Govts’ Educational Policy, “Sari Code” and………

This and that Ramblings (Island) 

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by Goolbai Gunasekara

History teaches us that it is a mistake to think the enthusiasm of a select few has the support of the masses. Ever since the SWRD Bandaranaike Government ushered in the disastrous Sinhala Only policy, education has been on a downward spiral, which shows no sign of slowing down. Each government makes changes which please its ministers, but it has to be wondered whose advice is taken, and whether such advice is beneficial to students and not just to the political ambitions of the Party or the Minister of Education.

From the point of view of those of us who have had to go through the trauma of education since the 1960s, there has been no surcease for the mass of students EXCEPT during the Chandrika Bandaranaike regime, when she wisely handed education over to Dr. Tara de Mel. Under her guidance sensible strides were made to bring education into line with modern trends, despite the truly horrendous and monumentally stupid ‘Language Problem’ CB’s father foisted on a helpless Nation. Unfortunately she resigned the minute the Govt. changed. A foolish Govt. did not ask her to stay on. All those worthwhile policies were done away with. Education continued hurtling downward.

The ‘Sinhala Overnight’ policy of SWRD Bandaranaike caused not merely consternation, but virtually spelt ruin to children in the English stream who were unable to function in Sinhala or Tamil, since their entire education up until that time had been in English. The two National languages were compulsory subjects. Sinhala and Tamil children had to switch languages immediately. Children of mixed marriages were allowed to continue in English until the stream eventually dried up after a few years. Muslim children were allowed to continue in English – again till the stream ended after a few years. Likewise, the Burghers, who had wisely begun their emigration to Australia.

That absurd policy triggered a terrible backlash causing Sri Lanka to lose some of its most worthwhile citizens….rather like the way in which the Spanish expulsion of the Jews and Muslims spelt ruin to Commerce, Education and Trade of Catholic Spain. The trouble here is that our policy makers are uneducated…or fanatical as in SWRD’s case.

If a new Education policy is being properly planned how can the PM blithely announce such a vital matter at some public meeting and add that he intends to use Singapore as a role model? Here we are on the verge of elections, and the Govt. talks of educational changes? Truly it is unhinged.

It will take many months of planning and many sensible planners (God forbid if present ones are used again) to be able to uplift our appallingly run system of education at the moment. Surely the present Minister of Education cannot be the improbable instigator of the idea, although given what is going on with his picture in text books and other ludicrous behavior, it well could be.

Chevon Daniels, in a hard hitting speech, outlined the tragedy of poverty (and sad state of education) our children in the outstations are going through. An educational policy will have to utilize expertise the Govt. does not even know Sri Lanka possesses. Non-party personnel will be needed and may I ask who is going to mobilize a group of altruistic and knowledgeable persons who will tell the inept Minister of Education to stop his silly emphasis on ‘Tabs’ and suchlike nonsense, and try to do some proper and useful work? Hopefully he will no longer be the Minister when new policies are formulated.

The needs of the village child are not the same as the needs of the town child. Again the needs of the working classes are different to those of the more affluent classes. The difference is not addressed by making ALL children of Sri Lanka follow ONE educational policy and sit for the SAME competitive exam at the end of each ‘section’ (i.e. grade 5, OL and AL). The quota system exacerbates the problem. I cannot understand WHY it is still in operation? The wrong type of student regularly gets into the Universities and equally regularly causes disruption and trouble.

This is where alternatives are vital in all streams of education, and for that of course, we need a new system of education. But to casually announce such a change, as if it were just a matter of changing one’s socks, is absolute cupidity. For a change in education to take place we need experts in educational psychology, sociologists as well as educationists. And we certainly do NOT need the input of some politician.

We have to de-politicize education. We need a genuinely concerned Head of State who looks for a non-political solution. We need University Vice Chancellors who are truly academic and professional. We need for them to be appointed by non-political bodies. Politicians should NOT dabble in education when they do not have much education themselves. Where do we look for such wisdom?

Then I come to the new attire for Government servants. Fortunately, I see the Public Administration Committee has suspended the inane idea which made front page news a few days ago that only the sari and osariya was allowed for female Govt. servants to wear to work. Does the person who makes such idiotic rules know how difficult and time consuming wearing a sari is? It is expensive, hot, difficult to run in (for buses etc) and hard to launder. Women govt. servants tend to buy saris which do not need regular washing and these are usually made of artificial silk which are extremely warm.

In any case what women don is their business and the Govt. has no right to tell women govt. servants what to wear so long as they look modest and neat In fact the Govt. would do better to ensure that ALL Govt. offices smell fresh and clean rather than worry about what style of dress employees use. Truly we might as well ask women to wear the burqa. The idea behind such ‘orders’ is the same.

And while I am on the subject of clothes, let me say how outraged I am by the fact that Mothers have to follow a strict dress code when entering a Govt. school. Again, modesty is all that is needed…and even here I feel it is no one’s business but the wearer’s. If a Mother wanted to wear jeans or slacks it is surely her affair. Ban Bikinis! …or shorts perhaps! In any case Mothers do not want to embarrass their children by wearing anything too eye catching when visiting their school. It is not up to the Ministry to tell them how to dress. How come we put up with it?

To change topics: From an ordinary citizen’s point of view, the doings of our Ministers and President defy understanding. On one day some parliamentarian tells us that MS has been nominated as the presidential candidate of the SLFP. The Press then announces he has yet to make up his mind. MS himself then announces the date of the pres. election (in India) during Modi’s swearing in, as being on Dec. 7th. It is contradicted in this morning’s Sunday Times (June 2nd) by the National Elections Commission which says it is not possible to do so.

The President should make sure he knows his facts before talking on an international stage. But then does anyone in the Govt. know what he is saying? The one person who soothes my fury after listening to politicians talk on the News Channels is Dr. Indrajit Coomaraswamy, whose measured delivery of facts and calm demeanor make the Finances of the country seem believable at last. After Arjuna Mahendra’s antics he is SO pleasant to hear.

Another impressive personality of late has been the Army Commander, Lieutenant Gen. Mahesh Senanayake, who speaks clearly and plausibly as well. The General public is starved of plausibility. Nobody answers any questions in Parliament to our satisfaction. The members of our House simply shout into the mike or vilify each other. Sajith Premadasa can be counted on to speak with commonsense and intelligence, but then he is highly educated – and it shows. Most of others are figures of fun. One must agree with Oscar Wilde who said that when God created man he overestimated his ability.

No one has overestimated our present Government more than us deluded voters, who expected so much and were given so little.