Letters to the Editor

25th August 1996


Re-introduce English medium also in schools

This refers to the many speeches and commitments made by the Minister of Education at various public gatherings beginning from early last year. It is heartening to note that the Ministry has decided to re-organise the system of education in the schools. As an ex-University Don with practical hands-on experience we have one of the most suitable men at the helm of this Ministry. That the Minister confirms that the entire system of education will be re-organised in consultation with senior experienced academicians and others, taking into account public opinion, is a great progressive stride in the realm of public education. As an Honours Graduate and an exlecturer at one of Sri Lanka's Universities, I feel the idea of re-introducing English of a better standard, as well as English Literature, is a sound idea. It will better equip those of our young ones for a more commercially attractive future. However to really equip this land of ours with Sri Lankans who are capable of serving our island home in every required and necessary way, the pressing need of the hour seems to be that we re-introduce, as has been now proposed and accepted by the Parliamentary Draft Select Committee, an English medium into our schools for a vast number of reasons, all of them crying out loud. For example we are opening or rather have opened, our doors economically. We need all this foreign investment and industrial development, as we cannot close our doors to the outside world. But when the present generations pass on, who are the people who will be at the commercial helm of the industry? Will they be able for example to handle overseas investors in a required common language? More importantly will they be able to understand contracts etc. in English (I don't think we'll be signing these in Sinhala), and is it not possible that we could sign away our motherland if the future generations don't understand the small print in these contracts? Even if it comes to translating or preparing documents to market the island and her products from our ageold ones to the newer ones like garments, tourism brochures, will there be enough professionally qualified persons to do this adequately in the foremost international language which is English? Then again when this generation and maybe one or two more to follow pass on, who will be there to lobby for our country in English? Take the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and even the President herself, and the Prime Minister - they have been able to convince people all over the world from the States and China to Aid Group donors in Paris about various issues in our island and win support as well as essential financial aid from these countries. Take Dr. Gamini Corea, and other UN delegates who have fought for and won issues whether it is air space or sea mass, for our country. All of them, true sons and daughters of the soil, were superbly fluent in the language which is an essential perquisite, if one is to take on the onus of leading the country through international waters and debating or lobbying for the nation at an international level. As a conservative Sinhalese, I feel that much of our present predicament and that we are at the mercy of all and sundry, is that there are insufficient people who have a command of an international language to prevent for example the wool being pulled over the international community's eyes and who can lobby for our country overseas. We should give up this pretext because let's face it, the affluent, and even the not so affluent who have had some exposure to the outside world, send their children to international schools. The latter struggle to scrape the fees together to give their offspring the best education as do their more affluent counterparts. So are we fooling anyone or just depriving the less well off, the middle, and lower middle class of the right to study in English? Are we not widening the gap between the haves and the have-nots by disempowering the middle and poorer classes of the right of their children to have the same education the richer classes have, bearing in mind that the middle class is sometimes the only point of contact between the two extremes? We do not want in any way to detract from the international schools who are performing a yeoman service and catering to a heartfelt need. We have to bear in mind also the fact that those passing out of these international schools study foreign-based syllabi, British Constitution, history etc. or whatever relevant western area, institution, or hierarchical figure they have to study. They are thus more familiar with these than they are with their native land. So naturally when they pass out can we expect them to have much knowledge of our cultural heritage, our ancient history etc.? More importantly will they have much allegiance to Sri Lanka, or will they identify themselves with their motherland and her people? I gave up a very lucrative career overseas to return to this island home, because I was missing her so much. This was at the height of the domestic conflict and my colleagues at the Universities, and in the Media etc. queried my sanity because any news item then commenced Colombo, Sri Lanka, so many people killed etc. and it appeared that blood was flowing in the streets of Colombo, and Sri Lanka, then, which was thankfully not the case. To deal with the issue while holding all traditional Sri Lankan values most dear, and while these must be kept firmly intact, and while one does not in any way want to detract from the National tongue of the majority - Sinhala, it does not help this land of our's to have an ostrich attitude and hide our heads in the sand. To face facts, one must accept that English is the foremost International language in the world (we are not talking numbers - then Chinese would win) just groups of culturally diverse peoples that use English for all or part of their functions as a first or second language. Let us then better equip our children and those of the generations to come by giving them the facility of studying English as a subject and in greater depth by having an English stream so that this land of our's will have Captains at the helm who can take on the world if/when they have to.

