Empowerment of Women through Education: The Situation in Sri Lanka

Empowerment of women, also referred to as gender empowerment has attained prominence in mainstream development discourse.  It is a concept that has several different and inter-related components. Empowerment has gained acceptance as a process to effect an equitable distribution of power, in terms of inter-personal relations and institutions.



The internationally agreed Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) underline the importance of gender equality in attaining the goals in the areas of poverty, health, education, environment and development. Promoting gender equality and empowering women (Goal 3) and improving maternal health (Goal 5) are among the eight MDGs to be achieved by the year 2015.


Empowering women through education has important implications for women’s economic empowerment, access to information, knowledge and skills and decent and remunerative work. Viewed in a wider sense, education enhances women’s capability to make choices, develops self-confidence, decision-making power and autonomy.


The Sri Lankan Situation


Education: The Key to Empowerment


Equal access to a wide network of state schools, the provision of free primary, secondary and tertiary education and the importance attached to education at the household level have made a notable impact on gender equity and overall educational attainment. The high net primary school enrolment and completion rates at 96% and gender parity in secondary education is reflected in the increase in female literacy rates from 67.3% in 1963 to 90.8% in 2010.


However, the disparities in the provision of educational facilities and services and socio-economic constraints particularly in urban settlements, remote villages, plantations, and conflict-affected areas have resulted in pockets of educational deprivation. For instance, female literacy rates in the Nuwara Eliya (80.1%), Batticaloa (81.3%) and Ampara (87.2%) districts compare unfavourably with the overall literacy rates.


In contrast to the attainment of gender parity in general education, there are notable imbalances in the intake of female students to the engineering and technology-related courses in the universities, as well as technical colleges. In the Universities, for instance, of   the 7,669 females enrolled in the academic year 2004/2005, the intake to the Science, Computer Science/IT and Engineering streams stood at 1543 (or 20.1%). The number enrolled in 2009/2010 in these courses of study grew marginally to 2714 (21.7% of the total number of females enrolled). Gender imbalances in enrolment to S&T based courses can also be traced to the impact of the traditional gender role stereotypes prevailing in the family and society in Sri Lanka.


Employment: Women in the World of Work


Employment, viewed as a source of income generation and livelihood support, is an instrument of empowerment, enhancing women’s autonomy, economic independence and control over household resources.


The growing number  of  females  entering the workforce rose from 1,656,166 in 1995 to 2,068,667 in 2000 and 2,465,265 in 2010. According to the Sri Lanka Labour Force Survey, in 2010 females accounted 33.4% of the employed labour force, as against 30.9% in 1995.


Labour force statistics disaggregated by occupation group indicate that the female workers are concentrated in the following categories:

  • Skilled agricultural and fishery  workers  (24.5%)
  • Elementary occupations   (22.7%)
  • Craft and related  workers  (25.8%)
  • Professionals   (10.4%)


Less than 2% of the female work force is employed in the senior officials and managers category.


An indicator of gender inequality in the labour market is the high female unemployment rate. The overall rate of unemployment for females in 2010 (7.7%) is double that of the male unemployment rate. The incidence of unemployment is more pronounced among the educated group. The unemployment rate among females with GCE (AL) and above qualifications is 15.8%, while the corresponding rate for males is considerably lower at 7.9%.


A significant proportion (57.1% or 1,470,000) of the female work force is employed in the informal sector in a diverse range of activities particularly home-based industries, casual wage employment, in domestic and sub-contracted units. Employment in the informal sector is characterized by lower wages, less favourable and exploitative working conditions.


Women constitute the bulk of the work force inSri Lanka’s three leading foreign exchange earners viz. garments, foreign remittances and tea, making a valuable contribution to GDP, balance of payments and overall economic development. However, they are employed at the lower end of the employment ladder as assembly line operators,

in overseas domestic service, and as plantation workers. The adverse working conditions, sexual abuse and exploitation faced by migrant workers have emerged as a serious social issue. Furthermore, garment workers operating both within and outside the EPZs work long hours and under pressure to meet production targets for the export market.


The foregoing depicts the unequal status of Sri Lankan women in the employment sphere-a situation that stands in sharp contrast to the impressive social indicators, particularly in health and education. It is important to note that providing the female work force with higher technical and managerial skills would increase women’s access to productive and remunerative employment opportunities that would enable them to move up to higher levels of employment and authority.


