|Thursday, 19 September 2002|
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Apropos the analysis made by Dr. Tara de Mel, on education (DN, 9.7.02 and 3.8.02) it is evident that there is a great deal amiss with the present system of education in Sri Lanka.
A few notable points from her articles are worthy of comment. She refers to the 'halcyon' days of education here, around 50 years ago, when Lee Kwan Yew, dreamt of having a comparable education system in Singapore.
However, the rot started and quickly set in with the 'Sinhala Only' Act, which was enacted, with little forethought or planning, as a sop to the Cerberus of the populace. Apart from the ethnic divisions and conflicts it engendered, it was, in the opinion of many, the greatest single factor, responsible for the decline of the entire education system in this country. Any such major change, however politically desirable, should have involved intense planning and preparation. Instead it had the effect of levelling down education to almost ground zero level.
With it, the destruction of the then sound infrastructure of English teaching, led to a general diaspora of highly qualified English teachers and resulted in the opposite of what the Act hoped to achieve.
Even graduates, who had acquired good degrees in the Sinhala medium found they couldn't compete in the job market, with school leavers, mainly from private and assisted schools, whose main qualification was, that they had somehow acquired a good command of written and spoken English.
However, the equally sudden reversal of the 'Sinhala Only' policy, which Dr. Tara de Mel had attempted to put into effect and which is also now being invoked by politicians, as a panacea for the education ills of this country, is equally unwise. A few mantrams or laws, cannot magically make English the medium of instruction in schools at any grade. One gets a feeling of deja vu, as the same scenario is enacted.
Then, the Sinhala Only Act, was passed in the euphoria of national fervour, with little rational thought of the repercussions it would have on future generations of students.
It was a near vacuum that resulted, with inadequate textbooks, few reference books and competent teachers to meet the needs of the change to the national languages.
Similarly, now, the demand for English seems to have over-ridden pedagogical considerations, such as the lack of suitable text-books, teaching materials and most of all sufficient teachers, competent to teach English at every level.
It is symptomatic, that those at the losing end are the less privileged, while the winners are the powerful and well-to-do, as always! International and private schools, access to higher education in foreign countries continue to be their sole prerogative.
Dr. Tara de Mel also suggests, that fee-levying schools are the answer to all the shortcomings in the education sector in this country.
But the ground reality is that the majority of the parents of children attending the 9,887 schools in Sri Lanka, can barely afford the essential amenities necessary to send their children to school, on a daily basis. How on earth are they going to afford to pay fees as well?
Instead of such blinkered thinking, shouldn't other initiatives be explored? i.e. an extension of the successful Navodaya programme, she refers to, that will cover all the schools, who are in need in the country.
Each provincial minister of education can first prioritise and then identify the specific needs of the schools in that area. This information can be fed into a central data base and schools most in need of uplift and their specific needs can be pinpointed.
A concerted national effort to improve these schools with the help of private enterprises, banks, even individuals (singly or in group) can be enlisted, and they could 'adopt' either a school or a group of schools in a particular area.
Instead of mouthing pious platitudes, practical help such as this, will help raise the standard of education in every aspect and the benefits that will accrue to the whole country will be immense.
Even the total of schools in the country, 9,887 is not too astronomical a number to make it a viable proposition.
Of course, sufficient planning and fore-thought will be necessary to make such a scheme workable. The whole country will however, reap rich dividends and countless numbers of 'other people's children' in Sri Lanka, will have access to a good education, which is their birthright too!
RITA PERERA, Kelaniya
The Director of Health Services by his circular letter No. 3087 of 23.09.1989 has explicitly directed the Govt. Hospitals to make facilities available in the respective institutions in making things easy for state pensioners to consult Medical Officers and also to collect the prescribed medicine without the hassle of standing in common queues seen in these institutions.
On representations made in instances of lethargy of some institutions to implement this the Director of Health Services has followed up this circular with further instructions calling for attention of such defaulting institutions.
I am a state pensioner and the experience that I had to undergo at the ENT clinic of the Colombo South Teaching Hospital, Kalubowila, where I had the misfortune to attend to get medical advice and treatment made shocking revelation of how the staff there, either through ignorance of the contents of the circular or through mere cussedness refused to abide by such Circular instructions.
The Nurse-in-Charge that day (29.08.2002) was indifferent to the extent of being preposterously irresponsible - she refused to listen and suggested that I follow the usual queue if services are needed from her clinic.
