What education is of most worth for Nation-Building?

Even though many Reforms in Education have been carried out in Sri Lanka culminating in the popular Kannangara reforms of 1945, the ‘Western Model’ or the Industrial Model of Education inherited by us during the colonial period is yet alive with the complexities of the oncoming globalization.

Making a sweeping statement one could state that the current education system in many a country is more theoretical than practical. According to George Santayana (1863-1952) ‘A child educated only at school is an uneducated child', because the child leaving school becomes a total stranger to the society at large with no competencies (knowledge+ skills+ attitudes) to live a productive life. Thus the educated person may become a job seeker rather than a job maker. Mostly the education has become too abstract, literary, complex, conforming, theoretical and cut off from the world of work to a world of words and the "educated" to ‘desk work world’ and soft work. Once this type of education was good enough for a microscopic minority for elite formation but for mass education to leapfrog for development for a preferable future it stands as a barrier, developing under development.

What Education is of most worth?

There is no consensus about education in any society. Long ago Aristotle had made the remark that "For mankind are by no means agreed about the things to be taught, whether we look to virtue or the best life. Neither it is clear whether the education is more concerned with intellectual or with moral virtue". In the same manner B.F. Skinner (1904-1990) was of the view "in putting a man on the moon is actually easier than improving education". However, it has to be stated that like in all human endeavours there are positives and negatives or downsides in all education systems.

According to John Dewey best education is “what the best and wisest parent want for his own child must the community want for all its children”. From this perspective and from the Sri Lankan context let it be considered the larger general picture in education for the nation-building task.

As spelled out in the first National Education Report of 1992, the first Goal of Education in Sri Lanka is the "Nation building and establishment of a Sri Lankan identity through the promotion of national cohesion, national integrity, national unity, harmony and peace and recognizing cultural diversity in Sri Lanka’s plural society within a concept of respect for human dignity". Thus our lifeline is unity in diversity and the different ethnicities are gems of different colours of beauty which finally should adorn the golden ring of Mother Lanka.

In the process of achieving this ideal Goal there are myriads of challenges which inhibits progress in its direction. But a gritty national and political will, be able to achieve it in the long run for the nation cannot leapfrog in development without this essential component, as it is the foundation of all other achievements. Education must cement the idea that Sri Lanka is our only home and our need to become one people and must develop a common goal for all.Otherwise to polarize alone ethnic lines will lead to segregation and disintegration to a point of no return. It is by inculcating in the minds, hearts and souls of a people the value of nationhood comes to a people.

The Preamble of the 1978 Constitution of the Democratic Socialistic Republic of Sri Lanka assures “all peoples Freedom, Equality, Justice, Fundamental and the Independence of Judiciary…..”. Education has to translate these ideas and ideals into practice for a just society. It is known that injustice and unsettled grievances anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

Some of the larger picture aspects to be considered for a development-oriented- futuristic education are

• Clear conception of the person who is going to be produced by education (In Social Sciences like Education this may be somewhat theoretical).

•Need for rootedness and identity

Education is always compared to Janus - the Roman God who is depicted as having two faces looking to the future and past. All education systems should transmit the values of the past and address the future unknown needs.

• Multicultural/cross-cultural understanding. Learning how to live with differences and value diversity as a way of national integration for our lifeline is nothing but unity.

• Equity + excellence + relevance

Equity is being able to achieve the potential of a child irrespective of all other circumstances in life – Equitable start in life to be productive.

Excellence is performing in the best of the best manner in learning and application.

Relevance – all learning experiences should be real issues and problems so that the learner will not be a stranger to the society.

• Smart Education

To fit in and productive in the 21st Century, digital technology helped learning is a necessity. It is said that 5.0 Society is just around the corner in which artificial intelligence and robotics will be a common feature in many a society. However, 5.0 Society will be humanized with Liberal Arts.

• An ethic of care for all species

All species upon this Planet need to be cared for future sustainability.

• Common schools

State has a duty to provide good education for all and to bring about a common ideal to live with all citizenry.

•Activate trilingualism

Nothing like the Sinhala and Tamil languages to reach the heart, mind and soul of a people.Legacy of English will bring about bridge building among all communities which will help development.

•Life skills – skills necessary for a productive life. It is the psycho-social cultural and economic competencies one needs to fulfill the ever changing demands of the society.

• Communication skills

A person has to learn to be a good listener and should be able to drive home a point of view with confidence in a refined manner.

• Entrepreneur skills

Developing attitude for creativity perseverance, courage and risk taking.

•Soft skills are a cluster of personal characteristics which enables a person to interact effectively and empathically with others. It is an amalgam of social skills and personality traits.

•Positive self

Has to develop a philosophical understanding of oneself. Out of the pluses and minuses one has to tap the goodness.

•Creating love of work

• Scientific temper

• Creativity + problem solving + innovation

• Conflict resolution

Occurring conflicts is a way of life. Understand the reasons objectively and apply the principles of peace.

• Privileging the underprivileged

Helping and empowering the underprivileged to achieve their potential. It is the moral sense of a nation that must be alive to the issues of this nature by minimizing inequality. (It is a shame and arouse indignation to know that there are around 1.5 million Samurdhi beneficiaries in this country.)

• Character development

From the early childhood, good child rearing practices are important to develop character. What ought to be, should be and must be done has to learn through in the living environment. A strong sense of feeling of right and wrong has to be developed by a person – a moral compass.

•Global vision

Developing a global view of the world. Multi-disciplinary approach to the world at large and the futures of mankind.

•Cope with change

Change is the law of life and only permanent thing is change. One must learn to be resilient in the face of the fast moving change and transformation.

•Develop a culture of accountability.

One must take ownership of one’s words, deeds and behaviour without passing the buck to others. Learn never to use a defense mechanism which will disown responsibility. In this context it is of interest to note that a former US President Harry Truman had a note written on his desk to say ‘The bucks stop here’, meaning to take personal responsibility and accountability for all his deeds.

Thus Sri Lanka requires an Education which fosters unity, creativity, innovation, problem solving skills, (It is said that Japanese children’s problem solving skills are near best in the world) high order cognitive skills and social behavioral skills. It is known that East Asian countries have developed their economies by introducing advanced Education in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects. Currently, adding Arts to STEM Education is being considered because it needs an individual to live a satisfying life.

According to the 2019 World Development Report (as in the 5.0 society) advances in human capital is necessary which heavily rests on Education. The technology–led 4th Industrial Revolution also demands an innovative Education.

A culture of learning in all areas of life is a sine qua non, instead of the traditional complying, banking,passive education when all around knowledge is increasing at an astronomical rate at present. (Basically there is a ‘dinosaur effect’ in Education. It is no exaggeration to say that in many a country education consciously given is out of date.) However, learning is deeply rooted in the culture of Sri Lanka.

In this way by education we must produce a smarter, faster, brighter and a great breed of Sri Lankans for the greatness of Sri Lanka for the futures.

Future excellence depends on our ingenuity, hardwired competencies and education of the heart with religious ethics. Otherwise we are in the danger of following a path of obsessive concern for money, goods, and conspicuous consumptions of a ‘Sensate Culture’. In this context left and right brain education from the bosom of the family onwards will be a necessity.

(The writer is a former senior academic and the Head of a Department of the Faculty of Education, Colombo University).

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