Author name: Hasini Lecamwasam

From reformist pedagogy to revolutionary pedagogy

Having been raised and schooled in Kandy, I have watched the festivities of the Esala Perahera at least 10 times, as a child, and drawn it at least five times during my school years. August was the best month for schools in Kandy Lake Round. We used to get a long school vacation as schools closed to house the forces providing security to the Esala Perahera. Ice cream carts, cotton candy vendors, popcorn, isso-wadai, balloon animals, sadda-nalaa [whistles for the lack of an English equivalent], glowsticks; August was carnivalesque for my childhood self. Growing up, I saw it more as a circus. Why do crowds raise their arms with “saadu saadu”? Why are elephants in this procession? Why do new mothers take their children under the belly of elephants for good luck? Do elephants have healing powers? Are they divine? Why are they chained then? Are they beastly?

Calling applications for MBBS! Introducing fees for medical education under military protection

Earlier this month the Cabinet approved a proposal presented by the President (as Minister of Defence) to admit fee-levying local students to the medical faculty of the Kotelawala Defence University (KDU). Thereafter, the KDU posted a call for applications from local students (‘day scholars’) to its MBBS programme with a May 5th, 2024, deadline—barely two weeks after the call appeared on the KDU website.

Say no to NEPF! Say no to abolishing free education!- A statement by academics of the university system

We are in the midst of an existentially threatening economic crisis. With an ever-increasingdebt burden and low economic prospects, we continue to grapple with uncertain economicfutures and related social and political distresses. As university teachers, we are concernedabout the multiplicity of recent proposals seeking reforms in education that threaten to bringabout a sea change in …

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The case for a ‘university’

Once education is ‘dumbed down’ thus, reduced to a process of acquiring a qualification and a set of competencies as evidence of such, there is an easy case for the dismantling of the public university system: “if what you do can just as well be done using less space, less time, less trained teachers, and even online, what is the justification for allocating all these physical resources and the money that goes into sustaining them?”

Positioning the idea of Sri Lankan English in the field of English language teaching in Sri Lanka

English language teaching (ELT) has been a topic of national significance in the country for the past several decades, particularly since the introduction of the Open Economy in the late ’70s. Improving English education has been seen as an urgent and timely need that is directly linked to the economic development of the country, in the broader context of globalization. Despite the importance attributed to the topic, there is general consensus that English language education in Sri Lanka has largely been a failure.

The National Education Policy Framework 2023 Higher education captured by Inequality Inc.?

Global inequality is at an all time high. According to a recent Oxfam report (Inequality Inc. January 2024), the richest 1% of the world owns 43% of global assets; the world’s richest five men have doubled their wealth since the onset of the pandemic while five billion people have been made poorer. Ever-reducing wages (for workers), tax concessions and evasion (for/by corporates), and the privatization of public services has concentrated wealth and power in corporates, increasing their influence in every policy domain, says Oxfam.

Saving education: “Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Superman!”

Education is in trouble. Dhammika Perera and other great men with vast repositories of funds and an admirable charitable proclivity may be indeed a great relief to a sector depleted of funds. In fact, from the 1970s, public spending for welfare programmes have plummeted globally, and in Sri Lanka education spending has dropped from 4% of GDP in the 1950-60s to 1.2% in 2022. The era of “trickle-down” economics has justified ending programmes designed to reduce material inequality and brought in its place programmes conducive to capital accumulation, rationalized through arguments that once accumulated, capital would seep into the underbelly of the economy in efficient and effective ways. In doing so, the Thatcherian “dependency” disease would be cured. These policies brought with them heightened wealth disparities and created the likes of Dhammika Perera. It was also the shift towards neoliberalism that ideologically and structurally created a dangerous vacuum into which corporate magnates have stepped in.

Silence in the classroom: Confronting the dynamics of ‘deficiency’

I remember, with unusually vivid clarity, the first time I really noticed the presence of silence in the classroom. One of the lecturers, who was taking our undergraduate class, had assigned us reading to be done ahead of time, parts of which were quite tedious and had to be read twice/thrice over to be grasped. In true happy-go-lucky undergrad spirit, my classmates and I turned up having ‘skimmed’ the articles and nurturing the fervent hope that someone else would pick up the discussion in the event that any questions were raised. As you would imagine, it went horribly wrong. The lecturer posed a question that required some thinking, and we suddenly and silently went into panic-mode in a bid to offer something akin to an answer. A few of us tried to start things off by giving noncommittal responses in the general direction of the question and were kindly asked to explain ourselves further – at which point we fell silent once more because we felt that we hadn’t thought things through. The lecturer, instead of berating us for not reading adequately or making us feel like we were bad students, simply invited us to embrace the silence so that we could get our thoughts in order.

The dispossession of a voice through English in Sri Lanka

Mahendran Thiruvarangan in his Kuppi article, “Dissent as education: Teaching in a time of repression” (15.01.2024), referred to the importance of universities being spaces for the development of critical conscience. He noted, with a tone of despair, that institutes of higher education had changed from spaces where students think and critically engage with the world to simple check boxes filled out of necessity. Adding to this decline are also our attempts at monitoring and unconsciously correcting the students’ language rather than simply listening to what they have to say.

Dissent as education: Teaching in a time of repression

We have stepped into another year. What does this new year hold for us? There is hardly anything that is new that also gives us hope today. The hike in value added taxes, continuing land grabs in the North-East, the impoverished conditions amidst which most Malaiyaha Tamils eke out their lives, the repressive culture we see within our universities and the war in Gaza are among those that mark the bleak historical moment that we live in. I cannot help but begin my piece on a note of despair.