Developing prejudices through education
EDUCATION: Since its inception practically, the Government has had to
handle a relentless series of assaults by the Tigers. Contrary to the
myth spread by both the LTTE and its sympathizers in the opposition, the
response has generally been admirable, combining commensurate military
responses with a firm commitment to a negotiated settlement.
Unfortunately, the Tigers still continue to have an edge in terms of
propaganda, which is why they have managed to dodge the question as to
why they still refuse to come to talks.
However, the Government has in general managed to ensure that the
international community understands the terrorists nature of the
problem. Meanwhile, the President makes it clear that he sees all people
in the country as his responsibility, as he indicated recently in
emphasizing that he would provide medical assistance even to Tigers
injured in the battle.
Sadly, a similar commitment to a pluralistic vision cannot be seen in
some other crucial areas. Though the President cannot do everything,
nevertheless he should realise that the positive achievements of the
Ministries of Defence and Foreign Affairs will be nullified if he does
not concentrate on winning the hearts and minds of the minorities, and
in ensuring that future generations amongst the Sinhalese also
understand the necessity of a pluralistic rather than a majoritarian
In this respect education is of vital importance. Sadly, in this area
we seem to have gone backwards, after last year's change of government,
in a manner that will justify the Tiger demand for a separate
Some time back, when it was reported to the NEC that the LTTE had
begun printing its own textbooks for Social Sciences, it was agreed
that, while this was undesirable, it was also understandable in a
context in which, apart from not distributing textbooks in time to
remote areas, the state had produced undeniably chauvinist texts.
In those days much energy was expended in getting the NIE authorities
to accept that Elara should be included by name in the syllabus as a
distinguished Sri Lankan king. Exhausting though that battle was, and
the battle to introduce history as opposed to dogma into the texts, it
seemed worthwhile when the EPD Commissioner mentioned that, in a visit
to the North, he had been told by the Tigers that they now found the
government textbooks acceptable.
More importantly perhaps the syllabus had also been modernised. In
dividing Social Studies into three separate components, History and
Geography and Life Competencies, there was an attempt to ensure learning
on a par with what was happening in the rest of the world. In history
for instance, the NIE had for long ignored important developments in the
world that are crucial for our students to take their place in the
modern globalised context.
Last year we had tried instead to ensure that, though Sri Lanka still
occupied more than half the syllabus, students were also introduced to
developments outside Sri Lanka, with both Asia and the West in the
relevant historical periods that contributed to the Sri Lankan
All that has now gone by the board. I was horrified last week when I
received the new syllabuses for History in Grades 6 and 10, to be
implemented in 2007. In the original version, 49 of the 60 periods were
to be devoted to Anuradhapura, just two later being reduced. Initially
six periods, raised later to 11 and then to 13, were to 'Introduce
History' and for 'Land Marks of Human Development'.
This latter had three topics originally, for Hunters, Gatherers (the
translation of what I had thought were herdsmen) and Farmers.
Fortunately someone had then remembered River Valley Civilizations (also
omitted in an earlier syllabus that the wonderful NIE had produced some
years back), and written it in by hand.
Also written in by hand were the resources to be provided for
students, namely pictures of these periods and videos of River Valley
Civilizations, to be prepared by - guess who? - the NIE. No details are
provided about what is to be taught.
After that the poor kids move straight into Anuradhapura, five
periods for Aryan settlements (including Vijaya), eight periods for
Pandukhabaya, 10 for Devanampiya Tissa (mainly about Buddhism), 12
periods for Dutugemunu, 8 periods for Agriculture and Irrigation (Vasabha,
Mahasena, Dhatusena, Agbo I, Agbo II and Mugalan II) and four (reduced
from six earlier) for Religious Developments.
I am happy to say that Elara figures, under Dutugemunu (along with
Ruhuna), and Jain and Hindu Centres under Religion (though nothing about
Christianity). There is no mention of Mantota or Kelaniya, of trade and
transport, of the relations between legend and history, of
archaeological evidence. Kasyapa, who would have been of great interest
at that age, is also omitted.
The contrast between this syllabus, and the one prepared last year,
by a committee of historians of recognized excellence, cannot be
greater. That syllabus stopped with early settlements in Sri Lanka in
Grade six, going on to Anuradhapura in Grade seven.
In Grade six it included attention to Sri Lankan Prehistory, cave
paintings and pottery and tools as well as Balangoda Man. It also had
much more about the world, the River Valley Civilisations of Mesopotamia
and Egypt and India and China, with attention to the invention of
writing and alphabets, the use of the wheel, and the birth of world
It is conceivable that the new team, which is largely the old team
that ensured that students have no historical knowledge whatsoever, has
put some of this into Grade seven. Certainly, having shown no
understanding of chronology in the past, and its relevance to causation,
the NIE has probably decided that it doesn't matter what you learn when,
Thus, we have the whole story coming back in Grade 10, another
Introduction to History, this time talking of Sources, and the
Historical Development of Sri Lanka upto the end of the Polonnaruwa
In addition to all this, and Sri Lanka from the 13 to the 15
centuries, we have India from Aryans (nothing before them) to the Guptas,
Islam and its impact on India, the impact of Buddhism and Hinduism on
Asia (China and Japan for some reason being omitted), and then Europe
from Feudalism to the Russian Revolution.
I shall return to the more pernicious implications of all this. But I
believe it is imperative that the President puts a stop to such
nonsense, if the enlightened approach he is displaying in other areas is
not to prove useless.