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Friday February 23rd, 2024

Sri Lanka should open schools, but reduce exam pressure: EducationForumSL

A student in a remote area trying to connect to the internet for online education

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka should open schools as soon as it is safe to do so, but students should not be subject to the same exam pressure as earlier, which is in case a flawed approach that leaves students without reasoning skills, an education policy group has said.

Sri Lanka schooling in case locked in a “covering the syllabus to prepare children for exams” approach, Education Forum SL, a policy group said.

“There seems to be no intention of seeking alternatives to the “covering the syllabus to prepare children for exams” approach to education,” the grouping co-ordinated by Sujata Gamage and Tara de Mel said.

“While we appreciate the government’s initiatives in the health front to reopen schools, we cannot be happy about the pedagogical aspects.

“Covering 20 months of missed work in distance mode or even in reopened schools is simply not possible, but examination pressures leave teachers with no other choice.”

Sri Lanka’s school curricula are “overloaded with content and teachers feed the same for regurgitation by children at term-tests three times a year and three national tests at Grade 5, 1, and 13,” the group said.

“Contrary to popular belief, our exams too are nothing to be proud of,” EducationForumSL said.

“They test concepts, procedures, and problem solving within a national examination bubble with a self-referential curriculum in the form of past papers.

“Studies show that when mathematics question papers, say, are set according to international standards such as TIMMS which require knowing, applying, and reasoning in a broader context, our students do poorly.”

There had also been concerns raised by other observers that Sri Lanka is suffering from the same effects as several East European nations where centralized syllabi of a state education system brainwashed generations with cherry picked history and nationalism.

Like many Eastern European state supported education came to Sri Lanka from initiatives of mainly British pedagogues.

In Eastern Europe, students learned to believe and not apply inquiry and critical thinking.

“Western Europe developed the system of obligatory public education,” economist and philosopher Ludwig von Mises who studied ethnic and linguistic strife in former states of the Austro-Hungarian Empire said.

“It came to Eastern Europe as an achievement of Western civilization. But in the linguistically mixed territories it turned into a dreadful weapon in the hands of governments determined to change the linguistic allegiance of their subjects.

“What the philanthropists and pedagogues of England who advocated public education did not foresee what waves of hatred and resentment would rise out of this institution.”

Many schools in Sri Lanka date back the 1834 Commission of Education and the later 1865 Morgan Commission which required a secular education in non-religious subjects analysts say. (Colombo/Sept25/2021)

The full statement is reproduced below:

Schools should reopen at the first opportunity, but with reduced examination pressures

The urgency of getting children back to school at the first opportunity is accepted worldwide, but Covid-19 has also brought three other issues to the fore internationally –

(1) Ethics of conducting competitive examinations when significant portions of the students have been left out of education

(2) Wisdom of continuing same old education when a full return to normalcy is not in sight

(3) The need for combining face-2-face and distance mode of teaching and learning as the new normal.

Meanwhile here in Sri Lanka, our Ministry of Education goes about as if it is business as usual. Dates for
exams are scheduled, postponed, and rescheduled.

There seems to be no intention of seeking alternatives to the “covering the syllabus to prepare children for exams” approach to education.

While we appreciate the government’s initiatives in the health front to reopen schools, we cannot be happy about the pedagogical aspects. Covering 20 months of missed work in distance mode or even in reopened schools is simply not possible, but examination pressures leave teachers with no other choice.

The ministry should not continue to act like the proverbial ostrich anymore. It must reduce the examination pressures on students and teachers after consulting a broad spectrum of stakeholders.

Our own work has revealed that Sri Lanka’s school curricula are overloaded with content and teachers feed the same for regurgitation by children at term-tests three times a year and three national tests at Grade 5, 1, and 13.

Contrary to popular belief, our exams too are nothing to be proud of. They test concepts, procedures, and problem solving within a national examination bubble with a self-referential curriculum in the form of past papers.

Studies show that when mathematics question papers, say, are set according to international standards such as TIMMS which require knowing, applying, and reasoning in a broader context, our
students do poorly.

It is not too late. If the central government does the right thing to reduce examination pressures, our
schools and local education authorities have the know-how to give our children a good education even
under the present trying circumstances.

