Leadership programme – A myth in the making

| by Hana Ibrahim

( December 30, 2012, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) When the leadership training programme for new entrants to universities was first announced last year, opposition to it emanated from various quarters. Most of it came from the parents of the students, followed by students themselves. Yet the government showed little interest in listening and continued with the preconceived plan of action to instil what it deemed was, discipline, in the new undergrads.

The recent history of Sri Lanka has borne witness to many a socio-political upheaval, both in the North and in the South, which had to be crushed with brute force and ruthlessness.

However, last year’s debate on the issue did not focus on the expenses each of the chosen students would have to incur in this so-called ‘leadership training’. But the training programme that just got underway has raised another issue of concern, with some parents protesting the exorbitant expenditures involved in prepping their children for this needless adventure in Army, Navy and Air Force camps. Their grouse adds weight, as this added expenses come at a time of year-end festivities and preparation for new school terms, placing an unnecessary burden on purses that can only be stretched so far.

The parents have already spent enormous amounts of money educating their children. In present day Sri Lanka, less than two per cent of the student population gain university entrance, making higher education a tough competition. Most of the parents undergo untold difficulties in raising the necessary funds to educate their children; some mortgaging their land and jewellery and some borrowing at staggering rates of interest from loan-sharks.

To bear these expenses, at a time when essential food items are skyrocketing more due to State-imposed tariffs and wonky taxing policies, where racing cars are conveniently exempted from tariffs and taxes, is a herculean task.  It is simply beyond any man’s comprehension how the government can be so blissfully oblivious to the hardships and suffering they themselves impose on an average family.

According to some parents, the students qualifying for university entrance and called up for leadership training had to spend more than ten thousand rupees (Rs10,000) to buy the items required for the two-week-stay at military camps.

The parents’ grievance is justifiable and legitimate. In the words of a student who received four ‘As’ at the 2011 Advanced Level examination, “It’s Christmas season and we are completely broke; Rs 20,000 was spent on all the items we had to buy for the leadership training, including the costs for getting to the military camp,  which is at the other end of the country. We weren’t able to do anything for Christmas.”

The Ceylon Teachers’ Union (CTU) has joined this chorus of protest and condemned the ‘leadership programme’ in no uncertain terms. It has said the training programme had nothing to do with young students, teachers or even academics and the Higher Education Ministry was throwing away money that should be used to develop State universities.

The Union’s agitation against the ‘militarization’ of the students’ minds is well founded. Why the rulers chose the university students, quite apart from other sectors of the demographics, is worthy of attention. And the economic argument put across by them is even more relevant in today’s context of rising costs of essential items such as food, transport and housing.

But, when the rulers choose to disregard the difficulties of the common man and start pandering to the rich and super-rich classes, where does one turn to? Are we breeding another generation of rebels who might see alternatives to a democratically-elected government and seek other methods of governance?

The recent history of Sri Lanka has borne witness to many a socio-political upheaval, both in the North and in the South, which had to be crushed with brute force and ruthlessness.

When students are requested to bring two white bed sheets, two white pillow cases, two saris, matching shoes, a pair of rubber slippers, three passport size photographs, one mug and a plate each, the barren feeling that descends on them could be lethal in provocative circumstances. The endorsement to this agitation of the CTU, lent by the Inter-University Students’ Federation (IUSF) would only make matters more difficult for the authorities.

Something needs to be done and done fast.

(The Writer is the Editor of the Ceylon Today, a daily based in Colombo, where this piece originally appeared)

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