Decision Making at the Household Level: How Sri Lankan Women Measure Up


TheSri Lanka Demographic  and  Health Survey (DHS) 2006-07, provides information specific to women’s empowerment inSri Lanka. Information and data was collected on women’s control over their own earnings and their participation in household decision making.


The important findings of the survey with regard to women’s empowerment at the individual and household level are outlined below:


  • More than 90% of the respondents contributed to decision making either singly or jointly with their husbands on the manner in which their income is used, while 7% were not involved in the decision making process. This is a feature common to both urban and rural areas.


  • The majority (57%) of the women with higher education qualifications made joint decisions, while those with the lowest qualification (40%) made joint decisions regarding the use of their income.


  • The husband’s control over the wife’s earnings was highest among women with no education (15.1%), as against women who have higher education (3.9%).


The survey report concludes, “In summary, women inSri Lankahave considerable control over decisions about spending their earnings. Despite the fact that a large majority earns less than their husbands, almost half of women have autonomy on spending decisions for their earnings”…implying that women in Sri Lanka “have a strong degree of power in their homes on cash control for the well-being of their families.”




Gender empowerment, which encompasses a wide range of  issues ensures women’s equal status in relation to their legal, political, economic and social rights. In this context, education in its widest sense, is a potent instrument that would empower women to reach their full potential.










Higher Education – The Continuing Crisis

The Marga Institute is convening a group of concerned citizens to consider the issues in higher education that have led to the continuing crisis that appears to defy a solution.

The institute which has been engaged in the study of the education sector since its inception has been intrigued by the nature of the crisis and the manner in which the contentious issues are being approached and analysed by both the government and FUTA.

The two principal issues which appear to sustain the present confrontation between the government and FUTA are

(a)    the demand of the academics for an increase of their regular salary based on the  recommendations  made by the Jiffry- Malik Ranasinghe  Committee and

(b)   The allocation of resources   amounting to   6% of GDP to education.

There are many other matters that FUTA has raised regarding the good governance of universities which demand the urgent attention of policy makers and require a well considered plan of action. There is however no fundamental disagreement on these issues. The urgent need of the hour is agreement on a course of action that will end the strike and restore to the students their opportunities for higher education.

The Increase of Salary

FUTA accuses government of failing to implement the recommendations of the Jiffry- Malik Ranasinghe report which had been accepted by the UGC. The Government has replied that at no stage had the Ministry of Finance approved these recommendations and states that no adjustments of basic salary can be made for the academics alone as these have wider implications for the salary structures in the public service and would have to form part of a national exercise.

It would appear  that  the government has taken the position that the total remuneration received by the academics inclusive of the special allowances that  are being now paid to them are well  above the  increased salary ( approximately 160% of current salaries) that they are demanding.    An increase in the basic salary however would be a permanent increase in lieu of the temnporary allowances they receive now and will bring them other entitlements such as the benefits under the Provident Fund among others.

The issue is therefore not entirely one that is related to availability of resources to meet the increase in salaries of the academics. Payments that are already being made appear to be more than the equivalent of the salary increase that is being demanded.  As far as the public is concerned there has been no full transparency on the part of FUTA or the government about the total remuneration inclusive of allowances now paid to academics; nor is it clear whether the increase of salary that is demanded is in addition to the allowances that they are being paid.

The circular issued by the Finance Ministry and the UGC in November 2006   which approved  the  salary structure on which the current emoluments to academic staff are based specified that payment of all allowances should be stopped with the implementation of the new salary structure.  What has happened thereafter is not clear as academics continued to receive several allowances. These allowances are highly variable and have increased over time. On the information available, it would appear that academic allowances starting at about 25% of the basic salary   go over 60% of the basic salary for some categories of academic staff. The research and development allowance which is task- based adds another 40% of the basic salary. On the average a Senior Professor receives about Rs 147,000 per month.   If the demand is for a 60%* increase which incorporates and includes  the temporary allowances , government will not find it difficult to  pay the additional amounts to the academics as they are already being paid a similar amount   (or  perhaps even more) in the form of allowances . Although the allowances are regarded as temporary and linked to certain tasks, it is clear that both government and the academics regard these additional payments as a continuing entitlement and that government does not contemplate withdrawing them at a future date.  Government however will need to examine what the total additional commitment will amount to, inclusive of EPF and ETF, when the allowances are consolidated as salary payments.

