Sri Lanka needs responsible citizens with values

Tuesday, 1 October 2019 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Now we can see many starting to talk about the need for leaders for the country and claiming that because of poor leadership and the inability of politicians the country is in trouble. While agreeing with this, we need to reflect on our responsibilities as citizens of Sri Lanka. 

Do we really act as responsible citizens? We need to explain this by looking at different dimensions. In this context, it is worthwhile to remember the important quotation of late Madihe Maha Nayaka Thera: “We need to develop the individual before we try to develop the society.”

But at the moment we can witness there is a problem of “values” among people in society. The education system of any country is paramount important to build up “people with values”. But in Sri Lanka, we can see “stuck in the middle scenario” in our education system. We have thousands of examples (symptoms). Refer below for only two examples. 


Example one: Grade Five Scholarship examination 

Although this is known as the ‘Mothers’ Exam,’ the mentality of the children can be well articulated when children are coming from the examination halls after the exam. Today we can really experience that the so-called “competition” in the education system is negatively affecting the country and nation with many bad repercussions.

The basic objectives of conducting the Grade Five Scholarship Exam are:

1. Admission of bright students to popular schools.

2. Provision of bursaries to bright but economically disadvantaged students.

However, in pursuit of the above objectives, we must look back at whether we have forgotten the main core value of education in a holistic perspective. As we observed, cut-off marks of the examination in the year 2017 was within the range of 160. In Colombo District that was recorded at 164. Imagine that if a student obtains 162 marks (that is 81 marks per subject for an exam which consists of two subjects) that student is labelled as “failed” at the school. Failure of a student who acquired 81 marks for a subject seriously questions both the Grade Five Scholarship Exam system and the methodology of achieving goals in education. 

According to experts in child psychology, from the age of nine to 11, children are in a transitive period and are emotional in nature, which heavily needs the attention of parents, society and friends. Authorities should be more conscious of loading the child with an unnecessary burden as it would badly affect the development of the child. 

Moreover, we should adjust our education system with teaching and learning methods of the countries (good practices) that have gained success in the field of education like Finland and Japan. There is a need to learn the history of universities like Nalanda University to observe Adyapana (dealing with the brain) and Dhyapana (dealing with the heart) which is a must in order to assimilate to establishment. Anyway there is a need to understand the needs of the country with our own competencies. 


Example two: Schoolbags

At the moment in Sri Lanka, we can observe a student weigh 30 kilos bringing a school bag of 10 kilos! I consider this as one measurement of the disaster of our education system. Most of the children come under the category of Grade Six to 10 have around eight subjects per day questioning whether Sri Lankan educationists have done the justice for our next generation (which we need to discuss in a separate article). 

In India the Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD) prescribed the weight limit of school bags for each class last year. Accordingly, the weight of school bags for students of classes one and two should not exceed 1.5 kg, while the school bag of students of class three to five should weigh between 2 kg to 3 kg. The school bag of students of classes six and seven should not be more than 4 kg, while the weight of school bags of classes eight and nine students should not be above 4.5 kg. The school bag of a class 10 student should not weigh above 5 kg. 

It can be observed that a grade seven student in Sri Lanka brings more than 200% of the stipulated weight limit, which would lead to many ergonomic problems. A report of the US Consumer Product Safety Commission published that over 22,000 students suffered back pain related injuries in the year 2013 (Khan, 2018). The majority of them carry as much as 25% of their body weight.  

A study in Al-Ahsa, Saudi Arabia, reveals that 1,860 (around 73%) of the students among 2,567 students carry bags that weight more than 15% of their body weight and back pain was reported by 42% of the students. In India, the burden of satchels, as estimated in some of the Telangana districts, weighs about 6 to 12 kg at primary level and 12 to 17 kg at high school level (Khan, 2018). 

There is a grave need for the revised education system for Sri Lanka in terms of many aspects. But here I would like to emphasise on ‘quantity vs. quality’ of the education system of the country. Weight of the bag is something related to ‘quantity,’ which we need to revisit while improving ‘quality’. 

Not only in the school education system but in the university education also we are experiencing problems without any solutions. It can also be seen that there is a problem of “empathy” which is one of the important demarcations for the entire nation. 

Refer below for two different scenarios which I have observed.

Scenario one – A leading insurance company in Sri Lanka. A customer opens the door and comes to the office. But there are no salespeople paying attention to the customer. They just concentrate on their work. The customer wanders here and there.

Scenario two – A leading vehicle importer in Sri Lanka. The salespeople are measuring customers by looking at their appearance, such as dress code. In case such customer/s inquiring for the high-end branded vehicle there is no proper explanation as they (salespeople) have preoccupied mindset.

Interestingly all most all salespeople are in the given scenarios are qualified with at least with Diploma in Management/Sales Management. And more importantly, all of them belong to Generation Y and Z (born after 1977)!

