Kuppi Talk

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.

Two leaves and a bud: the history of Malaiyaham as pedagogy

And I wish to speak of a poet here. Kurinjith Thennavan is an auto-didact. He did not learn to become a writer in our schools or university. He is a worker. He was shut out of our free education mandate even as he and others like him were enabling it. He was not celebrated as a poet of Sri Lanka during his life time, and is little known outside of a small circle of the Tamil literati and political actors. In concluding with two of this poems (in translation), I offer a reading of our history that in its undoing can help us forge a shared vision of social and political emancipation.

The promise of ‘English for all’: Gloomy contextual notes and unsolicited advice

I walked into a branch of the Sarasavi bookshop recently, looking for Amarakeerthi Liyanage’s Wishwawidyalayak Yanu Kumakda? [What is a university?] and was told that this branch only sold books published in English. Being only mouthpieces of company policy, the staff could not say why. In a way, no rationale is needed. The company is responding to a national desire for anything English, tied to our colonial history and fed by poor language policies since Independence. English is also a globally-spread weed, taking over territory of other languages (governance, tech, publishing, etc.,), such that some scholars call it a ‘killer language’.

Neurodiversity, inclusive education and quality assurance in Sri Lankan universities

This article discusses the idea of neurodiversity as a point of departure towards imagining our education to be more inclusive. First, I talk about neurodiversity, the autism spectrum, and the challenges for inclusive education in Sri Lanka and then examine the limitations of the current Quality Assurance process to ensure an inclusive education for students at Sri Lankan universities.

A Budget to dismember state universities

Sri Lanka is going through its worst economic crisis since the 1930s, and the stabilisation policies of the Government could drastically change the political economic landscape of the country. Amidst these changes underway, education more broadly and the university system in particular, have come under considerable strain.

In this column, I analyse the recent Budget Speech and the dangers inherent in it for access to university education for future generations. The allocations for next year continue the trajectory of underfunding state universities. Furthermore, it concretises the Government’s intention to completely change the governance of universities, recognise ‘private higher educational institutions’ on par with state universities and to expand their role in higher education.

The Charismatic Pedagogue, some reflections

During my introduction and induction to Sri Lankan academia more than a decade ago, I had to undergo teacher training. Such teacher training in higher education was relatively new back then. However, today it is far more mainstreamed and a mandatory requirement in all state (and I assume) private universities. While I believe such teacher training is important – because one is not necessarily ‘born’ a teacher and a PhD or a postgraduate qualification does not prepare one for teaching – such training programs can also bring a homogenizing bureaucratic logic to higher education pedagogy. I believe there is an insidious logic that is reshaping higher education which is connected to the convergence of a number of discourses.

Funding and equity principle: Who should pay for higher education?

The education debate in Sri Lanka today, especially as it pertains to higher education (HE) is fraught and confused. On the one hand, we have arguments that universities cannot accommodate all who apply for entrance and therefore should be expanded by the private sector. On the other hand, state universities are allegedly producing graduates who are not employable and therefore syllabuses and approaches should change. This discourse also frames Arts students as no good lay-abouts who sponge off state money and only do politics. Today, the Treasury is holding back committed funds to state universities and cutting the HE budgets. State universities are also told to absorb more students without greater investment, and generate funds by carrying out fee-levying courses.

Students with disabilities or universities with disabilities?

It was an unswept corridor with poor ventilation and no fans or air-conditioning, hellish in the scorching Jaffna weather. I see students with disabilities taking exams in the corridor outside of the New Exam Hall, in the Faculty of Arts, at the University of Jaffna. For four years, I was tormented by the sight of this spatial dichotomy: The exam hall was dedicated to students without disabilities who took exams in the comfort of fans (or more seldomly, air-conditioning ) while the corridor was the (un)official exam venue for visually-impaired students to whom the invigilators read out the paper aloud during the exam due to the unavailability of Braille transcribed exam papers. These students were placed in the corridor so that other students were not disturbed during the process. There is something fundamentally wrong with this. Why cannot these students be placed in a classroom instead of a corridor? And a larger question is why these students, along with others with disabilities, are excluded from university spaces?

Navigating challenges of dental education in Sri Lanka

One of the principles of free education is to provide opportunities in higher education. In 2020, then-President Gotabaya Rajapaksa issued directives to the University Grants Commission (UGC) to increase university admissions by an additional 12,000 students, in line with his election manifesto. Subsequently, student enrollments were increased with inadequate resources allocated for the enhancement of university facilities to accommodate the surge in student enrollments.

Pursuing accountability through privatisation of higher education

Massive changes are sweeping through the higher education sector in the midst of political and economic chaos. As Naomi Klein’s ‘Disaster Capitalism’ thesis cautions us, hasty changes pushed through during times of great uncertainty and desperation tend to have devious intentions. These times do not afford the leisure of circumstance to carefully deliberate the implications of the proposed changes. We need to grasp the urgency of the situation and respond collectively before irreversible harm is inflicted upon our system of free public education.