A Final Educational Fling – 18. Workshops and the Balkans again

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but something ere the end,

Some work of noble note, may yet be done

I  had an intense programme when I got back in Colombo at the end of October, for we were hastening to finalize several curricula, in the different areas in which Sector Skills Councils had been set up, Construction and Manufacturing and Computer Technology and Tourism. Then we were also trying to do more in the Service Sector, with health care and logistics being priorities. In addition, since I found that nothing had moved with regard to the Teacher Development programme Mahinda Samarasinghe had wanted expedited for those who had qualified in the Technological Stream at the Advanced Levels, I had to take charge of that too. And we had decided to have workshops to train teachers in the new curricula, which involved pushing things though I was happy that the new Industrial Liaison Division we had set up was able to handle these.

20161113_094441We had also decided on residential workshops for the English teachers, since it seemed essential to develop a high powered group who could take things forward in later years. By now I had a superb set of support staff at the TVEC, the daughter of one of my best GELT Coordinators of the nineties to look after the English programme, a former Coordinating Secretary from my days in Parliament to follow up on training since previously Ministry programmes had not been concerned with follow up, and then an Editor for all the new material we were producing, a bright youngster proposed and paid for by the World University of Canada, with whom we were working closely.

Interestingly enough Jeevan Thiagarajah, who has been a tower of strength in many areas I have worked in when these overlapped with his own humanitarian concerns, had recommended the young man earlier, as having been involved with the establishment of the Sector Councils. But early on in my time at the TVEC I had tried to avoid responsibility for the Councils, and it was only towards the middle of the year that I realized Mahinda Samarasinghe was right, and I had to take over if they were to achieve anything.

20161112_093719My team found a great hotel in Negombo, which turned out to be the old Sunflower, where I had put up Geraldine McEwan when she toured Sri Lanka for the British Council with a One-Woman show based on the works of Jane Austen. That had been the inspiration for the One-Man Dickens show I had later devised for Richard de Zoysa, and we had toured almost the same places. But I avoided Negombo for Dickens, because the audience at Geraldine’s performance at Maris Stella had made it clear that Negombo no longer had a an audience for English language performances (quite unlike Batticaloa where the small crowd had been marvelously appreciative). Continue reading

A Final Educational Fling – 17. Albania, Corfu and Oxford

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but something ere the end,

Some work of noble note, may yet be done

20161013_104737By August I felt we had achieved enough to justify some time off, so I took a few days off as noted to further explore Orissa after the Aide-et-Action meeting in Puri. Then in September, after the workshops for Centre Managers had been set in motion, I had a week in Thailand, where my old friend Peter Rowe had property. He was perhaps the sharpest intellectually of friends I made in middle age, and though we argued ferociously, given his hardline right wing views, conversation with him was always stimulating.

I should note that he had been unswerving in his opposition to Tiger terrorism, with nothing of the appalling hypocrisy displayed by Americans and British, the British in general, the ostensibly liberal amongst the Americans who were ruthless when it came to their enemies but indulged terror when it seemed to benefit them. In that regard the American right was less sanctimonious, though there was no doubt that they too would abandon any pretence at principle when it came to a question of their own preferred client states. Continue reading

A Final Educational Fling – 16. Concentrating on new initiatives

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but something ere the end,

Some work of noble note, may yet be done

I got  back from Armenia on May 2nd, and began a period of intense work for nearly three months. We finalized a new Tertiary and Vocational Education and Training policy, something that was long overdue; we revised the National Vocational Qualifications Operational Manual and introduced several new ideas, including a section on teacher development; and we launched the first book for English and Career Skills Training, and sent two more to press.

These I had known I would have to do, but in addition I started working closely with the Sector Skills Councils, and found three of them remarkably efficient. We had decided that we should streamline the manner in which curricula were formulated, and that, instead of having compendiums which included competencies at several levels, each level should have its own curriculum. It also seemed desirable to have short courses, of three months duration with On the Job Training on top of that, for the Level 3 qualification. The Councils took the idea on board, and by August the Construction Skills Council had formulated curricula for Plumbing and for Carpentry for Building. By the end of the year they had produced curricula also for Masonry (both for Foundation work and for Walls) while the Manufacturing and Light Engineering Council had produced one for Welding. At the end of the year we put together these five in a handbook, which was designed to show the range of possible occupations with regard to Construction.