However, the major issue for the government seems to lie in the implications that a salary increase will have for the rest of the public service and the additional financial commitments they may arise. The government seems to argue that the total salary structure in the public sector has evolved with the various corrections of anomalies through the past action of government   and the Salaries and Cadres Commission and it has now reached some sate of equilibrium.  It does not want to disturb that equilibrium by independently granting a substantial salary increase to one segment of it. The salary structure of the public service is a closely interconnected system. Any major change in one part of the system will justifiably trigger demands in the rest of the public service. Academics cannot afford to be totally impervious to the national implications of their demand to which the government is alerting them.  A substantial increase of salaries of public servants over and above what they receive now in the form of basic salaries and other payments will have serious macro-economic consequences which the government has to take into account. In 2011, the total bill on salaries and wages of public servants was approximately 4.9% of GDP and accounted for 31.7 % of total recurrent government expenditure.

The academics refer to the large disparity that exists between the salaries paid to Central Bank staff and the academics.  The Government justifiably contests the rationale of making Central Bank salaries the point of reference and cites the highest salaries paid to other senior staff in the highest echelons of the public service- the Secretaries, Judges of the Supreme Court etc.  If academics use the Central bank as their point of reference there is no reason why it should not become a point of reference for all segments of the public service. Policy makers in Government have generally taken the position that each profession or segment of the labor market has its own unique features; salaries cannot be equated across these boundaries in a simple manner without examining the supply and demand and other characteristics of each of these segments in the   labor market.

Another   point that must be emphasized when dealing with the demand for higher salaries is the irrelevance of making international comparisons.  The glaring disparities that exist between the wages and salaries between developed and developing countries are applicable to all occupations beginning from housemaids and manual workers who go in search of employment abroad to highly qualified professionals.  They arise from the differentials in the total productivity of the economies. These disparities will remain and promote international migration till these productivity differentials narrow at the global level.  We saw this happening for instance in South Korea where the out flow of all manpower gradually ceased as its economy reached high human development levels.   Domestic policies on wages and salaries while taking account of these disparities and the need for these different skills in the domestic economy cannot make these disparities a major determinant of domestic wage policy. The main determinants will be the differentials that exist locally within and between different segments of the workforce. It is these which have the most critical social and political impacts which policy makers must manage.

Option Available for Speedy Resolution of the Salary Issue.

An increase in the salary of the academics has therefore to be done in a manner that does not create new anomalies.  It has to be part of a larger national exercise which corrects anomalies and unacceptable inequalities in the wages and salaries of the public services. When the present salary structure was approved, the Finance Ministry in its circular of November 2006 clearly stated that the “new salary scales are an initial step in the formulation of a National Salary Structure.”  Government however did not proceed to act on this undertaking. Such an exercise is long overdue as the salary structures of public servants are riddled with allowances and ad hoc payments of all types which have become part of their total entitlements.  At present, various categories enjoy different sets of privileges which have to be taken into account – for example – pensions, transport allowances and other entitlements for government servants, provident fund sabbatical leave academic allowances etc for academics. The rationalization of all these into clearly defined salary structures may not lead to a heavy additional financial commitment by government. It will also lend transparency to the public expenditure on the salaries and wages of public servants and provide full information to the public which it presently lacks.

Therefore, the increase of salaries of academics is not an issue   that is incapable of speedy resolution through a reasonable formula that is acceptable to both parties, provided both parties abandon the obduracy they have so far displayed and approach each other with good will. A settlement can be based on an agreed course of action where the government agrees to consolidate the salaries of the academics and grant a salary increase as part of a larger national exercise.  The terms of such an exercise can be agreed upon and a National Commission could be appointed with the stipulation that the issues related to the academics receive priority and are resolved within an agreed time schedule.

