Education essential for reconciliation

Rajiva Wijesinha interviewed by Rathindra Kuruwita

Many think of truth commissions, new laws and restitution when they think of reconciliation. But in a country like Sri Lanka where there is deep rooted prejudices and mistrust among ethnicities, education can play a key role in achieving true reconciliation. Ceylon Today speaks to former State Minister of Education and former Secretary General of the Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP) Rajiva Wijesinha to speak further on using Education as a tool, in reconciliation and ethnic harmony.

 Q:  How can we use education to achieve reconciliation?

A: As we noted in the draft National Reconciliation Policy, which the last government ignored, and which this one does not seem interested in either, ‘The perception of discrimination and unequal treatment within the Tamil population arose from a series of administrative changes, such as discrimination against the use of the Tamil language in a context where education was segregated by language. This contributed to deprivation in terms of jobs, which was exacerbated by the State being the predominant employer in the context of statist economic policies’.

Reversing this would be easy if we ensured bilingualism, which is a standard requirement for higher education, in all countries at our level of development or higher. I would advocate making two of the three languages used in this country compulsory at Ordinary Level. This would open up more opportunities for employment for citizens from the North too, while it would ensure that any citizen could communicate with any other citizen.

I should note that by education I also mean technical and vocational training, which is a mess at present. In the last few years, I have spent much of my decentralized budget in the North for Vocational Training Centres, because very little was happening there. The Ministry in Colombo did not develop active training centres, but constructed buildings and set up institutions, which provide jobs for favourites. The present government also seems concerned more with making political appointments to these positions rather than the professional development that is needed. I had plans, when Kabir Hashim first told me he wanted me to look after Technical Education too, to develop a modular system so that we would produce not only technicians but also potential managers and entrepreneurs. We could have got private sector support for this, given the crying need for skilled workers. But I was told that the Prime Minister wanted to hang on to that sector – and since then I have seen no evidence of thinking on the subject.

At another level, we should also have systematized the twinning of schools and universities. I had suggested for instance that Moratuwa University work together with the Eastern University, and Jaffna with Ruhuna. Earlier, I had wanted a major Colombo school to work with a big school in a Northern District capital to do projects for rural areas. Unfortunately the then Secretary at the Ministry of Education got suspicious and did not encourage this.

Finally, we should develop a programme to get educational support from the Diaspora. As you know, this element in the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission recommendations has been neglected. Soon after, I took office I wrote to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs about this, but heard nothing. Recently, International Alert had a meeting with youngsters from the Diaspora who wanted to volunteer for work here, but it seems those in authority are concerned only about investment. Even students can understand the need for other systems of contact, as when for instance the Rajarata Medical students asked about getting people from abroad to teach them for particular subjects for particular periods. That type of person to person contact would be ideal, for when people work together they appreciate each other more. But I fear there is little concern about either Reconciliation or Education at a time when grabbing power and winning elections (and not in that order) seem the priorities.

Q:  You have said “when the vast majority of jobs in the public sector require a knowledge of Sinhala, and the education system prevents Tamils, and Muslims too, from acquiring Sinhala, of course they will be deprived of jobs.’ What are the main reasons preventing students from the North and East to learn Sinhala? On the other hand don’t students have the right to learn in a language they prefer and is it not the State’s responsibility to ensure that they are also included in the system?

A: The main problem is an acute shortage of teachers. The State has failed to provide English teachers though it has been a compulsory subject for half a century (compulsory in the peculiar Sri Lankan use of the term, since it is not compulsory to pass an exam in English). Now, though Sinhala and Tamil are compulsory as Third Languages, we do not have enough teachers in those subjects either,of course students have a right to pick their medium of instruction, I am talking now of a second language. We have a chicken and egg situation here, in that the State does not want to make a second language compulsory because there are not enough teachers, and because there are not enough teachers, many students cannot learn a second language. And of course it is the rural students who suffer most. Sometimes, seeing the efforts to stop English medium education that both Ranil Wickremesinghe and some officials in the Education Ministry engaged in, when Tara de Mel and I started it 15 years ago, I begin to wonder whether this isn’t a deliberate ploy to stop our bright rural students from being able to compete effectively. Continue reading

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Workshop on Second National Language held at Kopay Training College – 08 November 2014

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A two-day workshop on Second National Language has been organized at Kopay Teachers’ Training College on 08th and 09th November. Governor of Northern Province GA Chandrasiri participated as Chief Guest at the inauguration ceremony of the workshop.

Students of Trilingual Learning Center of Northern Province participated at this workshop.

http://www.np.gov.lk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=3202:workshop-on-second-national-language-held-at-kopay-training-college-08-november-2014&catid=8&Itemid=114

Another Batch of Jaffna Soldiers Receives Tamil Language Proficiency Certificates

2014_08_30_2_1The 3rd and 4th batches of soldiers who followed an intensive Tamil language course in Jaffna received certificates at a pompous ceremony held on Friday (29) evening at Kakesanthurai with participation of educationists, distinguished guests and well wishers in Jaffna.