Therefore, we urge the government to take the following actions:

MINISTRY OF EDUCATION

1. Schedule GCE A/L exam only after providing adequate catch-up opportunities to applicants

2. Postpone all other exams till August 2022

3. Expedite the health measures required for reopening of schools

4. Negotiate in good faith to bring teachers and principals back to work

PROVINCIAL/ZONAL/SCHOOL AUTHORITIES

1. Freed of examination constraints, reorient education to its true intent

2. Prepare for uncertainties by adopting hybrids of face-to-face and distance education modes

THE GCE A/L EXAMINATION is a defining milestone for our youth. Therefore, we urge the government to
take every effort to conduct the GCE A/L examination ensuring equality of opportunity to all first-time
applicants.

Schools should be opened at the earliest for A/L students and government TV channels or governmentsponsored private satellite TV channels should be dedicated to this exam. (The value of TV broadcasts for other grades is another matter that should be evaluated). The examination date should be set only after 3 months or more after such measures are in place.

THE GCE O/L EXAMINATION need not be a life-determining event. Government can provide a test bank of diagnostic tests for the three national languages and math for use by schools and individuals at end of years 5, 9, 11, if streaming students into various streams of study is necessary.

GRADE 5 SCHOLARSHIP EXAMINATION (G5SE): 2022 is not a good time to move children entering Grade 6 to schools away from home. The Grade 5 examination can be offered in 2022 August for children who are technically in Grade 5 and Grade 6 that year and admit them to popular schools in 2023 for Grade 6 and Grade 7, respectively.

TEACHERS’STRIKE: The education of our children is in the hands of teachers and principals who are closest to the children. Until the teachers’ strike, they have been doing their best to reach out to the children without any recognition or support from the Ministry of Education. It is the Ministry’s turn to give the teachers the respect and recognition they deserve.

REORIENTING THE TEACHING AND LEARNING PROCESS: Competencies defined in the curriculum say all the right things about what children should know and can do, but examination pressures have grossly distorted the teaching and learning process. The pandemic is an opportunity to reorient education to its intended purpose.

• Above all, focus on the social-emotional-physical development of children

• Help all students to get up to speed on language and math using diagnostic tests as guides

• Teach all other subjects through activity-based modules that are self-directed by students.

If our schools choose to free themselves from examinations in Grades 1-9 at least, children will not only
receive the benefits of a holistic education but do better at examinations in Grades 11 and 13, we have
reasons to believe.

HYBRID MODE AS THE NORM: It would be foolhardy to think that schools can be kept open as before. As
teachers and principals point out, it will be hard to keep children apart and strictly observe social distancing.

The direction of this pandemic is uncertain. It is best that each school community adopts a practice that
suits it best. Ministry of Education should follow their lead and provide resources as needed. Various hybrid modes of combining in-class learning with home-based learning must be tested.

These proposals are not just wishful thinking. Bold experiments are taking place. Stay tuned for more.
Meanwhile, ask your child’s school why they are continuing with business as usual.

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Sri Lanka’s Grisly Recent History Goes Unpunished

ECONOMYNEXT – They lie buried in numerous mass graves, all evidence of Sri Lanka’s murderous recent past which has been punctuated by multiple civil conflicts.

Whatever remains is evidence of Sri Lanka’s grisly history of the extrajudicial executions of rebels in both Northern and Southern insurrections.

Most of the bodies remain in mass graves that stretch from Chemmani and Duraiappah Stadium in  Jaffna to burial sites in the Colombo and Matale Districts and the Southern and Central Provinces.

The dead could be anyone; captured rebels, those caught in crossfires and others who were deemed to be “inconvenient,” according to a report titled ‘Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s War Time Role’ released by the International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP) on 17 January 2024.

A horrific record

Sri Lanka’s recent blood-soaked history is replete with mass killings and many “disappearances” from the various incidents during the insurgencies of the JVP as well as the Tamil separatist war.

The activist group Journalists for Democracy and affiliated organisations claim that at least 32 mass graves have been identified across the island. A report published in Groundviews in January said these graves “dotted across the country that hold the remains of not just the casualties of the civil war but also those who disappeared during the two JVP uprisings in 1971 and from 1988 to 1989.”

A 1999 United Nations study noted that Sri Lanka has the second-highest number of enforced disappearances in the world with around 12,000 people missing after being detained by government Security Forces. Figures vary with Amnesty International reporting that the number of disappeared persons could be as high as 60,000.

There is no official government figure.

Evidence against GR

Now, fifteen years after the separatist war in Sri Lanka ended, mounting evidence has emerged against former President, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, for his pivotal role in the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity during the civil war, say Human Rights lawyers in this new report.

Rajapaksa figures in two serious passages of time where suspected cadres of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna were killed at Matale in the 1988-89 period and LTTE cadres and civilians on the frontlines of Nandikadal which proved to be the final battle of the Eelam War.

