Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 20 March 2011





Marriage Proposals
Government Gazette

Thought - provoking bookon educational philosophy

Systemic failures in education are usually followed by outpourings of educational thought and advice, both that are worthy of serious attention and that are not. The contemporary worrisome state of Sri Lankan education has drawn many comments and observations both from reputed educationists and others.

Prof. C. Kariyawasam's latest book while being topical assumes its own place of significance and importance among academic publications in the field of education as an item of permanent interest in the growing literature on Philosophy of Education in Sinhala.

It is not Prof. Kariyawasam's first book on Educational Philosophy, for he is the reputed author of several books in the field.

He has been associated with the Faculty of Education of the University of Colombo for well over 45 years and has built a solid reputation for himself through his teaching, research and writing as an educational philosopher very well informed of the latest trends in international thinking and as a creative thinker himself.

Having developed a well founded specialization in this area he is quite qualified to write the present book for the benefit of discerning readers.

The focus is on what should be the characteristics of the Sri Lankan that we aim to produce through the educational process as its final product.

This being a question of educational aims falls within the domain of Educational Philosophy as we understand and uphold the nomenclature of educational studies in this part of the world where we have traditionally expected philosophy to be speculative and to make a positive contribution to the available stock of cognitions and beliefs.

We have, says the author, for a considerable length of time, been studying the philosophies of education of ancient and modern educators but not yet even thought of arriving at a philosophy of education appropriate for Sri Lanka. The author intends his work to be a modest beginning in this direction.

The book begins with an examination of the subject of philosophy, its genesis, history and development, purposes and functions.

The author introduces philosophy as the 'love of wisdom' to be attained by philosophical enquiry as opposed to physical experience of the universe and human life, and traces the progress of this activity from the philosophical enquiries of the Vedic poets of ancient Bharata up to the views of the modern philosophers.

The contributions of ancient philosophers such as Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, Confucius etc. are examined and useful and necessary inferences drawn.

However rich and prosperous a society may be, if there is no tradition of sustained deep thinking within it such a society is bound to collapse sooner or later. Every philosophy indicates a noble way of life by helping the individual to see himself or herself in perspective.

Philosophy provides answers to queries that may not be solved by mathematical or scientific enquiry. A few such questions are as follows: What is life? What is life's aim? What is beauty? What is goodness? By raising this type of question the philosopher thinking beyond time and space is able to place himself in a position of vantage over and above the rest of humanity and seek to bring light upon the world, leading it towards change by exploring the truth.

In addition to scientific and mathematical knowledge wisdom illuminated by philosophy is essential for the progress of humanity. "Philosophy mirrors society while being an embodiment of culture and it reveals the ideals which society desires." (Page 12)

The path of education, like that of other human activities, is illuminated by philosophy. Most philosophers have indicated their own systems of education with desirable aims and appropriate strategies for their attainment.

A system of education not supported by some philosophy becomes a stray system of education. At the heart of every educational problem there is a philosophical problem. Every educational practice or innovation has its philosophical base.

At this point the author delves into the philosophical and cultural history of humanity and pinpoints the main strands that have formed or could form the mainsprings of educational theory and practice. The author points out the essential elements in a culture of 'globalisation' as opposed to the purely consumerist culture based mainly on modern foreign cultural springs.

The author next proceeds to unravel the main theme of his discourse which is a discussion of the more important characteristics that should be developed in a student by a quality education to make him an ideal Sri Lankan individual and citizen. To be sure the author is not the first to dwell on this theme.

For instance, the Report of the National Education Commission (2003; pp. 71-75) lists eight National Goals and seven groups of competencies that will contribute to the achievement of the National Goals. They have been presented in a categorized and packaged form to be implemented by professional educators.

However, the present author considers the desired individual characteristics in a more simplified and detailed form and describes a number of the very prominent and important among them.

To mention just a few, a Sri Lankan should above all be patriotic, should be endowed with the dignity of labour, should follow a simple lifestyle and help safeguard the environment and should follow a democratic way of life.

Each characteristic is clearly dwelt upon with instances, illustrations etc. from ancient as well as modern literature, both oriental and occidental, in a way that appeals and is useful to both the professional educator and the non professional reader.

The author has been successful to a very great extent in discharging the burden of describing a truly educated Sri Lankan and the result is a useful and welcome addition to the growing literature in Sinhala on Educational Philosophy which will be equally useful to educators, teachers, parents and individual citizens who can find much helpful guidance and direction within its pages.

