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World Affairs








Whither Education in Sri Lanka

Now that the schools are closed for vacation after a tedious year and the new school year is about to start it is high time that the minister of education and the authorities concerned ponder on the drawbacks, mistakes and failures in the field of education during the past year and take action to rectify them.

Looking back at 2008, we cannot call it a successful year education wise. Many factors contributed to this pathetic situation. To begin with text books issued to the children were not distributed on time. This included children in Grade 11, and to add insult to injury, most of the books had many mistakes. I suppose the students have received most of their books for 2009 by now.

The year-end examinations conducted by the government were a real hodge-podge. Most of the papers leaked before the exam, and there were many mistakes in the question papers with some examination centres receiving the question papers long after the time set for the commencement of the examination. In some centres the number of question papers received were not sufficient.

In some schools the children hadn’t received their year-end examination marks, which they’ll get only at the beginning of the new academic year — i.e. January 5, when invariably they will be in a new class. The answer scripts should have been given out and the answers discussed so that the children would have known where they had gone wrong.

Another problem faced by the authorities is that there are too many students in a class, sometimes more than 50 and it is humanly impossible for a teacher to go through the written work and correct them all. As a result the students go on making the same mistake over and over again.

This is worse where the subject of English is concerned. This is one reason for the big number of failures in English at the O/L exam. Even the Science and Maths results have been atrocious. The number of students who had passed in Maths and Science at this exam was 57% and 52% respectively.

A shocking revelation made by the Education Department is that about 90% of the teachers in the Central Province are unqualified. In most of the other provinces too it is the same situation. If this is the case how can one expect good results at the end of the year?

A teacher should be qualified to go in front of a class to impart his or her knowledge to the students with confidence. I wonder how these unqualified teachers were recruited to service in the first place.

The standard of English in Sri Lanka is terrible, but still students have only five periods of English a week in the timetable. Most of the children come from homes where English is not spoken and hence are handicapped.

It was heartening to hear that year 2009 has been declared year of English and Information Technology, and a special committee has been appointed to work on it.

A few government schools have started teaching some subjects in English. This will not be fruitful until and unless there are teachers who are competent to teach these subjects in English. So the immediate solution should be to train as many teachers in English as possible without scrapping the teaching of these subjects in English as suggested by the JVP.

The Education Ministry’s latest hodge-podge is the new syllabus O/L Maths paper II. A lot has been brought to light by the print and electronic media. As usual everyone is passing the blame to someone else. They will somehow save their skin with their lame excuses but it is the innocent students who will have to suffer. The people at the top such as the minister of education, his officials and the commissioner of examinations are passing the blame on others.

Over to you Minister of Education. Please take the necessary measures immediately to put an end to this grave situation without playing with the future of this country.

Concerned Retired Teacher


An open letter to the President

Dear Mr. President,

Why do you keep protecting thugs, fraudsters and even cattle thieves? One evil effect of your attitude towards law breakers in high positions is that the idea that laws can be broken with impunity if protection from the top is assured, has permeated into all ranks of society, so much so that the frightening spectre of anarchy looms large.

Your government has lost all credibility, especially with regard to the conduct of the war. Your various spokesmen battle to outdo each other at fibbing and exaggeration. They must, for a start, stop issuing casualty figures which are obviously false.

Can any sane person continue to believe their stories of killing scores of Tigers with no reported casualties on the side of the government armed forces? Even the reported over-running of villages and towns is now going beyond the realms of credibility, with the same places being captured every three weeks or so.

What happens as a result is that more and more stories are doing the rounds especially via email. Two days ago one such story was doing the rounds that there were so many casualties among service personnel that they were being buried in mass graves dug with bulldozers, to prevent a reaction in the south and a resultant reluctance to enroll in the army.

Wouldn’t it be wiser to keep the public informed more accurately about what is really happening? As an example, take the capture of Killinochchi. Around August 23 our worthy PM trumpeted triumphantly that Killinochchi was only two days away from capture. Today, in January 2009, Killinochchi is still under the Tigers, though regular reports continue to be blared over the media of its imminent capture.

The most ludicrous explanation for the slow progress was offered by the bearded spokesman. He claimed that the progress was slow to avoid civilians getting hurt. Someone should remind this worthy gentleman about the huge number of civilians who have suffered injury and death in bombing raids by our air force. He should take a walk in the refugee camps and listen to the refugees’ stories.

You may be convinced that politicisation of the war is good to cover a multitude of omissions and sinful commissions. It should be confined within sensible limits, instead of condemning everything done by the UNP, as traitorous, stifling the truth, and calling everyone who opposes the government a traitor.

It is sad for us all that you have decided to defy the Supreme Court on the hedging fiasco and the oil price reduction. You are inevitably being compared to Mugabe who has ridden roughshod over the judiciary and everyone who dared to oppose him in which case it is time to start ordering the printing of hundred million rupee currency notes.

The administration of the country is going from bad to worse with corruption and inefficiency being the norm. Economic problems seem to be beyond the comprehension of the accountant you placed at the top of the Central Bank. It is the same sad story at other key government institutions such as the CPC.

The Health and Education Ministries have been completely messed up along with some other ministries too. Billions are being wasted on maintaining a horde of incompetent ministers and deputies. One particular ministry has six ministers, one of whom has been accused of being a cattle thief by an eminent monk in the ruling coalition itself. He is not the first minister to earn that sobriquet.

