Featured image courtesy Rose Charities Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is a nation in crisis. It has a troubled past, a confused present and an uncertain future. An autopsy of the present status quo would reveal that several institutions have collapsed and some are on the verge of collapse; a corrupted police force, a twisted judiciary, a self serving Parliament, an ignorant education system, doctors who gamble with lives for a vehicle permit and a media that feeds on the masses. While walking through this utter mess we may be tempted to reform certain institutions and also be tempted to think such reforms will be permanent. Nothing can be further from the truth.
Since attaining independence, leaders have come and gone only compounding problems further. The insurrection from the South in the seventies and the Eelam war that erupted from the North in the eighties are only signs pointing towards an inevitable self annihilation. A destruction that even ‘yahapalanaya’ cannot prevent unless they ditch their neo liberalist, megapolis proposals and dig deeper into the crisis to discover the root cause. We elected leaders thinking they would feed the nation but it turned out that they were thinking to feed their own power. Primarily.
The problem was twofold. The so called leaders lacked wisdom to understand what power and authority was for, and the people lacked wisdom to understand who a real leader was. In other words the dilemma is a result of ignorance. Ignorance is the result of non education.
More recently the GMOA (Government Medical Officers Association) launched a strike demanding the Government to reinstate their duty free vehicle permit. They went on strike breaching their own code of ethics. It was daylight robbery. Here’s what their code of medical ethics said,
- A physician shall not receive any financial benefits or other incentives solely for referring patients or prescribing specific products.
- A physician shall be dedicated to providing competent medical service in full professional and moral independence, with compassion and respect for human dignity.
- A physician shall respect the rights and preferences of patients, colleagues, and other health professionals.
Considering the higher level of intellect, rationality and moral conduct we naturally expect from doctors it’s appalling that they, who our children should look up to, indulge in such obstinate and shameless behaviour which demonstrates blatant ignorance and egocentrism.
Education is not only a tool to instill skill and expertise but it is also a tool to inculcate morality and good ethics. An education that fails to create a good citizen, a citizen who is fundamentally creative, challenging, critical, independent, sincere, courageous, patient, compassionate, loving, resilient and healthy has to be questioned. For it has failed to achieve its purpose.
The two examples cited above, and many more lead to the same conclusion. Our nation is run by institutions; the Parliament, judiciary, police, schools, universities, medical, corporations, media etc. The institutions are run by policies, policies are drafted by policy makers, policy makers are produced by education, but it appears that education has failed to achieve its purpose. It has failed to create good citizens; citizens who are independent, critical, sincere, patient, courageous, compassionate, loving, resilient and healthy. Hence our education is in crisis. The heart of the social body is fighting for critical life. The root cause is an education system that is erected on the pillars of materialism. An education that is not education at all.
Our curriculum is fundamentally designed to serve the economy. Policies apart, the underlying philosophy of school and university education is that education is a means to a better and comfortable life. The purpose of education is material success; the unrestrained power to spend and consume. It is as Dr.Harini Amarasuriya states, “Education is at a personal level to get a job and at a broader, level to be able to contribute to the national economy.” She continues to say “…what is happening in universities today is the reduction of the role of universities and higher education to extremely narrowly defined, primarily economic goals.”(1) Our education makes a commodity out of the human being; a skilled machine whose expertise can be purchased by the corporations. Thus it may be able to perform skillfully what it’s trained to do but at the cost of vital human qualities such as rational and critical thinking, creativity, justice, courage, compassion, empathy and love.
On a much deeper level the problem lies in our present understanding of education and its purpose. The fact that our education is primarily economy oriented – personally and nationally – is the mother of all evils. If our graduates were nurtured in a system that defines education as a means to material success then why blame them alone when they consider their careers, whether service oriented or not, primarily as a doorway to personal comfort and well being? While on the other hand industries and the state treat human expertise as an essential investment that it cannot do without to gain profits.
The following is an excerpt from an article that appeared on Colombo Telegraph on 15/12/2015 (2)
“The Government has articulated its position on education in the budget speech and the economic vision statement, with proposals that can eventually lead to commodification of education. Excessive emphasis placed on enabling the capacity of education to meet labor market demands (articles 98, 214 & 343), reforming university education to suit the needs of the labor market as well as the private sector (articles 325 & 328) and recognition of education as an industry (article 214) treats education as a commodity with an exchange value in the market. Further, the emphasis being made on market oriented learning, raises the question whether education is dictated by business interests (Mahapola University). While discarding functions of education as means to intellectual enrichment of students and enhancing of capacities such as critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, team work and personality development, the government is catering to the limited perception of education as merely serving the demands of the labour market.”
Behind the veiled definition of education as a benefit it has a very sinister and selfish objective. Schools and universities are not so much interested in educating as they are interested in creating obedient and materialistic citizens. They provide an education that is not education at all. An education that is primarily market oriented is the cancer that is eating away the vital institutions our society is erected upon. Failure to address this problem immediately may very soon shove us over a precipice, from which a return would be impossible. In order to erect a civilized society it is imperative that we redefine education and reform the existing education system. Our children should grow up knowing not the distorted meaning given to it by our governments and education institutions, but the true meaning which will make them better human beings. An education that will pave the path for freedom is what our children need; an education that will gift us with creative, independent, critical minds, a healthy body, and a good heart.