Secular Sri Lanka - Blog

"A secular constitution that everyone in Sri Lanka can subscribe to, and feel a sense of belonging in; regardless of their ethnic origin or religious convictions or lack of thereof; is a big step towards the correct direction."

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Sunday, April 25, 2010

Consequences of Race/Religion based schools in Sri Lanka

"The great aim of education is not knowledge, but action" – Herbert Spencer (1820 - 1903) the reason for citing that is to show you how our actions are influenced by education. If the education we are getting is harmful there is a big tendency of our actions getting harmful as well. You all have seen the results of the brainwashed suicide bombers, what have they been taught? Hate, assassination, etc… Who taught them these? Unfortunately they didn’t have a choice over it, they were taken away when they were young (or when they were weak), brainwashed and injected these into their brains.

Sri Lanka has a long history for education, during the pre-colonial era the main type of institutionalized education system was "Piriven", the target audience was primarily the young Buddhist monks. The intention was to teach the young monks about Buddhism so that they will carry it to the future generation. Other than this the children of the rulers were also given special types of education for the purpose of ruling the territory. This too was backed by the Buddhist temple so that the future rulers will facilitate Buddhism. Other than the two types of audience mentioned about all the others were not given a proper education. The father of the family presumably a farmer teachers his son farming and the mother of the family taught her daughter the day-to-day house work and this continued for generations.

During the colonial era however things got changed, emerge of Catholic and Anglican Church happened. The colonial masters gathered around the Church every Sunday to pray to their Gods, but there were other intentions of these Churches. Conversion of the locals in order to spread the colonial rule was one of them. By doing that the colonial rulers had more man power on their side, they recruited locals to their army to battle the locals who went against them. Church provided the local converts with financial assistance, better recognition and many other types of help. As far as Education is concerned a revolution of education happened during this colonial era. A concept called "Missionary School" was introduced to the society. This Catholic or Anglican Church backed Schools were the very first of its kind which the general people attended. First only the rich people and the once who converted to Christianity attended to these schools but after some time due to need of “Government office staff” the intake for these schools was somewhat opened to public. In the 19th Century a number of modern day schools were established. During this time the biggest fundamental damage to the Education system in Sri Lanka has happened.

To counter the Missionary Schools and to boost the "Sinhalese-Buddhist" nationalism a set of schools and institutions were created. "Henry Steel Olcott", "Anagarika Dharmapala" and many other people were behind that movement. Subsequently "Muslim" nationalist moments led by "Siddi Lebbe" founded another set of schools and "Tamil" nationalist led by "Arumuka Navalar" founded their own set of education institutes. With the establishment of these modern day education institutions they have fulfilled their immediate objective – countering the Missionary Schools. The actions of teaching people in such a manner have played a key role in wiping off the colonial rule out from this country. We see the schools which were established for those reasons today as well; in fact those are some leading schools in Sri Lanka.

For years and years they have taught students about their own Race, their own Religion. Its natural for a person who attended such Race/Religion based school to live by that teaching and act accordingly creating hate a little by little on others Race and/or Religions. In these schools they don’t focus on “Sri Lankan” values rather these schools have been dividing us based on Race and/or Religion.

The establishment of schools based on Race/Religion is indeed short-sighted. The founders of those educational institutions have only concerned about the situation at that time, to rectify only a handful of issues they were facing at that time. They have unleashed a set of monsters to kill another monster. They have clearly not thought about the future of this country. They have been dreaming that when the colonial rulers leave the country it will become a paradise. Has it become a paradise? Now our old colonial masters have gone back to their own land but laughing at us while we kill each other. We have separated evermore thanks to the short-sighted education systems that are in place even today. Can we correct this? What is the simplest thing we can do to make this go away? Of course change the way of teaching, Focus on "Sri Lankan" values; create "Sri Lankans" but NOT "Sinhalese-Buddhists", "Muslim-Islamists" or "Tamil-Hindus".