The Manufacturing Council also produced curricula for Tractor and Harvestor Operators, but its deep thinking Chairman said they would hold back for a while on Production curricula, since they had no idea about career paths in the absence of a coherent industrial policy. I brought this matter up at the Committee set up by the Prime Minister to look into the field of Vocational Training, and it was agreed that something should be done about this. But I fear belling the cat (Ranil used to be called Poos by his family when he was young) was not something those who chaired or administered that Committee were able to do. Despite promises they also dodged telling the Prime Minister that it was desirable that the University Grants Commission and the Tertiary and Vocational Education Commission should be represented on the Board of the National Institute of Education. In that area it was clear that reforms would be piecemeal, without the conceptual input that no one in authority at that Ministry seemed capable of (though thankfully a few months later it got a new Secretary who seemed comparatively capable).

The Computer Council very professionally staked out the whole field, and agreed that there should be one simple 3 month curriculum to introduce students to the field. That was produced soon enough, and by the end of the year they had produced also a Level 4 curriculum, having decided that there should not be specialization at that Level either. Continue reading

A Final Educational Fling – 15. Armenian Adventures

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but something ere the end,

Some work of noble note, may yet be done

20160423_100515In the near four weeks I was away, in India and Lesotho and Zambia and Pakistan, I had in fact done some work on the textbooks we were preparing for the Career Skills modules we planned to make compulsory on all National Vocational Qualification courses. Mahinda Samarasinghe was adamant about this, and had found support amongst the members of the Sector Skills Councils that had been set up to ensure that courses catered to the needs of employers.

The excellent Consultants we had selected after advertising produced good drafts, but it fell to me to put them together. Back in Colombo I worked on these intensively, the quiet of the New Year period facilitating swift progress. I was alone at home this year, with just the one Christian on my domestic staff, but I also had frequent visitors, most of them bearing food. Writing this now, with the house divided, I think fondly of those hours of tranquility when I had what now seems the vast space of Lakmahal to myself. I loved working in the front lounge with views of trees and sky on three sides, I spent afternoons in my parents’ room, the bed I read and snoozed on facing the wall with the family photographs my father had put up over the years, I walked on the treadmill I had set up in my sister’s old room with a view over the round balcony where as children we had slept on hot nights, before my parents persuaded my grandmother to allow fans to be installed.

Shortly after the New Year, I attended my first meeting of one of the Sector Skills Councils. I had tried to avoid involvement in these previously, though Mahinda Samarasinghe, having noted that initially there had been no role for the Commission in that regard, had insisted that we play a major part. He had studied the Acts, which I suspect the Ministers before him had not done, since I was told that one of his predecessors had ignored the advice of officials that the TVEC should be involved. Mahinda saw that policy was entirely in our hands and, if the Councils were to play a major role in both policy and its implementation, we obviously had to set the pace.

It was while at that meeting that I put forward the idea that I think has served more than anything else to mark the transformation that we have enacted. In studying descriptions of both the NVQ framework and also the Sri Lanka Qualifications framework, to which it was matched, I noticed that NVQ 3 was supposed to be the equivalent of SLQF 1, which the Ordinary Level examination was baldly stated to be. I have noted previously that there were no learning outcomes attached to this, something I have tried to remedy through the National Education Commission. But what also struck me at that time was that, while the Ordinary Level was deemed a requirement for some jobs in government, the equivalent NVQ 3 certificate was not also accepted. Continue reading

A Final Educational Fling – 14. A Commonwealth Quartet

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but something ere the end,

Some work of noble note, may yet be done

14It was at the Cambridge seminar I think, in February 2016, that I realized how much could be done to increase opportunities through vocational training. This was the way the world was heading and, unless someone took the lead, Sri Lanka would be left far behind.

It also became clear to me there, given the reactions to my presentations amongst the more innovative Indians, that I was uniquely equipped to introduce new ideas. I had greater experience of all aspects of education than anyone else in the country, having worked in universities and in the Ministry of Education, and then, while in Parliament, having devoted much attention, as well as funding from my decentralized budget, to vocational training centres. Then there was also the fact that had allowed me to do more to bring English to rural youngsters than others, namely that, with my academic qualifications, no one could claim that I was lowering standards.

Mahinda Samarasinghe was right then in saying that he knew that, once I became committed, I would devote myself to the task. But in March 2016 I had a few commitments, albeit of a personal nature, that kept me from embarking on the massive reforms I have already described.

The first was another trip to India, for a meeting of the Board of Aide-et-Action, organized together with a field trip to visit educational projects they were implementing for tribal communities. This was near the Kanha Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh, which allowed for a safari into the Park, though once again I was not fortunate enough to see any tigers. But the Park was beautiful, and so was the Lodge at which we stayed, with a couple of stunning sunrises.

