8 May 2006
By all means, allow and encourage the establishment of private schools and universities. Students whose families are willing and able to pay tuition should not be taking up space in public schools and universities. And as for the concerns about the quality of education provided by private institutions, I have two answers: one, that’s why we have a concept called accreditation. Two, do you seriously think that the education provided by the government is of high quality?
I suggest that we develop a minimum required curriculum for each year in school, along with a set of criteria for accreditation. An accreditation board will evaluate each private institution and grant or deny accreditation. A school is free to include additional subjects in the curriculum, provided that they meet minimal curriculum requirements (such as math, language and science) and don’t violate any accreditation criteria. Of course, knowing our countrymen, we should also devise some methods to minimize corruption. We wouldn’t want somebody paying off the board to get an accreditation they don’t deserve.
4 May 2006
Cultural Fault Lines
Sri Lanka is a country torn along cultural fault lines. Before the end of the Cold War, the world was divided into two along political lines — the Free World and the Communist bloc. The two groupings were multicultural, but held together by the threat of a common enemy. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the common enemy disappeared and the world fragmented into smaller pieces, with the fault lines running across cultural differences (‘civilizations’ as Samuel Huntington would put it). We now have the West, Latin America, the Middle East, East Asia, South Asia etc.
Sri Lanka has a similar problem within a single country — we have two cultures in conflict. While Tamils and Singhalese are morelike each other than either would be like Americans or Chinese, these two cultures seem incompatible at present. Ours is more a cultural/ethnic problem than a political one.
We have three possible solutions:
#1 Full segregation: Divide the country in two; Tamils will live in the North, Singhalese in the South
#2 Conflicted coexistence: The two groups will continue to live together as they do now and deal with conflicts as and when they arise (i.e. a may-blow-up-anytime situation)
#3 Full integration: Erase the cultural differences between the two races, develop a common Sri Lankan culture that is neither Singhalese nor Tamil; erase this distinction from the minds of the next generation so that when they grow up, it will only be a trivial difference.
Full segregation (option #1) means partitioning the country. A lot of people don’t like this and there are of course disadvantages — politically, socially and economically. We’re starting to learn rather painfully that option #2 does not work verywell. So we should explore option #3: full integration.
How is integration achieved? By gradually erasing the conflicting differences between the various Sri Lankan ethnic/religious groups and introducing and stressing commonalities.
A Common Language
Apart of Sri Lanka’s ethnic problem began as a language problem (the “Sinhala Only” movement). Therefore part of the solution should be a language solution. Make English the national language. Make Singhalese and Tamil associate national languages. The twoethnic languages will continue to be spoken at homes and private gatherings. But over a period of about 10 – 20 years (a reasonable time frame for such a radical undertaking, I think) everything government sponsored (including government schooling) will be converted to English, and the entire population will be familiarized with the language. With the language barrier gone Singhalese and Tamils will interact and understand each other much better. History teaches us that different peoples who speak the same way tend to get along with each other better. But language should only be the beginning.
2 May 2006
Some time back, a well known government minister was quoted as saying "If we don't have enough money to complete this project, we'll PRINT money and complete it." This man should have been booed out of the podium by a shocked and disgusted public. Instead, the audience of average folk had cheered. Now you know why this country can't get anywhere economically — people don't even have the basic knowledge to tell the difference between medicine and poison.
When the government prints say, Rs. 1 billion, its value just doesn't materialize out of thin air. Money is just paper. If there were say, Rs. 9 billion already in circulation, then the Rupee is now worth 9/10th of what it was before. In other words, the government has taken approximately 1/10th of everybody's wealth held in rupees. This is why counterfeiting money is illegal. Even a layman should be able to understand that, and why it applies equally to the government.
But looks like the average Sri Lankan can't even understand this. He doesn't realize that the money the government prints ultimately comes out of his own pocket. And if that's how much they know about something as straightforward as inflation, then how are they going to understand some of the more complicated economic measures the government takes? Are these the people carrying around the votes that determine which way the country will go? The government can do anything and say anything, and they'll be none the wiser.
It's not rocket science
This is why we need to educate the general public about economics and politics. They should have an understanding of what they're voting for or against. Most of economics is common sense, not rocket science. If explained in simple terms anyone can understand it.
If I were a politician, I might come to the people and say a variety of things like "I'll cut interest rates", "I'll raise interest rates", "I'll reduce the marginal tax rate", "I'll increase VAT and reduce income taxes", "I'll introduce a fuel subsidy", "I'll cut the fuel subsidy and increase import duty" etc. Most Sri Lankans will not be able to tell whether the long term effects of these on themselves and the economy are going to be positive or negative. So the government will always choose what will result in the most public support during its term. At the end of the term, they'll toss the pin-less grenade at the incoming government and walk off. Everybody will end up blaming the wrong people.
Democracy is very dangerous when the ignorant hold the vote. The answer is not to do away with democracy. The ignorant should wisen up.