During the time where Sri Lanka was in the war with LTTE there were threats to all public schools in Sri Lanka in general, the risk was higher for the so called "Sinhalese-Buddhist" schools. Why? Wasn’t that because at one end there were "Tamil-Hindu" schools creating "Tamil-Hindu" nationalist and on the other corner "Sinhalese-Buddhist" schools creating these "Sinhalese-Buddhist" nationalists. And our actions are naturally based on what we have been taught. Wasn’t it because our education system failed to create "Sri Lankans"? It’s surprising even after 60 years of independence we haven’t changed the focus of these Race/Religion based school system to the correct path. And even more surprisingly the Government has introduced more and more Race/Religion based schools to the country. If we continue with this harmful concept of Race/Religion based educational institutes we can expect nothing but the worse, dividing the people and keeping enough space for another internal conflict.

The Government and all the institutions backed by Government should focus on promoting "Sri Lankan" values rather than these Racial-Religious ideas. In a "Secular" environment ideally the Government and the Public entities backed by the Government will be Secular – meaning the name tags and the missions/visions of the schools will (and most importantly should) change towards building productive "Sri Lankans".

Original Post

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Secular Ethics shall Replace Religion in Public Schools in Sri Lanka

Under current policies in effect, the Department of Education of Sri Lanka requires that all children in public schools to be religiously indoctrinated from kindergarten through junior high school (grade 10). We firmly believe this is unconstitutional even under the fundamental rights provisions in the current Constitution in Sri Lanka, and this should be challenged in Supreme Court by secular parents and children. Under current public education policies placed in practice nationwide, a parent or child has no choice in this enforced religious education, and to prevent his or her child from religious education, except for choosing between the mainstream religions of Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity and Islam. Freedom for Religion shall include Freedom From Religion, and this religious education can be challenged in the Supreme Court by qualifying parents and children. G.C.E. O/L examinations conducted by the Department of Education requires every student to take an examination in one of the four mainstream religions without giving a choice to opt out. This practice violates the rights of non-believers even under the current Constitution of Sri Lanka.

We firmly argue that public tax payer money shall not be spent on religious indoctrination inside public schools. Religious education is a matter to decide by the private citizens and government should have no right to participate in enforcement or providing a landscape for entertaining religious dogma within public tax payer funded educational institutions. A parent or a child who wish to participate in any religious learning may be left free to attend private religious schools in Buddhist Temples, Kovils, Mosques or any other privately funded institutions that provide such services outside of the public school network.

Teaching 'Religions of the World' inside schools is another topic that is widely discussed. This form of comparative study may not be harmful as long as the practice of it guaranteed to be fair, includes all religions, and not enforced as mandatory requirement. We think such avenues for comparative religion as a subject needs further research and studies, and some secularists have suggested this alternative approach would open doors for people to think about other people's religions. Implementation of a fair and impartial environment inside public schools to foster comparative religion is out of reach under current social and political environment in Sri Lanka. Teaching all major religions in equal proportion and setting as a comparative study may be a good start to further social reforms. In many countries such comparative religion courses are available at university level, and this is an area that needs further consideration by the academic community and public educators. We also think such allowances may need to be a topic to address after Sri Lanka becomes a truly secular society.

Recommendations of Secularists of Sri Lanka to the Department of Education of Sri Lanka

We firmly recommend that religious indoctrination inside public schools should be replaced with Secular Ethics curriculum with consideration of modern scientific understanding of human nature, physical and social needs, human evolution, human DNA based system of ethics.

This Ethics education curriculum shall includes:

1. Human Rights - Meeting International Standards on Human Rights addressing United Nation guidelines
2. Equal Opportunity
3. Affirmative Action
4. Non-discrimination laws on employment, military service, social ethics based on global understanding of humanity. Teaching children and encourage non discriminative behavior on issues of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation or national origin
5. Animal Rights based on Secular Ethics, and International standards in prevention of cruelty to animals
6. Good citizenship - encourage participation in democratic elections, non-violent campaigns to reach local poltician on social issues
7. Children and Women Rights based on International Standards
8. Constitutional Rights - fundamental rights education based on provisions in the Constitution

This approach to Secular Ethics education is very much common in other countries, and has been extremely successful in countries such as Japan and the EU. Citizens of these countries have a higher moral standard and ethical behavior than what we see in Sri Lanka when we consider their human rights record, prevailing social issues, crime rates and individual satisfaction about their lives. Sri Lanka should take the current opportunity of peace and stability in our democracy to further advancement of rights and values of its citizens by initiating social reforms and public education reforms by changing curriculum of public education. We believe Department of Education has this responsibility, and public policy shall provide the necessary guidance.