But even more impressive were the schools and creches the organization ran, with a couple of bright youngsters from urban areas devoting themselves in this remote outpost to building up teams amongst the tribal communities. It was heartening to see the innovative materials they used, ensuring that the children did not lose their mother tongue, but were also introduced to the tools that would allow them to compete in the future.

At my request, on the way back to Raipur, the capital of Chhatisgarh, where we were due to meet with university personnel to discuss further collaboration, we visited the Boromdeo temple which had seemed the most interesting of the sites described in the brochures I had picked up when we landed at the airport. It proved a magnificient site, an isolated example of intricate art set deep in the forest. And to add depth to the experience, AeA arranged the final debriefing in the grounds of the temple, so that we had a glorious architectural backdrop to the concentration of the teachers and teacher trainers discussing how they could improve the services they offered.

A week later I was due to meet Vasantha Senanayake in Zambia, where he had gone for the Inter-Parliamentary-Union conference. Initially I had planned to go back to Colombo, but I realized that it was much cheaper to fly direct to Lusaka. However there was the problem of how I was to fill in the time. Continue reading

A Final Educational Fling – 13.Winding down households

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but something ere the end,

Some work of noble note, may yet be done

14 JanShortly after the first return to Orissa, in December 2015, we celebrated a family Christmas at Lakmahal for what proved to be the last time. The previous year we had, as had happened for decades, had the 5th Lane cousins, along with a few old friends of my parents, two sisters of my brother-in-law Romesh Bandaranaike, and also Vasantha Senanayake and his mother.

We had it seems said then that this might be for the last time so, when in 2015 we decided to repeat the exercise, we found that the 5th Lane cousins had made other arrangements. I wondered whether this was a boycott of sorts since I had been heavily critical of Ranil during the year, but that this was not the case seemed apparent from the fact that the youngest cousin, Channa, who bore the initials of our grandfather, attended with his elder son.

We had only two tables this time, instead of the usual three (there had been a year or two when we had had to have four), with lots of milk wine and cake before, and then the usual turkey, with my sister’s superb Christmas pudding to follow.

I had hoped then that we could repeat the exercise in 2016, which would have been the 80th Christmas since Lakmahal was occupied. But towards the end of 2015 it became clear that soon my sister and I would have to reach a settlement about the house. It had been left jointly to both of us, and I thought that perhaps my mother had assumed that I would live there during my lifetime, and then my share would pass to the children of my sister.

Continue reading

Acts of Faith Revisited

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Expanded version of the presentation by Prof Rajiva Wijesinha

At the session on ‘Buried Alive: Stories that never saw the Light of Day’

At the Brahmaputra Literary Festival, January 30th 2017

I thought I would talk at this session about my own work, having dealt with general principles, as well as discussing Sri Lankan writing in general, during the two previous sessions at which I participated, on the Word and its Public Space, and on Conflict Literature.

This topic is particularly timely, for I have just had republished in Sri Lanka my first novel, which has appeared previously only in India and in Italy. The printer way back in 1985 panicked, and returned the proofs of the first few chapters, but fortunately then the distinguished bibliophile Ian Goonetilleke arranged for Navrang, an innovative Indian publisher, to bring out the book. But sales in Sri Lanka were limited, the book being kept under the counter it seemed, given the stranglehold the then government had over information. So it is only now, courtesy of Godage & Bros, that the novel is freely available in the country in which it is set.

20170129_174532For the book dealt with the riots of 1983, putting the blame foursquare on the then government. This was not a story that the extremists on either side wanted told. Sinhalese nationalists had tales of excessive Tamil demands and did not want highlighting of the numerous abuses Sinhalese governments had engaged in. Conversely, their mirror images, the Tamil extremists, wanted a narrative in which all Sinhalese were tarnished, and my exposition of the actions of just some in government did not fit well with their claim that living with the Sinhalese was impossible.

My story was set in the decision making drawing rooms of Colombo, and highlighted the factions in the then UNP government as well as the domination of family connections. I now realize that the book may explain the animosity Ranil Wickremesinghe has displayed towards me, as when he tried to stop English medium in 2002, preventing Karunasena Kodituwakku from continuing me as an Adviser to the Ministry. At the time I thought that his opposition to that initiative was based, as Tara de Mel put it, on jealousy that she and Chandrika had started it, but I now feel that my own role was also a red rag to him. Continue reading

A Final Educational Fling – 12. Two trips to Orissa

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but something ere the end,

Some work of noble note, may yet be done

By October 2015, having come back from Sikkim, I had broken the back of the task I had set myself, and a couple of books were ready to go to press. I therefore had some time on my hands when I was approached about helping Mahinda Samarasinghe at his Ministry. I agreed to do so on condition that it would be part time work, and he thereupon had me appointed Chairman of the Tertiary and Vocational Education Commission. I had told him that that might make him unpopular with the Prime Minister, but he said the appointment was in the hands of the President, who had been positive about the idea.

