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Sunday, 1 July 2012

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Need to revolutionise curriculum to meet future demands stressed:

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 the gathering:

"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.

Decision-making

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 audience.

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 for school.

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 here?

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 purposes.

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 potential.

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.

Knowledge commission

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:

I. patriotic
II. courteous
III. disciplined
IV. trustworthy
V. punctual
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 knowledge.” (unquote).

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.

Future generations

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 great school.

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.”

 

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