The author's style, as usual, is forceful, straight forward and easy to read and comprehend. This attractively printed and moderately priced book should find an honoured place in every Sinhala reader's library.

The reviewer is formerly, Senior Professor of Humanities Education and Dean, Faculty of Education, University of Colombo.

The monastic order and the pot

"The monastic order and the pot" could be a roughly approximated translation of the original name. The issue springs, what has the Buddhist monastic order to do with pots? You may get enlightened by and by as to that aspect.

As it is, this story that lends the name to the book, we can deal with it first and meet the main character in this tale, who is none other than a young Bhikkhu. Throughout the tale he is plucking the heads of sprats and putting them into a pot.

Sacrilegious? No, Wait. He has been digesting the Baisajja Kandakaya of the Mahavagga Paliya the previous night that reveals some surprising facts. Here the Buddha in the height of his compassion, condones nutritious night meals for sick monks. Even animal flesh seems not to be ruled out if the sickness demands extra nutrition.

So, the young bhikkhu has taken the liberty of preparing a broth or soup of potatoes, beans, carrots, "sarana" and sprats for the Loku hamuduruwo, the aged sick bhikkhu. The young bhikkhu himself, however, is a vegetarian.

The sight of the sprats swimming in the water in which he is washing them evokes a plethora of contemplative and creative thoughts, some of them nauseating. To avoid the nausea he begins to see the small creatures now devoid of life in a new light.

They seem to have suddenly got instilled with life. Some mischievous circle and try to escape from the water, with or without heads. Living beings trapped in the toils and coils of the Sansaric journey, trying to escape?

What an inconsequential incident to weave a story around, some may rationalise. But for me therein lies the beauty of this literary work. The incidents are apparently very trivial but the messages finally conveyed hinge on the philosophical.

There are ten other stories spawned out of seemingly "inconsequential incidents and events", a few of which are given here that emanate the fragrance of the unsophisticated rural village life tinctured with the teachings of the Buddha.

It is not the deep Abhidhamma as such that the villagers have absorbed but the more easily understood concepts as love for all living beings and the readiness to forgive and forget.

In the short story "Naini" it is that doctrine of Maitree which makes Amma dissuade others from harming the reptilian visitor to the house. "Naihamy, yanna. We are all innocent people. trying to eke out a living." (Hon. Snake! Please go away).

The "naini" obeys and slithers away. But the author does not confine himself to mothers and daughters and sons. He deviates. The settings become diverse, yet within the precincts of the rural paradigm. It does not take much mental exertion to sense the author's veering towards the area in and around Pasdun Korale, where the young author was probably born and bred.

There is the backstage drama of the mighty minister's reception, the impact of the new technological wonder ie. the "Mobile" in a rural house, the mental state of a solitary pensioner and even the mental fantasies of a lover-couple on the Horetuduwa bridge.

The stories are terse and briefly put. But after reading them a heaviness descends on the discerning reader. Why? In some strange way each story has conveyed a starkly truthful message as of the professor who has not bred any disciples to continue his work. The young man who visits him realises the futility of the professor's life.

Yet, on his way back he sees the bamboo shoots sprouting almost stubbornly from the hard earth. They are red hued, fleshy and vibrant. Are they the young men who are wriggling out into the limitless creative world out of their own abilities?

Shirley probably belongs to this category. The seemingly trite nature of the plots articulate another tragedy if one were to call it so. It is the paucity of wide experience. One sees writers of the calibre of Shirley who have spent the major part of their lives cocooned in the wilds of Pasdun Korale.

The bright lights of the cities of Europe and of other continents, the jumble of issues cropping in these foreign cities on which expatriate writers just let their pens run smooth, our local young writers from the villagers have yet to see and experience.

Some of them might never set eyes nor experience this vast spectrum that nourishes the imagination. But global gallivanting alone does not make a successful writer. The brilliant Bronte sisters who wielded their pens so deftly had never stepped out of their country.

Nor a good many writers, both male and female belonging to different epochs. Talent would flower sometimes stubbornly especially when determination accompanies it generously. Shirley certainly has not had a wide exposure. But like the bamboo shoots he has broken the hard earth and come out.

Today, according to his bio data he is not only an established writer (author of two well - researched books on children's drama) but a stage play scriptwriter, a deputy director of a media organisation and a researcher.

Having earned his degree in communication he has earned his diplomas in his chosen field and is about to wade into the inviting field of teledramas. Sky just now is the limit for him. He seems to look for sponsors to boost his talents and lend a helping hand. Other than his bio-data some stories in "The monastic order and the pot" transpire this longing.


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