Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa said yesterday that foreign-funded NGOs had influenced our education system in subtle ways and the country needs to be ‘very vigilant’ with regard to what is inculcated in the minds of school children.
He said he heard some leading academic Bhikkus explaining how school textbooks now had content that would corrupt young minds.
“An organisation explained how some school textbooks have depicted the northern and eastern provinces of Sri Lanka as one province. It was also said that the Sinhala New Year had been dropped from some school textbooks,” he said.
He made these remarks at the National Dhamma School Convention and Awards Ceremony held at Irattaperiyakulam in Vavuniya on 27 December 2019.
“Students enrolled in the Dhamma schools today will be the generation that carries forward the Sinhala Buddhist national identity. Over the past several years, we saw the destruction brought upon in this country as a result of a significant section of the Buddhist population being alienated from the Temple, from the Dhamma and the Maha Sangha. It became fashionable for Buddhists to denigrate Buddhism and the Sinhalese. Even politicians who were elected to power by Sinhala voters openly insulted the Maha Sangha.
People belonging to other religions and ethnic groups in this country will never insult their own religion or ethnic group in that manner. Even though a significant proportion of students from Sinhala Buddhist families are enrolled in Dhamma Schools, the number actually attending, is far less than the number registered. Even before the Sunday Dhamma schools were instituted, the Temple imparted education to the laity. In pre-colonial times, the Temple was the main centre of education.
A secular schools system came into existence during the Dutch and British colonial eras. The world became a complex place and an ever-expanding formal education system came into being. Today, the secular education system and the Dhamma schools exist side by side. Even though Buddhism is taught as a subject in the secular schools' system, it is through the Dhammaschools that the younger generation is brought close to the Buddhist philosophy and Buddhist families are brought closer to the Temple.
The Most Venerable Madihe Pannasiha Mahanayake Thera once said that the purpose of the Dhamma schools was not to impart textual knowledge but to mould the character and way of thinking of the students. The purpose of Dhamma schools is to create an individual with a Buddhist way of thinking.
Madihe Pannasiha Mahanayake Thera identified five modes of conduct expected of a Dhamma school student as adhering to the five precepts and observing the eight precepts on Poya Days, respecting the Maha Sangha, parents, teachers and elders, leading a simple life and maintaining a good relationship with neighbours, developing restraint, good behaviour and a sound knowledge of the Dhamma and devotion to the Buddha-Dhamma, and being motivated by national pride and indigenous traditions. These words are valid even today. We expect to improve the Dhamma schools system and the programmes offered in them in order to enable those institutions to produce the Buddhist youth that Ven. Pannasiha referred to," he said.