There could be many reasons with many social interpretations for this. However, we should understand the beauty of multiple realities for managerial implications. In Sri Lanka, we can witness many people talking about soft skills. A section of people criticise the output of national universities claiming that most of the graduates do not have “soft skills”. The same set of people define “soft skills” as “language competency and IT skills”. But there is a problem of ‘big picture’.

According to Oxford reference, “Soft skills are competencies that employees possess associated with activities such as customer handling, communication, problem-solving, and team working. According to various surveys, these soft skills are considered by employers to be of very high importance and (in the UK) sadly lacking amongst new recruits.”


Generation Y and emotional intelligence

According to Yesnick (2016), the Pew Research Center conducted a survey of 1,021 respondents whereby 42% responded that by 2020 Gen Y and Gen Z “…will spend most of their energy sharing social messages, being entertained and distracted away from deep engagement with people and knowledge. They’ll lack deep thinking capabilities and face-to-face social skills.” (Business Insider, 28 March 2012). This is really important. 

As Shari Turkel (author of ‘Bringing Back Conversation in the Digital Age’) argued, you can observe a 40% decline in empathy of people in their 20s. Refer below remarks of Stanley (2017):

“…It’s ironic because our incessant need to connect with everything and everyone also makes us lose our ability to connect with the most important thing — people. Colleagues go out to lunch to build relationships, which requires paying attention. But once seated, individuals set their phones on the table. The message is clear and the rules established. Relationship building and paying attention to each other will happen until one of us gets a phone call or text. How many of you are tired of competing for attention with a smartphone? (And why is it called a smartphone when it creates such stupid behaviours?)”


What do we need to do?

Emotional intelligence with common sense is important for everything. But there is a problem with the young generation. They are more demanding but do not like to reflect! Anyway Yesnick (2016) proposed for the employer to identify a mentor for a new Gen Y or Z employee during on-boarding. Programs embodying the four components of emotional intelligence give the mentor opportunities to model self-awareness, social awareness, self-management and relationship management.


Patriotism and young generation 

Some said “patriotism behaviour” can be observed as less in the young generation. See the following example in US (extracted from NY Times):

“…When you see the American Flag flying, the American National Election Study (A.N.E.S.) asks, how good does it make you feel? People can choose from categories that range from ‘extremely good’ to ‘not good at all’. In 2012, 79% of Americans responded with extremely or very good. Only 7% said slightly or not good at all. There is also a question asking how people ‘feel about this country’. More than 95% of Americans either love or like their country, with 70% saying ‘love it’ and only one-third of 1% saying ‘hate it’. Sixty-one percent say that being an American is ‘extremely important’ on a personal level. Only 1.5% say it is ‘not at all important’.

“There are small differences in levels of patriotism across political parties, between men and women, and among racial groups, but these patterns pale in comparison to the differences across generations, with overt patriotism shifting down with age. Here’s a striking example: 81% of the Silent Generation (those who are 69 to 86 years old in 2014) love America while only 58% of millennials (18 to 33 years old) feel the same. Born between 1928 and 1945, the Silent Generation fought both the wars in Korea and Vietnam. Thirty-one percent of them report that they personally served on active duty in the United States Armed Forces. Only 4% of millennials have done so. Seventy-eight percent of the older generation consider their American identity to be extremely important. That drops to 70% for baby boomers (50 to 68 years), 60% of Generation X’ers (34 to 49 years), and only 45% of young adults define themselves this way. And while 94% of the Silent Generation say that seeing the US flag flying makes them feel extremely or very good, only 67% of millennials muster the same affection. 

“Millennials, it seems, are a different breed. According to a recent report by the Pew Research Center, millennials are ‘detached from institutions … linked by social media, burdened by debt, distrustful of people, in no rush to marry – and optimistic about the future.’ They are, the report concludes, ‘different from older adults back when they were the age millennials are now…’”


In Sri Lanka we have not conducted such a survey among people (one area for our social researchers). But looking at some pattern of voting and the behaviour on social media we also can come up with the some assumptions here in Sri Lanka as in the US. Even as lecturer I have observed there are many undergraduates and even postgraduate students who do not know the meaning of the large lion holding a sword in the Sri Lankan Flag but do know about the latest addition to their favourite mobile brand. 



Sri Lanka needs to have a paradigm shift in education and value system. But this is a collective effort including leaders and all citizens. We also need to be concerned about aligning ‘value system’ between ‘us’ as citizens and ‘Sri Lanka’ as nation. Because as you know we had a rich value system for a thousand years.

“A love for tradition has never weakened a nation, indeed it has strengthened nations in their hour of peril” ― Winston S. Churchill 

(The writer is a Professor in Management Studies, Open University of Sri Lanka and currently serving as Visiting Professor at Canadore College, North Bay, Canada. You can reach him via [email protected])

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