The ITJP report quotes its Executive Director Yasmin Sooka as saying if Sri Lanka “is serious about dealing with its violent past, the litmus test is to hold (former President) Gotabaya Rajapaksa criminally accountable for war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

The report presents detailed evidence connecting the former President when he was Secretary to the Ministry of Defence to numerous massacres of civilians. Although not the army commander, nor Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gotabaya had command and effective control of the security forces during the Civil War as the Defence Secretary and the younger brother of then President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

The ITJP report says the then Defence Secretary Rajapaksa had “contemporaneous knowledge of the violations of international humanitarian law and international criminal law being committed, and failed to take any steps to prevent them, or to hold those under his command accountable. He and successive Sri Lankan governments have had countless opportunities since the war ended to initiate credible investigations into allegations of gross human rights violations and to establish prosecutions. Instead of allowing the truth to come to light, Gotabaya and his successors have perpetuated denial of the complicity of the security forces in these violations, rewarding and protecting the alleged perpetrators.”

The 104-page document examines evidence of Rajapaksa’s involvement in and knowledge of attacks on the No Fire Zones set up to protect civilians, his failure to prevent and investigate summary executions, enforced disappearances, torture, rape and sexual violence, arbitrary detention and the denial of humanitarian aid to civilians.

Individual stories that were leaked at the time gave credence to these incidents.

One was the evidence of the killing of LTTE Leader Velupillai Prabhakaran’s younger son Balachandran. The boy, according to some reports, had been escorted to the Sri Lanka Army lines by an LTTE bodyguard at Mullivaikkal. Photos purported to have been taken at that stage show the boy wrapped in a Sri Lanka Army issue sarong eating a biscuit behind the Sri Lanka Army lines. A second photo shows him dead at the same location, his body riddled with bullets.

Another set of pictures was that of the LTTE’s TV icon Issapriya whose image was widely circulated. There were unconfirmed reports that she had been sexually assaulted along with other young women who had been captured as the LTTE unravelled. That is followed by another picture of her corpse shot at close range.

Eventually, the Sri Lankan government during President Maithripala Sirisena’s tenure acknowledged that some 65,000 persons were missing and granted close surviving relatives rights to manage their properties, the ITJP report states.

Matale Mass Grave

Rajapaksa was the military Coordinating Officer for the Matale District in 1989 when the area was rocked by the so-called Deshapremi Janatha Vyaparaya a JVP offshoot. He was a Lt. Colonel at the time.

In December 2012, reports emerged that a mass grave had been found in the grounds of the Matale Hospital.

Accusations were made at the time that the remains unearthed were that of JVP cadres who had been captured and allegedly killed during the insurrection, a claim the party repeatedly made.

No government however pursued an investigation into the discovery because politics got in the way; after all the UNP was in power when the killings were supposedly carried out and the officer responsible, Gotabaya, was the brother of Mahinda Rajapaksa at the time, a prominent leader in the SLFP.

The government of the day meanwhile claimed the bodies were of victims of a landslide in the 1950s.

However, there was no proper investigation to prove which theory was factual.

The ITJP report also contains the names of former Army Commander, Lt Gen Shavendra Silva and others who are seen as Gotabaya loyalists in the Army.  The report also claims that Army top brass, other than Field Marshall Sarath Fonseka, who was Commander of the Army at the time the civil war ended, had close personal connections to Rajapaksa.

These incidents, however, are not the only horrific events of our island nation’s history; abductions and disappearances of young men, allegedly by members of the armed forces, the massacre of a group of Buddhist monks at Aranthalawa, the killing of pilgrims at Anuradhapura, the latter two by the LTTE, random killings of public servants and others by rebel groups, and more recently the Easter Sunday bombings, the list goes on. And the powers that be, govern with impunity.

So, it is unlikely that the relatives of the victims will find closure until justice is served and those whose hands are bloodstained are held accountable for their actions.

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India has given “lot of offers” for Ramayana Trail, Sri Lanka state minister says

ECONOMYNEXT – India has given a lot of offers to establish Ramayana Trails in Sri Lanka, State Tourism Minister Diana Gamage said, as the island nation is focusing more on Indian tourists to boost the hospitality industry.

Historians say, according to Hindu mythology, Sri Lanka was the kingdom of Ravana, the ten-headed demon king who abducted Sita, the wife of Rama, the hero of the Ramayana, a smriti text from ancient India, one of the two important epics of Hinduism known as the Itihasas, the other being the Mahabharata.

