28 May 2011 /by Tisaranee Gunasekara
“When an opponent says, ‘I will not come over to your side’, I calmly say, ‘Your child belongs to us already’” Hitler (Speech in November 1933)
According to the Education Secretary, principals will have to undergo ‘Leadership training’ at the Rantambe camp: “If the Principal is weak that will be the end of the school.
Therefore they should possess energy to drive the school forward. They should be able to jump over walls so that they could catch students who scoot… Principals must be ready to go to Rantambe to participate in this leadership programme” (News First – 25.5.2011).
Who will be next? School students? Teachers? Bureaucrats? Doctors and other professionals? All of them, and more, if society remains supinely silent and the Judiciary imitates Pontius Pilate.
Violent exclusion of aliens and enemies was one method used by the Nazis to homogenise German society (superbly depicted in Martin Niemöller’s renowned dictum). Compulsory inclusion was the other method: smothering racially and politically qualified Germans in a totalitarian-embrace. Gleichschaltung (Coordination) was the innocuous term used for this Nazification of every political, economic, socio-cultural and personal-private space.
No societal nook, no personal cranny was immune to this vicious-contagion; even the ‘Small Garden Association’ of Hanover was told that ‘in the area of small gardens the true national community now has to emerge in accordance with the will of the government of the national uprising’ (Hitler: Hubris – Ian Kershaw).
Of course. But tyranny’s embrace is total; it abhors (and demonises) exceptions. So we had President Rajapaksa lecturing about ‘acceptable’ and ‘unacceptable’ lyrics, with ‘patriotism’ as the dividing line. Admittedly not as bad as Nazifying ‘small gardens’, but still totally out-of-place in a healthy democracy, just as the compulsory ‘leadership training programme’ for new university entrants is.
The ‘Leadership training programme’ commenced with the President, whose cabinet includes such luminaries as Mervyn Silva, lecturing to the future university students about proper and improper conduct! That tableau of rank upon serried rank of identically garbed university entrants listening in unfocused silence to a pontificating president was a chilling reminder that ours is a mortally diseased democracy.
In post-war Sri Lanka very few spaces are immune to the Rajapaksa contagion. The North is virtually occupied territory (the latest Minority Rights Report claims that Jaffna peninsula has around 40,000 military personnel i.e. a military-civilian ratio of 1:11; in the Vanni this ratio is around 1:4). In the South too, the militarization of civilian spaces is increasing at an alarming rate.
The Universities constitute one of the very few (relatively) Rajapaksa-free spaces extant. Thus it is inevitable that the Ruling Family would want to occupy it and transform university students from undisciplined and rebellious political ‘wild-cards’ into regimented enforcers of the Rajapaksa-project.
According to the Higher Education Secretary, the aim of the ‘Leadership training programme’ is the creation of ‘globally employable graduates’: “We have failed to produce globally employable graduates. These students lead a life similar to that of Advanced Level classes with no sports or extra-curricular activities and depend on notes provided by lecturers” (The Sunday Times – 22.5.2011).
The main cause for the undeniable decline in the quality of higher education and the calibre of graduates is neither the lack of sports nor the absence of extra-curricular activities. The root-cause of this decline is monolingualism. Most university students – like most school students – do not have an adequate command of English (or any other international language). If this one problem can be resolved, Lankan graduates would not have to demonstrate in the streets demanding government jobs; they will find innumerable open-doors in the private sector, here and abroad.
The Secretary to the Ministry of Higher Education is correct when he deplores the students’ sole-dependence on lecture-notes. The reason for this deplorable habit is not a lack of sports or extra-curricular activities, but a lack of English. Most academic publications are available only in English; this severely limits the monolingual-student’s capacity to broaden his/her knowledge base and compels him/her to depend on lecture notes.
Ceylon did produce world-class (‘globally employable’) graduates, before an SLFP leader used patriotism to slake his thirst for power. Until monolingualism was imposed on state schools, the Central College system set up by CWW Kannangara provided a high quality English education to children from non-elite (mostly rural-Sinhala) families.
Mr. Kannangara’s purpose was to set up a fully-equipped Central College in every electorate. Had that dream been realised, Lankan education system could have avoided many a crisis and parents would have been spared the necessity to lie, cheat and bribe in the quest for a ‘good school’.
But extremism intervened in the form of Sinhala Only, and was harnessed by SWRD Bandaranaike as a fast-track to power. Not only did 1956 sow the seeds of the Eelam war; it also caused a mortal decline in Lankan education. English became de-prioritised within the education system (just one more non-compulsory subject) and in the collective-psyche of the students.
Dominant commonsense rendered learning English unimportant (and maybe undesirable): a mood which prevailed even in the so-called Leading Schools. With the decline of English, the reading habit too evaporated; increasingly radio, TV and cricket took the place books once had in a child’s world.
So the solution is not to herd students into army camps for ‘leadership training’ but to expand and upgrade the teaching of English within the school system. This requires extra money. But funding education is not a priority in Rajapaksa-Sri Lanka; defence is, and so are wasteful extravaganzas, as proven by the payment of US$2.4 million to a British firm for handing Hambantota’s bid for the 2018 Commonwealth Games!
As scarce resources are wasted on non-essentials, living, education and health standards suffer. The resulting discontent can cause the Southern political base of the Rajapaksas to erode. The Ruling Family intends to prevent/postpone this inevitability by superimposing the (mind-numbing) friend-foe paradigm (‘our enemies are legion and they are eternally conspiring to destroy us’) on Lankan society.
Students at the launch of ‘Leadership and Positive Attitude Development Training programme’ – pic: news.lk
Transforming universities from breeding-grounds for dissent into epicentres of patriotic-conformism would be of paramount importance in this context. With the ‘correct’ indoctrination, university students can be harnessed into the Rajapaksa-chariot as foot-soldiers and shock-troops (i.e. deployed against national and international ‘enemies’ of the motherland). Universities can also become excellent hunting-grounds for the youth organisation set up by (and for) Namal Rajapaksa, especially the Blue Brigade.
Children and youth provide the ideal-typical tabula rasa for any despot who aims to occupy a country, rule it for life and hand-pick his own successor. German children were disciplined into unquestioning obedience to ‘Der Führer’ via Jungvolk and Hitler Youth. Vellupillai Pirapaharan set up the Red Blossom Gardens – orphanages tasked with turning their innocent denizens into mindless enforces of the Surya Devan. According to President Rajapaksa, “Our aim is to produce a learned citizen who has gained physical and mental discipline coupled with positive attitudes and love for the country” (Daily News – 24.5.2011).
Translated from Rajapaksa-Speak this means citizens who unquestioningly accept the Rajapaksa-vision of a monochromatic country, internalise the Rajapaksa-version of (mindless) patriotism, participate in the Rajapaksa-project of ceaseless-war on anti-patriots and accept eternal Rajapaksa-Rule as Sri Lanka’s hallowed destiny