The academic community is well-equipped to contribute to the larger issues that are involved in designing a National Salaries and Wages Policy and Structure. They could help policy makers to address the larger problems of increasing inequality in Sri Lanka. An equitable development strategy which provides social stability and human security to the people requires a national wage structure which is guided by principles of equity.  In dealing with salary issues of any particular segment, policy makers have to place any set of demands within the national context and the   high degree of inequality among income receivers in Sri Lanka should not be forgotten. The 2009/2010 data on the income distribution of the different deciles of income receivers indicate that the median income in the highest decile is about 40 times (Rs 53,513 per month) the median income (Rs 1333) in the lowest decile. The large majority of the academics and senior public servants are in the highest decile. The principle that the least are entitled to most of any increase in benefits is one with which academics are familiar and should whole-heartedly accept.

Allocating 6% of GDP for Education

Then comes the demand on resource allocations –   the demand for an allocation of 6% GDP for the education sector.  Government has made a statement that the 6% goal is acceptable. It does not indicate how it is to be implemented and over what period of time. This somewhat bland response suggests that the demand has not received serious attention. This is probably due to the manner in which FUTA presents this demand.

First, as many have pointed out.  FUTA’s demand is not clear. Is it referring only to the budgetary allocation? And does it include the whole of the education sector or only the higher education sector? If it is the allocation of all resources including the private sector  for the education sector as a whole we need to get  better data  on private  expenditures which , from  the information  available seem to be quite  considerable. (We do not have a well established data base for both public and private expenditure on education. According to the household income and expenditure survey 2009 household expenditure on education per person would amount to approximately 1.43% of GDP. )

It is however difficult to understand why the allocation of resources should have become an issue which has led to a continuing crisis.

All are agreed that education must receive high national priority. But why 6 % of GDP?   Why not more? The arguments adduced by FUTA for a specific allocation of 6% GDP are questionable for a variety of   reasons.  . In principle government does   not guarantee shares of the Budget (or GDP) to any particularly sector. At best it sets indicative targets and works towards them. This is done for very good reasons.  Policy makers have to take into account the needs of all sectors; these needs may change over time.  The international data give ample evidence of the variations that can occur from year to year. In Malaysia public expenditure on education has dropped from 7.5% of GDP in 2005 to 4.1% in 2008. This is only one example among many.

Then we come to sectoral priorities where education must compete with other sectors which are equally vital for human well-being.  One sector which strove hard to get a guaranteed share of the budget or “a preferential share” was the health sector.  WHO argued vehemently on these issues in some of the initiatives it took in its strategy of Health for All.   In Sri Lanka which is an aging society the stresses are increasing in the health sector and   the allocation for the health sector is demanding more and more attention.  Households are having to spend 5.4% of their budget on health compared to 3.6 % for education. (Consumer Finance Survey of the Central Bank 2003/2004) .Government Budgets are unable to provide all the money needed for drugs prescribed for the patients who are treated by the government health sector. In the education sector, the demographic  and socio-economic changes have resulted in the contraction of the  school going cohorts in  the primary sector – birth rates are falling and the age group in the primary segment  is  contracting .The  secondary sector is getting stabilized at nearly full participation. The tertiary sector is expanding rapidly with increasing rates of participation.  We need to study the implications of all these changes when   resource   allocations are made.

FUTA argues that the allocation of resources (GDP or Government) is far below those of countries which are at lower levels of per capita income:  The international data given by the UNDP and the World Bank for public expenditure on education are as follows:

Public expenditure on Education as a % of GDP:

1990 1995 2000 2005 2006 2007 2008

Very high human development .. .. .. .. 4.6 5.0 5.1 5.0 3.4 ..
High human development .. .. .. .. 4.1 4.6 4.6 4.8 4.4 ..
Medium human development .. .. 8.5 6.6 4.6 3.6 3.7 3.9 3.8 ..
Low human development .. .. 3.2 0.8 3.0 3.3 3.3 3.1 3.4
Very high human development .. .. .. .. 4.6 5.0 5.1 5.0 3.4 ..
High human development .. .. .. .. 4.1 4.6 4.6 4.8 4.4 ..
Medium human development .. .. 8.5 6.6 4.6 3.6 3.7 3.9 3.8 ..
Low human development .. .. 3.2 0.8 3.0 3.3 3.3 3.1 3.4

