An Open Letter to Educators in Sri Lanka


It has been a month since the inconceivable tragedy that occurred in Sri Lanka. Grief has turned to anger and finger pointing. While most of this is justified, we need to look ahead and find ways of avoiding such horrible acts in the future. Our children deserve better and the future of this nation is at stake.

The distinguished educator and peace advocate, Dr. Maria Montessori once remarked, "Establishing lasting peace is the work of education; all politics can do is keep us out of war."

This concept has proven itself time and time again. As far as instruction in schools, I believe politicians should keep out of the educational sphere and let the academics do the job they are trained to do.

There are many areas in the educational field in Sri Lanka that naeed expeditious reform:

*School principals and admission directors need to go back to the days when children were not admitted to schools according to their religion. Even if there are schools of a certain denomination, enrollment should be open to children of other religions and communities. All children should learn about all religions and cultures.

This point was mentioned recently by a Muslim leader who wondered how a child brought up in a Muslim school from age 5 could appreciate or recognize the views of other religions at age 18? This is a valid inquiry. Those of us who went to schools of a particular denomination but had classmates of other religions and communities have made life -long friendships surpassing primitive notions of cultural differences.

*The curriculum must contain knowledge of all religions and cultures. In certain countries, the history curriculum in upper elementary classes include a study of comparative religion done in a very positive way. The most significant goal in teaching these ideas should be a respect for other religions, races, and communities. We need to find commonalities and celebrate differences. In Sri Lanka, we have a wealth of resources pertaining to this kind of education

* We need to reform the culture of "tuition" and find ways of addressing the needs of children who may need some extra guidance. This must be incorporated into the school day without attaching a stigma to it. Retired individuals of many disciplines could be utilized to help children with their academic skills and a broader outlook on life. Inter- generational projects for coaching children within the school day could be of much value to children, teachers and the school community.

* Holidays on the school calendar need to be used to celebrate religious and cultural events by all students and families as school led festivities making them events to celebrate diversity.

* Respected religious leaders need to be invited to speak to students on a regular basis in an age appropriate way so that they learn the connection between education, culture and religion.

*Educators should be open to discussion and improvement of their own skills. Self-reflection is a great tool for all teachers. Are we doing all we can to make sure our children are fully prepared for the 21st century and all its complex problems? Do we provide an education that goes beyond the three R s in a constantly shrinking world? Is education only for individuals? Or are we preparing students to be world citizens who care for their whole nation and beyond.

* Finally, education should be about the social structure of humanity. What do students learn about the interconnectedness of people and their stewardship of the environment? How do we as adults encourage and implement programs that include community service?

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, "Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or the darkness of destructive selfishness. This is the judgement. Life’s most persistent question is, "What are you doing for others?"

Chandra Fernando

Educational Consultant


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