Kuppi Talk

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.

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.