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

Strengthening The Reconciliation Process In Sri Lanka

I am pleased to have been asked to speak today on Reconciliation, at the meeting to mark International Women’s Day, because it is clear that women have a great role to play with regard to Reconciliation. Most important perhaps, in today’s context, is the need to act as advocates for coherent policies and actions with regard to reconciliation. I must admit to being deeply disappointed that this government, which we welcomed with such hopes, has put reconciliation on the back burner. It cannot assume that healing will come just because of goodwill, just as it cannot assume that prosperity will come to all of us through economic growth. We need concerted action, and that action must be based on carefully prepared plans.

One of the problems though with this government is that it is led by people who avoided the responsibilities of the political offices they held in the last few years. So we have no understanding of good government, because there was no effort to engage, and for instance promote efforts to strengthen Parliament against the encroaching executive. At Consultative Committee meetings with regard for instance to Resettlement, or Public Administration Reforms, members of the Opposition did not turn up, and they did not raise issues that continue to affect those who suffered in the conflict. And now they make platitudinous pronouncements about pursuing reconciliation, but have not set up a dedicated mechanism. They have ignored the work done by the LLRC Action Plan Task Force, they have ignored the draft National Policy on Reconciliation, which can easily be adopted, with amendments if needed. They seem, with no knowledge of mechanics, determined to reinvent the wheel, and are meanwhile content to trundle along on skateboards. Though the recent appointment of a Task Force on Reconciliation is welcome, it would have been better had this occurred as the government was elected, so that work could have commenced at once.

I have sent the head of the Task Force a copy of the draft policy, because, prepared as it was with inputs from the more civilized elements in all political parties, as well as constructive members of Civil Society, it has a lot of suggestions that could easily be taken forward. The last government unfortunately did not want to act because, like ostriches with their heads in the sand, they wanted to claim that there was no problem. Continue reading

Educating, empowering and involving Youth

untitledText of a presentation at the World Conference on Youth – 8 May 2014

I am grateful to Aide et Action for this opportunity to speak to you, and even more grateful that they have engaged in a process of international consultation to highlight issues crucial for the well-being of youth. The document they have put together provides a clear and concise account of how the areas initially touched upon in the Colombo Declaration can be fleshed out meaningfully.

Underlying the suggestions are a few basic principles that need continuous emphasis. Inclusivity and involvement, information and awareness, empowerment and equal access, all require greater attention from governments.

To achieve this, I think it is necessary to pursue comprehensive reform with regard to mindsets. Reform is of course central to the agenda of Liberalism, which is the creed I uphold, but I think in this context we should also use another word, which has often been twinned with Liberalism.  I refer to the term Radicalism, which means essentially the idea of getting to the core of things and uprooting whatever is not conducive to progress. It is because Liberalism has often been misunderstood, and thought to stand for only free market policies, that in many areas Liberals associate themselves with Radicals, as in an institution of great energy and commitment, the International Federation of Liberal and Radical Youth. This juxtaposition was sometimes necessary to emphasize the Liberal commitment to inclusive progress.

Liberals do indeed believe in free markets, but they also realize, unlike capitalists and conservatives, that markets are not free unless measures are in place to reduce inequalities, to enhance opportunities and to control power, whether it be political, economic, social or physical. The creation of a level playing field may be an impossible dream, but that does not reduce the imperative to pursue this.

This dream, this ideal, lies at the heart of the Colombo declaration, and the additions Aide et Action have suggested on the basis of their consultations in four continents and 16 countries. The details of the consultation make clear how AEA is well qualified to undertake such a task, given the remarkable work it has engaged in all over the world.

I have seen this system of aid in action in just two countries, India and Sri Lanka, but the confidence of their students, and the initiatives they undertake, make it clear that this is an organization that puts its principles into practice. It is for this reason that, over the last couple of years, I have used much of my decentralized budget to set up Vocational Training Centres in the North to be run by Aide et Action. I should add that I was keen that these be set up in schools, to emphasize the link between academic and vocational education, something that the consultations have stressed is necessary. I am happy to say that the initial snooty approach of the Sri Lankan Ministry of Education to Vocational Training is now changing – though not fast enough for my liking – and I received active cooperation from the authorities, both earlier and now, more recently, from the new Provincial administration.

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Self-Employment Batik Training Project for Women in Jaffna– 15 March 2014

batik

“Empowering the women through self employment has been a successful project in the recent past. After the end of hostilities the government has implemented a program to identify the requirements of the women society and fulfilling those through effective programs. This is one such program.”

Self-Employment Batik Training Project for Women in Jaffna was commenced in Chankanai on 15th March 2014. Minister of Traditional Industries and Small Enterprise Development Douglas Devananda and Governor of the Northern Province GA Chandrasiri participated as chief guest and officially inaugurated the project.

Ministry of Traditional Industries and Small Enterprise Development, National Craft Council and Rotary Club jointly organized this project at a cost of 3 million rupees.

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523 Brigade Encourages Youths for Vocational Training

2014_03_12_003An introductory lecture on vocational training and self-employment for unemployed youths in 52 Division area organized by the 4thth Mechanized Infantry Regiment (4 MIR) of Kankesanthurai was held at Headquarters 16th Vijayabahu Infantry Regiment (16 VIR) of Nunavil on Monday (10).

The workshop was organized to educate the youths on the demand for some skilled labour in society and motivate them to follow any kind of vocational training according their interest and skill.

Approximately 90 youths, both male and female attended the workshop. Mr. Suresh Kumar, an instructor of Jaffna Vocational Training Centre conducted the programme coordinated by the 523 Brigade of Allarai.

http://www.cimicjaffna.lk/Cimicnews_2014_03_12_2.php

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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The Care of Children 30 – Initiatives in the North for the young

Amidst a number of meetings of Divisional Secretariat Reconciliation Committees in the North last week, I also had a number of interactions with children, and with persons working with children. Two instances were serendipitous, but I was privileged to participate actively – and indeed exhaustingly – on one occasion. This was when I conducted, in a small school near Nedunkerni, one of the games that the former combatants had delighted in, during my first visit to the Rehabilitation Centre for girls in Vavuniya three and a half years ago.

Cultural event by students

The laughter of the girls on that occasion still illuminates in presentations of the Rehabilitation Bureau, as I saw last month at the Officer Career Development Centre Seminar at Buttala. In Nedunkerni the children were younger, and even less inhibited.

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Junior School presents Sinhala and Tamil folk dances at opening by UNICEF Head of English Activity Centre on World Children’s Day

On World Children’s Day the Country Director of UNICEF in Sri Lanka, Mr Reza Husseini, opened an English Activity Center at the Karandana Junior School in the Eheliyagoda Educational Division.

The Center, which also includes two classrooms for Grade V students, and looks out over the local hills, was built with decentralized funds allocated by Prof Rajiva Wijesinha.

Mr Husseini unveiled the plaque which was in English and Sinhala and Tamil, and students introduced the programme in all three languages. The school also presented Sinhala and Tamil Folk Dance items with great skill and enthusiasm.

Children performing dance items with great enthusiasm

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