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Which house proud lady has not heard of the timeless and classic laces of Brussels?
Which woman does not dream of owning a few pieces to adorn her home, and then later pass them on to her daughters and daughters-in-law? Well, that dream might very well become a reality for ladies of Sri Lanka, because produced right here by the deft and nimble hands of village girls, is Brussels lace indeed. In all its pristine glory, frothy and delicate items like tablecloths, table runners, cushion covers, placemats, napkins, pillow cases and even beautiful clothes like blouses, nighties and children's dresses with accents of lace, these beautiful items are a sheer delight to behold.
The woman behind this enterprising venture is none other than that dynamic and enthusiastic lady, Andrea Boekel. Andrea is no stranger to the needlework and craft world. She has been instrumental in introducing many new techniques of sewing and crafting to Sri Lanka and is a much respected teacher whose enthusiasm knows no bounds. Almost everyone is familiar with the exhibitions she has put up, but Andrea is also, in her own right, a voice for the downtrodden women.
Village women are her own fiery cause. Under her guidance and motivation, village women have been producing exquisite hand embroidered home linens for the export market.
Andrea has her own BOI approved company, Savannah (Pvt.) Ltd., which she runs together with her supportive and enthusiastic husband Rudolf. Together they have taken products made by Sri Lankan village women to many European capitals and drawn gasps of admiration and astonishment, that our country's women too are capable of producing such exquisite, elaborate articles.
However, her new venture which is the manufacture of Brussels Lace is already receiving so many export enquiries that she wants to take it a little slower. "There is nothing worse you can do to destroy your reputation than undertake more orders than you can cope with", she says with conviction.
This year, the company's products were exhibited at HEIMTEXTIL 1996 in Frankfurt, Germany. This is the world's largest home textile fair and customers who visited the stand there were surprised that this item could be produced in Sri Lanka. She had to refuse quite a lot of orders because it was a fledgling industry for her, but next year, she is determined to accept and deliver all the enquiries she could not entertain this year.
The lace is produced entirely by hand and takes a lot of painstaking work to complete. Traditional Brussels Lace comes only in White and Ecru and is wispy, transparent and almost gossamer-like. In recent years, the market has been flooded with a poor imitation of the real thing coming from China and other South East Asian nations, but one can tell the difference between these products and her own. She designs her own items and can accommodate any customer specification too. In the future she hopes to train more women in this craft.
Andrea hopes to have an exhibition of Brussels Lace items in Colombo sometime in the future, so that ladies here too, could get an insight into this beautiful and classical world. In the meantime, with contentment she says she is happy to be the first to bring honour and glory to Sri Lanka by producing this kind of item which has always been the domain and product of European nations, matching them for every careful stitch made, in design, quality and craftsmanship.
All of us who have sat for examinations know that it involves a great deal of stress, particularly at the G.C.E. Ordinary Level and Advanced Level examination where one or two marks can decide a students future.
In today's competitive environment, students are subject to immense pressure, not only from their parents but from a system where examination success remains the only criterion for judging one's level of capability.
Critics have said that our system of education is too "Exam Oriented," one where students study merely to pass examinations and not to expand their knowledge. It also examines the work covered over a period of two-three years in a mere two-three hours and therefore those who cannot perform under pressure lose out.
Principal of Royal College, S.H. Kumarasinghe believes that this system is not an entirely correct means of evaluating a student's ability, but adds that it is only one available to us. "In fairness it cannot be said that it is only the crammers who succeed at exams. At the Advanced Level, for instance, lot of intelligence and application is necessary and it is important that the students do a lot of reference, etc. on their own", he said. Re-structuring of the education system and introducing a system such as the continuous assessment system should start at the lower levels", he added.
It can be argued however, that under the present system students are not able to develop their personalities and become well balanced individuals as the focus is heavily weighted on exam success.
Principal of Methodist College, Priyani Fernando is one who subscribes to this view. She feels that though there have been changes in the syllabuses from time to time, these have not been beneficial to the student. "For that they must serve some purpose and have clear objectives", she said.
"Our curriculum is too over-crowded, particularly at the O/L's where the students do several subjects such as technical and aesthetic subjects, English, Sinhala or Tamil, Social Studies, Science etc. while the subject matter in the syllabuses has been increased, there hasn't been much consideration about the students. Their whole day is crammed full of studies and they have no time to think on their own, and grow up to be productive, useful adults", she said.
Ms. Fernando felt that it is all a vicious cycle and the school's biggest worry is covering the syllabus. "However, at the A/L's a lot of self-study is essential and it is important that the students are conscientious and work on a regular basis", she added. Parents too are victims of this vicious cycle and it is understandable that in their anxiety to see their children succeed, they will push their children to get high marks or even eight Distinctions or four 'A' passes at the O/L's and A/L's respectively, as today a person's success is largely measured in terms of the educational qualifications he or she has obtained. Some of the parents who spoke to "Sunday Times" said that their children have no time for anything else besides studies, because even after they return from school they have to go for tuition as the syllabuses are inadequately covered at school. "They have no time to read, do sports or even relax as everything is so competitive and it is important that they perform well", they said. One parent, Mrs. D. Perera said that the system of continuous assessment should be re-introduced because under the present system only students who can perform well under pressure will succeed. "There have even been cases where students who work diligently throughout the year have failed at their exams due to exam nerves," she said.