The economy is crashing; factories and other business establishments are going out of business in large numbers. The cost of living is sky high, inflation has been rising at a similar rate and it is becoming worse every day.

Where else can the country go but into the abyss and anarchy.

God Save Sri Lanka!



Drug menace and the police

The drug menace is penetrating sections of our society and institutionalising itself at an alarming tempo. As a result, the number of drug addicts in the country is also rising at a terrifying rate. Despite concerns expressed by parents, teachers, religious leaders and others, the drug trade continues to flourish.

Whichever way the problem is viewed, it is really serious and the government has to step in to put an end to the problem.

While regional and international efforts are crucial in the drive against drug trafficking and use of illicit drugs, the primary duty of tackling this problem rests with the government for these bodies can give international and regional support and coordinating bodies can only extend cooperation, expertise and assistance in monitoring progress.

The most prominent and significant cause for the drug trade to thrive in Sri Lanka is the nexus between police officers and the drug traders. Just as much as the traders rank from the international scale drug lords to the small time street vendors, the police officers are also spread over a wide spectrum of ranks from top to bottom in the system.

It was not long ago that the personal mobile phone number of a high-ranking police officer was found in the diary of a drug king pin who is in custody. The explanation given by the police top brass was that the particular officer had given his private mobile number to the drug dealer to ensure the safety of the latter. The inquiries however were shelved together with the diary and the matter ended there.  

Taking bribes to stop police investigations in a particular crime and profit sharing is very common in the Police Department. If not for this, many drug related crimes could have been successfully prosecuted or at least could have been exposed. Hence, any determined effort to prevent this menace must address this nexus first.

A concerted effort is needed to obliterate this scourge from society and also extricate ourselves from this global problem. It is still not too late for the authorities to get the lethargic and ineffective police force spread all over the country on track for us to have a drug free Sri Lanka.

K.R. Pushparanjan

Mt. Lavinia

Bribing to overlook ‘small mistakes’

Recently some youngsters who went for the driving licence test told me that they had been asked to pay a sum ranging between Rs.1000 to Rs.2500 to the examiner if they wanted to pass the test.

It is a known fact that the driver training school authorities themselves tell those who get trained under them that the payment of a bribe is not compulsory; but if a bribe is paid the examiner would overlook ‘small mistakes.’

The ‘advice’ goes like this: "If you pay them Rs.2500 you will pass, and if you don’t they will fail you for ‘small mistakes.’ Then you will have to pay Rs. 2500 to re-sit the exam, so why not pay this anyway and get the driving licence?"

This is a nice argument to justify corruption. Will anyone dare to stop this?  It is very difficult to catch as there is no way to prove that the driving was perfect!

So how do we solve this problem?

Dr. Mareena Thaha Reffai



K.S.C. de Fonseka

The 12th death anniversary of Kalutaravedage Sarath Chandra de Fonseka fell on November 25, 2008. He was the former Port Commissioner and with the formation of the Sri Lanka Ports Authority in 1979, he was appointed as its managing director.

Born in Moratuwa to middle class parents, he received his primary education at St. Sebastian’s College. After entering the University of Ceylon, he passed the B. Sc. (Eng.) Examination in 1956 and joined the Colombo Port Commission as a junior engineer and rose rapidly in rank which could be attributed to his dedication to duty and perseverance.

De Fonseka obtained Post Graduate Diplomas in Hydraulic Engineering (Delft) – 1963/64, Coastal and Tidal Engineering, and Port Engineering. He was a Chartered Civil Engineer, a Member of the Institute of Civil Engineers (London), Fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers (Sri Lanka), and a Fellow of the Economic Development Institute of the World Bank.

With his high qualifications in civil engineering he was closely involved in conceptualising and implementing various projects under each successful phase of port development. His expertise in the technical aspects in port and maritime construction has been internationally recognised. He was widely travelled and had addressed several international seminars.

I had the privilege of working with him when he was the port commissioner and later as his personal assistant when he was appointed the managing director of the Sri Lanka Ports Authority in 1979, until his retirement. His most difficult period was his final year in office when certain unscrupulous elements worked against him, which is nothing new in a corporation.

With the passage of time, most of the schemers fell by the wayside. They say that a good man cannot be kept down or brought down and De Fonseka withstood all this with dignity — the hallmark of an honourable individual. On reaching the age of 60 years, he retired from the Ports Authority.

Shortly after his retirement he was appointed as chairman of the Road Development Authority by the then Minister A. H. M. Fowzie. However, as fate would have it, a dreaded terminal decease cut short his brilliant career and he died on November 25, 1995.

The three individuals who did much for the development of the Port — Lalith Athulathmudali, Wimal Amerasekera (perhaps the best Government Agent, Jaffna ever had) and De Fonseka, have ironically all crossed the Great Divide! Each of them were brilliant in their own way and their contribution to the Port stands as testimony even today.

De Fonseka leaves behind his devoted wife Pearl, a lady of strong character who hails from the wealthy Wijesuriya family and stood by him at all times; daughter Menaka and son Manik. Menaka needs no introduction. She is a fellow of the Trinity College of Music, London and a Licentiate of the Royal School of Music both in piano and singing. Manik is a qualified engineer and a chartered accountant.

May he attain the supreme bliss of nibbana.

Leslie Cooray


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