Defusing Foreign Interferences and Influences - Part VII | Daily News

Defusing Foreign Interferences and Influences - Part VII

Job-oriented education system, need of the hour.
Job-oriented education system, need of the hour.

Did Dr. C.W.W. Kannangara do the right thing in creating a free education system in Sri Lanka?

This is a blasphemous question if not answered correctly with due sensitivity. In this discussion of defusing foreign interferences and influences, understanding the basis for free education and its achievements is an important exercise.

This importance is underscored by the simple fact that this education system officially replaced the indigenous education system that was in existence for millennia. This new education system, introduced by missionaries, propagating the ideology and supporting the systems of a foreign force was a game changer.

By making this new education system available and mandatory to every Sri Lankan child between the ages 5 and 16 since October 1945, we are confronted with a difficult and uncomfortable question. Has this education system helped us compete with the rest of the world and be associated on an equal footing or has it served as a process for systematic colonization?

Today, Sri Lanka’s education system is almost coming apart at the seams. Its main fault identified is its lack of relevance to Sri Lanka’s economy. One may argue that this is an unfair statement considering the fact that we produce graduates as well as holders of doctorates in all key fields.

Benefits from our Education System

Many of our thus educated cadre has gone out into the world. Some of these expatriates have done themselves and in some instances our country proud with their achievements. Others who have opted to stay back are also living decent lives and have contributed towards keeping our country in pace with the rest of the world.

One may scoff at this statement. However, we need to understand that for 450 years countries like ours were grappling with various European forces determined to forcefully occupy us. As such, we were pouring our resources and energies against this malady.

Europe had its own infighting during this time. Yet, their resources were getting replenished from the spoils of our occupied territory. Hence, while we were losing ground and independence, Europe was able to successfully complete three industrial revolutions.

After wrestling governance of our countries out of our hands, these new technologies were denied to us. These new developments were only introduced if and when it economically served the occupier’s objectives in our countries. Thus, in terms of progress we seriously lagged behind Europe.

We were introduced to the steam engine technology and steel industry only after 150 years since its invention. The telephone and the electric bulb came to Sri Lanka 100 years after it was developed. The third industrial revolution comprising of nuclear technology is still not with us.

However, in the post-occupied period we have been able to bring the country to a more acceptable standard. When the occupiers were dislodged in 1948, only one percent of the population had electricity. When President Mahinda Rajapaksa left office in 2015, electricity was accessible to 99 percent. While J. R. Jayewardene and Mahinda Rajapaksa administrations accelerated this process, this was a collective effort by almost all successive Governments.

Though technologies such as nuclear or artificial intelligence are still not with us, our lag behind information technology is small. Therefore, though labeled as a “developing country”, the technology gaps are no longer vast.

This is especially visible in our healthcare. Though those who can afford to seek overseas treatment, especially for non-communicable diseases, this is more of a fashion statement than a necessity. Our healthcare system and specialists are quite capable of meeting these challenges. Provided as a free service, more Sri Lankans benefit from the expert care of our health system than those who seek the same services overseas.

This is the contribution made by our citizens who benefited from the current education system.

Brilliant minds, lethargic attitude

Nonetheless, we are also not the leaders of new technologies, developments; nor are we visionary. We are still the followers. The story of using Sinhala and Tamil in computers highlights our lethargy in this aspect.

Twenty years ago, when internet technologies were making strides into the daily life of ordinary people, the language available was English. We did not have a Sinhala or a Tamil font or a software that would allow us to use computers in our mother tongue. Even a simple e-mail had to be typed and sent in English.

Naturally, this posed constraints among those who were not fluent in English. During a seminar between users - mostly undergraduates, people in the IT industry and techies - and senior professors from Colombo University, this matter was brought into the discussion.

The professors made an interesting observation. They noted that Microsoft was already on it. In a few years time, predicted by the professors, all the languages including Sinhala and Tamil would be available for our use. Hence their conclusion was, why should we bother trying to do the same thing using our limited resources when someone more able was doing it.

Their prediction did come true. In the meantime, the fact that many who preferred to use their own language began to communicate in their language, but using English font. This is evidence of our innovative mind.

This anecdote poses a plethora of interesting questions before us.

* Whether we should have allowed our progress to be determined by an outside entity, especially at their timeline?

* What would have been the harm had we tried to introduce our own font and related software before Microsoft?

* Even if we outpaced Microsoft by a short gap of time, would not that allow us to enjoy the benefits of IT sooner?

* Even if we could not have competed with Microsoft’s timeline, would not that experience have enriched our own knowledge?

* How much of our lethargic attitude can be blamed on the current education system, when other countries who overcame similar challenges and adapted the same systems are now forefront runners in modern technology and advanced economy?

Despite the relatively decent lifestyle we owe to the present education system, in 1971, the JVP was able to mislead youth, especially undergraduates, to take arms against the State on the basis of the economic disparity that existed. Most students were enticed by the fact that the degree of most, especially in the Arts sphere, holds little or no relevance to the economy.

