Protests over government textbooks

[TamilNet, Saturday, 10 July 1999, 17:30 GMT]
(News Feature) At a two-day workshop jointly organised by the World Bank and the Department for International Development (DFID) of the United Kingdom, the Samshakthi Teachers' Forum presented its report on the role of school textbooks for multi social reconciliation in Sri Lanka.

The Samshakthi Teachers' Forum pointed out in its reports that several portions from the Year 7 Sinhala textbook on Buddhism, were humiliating Tamil community in the island.

In page 74 of the book it had been wrongly stated that when a Tamil king Elara captured Anurdhapura, Tamils started destroying Buddhist temples and harassing monks, they pointed out.

These Sinhala text books, prepared by the National Institute of Education have been published by the Ministry of Education and Higher Education.

These are excerpts from the report of the Samshakthi Teachers' Forum:

"It is a great tragedy that the curriculum developers of the current textbooks have failed to take into consideration, the national needs of the country. They have not taken into consideration the educational policies and their objectives. In such a situation what we can state is that the textbook writers in the country have presented their personal attitudes, whim and fancies in compiling the national textbooks. However, our belief is that the text book writer should be a torch bearer to our society. If so, the text book writer of Sri Lanka is far behind the time.

"The Sri Lankan text book writers have not considered this country is multi-racial and multi-religious one. Therefore, the text books do not educate the child about the various characteristics of a multi- religious and a multi-racial society, so that the child can identify, cherish, respect, protect and bear up the differences of such a society, then develop within himself, the various attitudes and necessary to uphold such values. Instead, the learners are presented with information that encourage them to grow up in a secretarian society, learning and respecting only one religious and racial group. These factors have prevented the child from integrating with other sectors of our society.

"The most lamentable issue is that the majority of the Sinhala medium textbooks seem to have taken great pains to highlight the Sinhala- Buddhist attitudes.

"One other interesting issue is that the use of maps. They are so distorted that one would wonder whether the original maps of Sri Lanka had no North and Eastern provinces. The text book writers have ignored these two regions in their references. Justice has not been met for all sub-cultural groups whether they are Tamils in the north and east or the estate workers in the upcountry, for any other sub cultural groups living throughout the country. Their geographical, social, economical or cultural features have not been adequately discussed or presented either qualitatively or quantitatively.

"When one analyses these facts, one wonders how a unitary or united country could be maintained under such hostile condition. It is the minority that has been hurt and crushed most in the hostile attitude adopted by the Sinhala text book writers.

"Even in studying art, the Tamil learner is forced to study only the Buddhist and the Sinhala aspects of the history of art of Sri Lanka.

"It should be questioned, whether the writers had their objectives and goals clearly set in their minds, when they launched the task of writing text books.

"In Year 7 text book on Buddhism, it is said " I shall refraining from killing". This explanation has been limited only to the killing of animals. But no doubt, that its reference should be extended to the idea that all human beings have the right to live freely. It is known that some Buddhists extend their sympathies only towards animals. Some pious Buddhists who abstain from eating flesh are seen indulging in inhuman cruelty when it comes to the question of the Tamil people.

"It is time raise the awareness of the students in this matter, and make them consider the first precept of Buddhism in a much perspective.

"The words of Lord Buddha teaches the humans to condemn war and uphold peace and equality. Yet it is sad to realise that such truths have been neglected in the text books on Buddhism. By highlighting once again the submerged but yet the important values, these textbooks can perform an immense service to redeem the people from darkness and resolving the conflicts in our society of the day.

"In examining the text books used in Sri Lanka, we find that they encourage our students to be racial and sectarian, cutting off all chances socialisation in a meaningful manner. Instead of creating a background for the child to grow up in an integrated Sri Lankan society, our text books have, knowingly or unknowingly, built in apartheid attitudes.

"Therefore if our country dreams of building an integrated society without any more war, then the educational process should be considered with broader understanding."

This workshop was held at Blue Water Hotel in Wadduwa, Kalutara district on July 1 and 2. According to the organisers, it was an informal brainstorming session to explore avenues by which social harmony could be promoted through the education system, including curriculum development, textbook writing and the production of other education material.

On the first day, Mr.Martin Dawson, Second Secretary(Development) of the British High Commission in Colombo spoke on UK's assistance for education in Sri Lanka. Dr Alan Smith of the School of Education, University of Ulster, Northern Ireland delivered a lecture on " Promoting peace through education-International experience".

The keynote address was made by the Additional Secretary to the Ministry of Education and Higher Education, Mr.Upasena Senanayake.

The General Secretary of the Ceylon Tamil Teachers' Union Mr.T.Mahasivam, the Vice Chairman of the National Education Commission Professor K.D. Arulpragasam, the World Bank representative Dr.Harsha Atturupane and Professor Arjuna Parakrama of Colombo University also spoke.

On the second day, Professor Lakshman Jayatilake, Chairman of the National Education Commission, Mr.Rohan Edirisinghe, Director, Legal Unit of the Centre for Policy Alternatives and several other education officials spoke.

 

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