"Under the continuous assessment system however, students know that the exam is not the be all and end all and a percentage of their marks on the assignments will be added onto their final grade", she added.
However, it can be argued that this system too is not entirely fair for students in Colombo schools will have an advantage over those in rural areas as the former will have access to better facilities. The system of marking for the assignments can also vary according to the whims and fancies of the teachers. A teacher of a leading school in Colombo said that under the present system, the students, are like machines and sometimes even memorize answers for questions they expect at the exam. This hinders the development of their personalities. Over emphasis on academic success could blight the development of other skills. Many cases are revealed where those who excel in a particular sport give it up, when it comes to examination year, simply because they cannot find the time to do both studies and sports.
Some teachers felt that the content of some of the subjects should be reduced and students be given more projects and assignments that would make them think for themselves.
The students on the other hand felt that more emphasis should be given to class-room discussions, projects etc. that would cover more practical aspects of the subjects. "Many feel that it would be helpful if the continuous assessment system was re-introduced, because under the present system they had to undergo a lot of stress."
If the continuous assessment system was re-introduced, it should start at the lower levels and would need a lot of time to be implemented. It would also involve educating the teachers as well as much dialogue among the authorities concerned. Psychologist D.S. Ranwake commenting on the effects of excessive pressure on students said that today education is a vital part of life, a way to success and a means of becoming part of the Upper Social class. "To get into any field of employment one needs qualifications and in our country university places are restricted for the very bright students," he said.
"There is so much competition that students have no proper relaxation. Straight from school they go for tuition, come home and rest for about one hour and then continue their work. Some students have a mere three or four hours of sleep a day. Thus they do very stereo-type work. Health wise there could be problems such as forgetfulness and fatigue etc. They lack proper study methods", he said.
Dr. Ranawake also went onto say that this would hinder the development of their personalities, and they will actually become "Sick Intellectuals" who do not know how to live in society.
Yet while, students and parents would probably prefer the continuous assessment system. There is no move yet to re-introduce it. Secretary, Ministry of Education and Higher Education M.D.D. Peiris said that the view that the present system is exam oriented is a generalization and it must be remembered that anywhere in the world you get exams. "It is therefore an important system as there is no other way of ensuring the students ability", he said.
"Therefore it is natural that the parents and students will be exam-oriented. Under the present system there is no room for human interference such as favouritism. An education is the function of the school and home and the atmosphere at home must be conducive to learning", he added.
"However, in schools where there are 30-40 students in a class, the individual development of the students will be affected as it is not possible for the teachers to pay special attention to all of them. Also under the present system there is no opportunity for the fast-learner to develop at his pace", he said.
A good education is a must for success in this highly competitive society of ours. However, an education does not merely consist of text-book learning and passing exams. It also encompasses developing well-balanced individuals who are also to cope with the pressures of day to day living too often in the race to secure good results at the exam, this aspect of education is forgotten.
Recently, on my return home, I was told that Rita Sebastian had died, that she had died of an illness, that she had been buried in that long garden of marble angels and cement plot where singing birds, bright shrubs and flowering trees mask defiantly the sordidness of death.
Rita was also defiant: she was courageous, trustworthy and passionately concerned with the rights of human beings, and with the variety of words and actions that determine or degrade those rights. Being the daughter of a Sinhala mother and a Tamil father, that concern was compulsory and intense.
Rita was a close friend of mine over many years. I admired her intellect and respected her beliefs. In her relationships with her family whom she cared for, with her friends and colleagues, she was faithful, loyal and compassionate.
As a leading journalist and writer, she shone, bearing her spectacular success with the inherent humanity, with and charm that were hers.
But it was Rita's strength of Christian faith and her tenacious and steadfast belief in God that I respected most in this unusual woman. In a wildly materialistic and irresponsible world, Rita's persistent in her faith was amazing - old fashioned as it is popularly known to be. For her, the sacred word had personal meaning and awesome certainty.
The Yurok Indian tribe of North America wave life and death together believing that when you learn death you learn life; and in that knowledge what looks like death becomes part of the greater life you live.
Black absorbs all light. Hiding it within itself in clustered prisms as Adam held the endless human flood within his consent.
So life, invisible renewing, life of all remembrance and gratitude returns again and again taking its moments like cascading stars between shadows.
Now, in this noon of darkness braided with tears in this irresolute place of silence, she appears robed in the splendour of her faith; speaking his sacred word; speaking his name, she bows touching the hem of His unending radiance.
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