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Sunday, May 19, 2024

‘Important, students are taught how war was won’ – minister SB

uni lecturers get more than high govt. officers’

In an interview with LAKBIMAnEWS, Minister of Higher Education S. B. Dissanayaka said that leadership training is not military training. “This is training that is specifically geared to improve the students’ leadership skills and help positive thinking. There is a reason for subjecting these students to a leadership training programme.”

By Lasantha Weerakulasuriya

    What prompted the government to subject the students to 6-1a military training regimen?
First, I must say clearly that this is not a military training. This is a training specifically geared to improve leadership skills and positive thinking of the students. There is a reason to subject the students to   leadership training. They are facing competition to succeed at university examinations for two-three years while putting aside their duties at home, at their village, at temples, churches and at mosques.
So there is a vacuum in their lives and it is in such a background that they enter universities. We need to address these shortcomings on the part of the students, especially the ability to do one’s day-to-day work on time without depending on someone else. This is a requirement for any individual in life and this training is geared to look into such areas.
Further, it is to improve the capacity of the students to stand on their feet and to face up to the challenges in life. These are only a few aspects that this training is set to cover.

     Do you think this training scheme is healthy for the students or is it a subtle move to turn the university sector into military academies?

This training is healthy for the students or else we would not have mapped it out with the help of the academics and experts on education. If we are to produce world class scientists, engineers, intellectuals and other figures this type of training will no doubt come in handy for them in the long-term.
I need to stress here that the results of this exercise have to be gauged in the future and not overnight as it will not happen like a miracle.
We also have three goals to accomplish through this endeavour. Any student, when he or she leaves the university, should be equipped with a sound knowledge of the English language. Also, they should be equipped with a sound knowledge of Information Technology (IT), and they should not be idling on the roadsides sans jobs. These students must have a value – both in this country and outside these shores.
These training modules have been created following advice received from experts attached to the Colombo University, the Kelaniya University and the British Council, to name a few.

    People have the impression that this training could be a ploy of  the government — subjecting the students to military training systematically and turning them into soldiers?

Not at all! This is not geared for such a purpose. Those who have been suspecting the motives of the government are the UNP and the JVP as far as this training is concerned. The JVP seems to be having a big issue over this training programme. The JVP is well-known to break the spine of the university students once they enter it through their hideous movement called Anthare.
The JVP knows that once these students come out of this training it will be tough to absorb them into their hideous movement in the future.
That is the main grouse that they have regarding this training exercise. Even the parents initially expressed fear that their children are being sent to military camps. But once they were briefed the parents understood the true motive of the government in conducting this training.

    The training has been going on now for over a week. Are you content with the training given in these army camps?

By now I have inspected around 15 camps. There are students who were educated at schools such as Royal, Visaka and St. Bridget’s who are undergoing this training at the camps. They have been born with a silver spoon in their mouth. They have gone to school and returned home by car and been given tuition at home paying Rs.1500 per hour, but today they use squatting pans, not commodes, at these camps. When I asked them how the squatting pans were they told me, no problem sir. Some of them had never done exercises in their lives. But thanks to this training, they now do that as well.

    Does the government intend to carry this training scheme forward by way of a national policy?

We intend to include this in the Higher Education book that we will be releasing next year. The next time too it will be compulsory for all students. This training is a must for any student before they enter the university from 2012.

    What sort of impression have you got of the university sector in this country?

We can turn our universities into some of the worlds best known. We also can bring our lecturers to the highest levels in the world. But today, this system has collapsed. Those who should be held accountable for it are not the university lecturers but the JVP. It was their hideous movement that destroyed this sector. But in the future, I am confident the university sector will undergo a total overhaul for the better.

     How do you find the finances for the student training programme?

The President has given us around Rs.200 million for this training programme. We cover expenses from these funds. We incur this amount only for the food provided for the students during the three-week period. The rest of the expenses are borne by the Defence Secretary and the Ministry of Defence.

    What plans have you to turn the local universities into classy universities found outside Sri Lanka?

We will be changing the courses that are followed in most of them. We also intend to improve the standing of our lecturers as well. We need to introduce new syllabuses. Also we need to provide adequate facilities for lecturers to carry out tests related to their subjects — and these are areas that must be looked into as we go into the future.

     What other plans have you got to improve higher education?

The universities and IT centres come under my purview. I have decided to revamp IT centres as well.

    Is the government out to influence  the university sector amidst the glorification of the war that was won, by inculcating in students various notions?

It is important that the students are briefed and taught as to how the soldiers managed to win the war. It is vital that they follow such a philosophy. Some students even do not know as to what happened in the war. But our overall aim is not that alone. We are intent on developing the mental and physical capacity of the students.

    There are many exercises that were begun in this country amidst much hype but sans any positive results. What guarantee can you give that this too will not suffer a similar fate?

Take me as the best example. The cricket team won the World Cup when I was the Minister of Sports. Susanthika Jayasingha won the Olympic Silver medal during my tenure as Sports Minister. When I became the Minister of Sports we had not won any medal at any international meet since 1974. But at the Asian Games we won the gold medal after I headed the ministry. The Samurdhi scheme is my brainchild.
Just because a few problems crop up I cannot be put down. I relish a challenge and that will be my motto, going into the future. For that I have the blessings of the president.

    Are you content with the salaries drawn by the lecturers of universities?

No I cannot be content with it. But the government believes that more than university lecturers there are many officials in the university sector whose salaries have to be looked into.
We raised lecturers’ salaries by 36.5 per cent. All the other government sector workers had their salaries being increased only by five per cent. We also told the lecturers that the salary increase of 36.5 per cent was only the start, having assured them of another increase in the next budget. We cannot raise salaries in the interim. If we increase their salaries what will the government sector workers say? They too will demand another salary hike.
These people are out to create chaos in the country through an issue like this and that cannot be allowed by a responsible government. Look at the salaries drawn by some of the top government servants. The secretary to the president draws a monthly salary of Rs.57,000 while the secretary to a ministry takes home Rs.47,000 every month.
However, a university lecturer is currently entitled to a salary of Rs.114,000. So where is the justice in their demand for a salary hike? We are currently in the process of streamlining the university sector where qualified lecturers must be enlisted — while turning Unis’ into reputed academic institutions both in and out of these shores.


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