Need to revolutionise curriculum to meet future
Time ripe to focus on rapid growth, education – Lalith Weeratunga
Secretary to the President Lalith Weeratunga
was the chief guest at the event held to launch the publication History
of Royal College – 1985 to 2010 at the College premises.His adress to
"I am greatly honoured to have been invited by the Principal of Royal
College, my alma mater, to be the chief guest at the launch of a
landmark publication, History of Royal College – 1985 to 2010.
Secretary to the President Lalith
Weeratunga addresses the special assembly of Royal College
and the launch of its history book at Nawarangahala.
Having entered Royal in 1961 as a First former, hailing from a
village in the South, and quite a stranger to the ways of Colombo, I
feel a sense of accomplishment to address this very august gathering. As
I have always maintained, to be invited by one’s old school to
participate at an event of historic importance, is a rare recognition
one could receive in one’s life.
Much has been said about the publication and as such I am not going
to dwell on that. However, I must commend the Principal, the Royal
College Union and all others who were involved in this mammoth task
which is by no means a simple process. Mr. Larlsri Fernando who has been
entrusted with this task certainly has done a job worthy of praise.
Thank you Mr. Fernando for the valuable contribution to enrich the
history of Royal College.
The period 1985 – 2010 is in itself historic, for, it was during this
period that our motherland faced the biggest threat in its entire
history, that of disintegrating and losing its territorial integrity
with a severe threat on its sovereignty. I cannot think of a worse
period in our history.
Royal lost many of its great sons in the fight against terrorism and
many were wounded and maimed. There were others, tens of thousands of
our rural brethren who fought the enemy to save our motherland. To all
those, I bow my head with great reverence and gratitude for their grit
and courage. If not for them, you and I will not be sitting here with a
sense of relaxation on this momentous occasion and reminisce of our alma
mater’s achievements and contribution to the nation.
Having had the privilege of witnessing unparalleled decision-making
in the darkest period of our history, I am proud to record our
appreciation of the historic role played by President Mahinda Rajapaksa,
Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the Armed Forces to eradicate
terrorism from our midst.
A section of the
Today, these young Royalists do not have to think twice before coming
to school every morning. But going back to the dark period of 1985 –
2009 you could recall the anguish and anxiety of each and every parent
in this country each morning, when they had to get their children ready
Friends, let me digress to talk about the education for which Royal
College has earned the unique distinction of being the topmost school in
this land for two centuries. Education lies at the very core of our
aspirations. I refer to our continual striving to educate and mould our
minds to be fitting instruments to face life with confidence. I can
hardly think of a link between one generation to the next, more potent
than this ceaseless striving for higher levels of knowledge and
enlightenment that drives mankind towards its destined goals.
At this dawn of peace in Sri Lanka following one of its darkest
crises, when our sights wander towards sunlit horizons, it is most
gratifying for me to stand before this distinguished audience and share
with you the sentiments of a theme with which you are only too familiar
– yet must remain dear to your hearts. Education: where do we go from
We have now arrived at a new phase in our history. We are well
integrated into the global economy. Our economy is shifting away from
agriculture to industry and to a service-based one capable of attracting
foreign investment and off-shoring activities. We have a solid
foundation in human resources and communication abilities in English,
which is a global language. We have a democratic political system and a
responsive private sector. Above all, there is peace in the land, after
30 painful years.
Time is ripe and the stage is set for us to focus on rapid growth and
development. We need to change the complexion of our system of education
to produce the range and variety of skills required for development
We need to reinforce the system to be strong in areas of lifelong
learning as distinct from schooling. Perhaps, we would be better off if
we took the advice of Mark Twain, who said, and I quote, “I never let my
schooling interfere with my education.”
The problem with most educational institutions is that they try to
teach people what to think, not how to think. Contrary to what Francis
Bacon said, knowledge alone is not power. Knowledge has value only in
the hands of someone who has the ability to think well. People must
learn how to think well to achieve their dreams and to reach their
Undoubtedly, imparting critical thinking skills need to be
incorporated into our system of education. One of the reasons people
don’t achieve their dreams is that they desire to change their results
without changing their thinking. Royal must inculcate this skill into
her students as they will, as witnessed in the past, occupy the highest
level of positions that will determine the destiny of our land.
Royal will do well to remember that good thinkers are always in
demand. A person who knows how, may always have a job, but the person
who knows why will always be his boss. Our school needs to produce this
latter category, those who know why, rather than those who know how.
Our neighbour, India has thought it fit to concentrate heavily on
knowledge. They have established the National Knowledge Commission of
India because knowledge has been recognised as the key driving force in
the 21st Century and India’s ability to emerge as a globally competitive
player will substantially depend on its knowledge resources. India
believes that to foster generational change, a systematic transformation
is required that seeks to address the concerns of the entire knowledge
spectrum. In the overview of the National Knowledge Commission’s Report
to the nation 2006-2009, it is stated that this massive endeavour
involves creating a roadmap for reform of the knowledge sector that
focuses on enhancing access to knowledge, fundamentally improving
education systems and their delivery, re-shaping the research,
development and innovation structures, and harnessing knowledge
applications for generating better services.
Keeping this scenario in mind, the National Knowledge Commission
(NKC) was constituted in June 2005 by Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh,
to prepare a blueprint for reform of their knowledge-related
institutions and infrastructure which would enable India to meet the
challenges of the future.
Over a period of time, a lot of tinkering has been done in our system
of education, at the behest of individuals rather than a body of
cohesive and rational thinkers. That has resulted in rather a disjointed
system that leaves the student totally unprepared for the world of work
that he or she enters on completion of school education. There is much
that one learns, post-school.