A total of 1815 Army members serving under Security Force Jaffna (SF-J) attended the one month course conducted by Army and civilian instructors at Brigade and battalion level. Tamil language programme for SF-J officers and men commenced early this year on concept of Commander SF-J Major General Udaya Perera with intention of enabling soldiers to communicate effectively with local population so that mutual relationship could be improved. Establishing the identity of the Army as a national organization is another motive of organizing this language course. A plan is underway to make each and every soldier serving in Jaffna competent in communicating in Tamil by September 2015 through such Tamil language courses.

Prof. Vasanthi Arsaratnam, Vice Chancellor University of Jaffna graced the occasion as Chief Guest. Appreciating the genuine effort of teaching Tamil to soldiers, the VC said it would pave the way to effective communication between Security Force personnel and civilians. She further said that all universities are planning to start Tamil language courses for Sinhalese students and Sinhala for Tamil students.

Earlier, 1476 officers and other ranks were given similar training in Batch number 1 and 2. Batch number 5 is presently undergoing language training at respective places. Reverend members of clergy, Commander SF-J Major General Udaya Perera and Distinguished gusts such as former VC of University of Jaffna Prof. Balasundaram Pillai and Senior DIG Northern Province Mr. Poojith Jayasundara also distributed certificates to course participants and awards to those with higher performance.

Course participants presented a short Tamil play exhibiting the knowledge they gained.

General Officer Commanding 52 Division Major General Priyantha Jayasundara coordinated the training programme.

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http://www.cimicjaffna.lk/Cimicnews_2014_08_30_2.php

Sinhala Language Improvement Programme Held

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A twelve days Sinhala Language Improvement programme has been commenced on 19th June 2014 at MDTD Auditorium. To improve the language skills for government staff Management Development Training Department (MDTD) conduct this programme with the collaboration of National Institute of Language Education and Training (NILET).

The Programme has been ceremonially inaugurated by the Chief Guest of Mrs. J.J.Muraleetharan, Deputy Chief Secretary – Personal & Training, EPC, Mr.Prasath R.Hearth, Director General, NILET and Mr.G.Gopnath, Assistant Director, NILET.

http://www.ep.gov.lk/DetailsEventnew.asp?lan=0&eid=396

Two Tamil Language Courses for Jaffna Soldiers Completed

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Commander Security Force Jaffna (SF – J) Major General Udaya Perera said that language has the power to build unity among the communities. So Sinhalese must learn Tamil and Tamils must learn Sinhalese.

He expressed these ideas attending a ceremony to distribute awards and certificates to 1122 soldiers who successfully completed a Tamil Language Course conducted by the Headquarters Security Force Jaffna (SF – J). During ceremony organized at Kankesanthurai on Thursday (05) evening, 12 officers and 1110 other ranks received certificates and awards according to their order of merit obtained in the tests conducted at the end of the course.

playExhibiting their language proficiency, students of Course No. 1 and Course No 2 presented playlet for the entertainment of the audience comprising distinguished guests.

To facilitate easy and uninterrupted communication with civilians in performing duties, Security Force Jaffna, on concept of the Commander SF – J Major General Udaya Perera, has planned to give Tamil language training to all officers and men serving in Jaffna.

Professional in the field of language teaching in Jaffna and soldiers who were trained at the Army Tamil Language Training school, Kotmale conducted lectures.

Rev. D.S. Rathnasabapathipillai Kurukkal of Maviddapuram Sri Skantha Temple, Vicar General Jaffna Rev. Fr. Dr. Justin P. Gnanaprakasam, Government Agent Jaffna Mr. S. Arumainayagam and Ms Agnes Asekenye Oonyu, Head, UN Office for Coordinating Humanitarian Affairs also joined Maj. Gen. Udaya Perera in awarding certificates.

http://www.cimicjaffna.lk/Cimicnews_2014_06_08.php

Reconciliation through Poetry

Can poetry reconcile people of different ethnic, religious and cultural backgrounds to each other? Can poetry heal the wounds left behind by conflict and wipe away the tears? Can poetry build bridges and bond people together?

Professor K. Satchithanadan of Delhi University, one time secretary of the prestigious Sahitya Academy of India, had no direct answers but made it clear that poetry gave voice to the voiceless, power to challenge injustice and oppression and pricked the conscience of humanity. This message of humanity was conveyed by him and a team of Sri Lankan poets, So Pathmanathan from Jaffna, Ariyawansa Ranaweera from Colombo, and myself from Kandy. Led by him, we visited three higher institutions of learning- namely the University of Peradeniya, the Eastern University and the University of Sabaragamuwa, Belihuloya.

