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".

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