Pride and Prejudice
by Rajiva Wijesinha
I had broken perhaps the most important rule inculcated in me at university, which is to check ones references. Generally I do this with a couple of voluminous compendiums including an old prize book of my grandfather but for the last few weeks this has not been possible. Hence indeed the mixed nature of the quotation Mr. Devendra corrected. My computer collapsed and I had therefore to beg the indulgence of friends and relations to send off e-mails to the newspapers. I did not bear reference books to their houses so I did not try hard enough to ensure that the text and my attributions were correct. My apologies.
Having said that, I will now be Dickensian, and connect this discussion to one of my prevailing obsessions. Readers and certainly Mr. Devendra will remember Mr. Dick in David Copperfield, who turned every conversation he participated in round to King Charles Head. When I was young I thought this a meaningless extravagance but I realize now that Dickens was drawing our attention to a type of obsession that is not uncommon, namely the continuing regrets people feel about injustice and waste.
So I will come back to waste which is clear enough, though the injustice may not be at the Ministry of Education. I cannot say definitely that it is entirely due to sweet Mr. Kodituwakku and his not so sweet minions that my computer broke down, but I certainly feel he is responsible. As the bright young things who help to put together the English medium material for schools tell me, my hard disk is grossly overloaded. Dynamic Maithri Jansz sends me a beautifully illustrated Science text, but it is so large that even to be saved from the CD to the hard disk it has to be divided into sections. And it is not only the Grade 7 work we are now producing that has to be edited and saved, I had also to preserve the Grade 6 work, at least until the Ministry produced books from the diskettes we gave them in November.
There indeed we had a good example of what might be called computer overload. At the end of January we were rung up, to be told that there were strange crosses in the proofs. Obviously noone in the Ministry had checked on a hard copy before giving the diskettes to the printers. We told them the problem probably lay in them using computers with insufficient capacity. After that, worried though we were, we heard nothing till our Team Leader rang the Minister who, prompt for once, got the head of Educational Publications to call back. It seems he had now found a powerful enough computer, three months after we gave him the diskettes. The delivery date has to be pushed back, and he can be sure now only of the end of February. Clearly noone in the Ministry had bothered to remember that term began on January 2nd.
And that worry we had to cope with while working overtime in other respects to make up for the incompetence of the Ministry. In the last couple of weeks teachers from Vavuniya and Dickwella and Kegalle and Ruwanwella (to say nothing of Isipatana and Royal) came to my house to collect books. The distant schools had started last year but, even though the Ministry was informed, they had failed to pass this on to me. So they did not get books last year, and had had to photocopy at vast expense. I was not pleased at the calls on my time, but since these were teachers giving up their own holidays to help students take advantage of the project, I had to oblige.
And then, in the midst of all this, just as I was getting more and more irritated, the phone rang. It was one of the team to say she had got a letter from Dr. Tara de Mel, thanking her on behalf of the President for having worked so hard and so productively on the project. This was heartening, not only to feel our efforts had been appreciated which is clearly the case, as far as teachers and students go but also that someone had bothered to make such a simple but also so satisfying gesture.
I had, I should note, suggested something of the sort in sending the books to Mr. Medagama, the voice of sanity in the Ministry, and asking whether the Minister could send a note of appreciation to the person who had done the Science books so superbly. I had copied the letter to Tara since, as I told Mr. Medagama, there is no hope of development in education until she is back in a position of authority. In the hope of this happening soon, as well as in terms of her current position which would allow a capable minister to make use of her advice and assistance I will keep her informed of all activities so that she can act expeditiously when the time comes.
Taras Secretary rang me up next day with a request for the addresses of all those on the team, not just the one I had singled out. Within a few days it seemed, the letters of thanks had gone out. And I was reminded of last December, when a dear old Additional Secretary at the Ministry showed me, trembling with emotion since he had clearly never received such a missive before, a letter from Tara thanking him for his work during her tenure.
Pearl of great price
And it was this pearl of great price that was discarded, while poor Kodituwakku was given a Secretary hand-picked by Chari and Malik and Bradman and Austin, such wise men all of them. They did not think of asking Mr. Wijedasa who had actually worked with the man. They did not ask anyone at the Ministry of the calibre of Lalith Weeratunga or Mr. Medagama who still says that, in his thirty or more years at the Ministry, Tara was the best Secretary he worked for.
Or is it that they are all terrified of the boss who, with all his charm, is capable of petty prejudices and a stubbornness that would do credit to a mule? One of his good friends asked me recently what it was he had against Tara. I had no answer, though now it occurs to me that his bitterness dates back to the time when the UNP was flirting with the JVP and all their youngsters such as Sagala Ratnayake and Mahinda Samarasinghe had to get into loincloths and shout about the reforms. These were all UNP ideas, I remember telling Sagala, and the fact that Kodituwakku persists with them is surely proof, even for those who dont go back into history and check on what Ranil tried to do himself.
Or is it sheer jealousy, that she in one year managed to accomplish more than he had done in nine? It was not that he did not do well, it was just that, since his reforms were not entrenched, they were all destroyed within a year of his leaving office, his schemes of continuous assessment, his insistence on pre-service training, the cluster schools. Tara not only brought back a lot of them, she was developing systems to ensure they survived, and also that they benefited rural students most. That, though I would like to think it was Ranils intention, did not come across in the eighties. Tara somehow made clear national impact of the reforms she presided over.
Perhaps that was why she had to be pushed out, when so many others of far lesser abilities were kept on in office. And though Ranil is now reported to have said, at last, that they should try to make use of Tara, I fear that the grace required to make up for past blunders is not yet in his character. I can only hope that Tara will agree to help, and that some of her grace will rub off on him as well as on the lost sheep of Isurupaya.
|NEWS | POLITICS | DEFENCE | FEATURES | BUSINESS | LEISURE | EDITORIAL | CARTOON | SPORTS|