Unfortunately, we do not provide the right ingredients during school
life so as to enable young school leavers to engage in continuous
education. Forget about knowledge and skills, our system must be able to
produce an individual who loves one’s motherland. On this score, I wish
to share some thoughts:
a)We must come to a national understanding, sans divisive politics,
of what we expect a Sri Lankan to be. I have often thought what a true
‘Sri Lankan’ should be like. Let me elaborate on this thought:
There are certain countries and nations in the world that have
distinct characteristics. I will take one such case: the Japanese. We
know that the Japanese are so well known for their creativity, to be
productive. One cannot miss the courtesy of a Japanese wherever you meet
them. Of course, they are also known as a very punctual nation.
Their system of Shinkansen or bullet trains is simply amazing. If the
arrival time is, say, 8.14 a.m, the train arrives at the station right
at that time. Machines don’t make a nation productive; it is the people
that make it so.
b) Dr. Noriaki Kano, professor of Management Science at the Tokyo
Science University and one of the leading teachers of quality in Japan,
having worked with many managers of American companies had advised his
students, “Americans tend to go an inch deep and a mile wide. You must
learn to go an inch wide and a mile deep.” It can be deduced from that
much valued advice that we must learn to do fewer things thoroughly
rather than many things inadequately.
c) As much as we characterise or identify a Japanese through certain
well-defined criteria, an attempt must be made to craft a definition for
a true Sri Lankan. Some of the major characteristics that I advocate for
a Sri Lankan are:
VI. productive and
VII. values team work
There may be many more that could be included here, but, this
grouping encapsulates the bare essentials.
There can be any number of subjects taught, but each subject must
have a distinct bearing on the student, it must positively impact on the
quality of life of the individual and relate to our cultures, values and
what we stand for. Our education must help us to wade through life which
is full of vicissitudes and the foundation for such a state of mind must
be developed by the school, supported by parents at home.
Fabric of society
We cannot prepare every child to be a doctor, an engineer, a lawyer
or a professional. There are many occupations that contribute to the
well-being of the fabric of society. There must be a division of labour.
However, every child must be prepared for the unpredictability of life.
That is where education must concentrate.
In addition to book education, there are many other areas on which
our educationists must seriously focus. I outlined a few criteria to
define what a true Sri Lankan should be. There is also the ethical side
of education. Various names are coined to describe this essential
component of one’s education. Some call it moral education, others call
it value education and yet others name it ethics. Whatever we call it,
the essence of it is that we must teach our children the rights and the
wrongs. The importance of respecting our elders, living by the
foundation laid by one’s religion in one’s life, respecting the space
and freedom of others, protecting the environment, learning to agree to
disagree, upholding democratic values, and abhorrence of violence at any
cost are a few that I would like to highlight.
In 1995, a best-seller authored by renowned author, Dr. Daniel
Goleman, a US citizen presented to the world a new concept – Emotional
Intelligence, also known as EQ. Goleman through his well-researched book
argued and debunked the theory that people with a high IQ always did
well in life.
IQ has been the basis on which selections had been made to many
coveted positions. Seminal research has shown that having a high IQ does
not guarantee someone to be successful in life.
On the contrary, those who have a high EQ are bound to have success
stories in life. This ground-breaking thought was based on the Theory of
Multiple Intelligences postulated by the reknowned educationist,
Professor Howard Gardner at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. In
his book, Frames of Mind, first published in 1984, Prof Gardner reveals
the prerequisites of intelligence. (Quote) “To my mind, human
intellectual competence must entail a set of skills of problem solving –
enabling the individual to resolve genuine problems or difficulties that
he or she encounters and, when appropriate to create an effective
product – and must also entail the potential for finding or creating
problems – thereby laying the groundwork for the acquisition of new
Gardner demonstrates that there exists multiple human intelligences,
common to all cultures – each with its own patterns of development and
brain activity, and each different in kind from the others. These
potentials include linguistic, musical, logical – mathematical
capacities, spatial, bodily – kinesthetic intelligences as well as the
ability to arrive at an emotional and mental sense of self and other
people. Rather than reducing an individual’s potential to a single score
on an IQ test, it is the fostering and education of all these
intelligences that should be our concern.
The purpose of presenting these concepts is to stress on the
importance of the need to revolutionise our school curriculum, both from
an academic as well as an extra-curricular standpoint. The need of the
future is to turn out individuals that fit the requirements of the
employers where there is a lot of emphasis on soft skills and also the
skills for living with confidence. What I advocate for the future is to
turn out emotionally-intelligent students who will be able to cope with
innumerable ups and downs in life and yet contribute to the well being
of self and others.
Approaching the conclusion of my address today, I must say why I
selected this theme. It’s because of its importance to the well-being of
our nation and also our future generations.
We must look to the future and understand the demands it will place
on our country and its people. We must also not just dismantle
institutions and make new ones. What must be done is to re-invigorate
the institutions and encourage them to re-think their strategy in terms
of the emerging needs of our nation.
Finally, let me thank the Principal, Mr. Upali Gunasekera who has
steered Royal through a difficult period with distinction and the Royal
College Union for giving me this unique opportunity, for it’s Royal’s
175th anniversary we are celebrating.
Fifty two years ago, waiting to enter Royal when it had its 125th
anniversary, I could not have imagined in the wildest of my dreams, that
I would be asked to be the chief guest at the launch of this valued
publication relating to 175 years of distinguished existence of this
The fact that I am here today before you, an august gathering, is all
because of my parents who decided to send me to this greatest and the
best institution in our country and this great hall of learning that
moulded me into what I am. Before I wind up, please permit me to leave a
thought behind for you to ponder. This is a quote by the Scottish
Psychiatrist, R.D. Laing. “The range of what we think and do is limited
by what we fail to notice. And because we fail to notice that we fail to
notice, there is little we can do to change until we notice how failing
to notice shapes our thoughts and deeds.”