My efforts to convince the Medical Officer in attendance was also thwarted by this nurse and it is tragic that the M.O. failed to stand by her conviction but yielded to the pressure ascerted by the nurse - a case of tail waging the dog, as is the usual hospital scenario with unionised labour.
Finally it is the Deputy Director's personal intervention and educating the staff of their limits that made them to down the high-brow mentality and attend on me.
Here is an instance of a mere functionary defeating the intention and purpose of directives issued in the interest of the aged - what the Director of Health Services proposes a hospital functionary disposes.
U. WIRASINHA, Kohuwala
Archbishop Gomes in an interview with a daily recently (4.9.2002) has said "We have been suffering as a nation for almost 30 years - enough is enough".
He was referring to the current issue. with his indulgence, I would like to slightly differ, not for 30 years, but for more than 4 decades.
Since 1958, every leader from Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike to his daughter President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga had been trying his or her hand in resolving this issue. Various pacts with various Tamil leaders were signed but failed - failed miserably. It was similar to a game of snake and ladder. Up we go with expectation to reach the top, but down we come disappointed.
Now Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe has been given a mandate to try his hand. Ranil is not almighty neither is he a magician, he too is human. but from the experience gained from others he is slightly in a better position.
In a recent public rally, he is said to have told the crowed his task was very difficult and also dangerous. He has likened it to demining. Every mine should be removed with patience and caution. A slight mistake may cause fatal consequences.
Thank goodness he has so far done it satisfactorily and decades of morose faces are now smiling a little with a hope of clearing the entire area. Instead of crying "Tigers! Tigers!" we all in one voice say "Be Careful Sir".
P.C.P. GNANADURAI, Uduvil.
This relates to the building presently occupied by Geological Survey and Mines Bureau on a rental basis. The above establishment is paying a monthly rental of approximately Rs. 94,000.00 during the past 8 years for the Senanayake Building which houses our office. During the past three or four years we repeatedly pointed out to the then existing Board of Directors and the Chairman the financial loss to the Government resulting from payment of the exorbitant rent and suggested to shift the office to an abandoned building belonging to the Government, such as the Lanka Metal Corporation which was vacant at that time.
Further we pointed out that the best alternative was to put up a suitable building on the land allotted to our establishment.
Our idea was accepted but due to influences brought about by politicians and their stooges as well as by the building owner to suit their personal benefits, our idea was never implemented. Subsequently, instead of searching for a Government building, steps were taken in the year 2000 to buy the same premises and agreed with the building owner to purchase it for Rs.160.5 million. Accordingly in order to justify the purchase price, a valuation report was obtained from a Government Assessor and a Cabinet Memorandum was submitted for the purpose. We learned that in view of the high price agreed upon, Cabinet approval was postponed.
As we understand now, the present Board of Directors have agreed to purchase a building which was owned by Collettes Limited and now transferred to Union Bank. We have learned that the agreed sum is approximately twice the amount offered for the present building occupied by us.
It is beyond any justification how the Government that could not afford Rs.160.5 million at that time could agree to spend this large amount at this stage. We have found that personal benefits and interests of certain authorities are behind this decision.
The Collettes Building under issue is in the market for the past 12 years without fetching the price of a mere 200 million rupees.
E.G.S., Colombo 08.
We have heard of Mahatma Gandhi, Prof. F.R. Jayasooriya, K.M.P. Rajaratne, MP and Thillieppan of the LTTE fasting unto death, and the last of them, of course fasted unto death. All the others were, however, able to create such an impact on the people and the government, the authorities were forced to meet with them and arrive at some sort of a settlement.
Now we hear of the Medical students of the Ruhuna University getting ready for a fast unto death. In fact, it is the nurses who were at the receiving end from the gentlemen of the profession, who should fast unto death, demanding protection from the indiscipline marauding 'budding doctors' who have sworn to protect life and limb of the patients.
Anyway, the medical students should realise that they are not Frs. KMPs or Thileeppans.
The country will hardly take note of their fast. The impact they could create will be minimal, and the result could be rather negative. If they want to create an impact they must first stop behaving like thugs and put their background to right. Then they have to get one of their top political leaders or a Professor whom they think is supportive of their cause to fast.
E.M.G. EDIRISINGHE, Dehiwala.
The above caption indicates the inordinate hurry in breaking motoring rules. This in my view is due mainly to the fact that motorists overtake when there are oncoming vehicles, missing the oncoming vehicle by a few millimetres or compelling the oncoming vehicle to halt.
Gone are the days when motorists continued to follow a vehicle giving way to oncoming vehicles.
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