The three poets represented the three languages used in Sri Lanka- Sinhala, Tamil and English. Significantly, they were bilingual and bonded with each other culturally and aesthetically. Above all they shared the enthusiasm to reach out to each other and facilitate others to reach out to them and to each other. The three contexts in which this sensitizing and humanizing activity took place were well selected in terms of background, audience and response. They also formed a cross section of the Sri Lankan population Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim. At the University of Peradeniya something akin to this session had been done by Professor Rajiva Wijesinha when his book ‘Mirrored Images’ was made familiar to the academic community and the alumni there. But this session had vertical proportions in that the participant audience comprised senior academics, academics and students. The audience was participatory and as was to be expected critical. Professor Satchithanandan took them on intellectually as well as poetically. He raised awareness through his very erudite lecture, taking the audience through the ages from Ramayana to Faustus, from Neruda to modern poets who write poetry of violence. He charmed with his recital of his own poetry. He showed without doubt the power of poetry.

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Governor declared open the Trilingual Center Classrooms – 06 April 2014

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“Mahinda Chinthanaya envisages a trilingual Sri Lanka where Sinhala and Tamil speaking people will relate to each other in each other’s languages and English will be a life skill for occupation and employment and an instrument of communication to access knowledge from the external world. Sinhala and Tamil will be further developed to serve as the country’s languages of discourse, discussion and intellectual debate on all aspects of modern knowledge and technology as is the function of national languages in almost all other countries of the world. This will enable the vast majority of our people to participate in national discourse to thereby help grow a vibrant, practicing democracy in the country.These Trilingual centers will definitely fulfill the aspirations of Mahintha Chinthana and thereby help to achieve real peace & meaningful in this country.”

Newly constructed classrooms at Trilingual Training Centre at Kalviyankadu, Jaffna were declared open by Governor of the Northern Province GA Chandrasiri on 06th April 2014.

These semi-permanent classrooms were constructed by UNICEF organization. He inaugurated the classes for the first batch of the programme. In these classrooms, 210 students in six divisions can learn at a time. A canteen has been constructed it this compound.

Secretary to the Governor L.Ilaangovan, Asst. Secretary of Jaffna Regional Commissioner Office S.Annadurai, the Principal of the Trilingual Center Mrs.Lilani Amarasinghe and representative from UNICEF also took part in the event.

http://www.np.gov.lk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2875:governor-declared-open-the-trilingual-center-classrooms-06-april-2014&catid=111:trilingual&Itemid=254

Trilingual Learning Centre declared open by Governor – 21 March 2014

openingA timely act to strengthen the reconciliation process.

“Another promise of Mahintha Chinthanaya has been fulfilled in northern province.Trilingual Language center is the need of the hour for the people of different communities to learn languages other than mother tongue.A timely decision, which will definitely contribute immensely to the reconciliation activities of the government.This will empower the masses in all 3 languages.”

Opening ceremony of Northern Province Trilingual Learning Centre was held on 19th March 2014. Governor of the Northern Province GA Chandrasiri officially declared open the learning center.

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Towards Reconciliation

Rajiva Wijesinha

Adviser on Reconciliation to HE the President

 

Four years after the conclusion of conflict, Sri Lanka still has a long way to go to achieve Reconciliation. This is unfortunate, given the enormous efforts made by government to improve facilities for the people most affected by war. But it is not surprising that, as indicated by the results of the last election held in the Northern Province, we have failed to win hearts and minds.

That would not have been difficult had a concerted effort been made. But this requires planning, and unfortunately planning is not something Sri Lanka has been good at. For over three decades now, we have tended to respond to events or rather to crises. The one exception was the care with which, in the period after 2005, we approached the conflict, with all branches of government working together and care taken to ensure the dissemination of clear and convincing information. Following the conclusion of the conflict however all that broke down, and propaganda, often based on parochial electoral considerations, took over, with little attempt at intelligent analysis of ground realities.

Thus we seemed to believe that reconstruction alone would suffice, and reconstruction that placed a premium on cement rather than people. This is on par with the worst delusions of capitalism as elevated into a political philosophy, the assumption that prosperity will trickle down. But this does not work, and Sri Lanka may in the end have to pay heavily for the failure to conceptualize with sensitivity of those who took on responsibility only for construction and not for consultation, who concentrated only on resettlement and not rather on restoration.

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55 Division Completes third Tamil language Course for soldiers

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The third Tamil language course conducted by the 55 Division for soldiers serving in the 55 Division area ended on 31st May 2013 with a End of Course Concert presented in Tamil language by the participants.

Three officers and forty nine other ranks attneded the third Tamil language improvement course conducted for one month at the 55 Division Headquarters. This programme which commenced for soldiers to improve their communication ability with civilians in respective areas has helped the Army and civilian community to strengthen their rapport.

This Tamil language improvement programme in the 55 Division was started on directives of General Officer Commanding of the Division Brigadier Ajith Wjesinghe. Commander 552 Brigade Colonel Deepal Wanniarachchi attended the closing address of the course as chief guest.

http://www.cimicjaffna.lk/Cimicnews_2013_06_01.php