Secular Citizens Must Take Action

1. Secularists should demand public education institution officials, school principals and class teachers to release their children from religious education. Ask your child's class teacher to send your child to the school library or another classroom during religion class periods.

2. Write to the Minister of Education demanding Freedom From Religion.

Ministry of Education,
Sri Lanka.
Phone : +94-11-2785141 to +94-11-2785150
To Contact the current Minister of Education or branches and Sections please use the staff directory.

3. Write to the President of Sri Lanka demanding political initiatives for public policy reforms required for secularization of public schools.

4. Teach your children latest secular views on ethics and morality and discuss openly on topics that religions consider taboo, immoral and unethical. Educate your children under 'Science based Ethics and Morality' that is dynamic and ever changing with our advancements in science, technology and society.

5. Suggest to Curriculum Developers, Text Book Authors on Religion for public schools to include Secular Ethics, Secular Moral Values and give provision for all religions of the world. These steps may be encouraged only as a secondary alternative solution where complete removal of religion becomes not possible due to current policies.

Original Post

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Multicultural Education in Secular Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka shall move away from ethnic segregation within the public schools system and focus on development of a multicultural educational framework where there is no room for Hindu Colleges, Muslim Schools, Buddhist Schools etc. in a tax payer funded public school system. We shall focus on multicultural schools under a strictly secular education philosophy. Such a system will nourish ethnic harmony, celebrate differences in our community and promote secular values and leave religion as a personal and private matter of citizens to explore based on individual preferences as adults.

Childhood religious indoctrination inside public schools violates Constitutional Rights of secular Sri Lankan citizens. There will be great challenges to removing 'Sinhala medium', 'Tamil medium', 'Buddhist Boys School' or 'Hindu girls school' tags of segregation that we currently carry in the National Public School System. Such challenges are normal and they need to be addressed without remaining in silence. Silence on secularization issue can lead to another tragic 'time-bomb' in the future; something similar to what we have seen during the last thirty years. We can also learn from our 'big brother', India, where the democratic nation waited in silence until religious riots lead to a bloodbath of massive proportions that destroyed thousands of lives before bringing in a Constitutional Secularization. The architects of these national education reforms will need to develop a home grown solution, but they will need to study other successful multicultural public school systems in other nations. We must find creative ways to break into and eliminate these Sinhala and Tamil ethnic divisions, religious divisions and provide a structure for schools that integrate communities in the long term, and remove currently prevailing ethnic and religious segregation. We would need to keep in mind that appreciating multicultural differences should be a major part of this desegregation.

Religion has no place in public schools in the modern and civilized societies worldwide. We still see presence of religious indoctrination in public schools in backward and oppressive nations. Religion is an extremely personal and private matter of the citizen that needs to be constitutionally protected for freedom for religion and freedom from religion, where governments are prevented from indoctrination of citizens.

A Multicultural Education platform for the national education system needs to be designed with consideration of international educational research and standards on Multiculturalism and prevailing understanding within global academic community that students should not be separated inside a public school system based on their race, ethnicity or religion. Childhood classifications such as "I belong to Sinhala Buddhists" or " I am a Tamil Hindu" and therefore I must go to a "Tamil medium school" shall be removed from our education system beyond philosophical understanding of ethnic harmony and shall be put on to practice inside public schools. Similarly, students coming from all religious backgrounds shall be taught a secular ethics curriculum focusing on human rights and equality in schools, and they should not be separated in to 'Buddhist students', 'Hindu students', 'Christian students', 'Muslim students', non-believers or other religions. All students shall learn and appreciate secular ethics and learn to be good citizens of a nation regardless what their religions preach or upbringing. This multicultural education platform for the multicultural secular nation needs focus not just within the minority regions or neighborhoods, but implemented all across nationwide.

Original Post