Much to be proud of; much remains to be done | Daily News

Much to be proud of; much remains to be done

Sri Lanka has now reached its 70th year of independence. Ninety per cent of the present generation would have not actually witnessed the great moment when our National Flag was hoisted on that eventful eve of our First Independence Day. Yet, they would have heard at the dinner tables how their grandparents talked about the colonial era.

When British left us after centuries of colonial raj and we became a sovereign nation, the euphoria of that time promised much hope for a more united and more prosperous future.

So, what had changed after the independence? Or, in simple terms, are we really Independent?

What does Independence mean for us? Does this mean economic independence or social independence or cultural independence or a mix of all? After 70 years of Independence, are we really proud of present status of country?

Responsibility

We have tons of unsolved problems from corruption to high cost of living to ethnic harmony. When I discussed this issue with an elderly social scientist, he argued that “crying over the inadequacies and shortcomings is never the solution. It’s up to you to make the best out of this situation because we are also responsible for those problems.”

I agreed with him totally. We (the common citizens) are also responsible for the present status of country (whether good or bad). We need to take responsibility for everything that happened in the past because we have remained silent spectators for changes and actions which took place in and around the society.

Maybe, our country is not the best in many areas (like governance, infrastructure, and education, healthcare). There is no shame in accepting that fact. But at the same time, we should also rejoice our great achievements during the last 70 years.

Achievements

In economic and developmental terms, we certainly have much to be pleased about. Thanks to the ingenuity of our farmers, we have become self-sufficient in most staple food production, and thanks to the vibrant private sector, social goods and services have been delivered to nearly every corner of the country.

There are many success stories in terms of almost every indicator, from women's empowerment to education to health, we have made great strides in independence, though, of course, there is much that remains unfinished.

Acknowledgment of failure and strategies to improve on failed (or weak) frontiers are need of hour. There is always a scope for innovation and improvement.

Income-inequality

While we have cut poverty rates and created opportunity and growth, it has come at a cost. The stubborn income inequality in Sri Lanka still poses a serious question about the ultimate goal of the country’s growth efforts. The country’s rich have been able to maintain their relative position undiminished while the poor have been worse-off.

The high income-inequality, as noted by many economists, threatens the social and political instability of the country. We must redouble our efforts to include everyone in the fruits of independence and ensure that no one is left behind.

Like many nations who were dominated by British colonialism, Sri Lanka also adopted a rote learning approach in education, which has remained unchanged since formal education was first practiced. It is not surprising, then, that we cannot turn out citizens and leaders who demonstrate clear vision and independence? The education system of Sri Lanka is not designed to develop leaders, original thinkers, learners, creators, inventors or innovators.

This fact is not just true at pre-primary level, but also, sadly, at our country's universities. The system creates citizens who have memorized a ‘solution’ for each ‘problem'. But in real life, we constantly face and must respond to new problems that we have never met before. When our leaders encounter problems, they look for solutions that worked elsewhere. But that is not the right solution.

By educating today’s students to be flexible, inquiring and creative - we will be guaranteeing of making citizens of tomorrow who will be the caretakers of our national identity. If this happens, it is not too much of a dream to make Sri Lanka an academic centre of excellence in 2030? It only takes one generation.

The people expect the present Government to deliver and rescue the Sri Lankans from this counter-productive and obsolete education system. If we miss this opportunity, we put our children's future at risk. They will experience the results of the choices we make today.

Social mobility

There is also a need to raise the concern about the way of development and unfold the truth about the real beneficiary of development. We need to ensure the accountability at each and every level and it shouldn’t stop at the “lofty promises of inclusive development.”

Social mobility is another factor which needs clear attention. We need to create the “access to opportunity” and “enabling environment” for upward social mobility in the society. Unless we offer such a framework we will not be able to bridge the gap between poor and rich and inclusive development will remain a lofty promise for winning elections.

What we are seeing is skewed development with benefits limited to certain section of society.

Although Sri Lanka has risen to a lower-middle-income country and per capita incomes have risen to over US $ 3900 in 2015, there are significant pockets of poverty in the country. The issue of poverty and inequality in all its forms has not yet been fully resolved.

Employment generation

It would be wrong to judge the progress of country only based on GDP indicators. It would be misleading to see the growth of malls or IT industry as growth of real Sri Lanka. Only a small fraction of population had benefitted from such approach of growth.

There is a need to push forward manufacturing for long term sustainable employment generation opportunities. There should be a plan to convert Sri Lanka into a leading country in quality manufacturing? We have skilled workforce who are tech-savvy and easily trainable. Something like a national manufacturing policy maybe a step in right direction which can aim to create domestic capability and competence in industries where there is a huge domestic and foreign demand.

True meaning

Our Independence is not something just obtained 70 years ago. Independence is now - it is a state of mind, soul and belief. We need to celebrate what we have now but not forget what we have been through.

Independence is to embrace the courage of our forbearers to make the impossible into possible. Independence is to shun that which deforms our innate values and noble desires. Independence is to free ourselves of the clutches of extremism; to unite all citizens, whatever race or religion, as one and to uphold and respect each other's beliefs in the face of diversity.

Sri Lanka belongs to all Sri Lankans and everyone has a right to call it home.

Dr. B. R. Ambedkar Indian political leader, economist and philosopher said, “What does independence mean? It means a way of life which recognises liberty, equality and fraternity as the principles of life. They form a union of trinity in the sense that to divorce one from the other is to defeat the very purpose of democracy. Liberty cannot be divorced from equality and equality cannot be divorced from liberty. Without equality, liberty would produce the supremacy of the few over the many.” 

 


 

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