The epic narrates the life of Rama, a prince of Ayodhya in the kingdom of Kosala.

With the opening of Ram Mandhir in Ayodhya, Sri Lanka has renewed the establishment of Ramayana Trails, which includes all the places believed to be associated with Ramayana.

The places include Sigiriya, Ashok Vatika, a garden in the city of Nuwara Eliya, which is believed to be the place where Ravana kept Sita captive, Ravana Ella Falls, Koneswaram Temple in Trincomalee and Divurumpola Temple in Bandarawela which is believed to be the place where Sita underwent a trial by fire to prove her purity among many other places.

“I think India is even willing to invest in it. They have given proposals that they are willing to invest in it. They will build hotels even around where they can have accommodation for the people who are visiting these areas,” Diana Gamage told reporters in Colombo.

“They (Indians) have given a lot of offers. If we do this in the right way, we can bring 5 million tourists from India alone.”

Indians topped the list of tourists to Sri Lanka last year with over 300,000 visitors.

“At the moment I am having discussions with some of them, and they are in touch with me,” Gamage said.

“If you look at Seetha Eliya, Seetha Temple is one of the main areas in this Trail. So that area also will be developed, specially.”

“I don’t know if you have seen how many millions visited the Ayodhya temple. There are so many millions from around the world. So, there is an interest in this and we have to grab that opportunity being in the country that it actually has taken place.”

“It is so unfortunate that why it has not been done so far. This should have been done a long long time ago. So now I am thinking that we should do it at least now.” (Colombo/Feb 22/2024)

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Sri Lanka offers fresh debt plan to bondholders amid Hamilton case extension hopes: Sources

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka offered a revised restructuring proposal to sovereign bond holders sources said, as the country tries to wrap up debt restructuring by the middle of the year and a holdout investor sues to force payment on one series of bonds.

A US court had stayed proceedings of case by holdout investor Hamilton Reserve for six months, which has the required volumes of bond with a ‘single series’ collective action clause to file action following request which was supported by the US, UK and France.

The deadline runs out on February 29.

An extension of at least three months may be sought to help wrap up the debt restructuring, sources said.

Sri Lanka is expecting to sign memoranda of understanding with Paris Club, within weeks, according to official sources.

Courts had earlier granted the stay saying Hamilton had the option of renewing case for summary judgement once it is lifted.

Sri Lanka rejected a proposal by bondholders to exchange a ‘downside’ bond linked to gross domestic product which will have a 20 percent hair cut with additional haircuts if GDP growth is low as forecasted by the International Monetary Fund.

Bondholders believe that the growth projections in an IMF debt sustainable analysis is too pessimistic

However bondholders are very keen on the structure, and it may be tough to convince them to accept a ‘plain vanilla’ type of solution, according to sources familiar with their thinking.

Bondholders also do not want a value recovery instrument detached from the underlying bond which is not ‘index eligible’. Earlier VRI’s used in debt re-structures have been upside instruments.

Bondholders had earlier expressed their unhappiness at what they said was “no progress” in negotiations.

Some bondholders were also of the view that the first ask by Sri Lanka from bondholders was deeper than the in-principle re-structure given by bilateral creditors. (Colombo/Feb22/2024)

A US court had stayed proceedings of case by holdout investor Hamilton Reserve for six months, which has the required volumes of bond with a ‘single series’ collective action clause to file action following a request from the US government among others.

The deadline runs out at the end of the month.

An extension of at least three months may be sought to help wrap up the bond restructuring, sources said. It is not clear whether courts will grant the extension.

Sri Lanka rejected a proposal by bondholders to exchange a ‘downside’ bond linked to gross domestic product which will have a 20 percent hair cut with additional haircuts if GDP growth is low as forecasted by the International Monetary Fund.

Bondholders believe that the growth projections in an IMF debt sustainable analysis is too pessimistic

However bondholders are very keen on the structure, and it may be tough to convince them to accept a ‘plain vanilla’ type of solution, according to sources familiar with their thinking.

Bondholders also do not want a value recovery instrument detached from the underlying bond which is not ‘index eligible’. Earlier VRI’s used in debt re-structures have been upside instruments.

Bondholders had earlier expressed their unhappiness at what they said was “no progress” in negotiations.

Some bondholders were also of the view that the first ask by Sri Lanka from bondholders was deeper than the in-principle re-structure given by bilateral creditors. (Colombo/Feb22/2024)

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