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DateLine Sunday, 22 April 2007

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Literature, history create foundations in character building



Prof. Kusuma Karunaratne

With exceptions no doubt, be it fleecing lawyers, exploitative doctors, manipulative teachers or even irresponsible masons contracting elsewhere while on a task - not to forget today's friend tomorrow's enemy - what does all this convey? The certainty of social collapse in the offing. Professionals are fast losing grip on accountability. Divorce is on the rise. More often than not, inter-personal relationships are superficial. The crunch lyes in asking ourselves, "well, are those people to blame in all this?" The answer is one big 'no'.

Thirty years have gone by ever since people were all too suddenly activated into the pecuniary thirst. Very swiftly quantity was undermined for quality. Money overtook values. Directing the accusing finger only to the rapid shift from a subsistence economy into a highly sophisticated corporate one is not closer to the truth.

Other factors as well such as effacing literature and history off the school curriculum and politicising the country's educational system are not without its 'fair share' in societal degeneration.

Removing the kernel for an empty shell would not help the shell nor the kernel. This then was writer experience listening to Professor Kusuma Karunaratne who spoke to the 'Sunday Observer' on the more than partial collapse of the social whole.

Societal integrity and wholesomeness needs to a great extent be intact.Sacrificing it for some other in toto is not in national interest as we have seen over the past few decades.

Regretting the removal of learning literature and history in schools she said, "If there is no past, there's no present and no future. Based on the past we have got to build our present and be ready for the future.

If you don't know your past, there is a vacuum. So our children must be taught history and encouraged to strengthen their knowledge. They must also be trained to appreciate literature and other art forms.

By this they become rich in values and more sensitive to life. Several years have gone by without children not learning their own history, culture and literature. So what could one expect other than a degenerated society?" she asked indignantly.

"In our education system the children were afforded the opportunity of bringing out there aesthetic talent. But today's children are not exposed to the richness of our early classical literature.

They study only one section of a classic and do not get exposed to the full text which in turn shuts the door to Sinhala values. It was literature that depicted our values. My point is how will today's children know about their country's own history and values when such subjects are not taught?"

In American Universities she said all children even the foreign ones are made to learn US history. "Even the Americans have got to know the value of imparting history whereas we have dumped our own."

Significantly Professor Karunaratne spoke of keeping politics off education. "In planning out education we should not import from other countries.

"What ever is brought from outside should suit our children and our culture. For instance, the continuous assessment system was not a success here because of practical problems. Children must not be made Guinea pigs in experimenting with education. This foreign system could be good but if not applied effectively, it could be disastrous. The NCGE examination is another example. Arithmetic was not made compulsory. Today those that followed the NCGE cannot mentally calculate at all.

"In some other countries there is an effective way of handling educational programmes. They first present a green paper and get the response of teachers, parents and learned people.

"So, these are avenues to be explored in planning out education for the well being of future generations.

"One can just imagine the pitiful state we have fallen into what with the dumping of literature, history and to top it all an unplanned education heavily politicized.

"When different governments follow different educational policies, it does not augur well for the government concerned nor the social whole."

She certainly does not blame the young nor despise them for whatever has come their way in negative values when these external factors have had very undesirable effects into dragging them down the precipice.

"Society changes. It has to change. If society does not do so it becomes static and dull. So changes are welcome but not at the cost of uprooting our basic values. "At least to some extent our identity has to be preserved and this is true of all ethnic groups.

To help in this direction we need a collective effort. The responsibility therefore lies more on adults than young people. Example is better than advice. At least a few of us remaining elders could be role models.

Whenever I'm invited for a school prize giving I emphasise much on Sinhala values. Children do listen attentively. There is hope that even a few would pickup something of what I have been saying and walk into adulthood as value filled people."

Professor Karunaratne's analysis made this writer delve further on the grievous social state. Those that have been victim to missing out on knowledge of literature and history coupled with the politicisation of education comprise many of today's adults. They are in all walks of life.

No wonder then the lack of accountability and valuelessness as they go along in what ever chosen career.

The utter disregard towards those that seek their services and giving priority to exorbitant fees are certainly rooted in what they have missed out as children on values and ethics contained in the study of literature and history.

Social institutions that were earlier role models to society are presently in a corrupt state - for instance the family, place of worship and school lack the necessary human capital in bringing out stable future generations. Against such backdrop this writer asked Professor Karunaratne for a way out of the present mess. She very confidently said, "Well, at least the few stable ones as I said earlier must come forward and be independent role modules."

Answering my question on how only one or two swallows would help make a summer she astutely replied, "Well, they would hopefully make at least shall we say less than a fraction of a summer.

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