Decisive action needed | Daily News

Decisive action needed

Ragging at universities is back in the news. Four students of the Peradeniya University’s Law Faculty have been hospitalized after a clash between pro-raggers and anti-raggers. The injured Law Faculty students including a female belonged to the anti-ragging group. Three pro-ragging students have been suspended by the university authorities, which sparked a protest by the pro-ragging students who are refusing to leave the campus premises and continue to remain in the university hostel. The university authorities have commenced an investigation into the incident while the Police are trying to identify the attackers.

It appears that ugly incidents of ragging in the universities are raising its head again after a lengthy respite occasioned by the Coronavirus pandemic when academic activities in the universities came to a standstill, and, perhaps, also by the diversions created by the daily hardships of the populace stemming from the economic chaos.

The ragging incident could well be a prelude to university unrest once again as the Inter University Student’s Federation (IUSF), whose members are now being tracked down in connection with Aragalaya-related incidents, may well be poised to stir up trouble in the campuses as a means of getting even with the authorities, according to certain reports.

Hence, the Government should not allow universities to once again become hotbeds of violence depriving the genuine students the right to higher education. The authorities should be prepared for any eventuality. There should be no interruption to university life as has been happening time and time again. The late Education Minister Richard Pathirana vowed to end ragging in the universities and also promised to introduce laws in this connection. However, the menace of ragging continued. This has to stop. After all, President Ranil Wickremesinghe, as Defence Minister, has shown that he is capable of dealing with violent elements by his swift action to neutralize the Aragalaya. He should now extend this to the universities as well.

The free education system should not be abused by any party to achieve political ends. The Father of Free Education Dr. C.W.W Kannangara will surely be turning in his grave had he known what fruits have been borne from the free education which he so assiduously pioneered to provide a place in the sun for poor village children.

The Government spends between Rs 500,000 to Rs. 700,000 to turn out a single graduate from our universities. But what purpose one may ask if for most of the time our universities remain closed due to student unrest and academic activities are disrupted by incidents of ragging resorted to by elements out to derive sadistic pleasure at the cost of innocent students.

It is no coincidence that the students belonging to the pro-ragging group and responsible for the mayhem at Peradeniya were products of the Arts stream. These students carry with them baggage derived from their depressed social backgrounds and economic deprivation. They are largely unemployable due to lack of skills to meet job demands that call for proficiency in subjects related to technology, IT skills etc. They have not equipped themselves to face the future after their academic lives nor are they equipped with the necessary skills to take up employment in a formal work environment. The lack of knowledge of English (called “Kaduwa” in universities) of a majority of our graduates too has proved to be a major impediment for obtaining gainful employment.

While graduates are ill-prepared to fit into formal employment, there is another glaring anomaly which our education authorities had been trying to set right for decades but are yet to get around to – namely, a radical change in the university curricula and the entire education system.

Knowing that our universities are producing unemployable graduates, we persist with the same old subjects which are essentially exam-oriented - to cram and regurgitate at examinations. Whatever happened to the scheme to offer training in job-oriented subjects of a technical nature to Arts graduates?

It is these undergraduates in the Arts Stream who are behind most of the unrest in universities. They hail from far-flung villages and carry a chip on their shoulders. Their depressed social backgrounds and lack of knowledge of the “Kaduwa” has given them an inferiority complex which forms the basis for the violent ragging we see in universities, targeting their colleagues hailing from more privileged stock.

This vicious cycle is bound to continue if the authorities in charge of education fail to bring the necessary changes and make our university education more meaningful and productive. All subjects should be tailored to suit the present environment and the transformation in job demands over the decades.

This way, no graduate would feel left out and forced to work as labourers as has been reported in certain Provincial schools in the South. Both major uprisings in the South (1971 and 1988-89) had their origins in the frustrations of youth over the lack of job opportunities and the differential treatment meted out to different segments in society. We must take care to prevent a repetition. Unfortunately, the conditions today are ripe for a resurgence of such radical thoughts among a largely frustrated youth population.



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