A uniquely Sri Lankan approach to celebrating education
By Kalani Kumarasinghe
If education is the soul of the society as a wise man once said, then what about the practices involved with education that are passed on from one generation to another? Are these practices revered and venerated in the West as they are in Sri Lanka? If not, why do we engage in hollow mimicry of how the West does things?
The Bandaranaike Centre for International Studies, the academic wing of the S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike Memorial Foundation, is bringing forth this argument to the masses as they attempt to break away from the meaningless western practices with their convocation for 2014 on Friday.
The South Asian, and particularly Sri Lankan, approach to education has always been to identify knowledge as an element of the divine, much unlike the materialistic and quantitative Western approach that developed after the Industrial Revolution. Most of the rituals during a graduation ceremony – like gowns and mortarboards – are nothing more than remnants of what was imposed on us by colonial rulers. The black cloak for example, has its origins in the Catholic clergy, and is of little relevance to our academic lives today.
"We are going to change this. Education in the South Asian context has always been venerated. We will be presenting a tangible form to this veneration. In our culture we abide by -Mathaa, Pithaa, Guru Deva- which are Mother, Father, Teacher and God."
With such factors in mind, Mr. Sunimal Fernando, Advisor to the President and Chairman of the BCIS Board of Studies and Nilanthan Niruthan, Programme Officer at the BCIS and spoke to the Daily Mirror as to why this year’s convocation was going to take a different note.
“The BCIS is having on Friday (today) what we used to call the “annual convocation”, but there are key things that we are trying out this time. We are attempting an innovative approach, which in a nutshell can be summed up as returning to our roots,” Mr. Nilanthan Niruthan said.
Asked about what this alternative take would be, Mr. Niruthan explained that their contention was that the western way of doing things, was mainly quantitative and secondly materialistic.
“What we do is an acknowledgement that this convocation is very different to the way the West does things.” he said.
“We are going to change this. Education in the South Asian context has always been venerated. We will be presenting a tangible form to this veneration. In our culture we abide by -Mathaa, Pithaa, Guru Deva- which are is Mother, Father, Teacher and God. There is no Western equivalent in Western education to this veneration and this is what we are trying to bring back with our convocation.” he added.
Mr. Sunimal Fernando insists that there is no “nationalistic” note or “hidden motive” in taking this step. “Knowledge is a quantifiable entity in the West. And we follow these categories. So why are we not enjoying ourselves at a convocation? Why is a convocation such a strenuous affair where we sweat and listen to long speeches? Because deep down our own roots haven’t died and we are uncomfortable with these forced practices.” Mr. Fernando said.