A concerned Sri Lankan

Colombo 5

Inland Fisheries: a threat to Buddhism

There is a growing movement in western countries against slaughter of animals and meat eating. ln contrast, many predominantly Buddhist countries which were traditionally not meat producing countries, are now being converted, on the pretext of earning greater export income and better nutrition, to kill and eat flesh foods. The inland fisheries scheme in Sri Lanka is an example of a national plan which will cause substantial damage in the future. to the Buddhist culture prevalent in the rural areas of Sri Lanka. Once a Buddhist is trained to engage in fishing (effectively destroying another life) it is just a matter of time before such a person will commence rearing and killing livestock e.g. pigs, chicken, goats, and cattle. The principle of 'kill and eat', has never been a part of Buddhism. The first precept against killing, in Buddhism, extends to all living beings. Buddhism advocates peaceful co-existence between human beings and animals, rather than the exploitation of animals to serve the selfish ends of man. The concept of 'Ahimsa ' ( which means non-violence towards all living beings ) developed in the Indian spiritual tradition initially as a reaction against animal sacrifices. Now, it is very much a part of Buddhist Ethics. Several NGOs which are funded by international groups 'with hidden agendas' , are promoting occupations among Buddhists, which violate the principles of Right Livelihood, as preached by the Buddha. The aim of these NGOs is to create conditions which will gradually result in Buddhists moving away from their religion and embracing other religions. The Government of Sri Lanka which is constitutionally bound by Article 9 to protect and foster the Buddha Sasana, would be in breach of an important State obligation, if it were to encourage Buddhists to take on occupations such as chicken farming, inland fishing, pig breeding, goat farming and the like which ultimately involve the slaughter of animals. The difficulty of reconciling the killing of animals with the injunction against killing which is enshrined in the Buddhist first precept, can result in such Buddhists who have taken to wrong livelihoods, drifting towards other religions which sanction the slaughter of animals for food or ritual sacrifice. Buddhist organisations should campaign against the inland fisheries scheme for these reasons.

A Concerned Buddhist


This war just cannot drag on for ever

President Kumaratunga's recent public utterance that it is either War or Subsidies is observed by many as a statement coming from a Head of State whose country is marooned in the morass of economic bewilderment. Being the Finance Minister herself, she is not naturally beating about the bush when she painfully contemplates on taking yet another step in reneging on her many election pledges. This war with the obdurate Tigers has turned into one of attrition costing over 50,000 lives and involving billions of rupees on the purchase of aircraft, gunboats and other military hardware, apart from enhanced recruitment to the forces, their logistics, compensation for the dead and of course the natural concomitant of making available the inevitable infrastructure in a war environment. It is now obvious that this country is at the end of its tether, economically. As such, this war cannot just drag on in the manner it plodded along during the 17 years of the previous regime. Is anyone so naive enough to believe that the Tigers would lay down their arms to negotiate deals with the government? The proposed package, the ace in the repertoire of Professor Peiris's political punditry should be put on hold until the Tiger threat is completely pulverized for discussing same with the rest of the Tamil parties, who cannot go beyond Vavuniya on their own stream, will once again be reduced to an exercise on rhetoric. The hoi polloi, although fated to eke out a living on shoestring budget exacerbated by an upward spiral in living costs, would still be willing to put their shoulder to the wheel, if the government resolves to finish off this war sans dragging of feet. Let the President in her role as the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces summon all Services Chiefs and the IGP and give them the Carte Blanche to put an end to the war in the shortest possible time. I have no doubt that every man and woman yearning for peace in this country, notwithstanding the difficulties they are undergoing at the moment and forgetting the Mullaitivu debacle where millions worth of arms were removed by the enemy would be prepared to contribute his or her mite towards the purchase of whatever equipment the armed forces need to see an end to this horrendous war. With America hell bent on eradicating terrorism from this earth hopefully, we shall not encounter problems in purchasing the necessary equipment from her to wipe out the Tigers who have already been branded as a dangerous terrorist outfit by the White House itself. The talk of international repercussions is all gibberish. What is needed is swift action and to last not more than a week the most. Then we shall hear only the voices of the supporters of terrorism with the now familiar terms of pogrom, carnage etc. But who cares, if it ushers the era of peace that we all look forward to in earnest.



Let's wake up from our deep deep slumber

In the context of the prevailing situation of war and unrest in the country, one urgency is the creation of an all-pervading climate of genuine sacrifice, surrendering the comfort of rich and costly limousines and intercoolers, five star hotel comfort, including lavish tamashas and 'baila' sessions where time, energy and money are wasted enormously and direct all activities towards the war effort. Then and only then could national aspirations like ethnic harmony, economic advancement and social stability materialize. In this connection, it should be observed that song and dance and cricket fixtures that tend to create an air of festivity in the country devoid of any national calamity do not befit with the urgent need of the hour. When our heroic soldiers are laying down their lives to save the nation, can anyone in his senses could say that the balance of the citizenry could revel ignoring the most discouraging and damaging impact such mentality could have on the heroic fighters languishing in the battle field? Those who wield riches, power and command live in luxury and comfort sans an iota of support and rapport, moral and material, forthcoming towards the war effort which is the sole current national urgency. Has there been any contribution on their part in this direction? Are their sons fighting in the battle field? When the answer is in the negative, should we, as rational humans toe the line with people trying to fish in troubled waters and the cricket chief hell-bent on continuing with the proposed 'Singer Cup' cricket fixture? Cannot they divert temporarily the enormous resources that would be used for such an event to the urgent national need and earn the encomiums from far and wide? This war hangs like the sword of Damocles. The LTTE has thrown down the gauntlet and it is our business to take it up before we are made to run the gauntlet. Let us Sri Lankans wake up from our deep slumber of lazy posture and face the situation bravely, wisely and purposefully. We have no other choice! Ex Nihilo Nihil Fit!

J. A.S. Jayalath


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