Ever since I remember (and that dates back longer than I care to mention) ragging has been the hot topic vis-a-vis the Universities of Sri Lanka. Under Sir Ivor Jennings – or at least while he was Vice Chancellor, the Colombo University rivalled the British ones. The standards were so high it was felt that going to England for one’s education was not strictly necessary. The same education could be had right here in Colombo.
Of course the more affluent ones went anyway – mainly to Oxford and Cambridge - but those that did not felt in no way inferior in knowledge and education if they had studied at the Old University College, subsequently renamed the Univ. of Colombo. Of course a gentlemanly type of ragging took place even then. I use the word, ‘gentlemanly’ purposely here. It was not the thuggish, perverted acts that take place now at the hands of young people whose behaviour could rival anything the torture chambers of the various World Wars could dream up. If not actually as painful certainly as disgusting. Such undergrads make up a goodly number of the raggers now.
Mind you, the frustrated and outrageously behaved raggers of today are always in the minority but the majority of others are bullied and thoroughly cowed into submission since they receive no protection from the authorities. One really has to wonder what sort of minds these psychotic young raggers have? From where do they get their preposterous ideas?
Make every university entrant sign a form agreeing to instant expulsion if he/she engages in anti-social activities
On a personal note I have to say that naturally ragging took place when I entered the University of Bombay at my All-Girl’s College. My own particular rag was (inhind sight) rather imaginative. I was told I had to steal a sari from a shop at the foot of the hill where my College was situated. Although I did not know it, the shop had been told to look the other way when I made the ‘steal’ but I was not aware of this while I had to somehow engineer the switch from sari-counter to handbag. I made elaborate plans with my friends to distract salesmen. As intended by the raggers, I was a nervous wreck. My appetite deserted me which was all to the good, but I carried out the criminal deed without a hitch but quaking so badly I could hardly make it out of the shop.
Having triumphantly displayed my loot to my Seniors I was then told the truth. The sari was returned and a highly amused shopkeeper let me keep it. It cost Rs.18/, but was a most attractive cotton one which I wore triumphantly for years.. When my young daughter went to the same College for her first two years of University ragging had somehow got less pleasant. Hearing she was a dancer, the Seniors would make her do splits whenever they ran into her.
As any Dance Teachers would tell you, splits can only be done after a warm up. Doing them without the warm up is muscle endangering and to this day my daughter suffers from muscle problems. But yet – all this was not life threatening and there was no malice in the ragging.
But today and for the last few decades there have been students in our Universities who have totally given up University careers. Others who have been maimed for life and still worse – those who have been driven to suicide. Yet these cruel and vicious perpetrators still remain in University, educated with our tax money and finally go out into the world with their Degrees in their unworthy, grasping hands. And then to add insult to great injury, a foolish Government (that has done nothing to help the victims) actually give them jobs.
Ragging can be stopped. It is not difficult. I have been writing about it for the last 30 years but no one has even discussed the possibility of a solution with me or other like- minded teachers and Principals. Instead, students, protesting every inch of the way against punishments somehow get away with it.
The University Professors try to help a little –albeit very guardedly – and get locked up in their offices for their pains. That regrettable streak of malice that underlies every unsuitable University entrant is brought to fruition and encouraged by similarly unsuitable entrants. Water finds its own level and like calls to like. The sadistic tendencies of the few are quickly harnessed by those already there and those better suited to a University education than these thugs do not have a chance.
I read of the latest doing in the Universities with stunned incredulity. I have a simple solution (I think). “It is far too simplistic,” sniffed a well known University Don. But like many problems that exist all over the place, a simplistic solution has often been proved to be the most effective.
MAKE EVERY UNIVERSITY ENTRANT SIGN A FORM AGREEING TO INSTANT EXPULSION IF HE/SHE ENGAGES IN ANTI-SOCIAL ACTIVITIES. List the anti social activities so that there is no doubt in anyone’s mind as to what is regarded as anti-social. If the students do not like it they need not sign and higher education must be denied to them. C.W.W. Kannagara’s ‘Pearl of Great Price’ is a singularly lustreless pearl these days.
A strong Government can make such student signing compulsory and retro-active so that the present uncontrollable lot are also brought under the jurisdiction of sensible laws. But of course we do not have a strong enough Government that will take on rioting University students even though 91% of the students would applaud such a move and ensure the present government gets their votes at the next election. After all this is all our Ministers are thinking about aren’t they?
Another deterrent to these viciously sadistic monsters is the good old fashioned viva. Sri Lankan students travel all the way to the UK, the USA and elsewhere for that all important Viva which will tell the committee of interviewers whether the child is what they are looking for in that particular area of knowledge. Modern technology has allowed students to be interviewed on SKYPE.
Now what is the difficulty is getting a group of incorruptible, educated. kindly disposed and available adults to act as the Viva committee? It must be an honorary job so that only those vitally concerned with the future of Universities will agree to give their time and expertise to selecting suitable candidates for future higher education. Off-hand I can think of ten such men and women quite easily.
Today, and for the last few decades, there have been students in our Universities who have totally given up University careers
These suggestions of mine are probably tediously repetitive to those who bother with the state of education in Sri Lanka. They are repetitive because nothing is ever done when there is so much to be done. I sound eerily like Cassandra – that prophetess of ancient times who was cursed by the Gods . The curse was that she would never be believed even though she was always in the right.
While I am no Cassandra, I can see that all the educational reforms recently highlighted in the Press are not going to help the University situation one bit.
Most of us agree that all the University students could do with a great deal of psychological counselling but since this is not possible let us do the next best thing and try to improve the quality of students –many of the present ones have no business being in the Universities of Sri Lanka in the first place. They have massive inferiority complexes which they take out on students they perceive as being superior.
This may not be the case, but perception is hard to define, and sometimes the fact that one student is from a better school can set off a chain reaction of dislike which leads to those dastardly acts of which I spoke earlier. Most of today’s graduates are up in Government Departments. I am told. They do not necessarily want to work in the Private sector. This is all to the good since they are virtually unemployable anyway. (I am exempting the Engineering Faculty from my comments) I am told that things are much better at the University of Moratuwa and that its students do not suffer from tortured sleep thanks to unwanted bullies in their midst..
Whether this is due to the still pervasive influence of men like former Vice Chancellor, Sir Arthur C. Clarke, or to enlightened professors like Dr. Willy Mendis, I am not sure. I know that Dr. Mendis has commented to me on the brilliance of some of his engineering students who show inventiveness and high intelligence. The atmosphere in Moratuwa obviously encourages excellence. It does not do so elsewhere alas!
Most of today’s graduates are up in Government Departments, I am told. They do not necessarily want to work in the Private sector
Seeing the way the doctors are behaving of late I am not at all sure that the Medical Colleges (most of all) do not need a total re-vamping of attitudes and instructions on “How to be a Doctor”. After all, doctors of the GMOA, you were educated with my taxes too. There is something seriously awry with the attitudes they are picking up or being taught during their course of study.
In some sort of mysterious, meticulously unselfish, non- vote catching and business-like fashion cannot the Sri Lankan Government do something that will produce graduates who are not wastrels and rakes but graduates whom we can unashamedly and proudly call Graduates of Sri Lanka? Is that an impossible dream?