradeniya, Sri lanka – 1974
I thought of writing the following note after reading a recent news item about the interest of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to solve the human-elephant conflict. By the way I am an Irrigation engineer who has worked for Mahaweli Projects since the 1970s while developing the dry zone forests areas for irrigated agriculture. The main purpose of this note is to put forth a proposal to solve this conflict, from a different perspective based on my field experience.
Sri Lanka has been truly blessed with the presence of the largest mammal on earth; it has contributed tremendously to our culture, economy, environment, leisure industry and natural beauty. Elephants are quite closer to humans than to other mammals. According to the article (referred to in the end note) for most of the mammals, brain mass is already developed at more than 90% when they are born. But elephants and humans are different, because brain mass development at birth is 35% for elephants and 28% for humansi. Therefore, unlike other animals they can’t survive during their infant age without the support of their parents. For an example if a human baby grew up in a jungle among the animals from child stage, he or she could not learn the normal human behaviour. This holds true for elephants.
Elephants are also intelligent like humans and have the ability to make rational choices and judgements. They don’t attack people without a good reason. When people increase their aggression towards them, they also increase their aggression. They also remember well, and therefore they can be increasingly aggressive and violent with the passage of time. As a result the ‘human-elephant conflict’ would transform to a never ending battle until elephants are driven to extinction in this country.
Human-Elephant conflict based on
my living experience
As an engineer who closely watched behavioural patterns of elephants while working on the Mahaweli Project since the 1970s, (before the forests were cleared for “development”), I still remember how they were freely roaming in harmony with the farming communities dependent on village irrigation tanks. For an example, elephants used to drink from a domestic tank built behind our Mahaweli quarters to meet our daily water needs before we chased them away to lay the modern canal network. Villagers also never considered elephants as threat to their lives unlike leopards because there were no elephant attacks. Grass growing in the village tank beds in valleys and secondary growths in chenas in the highland areas after their harvesting periods were their favourite food items. Even for birds, an area was allocated under village tanks known as kurulu panguwa. In addition, the villagers had also built forest tanks (kulu wewa) exclusively for wildlife and also to replenish ground water aquifer with rains. However, according to modern commercial-oriented western-based farming methods, we have destroyed thousands of those storage tanks and pitted ourselves against nature. We have been fighting a losing battle. An article published in the Economic Review magazine in 2010 explained in detail how this happened under irrigation projects developed during the last 2 centuryii.
Confrontation Vs Negotiation
Since the introduction of the so-called modern development strategies increase food production, we have been chasing out elephants and putting up electrified fences to ward them off. However, according to my first-hand experience, we could transform this conflict and co-exist with elephants if we handle the eco system for food production in an environment friendly manner. According to the recent observations on brain development behaviour of elephants, if we adopt what is dubbed the negotiation mode, I am sure, elephants will treat humans not as enemies to attack but as another species they have to coexist with. Instead of electrified fencing, live fence using plants such as lemon, palmyra and bamboo could be introduced.
Also, in some countries, bee keepingiv is also used to prevent elephants from roaming in residential areas.
Against this background, it is possible to test out the ancient development model at least at pilot scale in a selected area which has not yet been “developed” under the Mahaweli Master Plan. In the proposed approach, there are no artificial fences separating eco systems according to conventional EIAs recommended by various international funding sources. This is a very low cost method which could be implemented with local private sector involved in Organic Agriculture and Eco Tourism. The best pilot area I can recommend to test that negotiation approach is the Right Bank area of Maduru Oya. I also recommend that the Project be managed by a multidisciplinary team comprising wildlife and agriculture experts, irrigation engineers and archaeologists.
Confrontation verses Negotiation
According to my past experience no innovative ideas could be implemented on ground without political involvement. The main purpose of this note is to interest the political authority in this project. I hope my effort is a success. It should be implemented immediately because the Mahaweli Authority has already planned to follow the conventional confrontation approach for developing the Right Bank area of Maduru Oya.
Lane discipline then and now
By Eng. Anton Nanayakkara
Chartered Civil Engineer
At a time a valiant top heavy effort ( police plus army ++) is being made to enforce lane discipline , it is relevant to recall how a similar attempt was made by a small group of professionals, with foreign driving experience, to introduce the concept of lane discipline as practised in the countries like Singapore, the UK, the US, etc.. It was during 2000 and 2003 that two exhibitions were organised at the OPA for the first time, under the theme, ‘Introduction to the Basics of Lane Discipline’.
It took the form of a seminar- cum- exhibition with a 16’x 8″ physical model to explain all details of correct lane markings, their meanings, etc., to help a person drive any type of vehicle in a disciplined manner without any external assistance or excessive police presence.
At the first exhibition (2000), the Chief Guest was the Minister of Health and the Guest of Honour the Resident Representative WHO, at that time one Dr Peter Hybsier. Dr Hybsier said it was ‘exactly the way to set about solving the existing traffic problem’. In the second case, too, the same model was used with improvements, such as operating traffic lights using led bulbs. The Chief Guests were the Minister of Health and the Minister of Transport. Yet another special feature of the second exhibition was the inclusion of a pilot project on Parliament Road from the parliament roundabout to the Devi Balika roundabout with minimum police presence and no traffic fines so as to secure motorists’ fullest cooperation; only advice and warnings were given.
The most important feature of the pilot project was the prior training of all categories of road users. Specially prepared leaflets were to be distributed to all drivers two weeks ahead of the implementation of the pilot project. For this purpose five different categories of drivers were identified and the leaflets contained material applicable to each type of vehicle he/she will be driving at the time. (See below)
At the second exhibition immediate orders were given by the Minister of Transport to the only RDA engineer present at that time to take action to implement the pilot project without delay. So as usual everything ended there! The following pictures give some idea of the model.
While all the efforts being made under the present conditions are to be appreciated, it must be said that the use of public roads for training instead of a scaled down model dilutes all the good efforts, not to mention the need for a massive manpower input (police and army). It is difficult to believe that all drivers from one end of the road to the other end of the road and drivers in different lanes get the same message. It is also not fair to delegate any lane to one particular type of vehicle. All vehicle owners pay ‘road taxes’ that are used to build and maintain roads. So, the roads belong to all road users.
In Singapore, many more vehicles move much faster and much safer than in Sri Lanka. Where driver training is imparted is called the Singapore Safe Driving Centre, which is run by the private sector in Singapore and Honda Company of Japan.
The method proposed in the years 2000 and 2003 here applied to all roads, at all times, irrespective of weather conditions. Fines were the last resort. It is a pity that the present effort is being made 13 years after year 2003, and during that period thousands of lives have been lost on our roads not to mention many thousands of new vehicles getting smashed up, causing millions of damage to public and private property.
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