I started work in November and set the ball rolling with regard to what had been his principal priority, the introduction of compulsory English and Soft Skills modules on all Vocational Training Courses conducted under the aegis of the TVEC. In addition we developed an NVQ Level 1 Building Career Skills Course, which was an extended version of the Career Skills module for NVQ Level 3 courses.

Before we started training for this however I went abroad again, for I was still determined that part time meant part time, and I should not be tied down by the position or the work. This trip was also to India, where Aide et Action was having its South Asia Advisory Board meeting in Bhubaneswar. Continue reading

A Final Educational Fling – 11. End of year efforts

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but something ere the end,

Some work of noble note, may yet be done

I feel quite shattered as I write this, for the last week has been quite hectic. We had an extra meeting of the Tertiary and Vocational Education Commission on Wednesday, at which we presented a number of ground breaking papers. Most important were the curricula for the Diploma in Technology and Education, which will be delivered at a number of Technical Colleges and Colleges of Technology from next year.

fbffc6b3We will be working in five areas, namely Automobiles, Production Technology, Construction, Electric and Electronic Technology and Airconditioning and Refrigeration. The course is open to those who took up Technology subjects at Advanced Level, but here they will study in depth the practical applications of the knowledge they acquired. They will also develop soft skills, and in particular English communication skills. And most important they will be introduced to interactive teaching skills, with much emphasis on group discussions, on reflecting on experience, on sharing and assessing ideas.

We had much experience of this at the workshop we had conducted the previous weekend for teachers on the English and Education course that will commence next year at ten colleges round the country. The original plan had been to confine this to five colleges, but it seems there is much demand from students, who have been enthused by the active approach to teaching adopted by many of the teachers at this College. The NVQ Level 4 course we started in Galle a couple of months back had for instance nearly a 1000 applicants, but we were able to take in fewer than 200, and that was stretching it. If the present initiative works well, we will soon have overcome the decades long problem of enough English teachers for the country – and indeed the problem of teachers of Technology, given that the Technology stream was started without attention to teacher supply.

We had our lively and committed German consultant to introduce the new pedagogy curriculum, since it will be the English teachers who have to handle this for the Technology and Education students as well as the English and Education students. It was fascinating to see the way in which the teachers reacted, including the older ones who were encouragingly enthusiastic. The new Asst Director in charge of English at the Department of Technical Education and Training seemed to have made an excellent selection, though I have noted that there are other good teachers too, and by next year we should be able to run the course in many more centres. Continue reading

A Final Educational Fling – 10. A Plethora of Publications

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but something ere the end,

Some work of noble note, may yet be done

I had lots of work after deciding to support Maithripala Sirisena’s candidacy, and then after he won and I was made a State Minister. And even after I resigned there was much to do, culminating in working for a UPFA victory at the August 2015 election, as I thought the President wanted. But both the UPFA and I – and in the end the President too – fell victim to the infighting within the SLFP. Extreme elements on both sides destroyed the compromise between him and the former President that I believe he had wanted when he gave the latter UPFA nomination for the election.

So he found himself with a government in which the UNP had a majority, and used its power for more sophisticated corruption than he had originally objected to under the Rajapaksa regime. And he also found it with no clue as to how to run the economy, plunging into greater debt than had been objected to previously, and at higher interest rates.img_6277-1

What went wrong in 2015 is however the substance of the last section of the Endgame series I am also writing. Here I am concerned only with what I might term the personal fulfillment I turned to when I found myself no longer in Parliament. A man must after all have an occupation, and since I do not smoke, and since I did not think I wanted to resume regular work, I decided to take up writing in a serious way.

I was helped to this decision by Ariyawansa Ranaweera, one of the poets I had published in ‘Mirrored Images’, the anthology of English and Sinhala and Tamil poetry from Sri Lanka that I had put together for the National Book Trust of India. I had arranged readings of the poetry at the launch in Colombo, and then at the various other launches that were arranged in cultural centres round the country, including at several universities. Continue reading