Sunday, May 22, 2011

Living In A Solid Waste Dump Called “Lanka”

The Sunday Leader, 22/05/2011, By Kusal Perera,

The university teachers’ salary issue was reduced to a “Kaalakanni” (miserable, stupid) issue by the Minister of Higher Education, when he claimed in an interview aired by a popular TV station that university teachers who want a salary increase are only turning out “Kaalakannies” out of the cream of the Advance Level students who enter university with “A” grade passes in all three subjects.

How such a local university “graduate” by the name of S.B. Dissanayake could therefore be addressed, is without debate. Now what if the oft used prefix “Honourable” is replaced with that new status given by him for graduates?
Almost 50 per cent of the parliamentarians are such graduates. A sizeable number out of those “Lotus-eaters” are ministers too. It is their baggage the citizenry is compelled to carry through. Every election has seen more of the “S.B.” types making their way into the legislature, turning it into a pit of degradable waste. They sure, need not take the blame themselves, for they are elected by the voters of this country, though with accusations that elections are not “free and fair.”
Yet the irony is, Dissanayake too picks up very relevant facts and makes statements on them that cannot be negated, off hand. It is a fact, when Dissanayake says that none of the Sri Lankan universities have any worthy ranking among universities in the world. The best Sri Lankan university, Moratuwa, is only 2,810th in one world ranking and 512th in the Asian region. Certainly, this is not how our universities should stand among others. At least Peradeniya and Colombo universities were well recognised till the 1960’s. These rankings are not made on the quality of the minister, but on the quality of education, including that of the academia.
The university academics can not go brushing off responsibility for such degeneration in our higher education system. For academics as a professional group, have not been a voice against any malpractice, any politicisation, any corruption or against the sordid lapses in law and order, in this world of Sinhala patriotism. Over the past decades most academics have started piggy backing on all governments, for personal perks and benefits. As an organised professional group they allowed universities to get immersed in politicking. The rest have been aloof and away from social issues, trying to find their own private slot, in a decaying system.
As with all other professions, there are certainly a few sober academics who do at times give vent to their intellectual frustrations. But what is socially more important is their collective presence. Collectively, the academics as FUTA or as any other organisation have not taken any public stand on any issue to generate a good, healthy dialogue in influencing policy making.
Today, its only the Opposition political parties that have jumped the gun in supporting the university academics to gain some public attention. They may not have said what they say today, had they been in power to face this issue. With such isolation, there has been no trade union support declared for FUTA, for these academics do not stand in solidarity with any other social segment and social issue. They have been a very conspicuous absence with a very selfish attitude in social presence, during the past years.
To date FUTA has not told the public where they stand on the proposed Private Sector Pensions Bill that would affect over 2 million employees. Perhaps because they are not affected by that Bill. To date, the FUTA has not made a clear statement even on the issue of military training for new entrants to universities. Perhaps because they feel they should not get tangled up with an issue that has a “patriotic” colouring.
They don’t engage in dialogue on the issue of “private universities” and don’t contribute as academics on important national issues. They are not heard on budgets and economic development, not heard on power devolution and the 13th Amendment, not heard on the UN Advisory Panel and not heard on anything other than their salary issue, denial of permits for duty free vehicles and such perks. They are a total absence in leading intellectual debates and discourses, both within and without the universities.
Over the years the university teachers have been gradually turning into introverts. This is also a very serious reason for the openness and intellectual discipline in universities to erode. The break down of university life, that is taken over by extreme reactions and brutal conflicts in undergraduate life cannot be simply handed over to the students alone. The academia have to accept their share in this mess. All, unfortunate signs of an academia that has willingly degenerated itself and it is a fact that such academia cannot produce good graduates.
In a society that has such degeneration, in its most important education system, there cannot be any worthy improvement as a nation. An education system that cannot produce good rational products, and for decades have been only producing what Dissanayake calls miserable misfits, will not produce the right person for any job. Not only as politicians, but also as administrators, as policy makers and as citizens. This is evident in every field, most unfortunately.
That is precisely why the likes of Senaka Bibile, Sarathchandra, and Osmund Jayaratne, are no longer produced by our universities. There are no political giants like Dudley, JR, NM, Colvin, Bandaranaike, Keuneman, produced in this society any more. No trade union leaders like William, Pelis Serasinghe and Mendis have been produced recently. No Sunil Santhas and no Panibharathas in arts and aesthetics and no Wickramasinghes, Guruges and Dhanapalas either in the media.
Post 1956, has not producedpioneering giants in any field, but midgets who play decisive roles in dragging us to a pit of degeneration. Post ‘56 has facilitated an introverted socio political life that does not even allow sitting like a frog on a tree, to see a larger world. The present academia is one reflection of that degeneration. The 1978 liberalising has not helped in breaking off from that introverted ideology, despite the linking that came with the consumer world. But that need not be such in a global world, where experience, skills, knowledge, ideology and perceptions are not restricted to local life. There is no society that is bereft of knowledge. Yet if the academia does not want to play a disciplined, respectable and an intellectual role in society, a role that befits them, then this society would end up as a solid waste dump.