“An invaluable addition to the scholarly literature on Sri Lankan social development” says Emeritus Professor Laksiri Jayasuriya, University of Western Australia; Foundation Professor of Sociology and Social Welfare and Dean Social Sciences, University of Ceylon, Colombo; and author of ‘Taking Social Development Seriously: The Experience of Sri Lanka’ and numerous other widely recognized publications.
“Taken in its totality, it brings out two irrefutable phenomena in the field of education policy formulation and implementation in Sri Lanka” says Deshamanya K.H.J.Wijayadasa, former Secretary to the President.
“A valuable anthology on Education and Education Reforms” says Dr. B.S.Wijeweera, former Secretary, University Grants Commission.
Home ReviewsHow ‘reform’ messed up education

How ‘reform’ messed up education

(The Island -November 27, 2013)

by Dr Panduka Karunanayake

Regular readers of The Island are well attuned to Eric J. de Silva’s crystal-clear, incisive thinking and unambiguous, razor-sharp writing, delivered in his unassuming tone.  He depends on facts and cogency of argument, rather than superlatives or exclamations – clearly opting for proof instead of persuasion.  Add to this his long, illustrious career as a civil servant of the highest order, with standards of integrity that used to teach some contemporary politicos lessons they hadn’t learnt in school, and his unfailing memory and attention to detail – and we have a repository of experience and know-how that is priceless.  And education is his pet topic.

It is on this background that we can truly appreciate the book he has produced.  It is a labor of love, from an outstanding product of the best few years of our modern national education enterprise.

Even the usual clarity and precision of his own writing are surpassed here.  The English, to no surprise, is flawless.  Being released of the need to stick to the word count of a newspaper article, de Silva has thoughtfully interspersed the text with summaries and mile-posts that make the reader’s journey effortless.    

The book has two parts.  In Part 1 (which is in three chapters), the author traces the political history of education reforms from the 1971 insurrection to the dawn of the twenty-first century, and ends by begging a tragic question: where is our national education policy?  It does provide a very brief build-up to 1971, but this could have been a little more complete.  But general education in the period 1971-2005 is handsomely covered, and portrays (with dignity and taste) the conflicts and counter-punches, in both political and intellectual domains, that kept the reform process in limbo.  This Part carries a wealth of information that is carefully laid down for easy consumption and with references, which future students of the social sciences will relish.

In particular, the Addendum 1 of Part 1, the proceedings of a policy dialogue organized by the Education Research and Study Group (of which de Silva was the convener) held in 1999, is a veritable treasury of oral history captured in ‘real time’ and running into 44 pages.  It gives a taste of the intricacies and complexities that plagued the intellectual domain and contributed to the overall indecisiveness and tentativeness of the reform process.

Part 2 reproduces two essays de Silva had previously published in The Island, one on the Kannangara reforms and the other on our modern university system.  The essay on the Kannangara reforms is a painstakingly careful analysis of the published work on the reforms, mostly based on secondary sources.  Its most valuable portions are the analysis of the pre-1945 era, before the celebrated reforms themselves came into being, and the recapitulation of the disfiguring that the Committee’s report suffered at the hands of the State Council – an absorbing account of how the reforms became doomed even before they were born, especially interesting from a conflict theories perspective.

The university essay is a detailed account of the birth of the modern Ceylonese university and his personal experience of it in the mid-1950s, followed by a brief recapitulation of the events that led to the loss of university autonomy in the 1960s.  The portion containing his personal reminiscences makes vivid reading.  To the current generation of undergraduates, it will seem like scenes from another planet.

The book has some blindspots.  One is the crucial 1960s, when some key changes took place in general education, including the end to denominational schools and the growth of educated unemployment and underemployment, culminating in 1971: a post-script to the Kannangara reforms could have filled this gap.  The second is the impact on education of secular trends (population expansion, democratization and the failing national economy), or our failure to appreciate this adequately in the reform process.  Thirdly, the two-way nature of the relationship between education and the economy is not highlighted: in general, both educationists and economists in Sri Lanka are content to consider this as a simplistic, one-way affair, with education blamed for everything.

Arguably, these areas may have needed the pens of specialist writers.  Nevertheless, these indeed were the social, economic and cultural factors that underlay the political and intellectual conflicts that were played out and are written about in the book.

Another issue is whether the book would have benefitted by the rearrangement of the chapters on general education in chronological order, together with the filling-in of the 1960s blindspot that was mentioned earlier.  The university chapter could then have concluded the book, as a stand-alone chapter.  This may have allowed a smoother journey for the general reader. 

In the final analysis, the book is factually precise, enormously informative, sober and enjoyable (although about a sad tragedy).  Although de Silva is neither a political scientist nor an educationist, this is one book that I suspect even they would have had to grind hard to write and would have been proud to proclaim as their own.  It deserves a place in the bookshelf of any one who has cared about the tragic state of modern education in Sri Lanka.


Courtesy : http://www.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=92831


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