It is a matter of extreme contention that this problem that was identified in 1971 prevails to date. We had a similar uprising but effectively more devastating in 1989. This insurgency almost had the Ranasinghe Premadasa Government capitulated.

However, after fighting terror with terror for two years the revolt was suppressed and the situation was normalized. It came at a terrible cost though. The official number of youth killed during these two years is estimated at around 60,000. It is feared however that the actual figure could be twice this official number.

History might never accept it, but the anti-Government protests in 2021-2 too were a consequence of an education system that failed the economy. Most were unable to grasp the true causes that dwindled our forex, which in turn led to shortages in essentials and certain imports.

Just as in 1971 and 1989, the JVP capitalized on these social issues. This time, with a change of strategy, the uprising managed to surpass the previous insurgencies and actually managed to replace the Government.

Only Education can be Our Saviour

However, this was not the Government the anarchists envisioned. Furthermore, they were unable to overhaul the current systems. We can thus anticipate another attempt to overthrow the Government and present systems.

This makes the importance of linking education with the economy urgently. This importance is further emphasized by the lurking suspicions among many that these acts of anarchy were funded and supported by certain foreign Governments via their embassies.

We are yet to identify our economic agenda. Without such a plan for our economy, we are unable to map a path to educate our future generations the required disciplines. The manner in which we ignore our strategic assets as the Hambantota Port and significant investments as the Colombo Port City is a case in point.

It is true that the management of the Hambantota Port is with China for the next 94 years (already five years have passed since the signing of the 99-year lease). If our economy allows it, we may even be able to shorten this lease period by about 20 years. Either way, we must have a plan to take over the management and just as importantly successfully manage the Port once the lease expires.

Likewise, the Colombo Port City is just coming to life. This, as our biggest investment, is expected to make a significant return. It has been promised that the minimum salary that could be earned is USD 1,000. We are expecting the administrative arm of logistic suppliers, trading companies, shipping and other nodes of complex supply chains to set up offices.

However, our education system does not reflect these needs. An effort to train our young minds to acquire the necessary discipline and knowledge to work in these industries, with the latest technology, and interact with sharp minds with eligibility to top positions is starkly absent.

Education - A Service or an Investment?

We are very proud that our education is free. Simultaneously, we lament that adequate resources are not allocated to our education. Every Government, in their election pledges and budget proposals, promises a larger portion of the GDP. However, they are careful not to specify exactly how they would use this allocation or present a plan of progress to monitor its effectiveness.

If we want to improve our education, then we have to accept that our perception of “free education” needs to change. Currently our view of the free education system is that of a service or even a charity. However, a country’s education is neither. It is an investment and as such we must expect a return on that investment.

First and foremost, we should take exception to the term “free”. Never have we in our long history accepted a free service. We are thus one of the few nations to be built without the use of slavery. We had a unique system, in which our currency was not limited to monetary as it is today.

Our currencies included the barter as well as community volunteer services. The barter system in itself was unique for it was not necessarily an exchange of commodities or services of equal value.

For instance, when seeking the opinion of the Ayurvedic doctor, each patron presented a sheaf of befall leaves. Within this sheaf, those who sought his expertise would enclose a token. This could be of value or modest. This was accepted without even checking the token’s value or even to verify if such a token was included.

This system is not practical in today’s context. However, the point is that the dignity of all was preserved by this process. This is our take away from this bygone era.

The system in Japan offers us a powerful hint as to how we can recapture this equality that is no longer with us. In Japan, every child irrespective of the economic background or weather, must walk to school. In school, they are responsible for the well-being of the school affairs. As such, it is the students who must manage the canteen and sanitization of both toilets and premises.

This has given the students not only a set of life skills but also a sense of independence. This pride can be witnessed by the singular efforts taken by any Japanese to clean after themselves. To them, leaving a mess for another to clean is shameful.

The education of a country cannot be monetized. It is too precious. However, there must be a systematic inculcation that we too must contribute to our education or be a return of that investment. Gathering all our certificates to restart our lives in a better economy should not be part of our thinking.

Caste vs Certificate

When the current education system was adapted in its entirety, we officially dismantled our indigenous education system. That system of ours was not certificate or theory based. It was a very practical system.

The community was divided into clans or castes. Each clan was responsible for a specific duty, service or commodity required by that society. The children of that group were expected to follow that clan’s profession. As such, from young days they were educated and trained in that discipline.

This ideology of clans, tribes and castes are abhorrent to our current sense of decency. The reason being that kind of system does not allow a person to be the master of his or her own destiny. Hence, social migration to an alternate or better life was often not possible.

This was especially problematic as these systems often established a social hierarchy. Consequently, those in the “lower” social rungs became susceptible to the bullying of those in the “higher” rungs. This often led to systematic violations of fundamental rights of those in certain occupations.

However, these systems could not have existed for millennia if it were not without pros. It is worthwhile to understand some of these benefits. It is noteworthy that most of our current problems originate from the absence of these advantages.


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To be continued


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