In the Table above countries have been grouped in four categories. It will be observed that for countries in the very high development category, (countries such as Norway Sweden UK USA Japan) public expenditure on education has ranged from 5.0-% of GDP to 3.4%.  For the medium human development countries which include Sri Lanka it has ranged from an average of 8.5 % to 3.6%   if the figures in the period 2000 to 2008 are taken the average public expenditures are well below the FUTA demand of   6% of GDP for all groups of countries, with the exception for Medium Human development in 1990.    There are also considerable variations over time for all countries as is evident from the data in the table.   The public expenditures in countries like Bangladesh, Pakistan Nepal could be higher for the simple reason that they start from a lower level of educational attainment and literacy. A fast aging highly developed country like Japan has lower shares of public expenditure allocated to education than the USA or UK.  The figure for Singapore is 2.6% and 3% of GDP for 2007 and 2008. However despite these variations it has to be admitted that the levels of public expenditure in Sri Lanka have been well below the global averages. It was approximately 2.6% of in 1985 and 2.1% in 2009 (UGC and World Bank data).

The Approach to Resource Allocation for Education.

In this context how we to assess the FUTA are demand for an allocation of 6%. Before one determines an indicative allocation of public expenditure it is necessary to place the education system of the country in its socio-economic and demographic context, estimate the demand for education  and examine the needs of the system  for both quantitative expansion and qualitative improvement  in each of the segments of education – primary , secondary and tertiary. In Sri Lanka, the current rate of participation (or gross enrolment) in all types of tertiary education by the relevant age group is in the region of 18% to 20%. The countries with high human development have participation rates well  above 50%   The allocation of resources for higher education in  Sri Lanka would have to be  planned on a mediun  and long term basis  according to  the  anticipated / planned increase in which the gross enrolment in higher education ( not university education alone)  will increase over time  and   reasonable targets  set . The expansion of higher education will be linked among other things to the growth of the economy.  We also have to identify the private component of the education sector and our policy on the expansion of the private sector in higher education including University education.   Such an exercise has not yet been done. It is only after such an exercise that one could determine  the parameters for resource allocation to  the education sector  It is timely for the government to appoint a  National Commission on Education to address these and other related issues in Education. In all these issues the academics must provide the inputs not only as a trade union but as the foremost intellectual elite that must do its thinking for society as a whole.

Prevailing on Both parties to resolve the Crisis

Meanwhile civil society and religious leaders must prevail on both parties to resolve the crisis speedily by agreeing on a reasonable course of action, based on an objective appraisal of the options that are available as suggested in this note. The innocent victims of this prolonged crisis have been the large university student population. Both the government and the academic community have a major social responsibility to avoid courses of action that will   continue and aggravate the present situation of senseless confrontation. The closure of universities will ultimately have adverse consequences mainly for the students and will be perceived as an uncompromising step in the direction of confrontation.  Similarly no productive purpose will be served by politicizing these issues to mount a campaign against the government.


Even though the intention of granting tenure was to give a senior academic   the  intellectual autonomy to be involved in issues which they are most passionate about so that they had the right to dissent  without having his  position terminated without just cause,   The fact remains that only tenured staff have job security.

In Public Doctoral Granting Universities Only about 30% of academics are full time tenured or in the tenure track. Around 15% are in full time non-tenure track  15-16 % part time    ( in private colleges and universities this  goes up to  around 50% )  and around 40% are graduate assistants.

Usually only  Professors  and associate professors are full time tenured. After 7–8 years, –  (depending on the university ) an  assistant professor  may be  tenured. People denied tenure at the end of this time lose their jobs or are even dismissed from the university. This is a period of employment insecurity almost unique among U.S. professions.

Faculty members remain accountable after achieving tenure. Tenured faculty at most colleges and universities are evaluated periodically-among other things, for promotion, salary increases and, in some cases, merit increases. Grant applications and articles for publication are routinely reviewed on their merit by peers in the field. A finding of incompetence or unprofessional conduct can still result in firing.

All other faculty members are on short term contracts.

During a probationary period, almost all colleges can choose not to renew faculty contracts and terminate faculty without any reason or cause. Throughout this time, senior professors and administrators evaluate the work of new faculty- i.e. teaching, research and service before deciding whether  to extend the contract. The most recent survey of American faculty shows that, in a typical year, about one in five probationary faculty members was denied tenure and lost his or her job.

