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Undergraduates training in ‘brainwash’ controversy

[BBC, Monday, 12 September 2011 07:35 No Comment]

20110911121751students Military training "is not the form of leadership training appropriate for young people who would later play a role as civilians in the country’s development," says Friday Forum

The Sri Lankan authorities are accused of trying to brainwash university students through ‘leadership training’ instead of trying to find solutions to students’ burning issues.

Rejecting the accusation, the ministry of higher education says the new three-week ‘leadership training’ programme is the first step of a wider reforms initiative.

The ministry this year introduced a three-week ‘leadership training’ in military camps for those entering universities from this year.

The course that was mandatory when introduced has been changed to voluntary after fierce resistance from student leaders.

Student leaders regard the ‘hurried’ announcement of the new initiative as an attempt to brainwash the new generation.

‘No consultation’

"Why this urgency? It is because the government wanted no public discussion, no debate but to forcefully implement military training in the name of leadership training," says Sanjeewa Bandara, the convenor of Inter University Student Federation (IUSF).

Dr Sunil Jayantha Navaratne, the secretary to the ministry of higher education rejects the accusation.

"There was no rush at all," he told BBC Sinhala service, Sandeshaya.

"This is a part of a systematic programme to completely change the university education in Sri Lanka."

But student leaders are not impressed.

Sanjeewa Bandara also alleges that many students who went on the training physically and psychologically suffered at various military camps.

Dr Navaratne who says that the parents as well as students were extremely happy of the training given accuses the BBC.

‘BBC not happy’

"It is the BBC which is not happy. 99.9% of the students were happy. I can give you the names and contact numbers of those students," he said.


University teachers say the ministry failed to consult the universities before introducing new training scheme

BBC Sinhala service is yet to receive a response to the email sent to the ministry of higher education on 06 August requesting the contact details of those ‘happy’ students.

Several students who recently completed training were wary of Dr Navaratne’s comments.

"There should be some positives in any training programme," Malan Suneth Jayathilake, a student selected for Ruhuna University told the BBC.

"But I expected much more such as building confidence and facing challenges but nothing of that sort was there."

Kelaniya University’s Sachintana Lakmali Suraweera, agrees.

"I have to admit that it was fun as many had the time out from families and to get together with like minded people," she said.

"But apart from physical training and being trained to wake up early I didn’t get any particular leadership training," Ms Suraweera told BBC Sandeshaya.


Another student hoping for the university entry told the BBC that those attended leadership training are of the opinion that the authorities were trying to ‘brainwash’ the next generation.

"Our aim is to create a globally recognised citizen, who can stand up to any challenge," says Dr Navaratne.

"I did not feel anything like that in the course," was the response by Malan Suneth Jayathilake.

Sachintana Lakmali Suraweera agrees.

"You cannot create a leader within three weeks."

Prof Tudor Kalinga Silva, prof of social science at Peradeniya University points out some other serious issues.

"The ministry did not consult university senates as per the custom regarding the new training," he told BBC Sandeshaya.

But Dr Navaratne says the initiative was supported by many university teachers.

"Further, it is highly questionable whether the money spent has been properly utilised at a time universities in Sri Lanka are facing serious issues over lack of funding and facilities," Prof Silva added.

The concept has come under criticism by leading academics, including Friday Forum, a multi-ethnic group which is led by a Sri Lankan former under-secretary-general of the UN, Jayantha Dhanapala.

While the special skills and military discipline "is essential for the purposes of an army, it is not the form of leadership training appropriate for young people who would later play a role as civilians in the country’s development", it said in a statement.

The Forum added that academic freedom and university autonomy provide the foundation of the teaching and learning environment in universities throughout the Commonwealth.

[Full Coverage]

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