B Criteria for tenure  will be student evaluations for teaching,  research publications in peer reviewed journals –   (the required number may vary ) –  Chapter(s)  in    published books or a full bookor books . Excellent teaching does not count enough in earning tenure – although in the Liberal Arts it does carry some weight- and is not rewarded enough in promotions or salary increases.

C. Salary structure will vary widely  between universities and even within a single university with certain faculties being able to command much higher salaries than others.

d. Sabbatical- The general guideline is that one year of paid sabbatical leave is granted after seven years of meeting full departmental responsibilities

e. Teaching load –

Assistant Professors on average teach 9-12 hours weekly. They are expected to conduct research projects and publish. The position can be seen as a training period during which one works to develop a case for tenure.

Associate Professors spend fewer hours on undergraduate teaching (about 6-9 hours a week) and are likely to lead graduate classes and advise graduate students on their dissertation projects.

Full Professor usually teach 3-6 hours per week. They take an active role in the research projects and dissertations of doctoral candidates. Further advancement opportunities include positions in administration such as department chair, dean of students, or college president.

Funding –  Govt. funding ,endowments, grants,


a. It is difficult to get a permanent position in the UK academia. About half of the positions available are given on the basis of fixed-terms  ( temporary ) contracts. For this reason, mobility within the system is quite high.

b. Salaries are usually negotiated and fixed within the market. They may vary greatly from one position and university to another.

c. sabbatical opportunities – Although the guidelines differ from institution to institution it is the norm  that paid sabbatical is granted for one semester every 4-5 years. Sabbatical time is expected to be used for research.

d.Teaching load will be around  12 hours a week. The rest of the time  will be supervising post graduate work, tutorials, research   etc.

e. Funding – Government spending.  funding depends on performance.  Top universities are funded by industry, private donations, trusts


Australian universities do not offer tenure track positions any longer, hence, occasional scrutiny occurs and advancement is neither guaranteed nor automatic.

Salaries are contracted between the university and the scholar. Salary rates and packages vary widely across universities.

Sabbatical opportunities – normally for a 6 month period, but may be granted for shorter or longer periods (of up to 12 months) where an appropriate case is made.

Funding :  Govt. Funding depends on performance.


A new appointee to an academic position in the University is usually placed on a 3-year contract. As in school education  Singapore takes the view that if  a teacher  is not good at his job he/she should be removed  as soon as possible so that  students will not be exposed  to bad teaching for 40 years .

Tenure contract refers to a full-time permanent faculty position with no periodic contract reappointments.  A faculty on tenure-track will be eligible for tenure consideration and the tenure decision for Assistant Professors and Associate Professors is  made no later than the 9th and 6th year of employment respectively. The  most coveted contract among professors is the T65 contract, which guarantees them a place on the teaching staff till they hit the age of 65. Usually only around 55% of professors will get this

B SalariesThe monthly base salary is  reviewed annually by the University. This is  based on the performance of the faculty member and the national economic growth and productivity gains. A  Performance Bonus In addition to the payment of salary set out above, subject to the performance of the faculty member and the performance of the University, the University may in its absolute discretion decide to pay an Individual Performance Bonus.

The Individual Performance Bonus is not a contractual commitment and the University reserves the right to vary or withdraw it at any time.

In the past 5 years only around 23% of Singaporeans were recruited  into the universities. The rest were foreigners.

(The foll: cut and pasted from the Parliamentary replies )

Question :

The Minister for Education (a) what percentage of newly recruited academic staff in local universities are Singaporeans in each of the last 5 years; (b) if there are any plans or efforts to recruit more Singaporeans as academic staff in local universities; and (c) whether good PhD holders from local universities will be recruited as academic staff in these universities.


1.                   For our universities to be top-ranked, it is essential for them to hire academic staff based on merit and not whether they are Singaporeans or foreigners.

2.                   Candidates are selected based on their ability to meet or exceed the needs of their appointment. Each university has its own academic staff selection process but the underlying principle of selecting academic staff based on merit is the same.

3.                   In the past five years, about 23% of newly recruited academic staff have been Singapore citizens, and another 12% have been Permanent Residents. While the universities recruit talent from abroad, they also actively seek out and recruit similarly outstanding Singaporeans with PhDs, whether from local or foreign universities.   In addition, the universities develop potential faculty members through their postgraduate scholarship schemes, which are open to Singaporeans and Permanent Residents.

National Anthem a national symbol

There have been voices raised among the international community in Sri Lanka concerning the alleged banning of the Tamil version of the National Anthem of Sri Lanka.  Whilst one camp hold the view that there should be only one version of a National Anthem  as in the case of India where there are  29 languages spoken by over million people ( in the case of each language) , the other camp suggests that we should move forward with the times and make an effort in every which way we can to bring sustainable peace and reconciliation within all ethnic groups. Classic examples are the  Canadian National Anthem where there are two versions – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/O_Canada and South African anthem where its verses are formed by several languages – http://blogcritics.org/music/article/q-how-many-languages-in-south/

At the end of the day we as a nation must learn to peacefully coexist appreciating our ethnic diversity. And what better way it would it be if we first start with our symbols – flags, anthems, etc and modify them to accommodate all ethnic groups. What we considered as  cast in stone and cannot be changed, threw us into a bloody civil war that lasted 30years. If the leaders of the past did it right how come all of us and the generations to come have paid such a heavy price?

If one segment of our children cannot understand the words of the National Anthem it defeats the very purpose of  unity when we stand together under the national flag to sing the anthem.

My view is that we get rid of our egos  and take a fresh look at all our national symbols including the anthem and bring in Sinhala as well as Tamil and sing under one banner as ONE. Let’s learn a lesson from Nelson Mandela of South Africa who  had a passion for his country and unified it through hard and tireless work

Nothing will come easily for any of us, but if we are willing to give in a little bit for the other, whatever we do will succeed

In search of national identity in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka has a unique story to tell. After 30 years of civil unrest and internal strife, a bloody ethnic war that claimed almost 100,000 lives suddenly  ended in 2009. We overcame our issues in our own manner. While the rest of the world insisted that peaceful negotiations must take place with the separatist rebels for the hostilities to end , the Sri Lankan government was unbending and resolute in their stand. The war was fought with the separatists intensely during the mid 2009 and like a dream that became a reality, flames were doused and the war ended .  Terrorism was defeated and life in the war torn areas as well as in the rest of the country has come back to normal. Our children who never knew of a time of peace are now traveling to the north and the eastern parts of the country which was once controlled by  one of the most dangerous and ruthless terrorist organizations in the world. But in all this shedding of blood, destruction of property and disruption of normal life, the concept of nationality became different to different people depending on their political stance. Well at least that is what most of us thought.  Most of us believed that the ethnic war would have polarized the Majority Sinhalese as well as the minority Tamils in their views about their own national identity.

The Institute carried out an opinion survey to ascertain views of the public about national identity which brought out some interesting points. Those who are from the south who are considered as hard lined Sinhalese displayed qualities of tolerance and it was the same in the case of the Tamils in the North.   80% of the respondents in the north (Tamils) agreed that  their  understanding of the  term national identity is equal to citizenship as a Sri Lankan. So there goes that Sinhala chauvinist view straight out of the window- a false perception that most Tamils don’t view themselves as Sri Lankan.

We also asked the respondents the question – When  you consider by the term ‘National Identity’ what comes first to your mind? In Colombo 60 % stated that the first thing that comes to their mind when they think of National Identity , is their identity as Sri Lankan whilst another 37 % also stated that it also means their ethnic identity. In the case of Jaffna Tamils it is 82.5% stated the word associated is “Sri Lankan” identity. Only 15% associated it with ethic identity. In the Ampare district the association of national identity with Sri Lankan identity is once again 82.5% but the importance of ethnicity drops to 5 % where as importance or association with religious identity is recorded among 7.5% of the respondents.

As a general observation of the National identity concept which comes first to  mind, the highest percentages record from Jaffna & Ampara for the feeling of identity as a Sri Lankan. As minority groups they have a feeling together with their social structures to understand the validity of having an identity as a ‘Sri Lankan’ rather than on ethnic or religious basis. Mathara and Colombo being  Sinhala areas with Sinhala Buddhist conception record a low profile compared to other districts to be identified  as a ‘Sri Lankan. A high percentage in those two districts is to be identified on Sinhala basis as their ethnic identity. i.e.37.5% ..in  Colombo and12.5 at Matara. Further, a very high percentage of 25% records from Matara for the Sinhala Buddhist identity.

Another question we asked the respondents is the importance of their identity as a Sri Lankan to enjoy the full benefits of a citizen. In the portrayal of this question all five districts indicate that they all agree to the importance of national identity as a Sri Lankan, irrespective of ethnic or other social differences. The percentages are Colombo 100.0, Jaffna 97.5% Ampara 95.0% Nuwara Eliya 100% and Mathara 100% consenting to the importance of national identity as a Sri Lankan.

So the war has not drawn people way from each other. Neither has it brought about a sense of  belonging to a particular ethnic group and a lack of trust.  Actually when one goes to the Northern part of the country one can see people wanting to get back to their normal life again. Farming has started and the country is seemingly waking up to new opportunities.

Can Sri Lanka afford Free Education?

Looking back at all the violence that has taken place in the Universities here in Sri Lanka during the last 25 years one wonders whether we as a society, collectively value free education ? What is the real cost of education? Can we afford to give it free to all? To every child from grade 1- 12? Will any government have the guts to pull the plug? or at least limit it to a certain extent?

Make room for the voice of children

During the last decade alone saw millions of children all over the world who were traumatized by war. A 30 year  civil war  in Sri Lanka ended in May 2009 and we are now celebrating one year of peace. Yes it is hard to believe that one year has gone but nothing much has changed for the children who faced the full brunt of the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka.

We adults must ask serious questions with regard to the world we have left behind for them.

For starters shall we make room for the voice of children?

Shall we listen to their questions and find out what they have to say about their world?

When a child says ” excuse me …” shall we stand to attention and ask them what they want for whether we like it or not we will have to hand over the world to them

Continuing Education and Professional Development Programme is a must for policy planners and public administrators

Today in Sri Lanka we have imported and “canned” MBA programmes which are conducted by  educational institutes and the programmes who target  professionals  on the lines of career development and enhancement. However these training programmes and high cost courses may have  little relevance to our own environment. There is no doubt that the courses are packed with theoretical knowledge but the content may or may not benefit an individual who is operating under distinctly different working environment.  In the case of our Institute we have gathered a wealth of knowledge and experience in the area of development.

At Marga we have done over 1500 studies during the last three decades which cover subjects such as development, children, women, youth, population, migration, education, heath, housing policy, human rights, ethnic studies, agriculture, poverty, employment, regional corporation etc.  We see an opportunity to come up with various short duration courses on development studies and public policy making use of our knowledge and our current network of social scientists, which would benefit not only the public administrators and potential policy makers but also those in the diplomatic sector, INGO’s, NGO’s as well as the private sector.

Learning and training is a continuing process. We believe it is a cycle. What we have learned we must impart and when we impart it to the correct people and through systematic analysis the key learning could be implemented for development.

Is Education the key to overcome poverty?

At the recent Marga Survey on poverty it was clearly seen that households where husbands and wives who were educated ( gone through secondary education) were prone to come out of poverty faster.  This is not rocket science though but it shows that access to information and knowledge about various services were high among these householders and therefore they ” knew” what to do in a given situation. Furthermore these householders valued education so much so that they provided all the facilities for their children to pursue studies. The second generation in these particular cases were educated enough to get into the formal sector and therefore brought in a stable and consistent monthly income.

However the social values must be further studied to see whether children break away from parents soon to form their own family thus leaving the ” older” family unit vulnerable to poverty . There were cases where young people who got tiertiary eduaction  who couldn’t find suitable employment . So education has not helped in these situation.  So the question is whether education per sae helps communities to overcome poverty. Please post your comments

The plight of internally displaced people in the North.

We cannot ignore the fact that the situation is grave and living conditions of the IDP’s are pathetic. Civil society groups are imploring the government to relocate over 250,000 people almost immediately. However the state of affairs in these camps are quite complex and there doesn’t seem to be a simple solution. But is there? According to the law of probabilities the authorities say that there could be a fair percentage of LTTE cadres and supporters within these camps. Even if the percentage is 10 we are looking at over 25,000 direct LTTE carders and collaborators. According to informed sources there are weapons that are buried in the jungles of Vanni. The level of frustration among the IDP’s is rising every day they are within the camp. Should they be allowed to leave immediately? How soon is soon? Are we all sitting on a time bomb here?