Volume Two of Sarath Amunugama’s Autobiography – The Island

By Nicolas Perera

In the August 21, 2022 national media, the UGC president publicly states that, as university authorities consider possibilities of bringing students back to campuses as the country grapples with a devastating economic collapse and the pandemic, online education will continue to operate as an interim measure. He said data facilities had been provided for students and discussions had been held with telecom providers to strengthen signals, and in the meantime students needed to find areas with stronger signals. Let me clearly translate what this means in this third year of online teaching in my classrooms.

The fundamental prerequisites for teaching online are a computer and a stable internet signal to minimize, as far as possible, the physical and mental disruption inherent in the transition to the virtual classroom for the student. It has become a commonplace fact that the overwhelming majority of students, in this country, from primary to tertiary, since the start of the pandemic, have at some point received or, even now, are receiving an education, including taking exams , via a phone screen. Not to say that this is a huge ordeal, and no student, not in kindergarten, let alone in college, should squint for hours and hours to learn through a phone screen.

Many families still cannot afford smart phones or data cards. Those who have more than one child in school and/or university, and a telephone between them, face the extreme difficulty of balancing the education of one child against that of a other. The number of students dropping out of school has increased, mainly in schools with fewer resources and among families with fewer resources, with parents generally engaged in the informal economy in menial jobs, as families have become and continue to become seriously impoverished. Children entered the labor market prematurely instead of continuing to learn. In my classes, I have seen attendance drop over the past three years. Students communicate privately that they cannot participate in classes because they have to work in garment factories, bakeries, garages, in sweatshops in free zones here and in West Asia, to support themselves. their families instead of focusing on their education.

Then take the issue of a stable internet connection. Early in the pandemic, the media spotlighted children on rooftops and trees, to pick up a signal, presumably the kind of initiative the UGC president is demanding students show. My classes have been reduced to those who live in areas with sufficient signal strength to even join a Zoom class for an uninterrupted period, between power outages. What happens to the rest? Have we reached the point where climbing trees and rooftops and walking distances, from home, in search of a viable mobile signal to take online courses, or take an online exam, are taken for granted a reasonable request to make to the students? This is the situation summed up by that widely used and utterly execrable phrase, the “new normal”. At my wits end and on the verge of desperation and desperation, I started calling individual students in an attempt to teach them over the phone, but even then there is a significant percentage of students who will take exams with little or no learning, if they don’t just drop out of college.

The vast majority of students in public education – from primary to higher education, and particularly in the humanities in universities – come from socio-economically marginalized backgrounds, and their opportunities for training, as well as the quality of education they receive, are marked by their lack of education. privilege. Free education in this country, from primary level to university, was envisaged at the dawn of the post-colonial nation as a measure of democratization. The goal was to mold citizens who would be treated as equals in a democratic society. He delivered on a promise of access for all – that no child would be denied education because of poverty – and through that access, socio-economic mobility. But the current pandemic and economic turmoil have only accentuated the process of attrition where diminished state and public commitment to free education leaves behind the most vulnerable of our students. , those who would benefit the most from a free education. Amid silly statements from our education authorities that online education is a desirable step towards a modern, tech-driven economy, there is little room to question the kind of educational experience we are having. had in recent years. It has been atomized, alienating and psychologically exhausting, instead of being a process of self-realization and individual and collective empowerment, of broadening intellectual horizons. Constrained by the online format, inadequate telecommunications infrastructure, intermittent power outages and economic struggles, education is now just a hasty scramble of watered down facts to students – not the intellectual, political awakening and social as university education in particular should be. .

Where does this lead us? We in the University community must be sensitive and strongly advocate for the needs and aspirations of all our students, concertedly resisting UGC’s ad hoc and unsound policies enacted without adequate consultation or recognition of the glaring lack of facilities. basic. State policy has always been, and remains, fundamentally hostile towards our most vulnerable and marginalized citizens, to whom, over the decades, the nation has become indifferent and even complicit. the street, fighting to protect free education, leads us directly from today’s quietism to state repression of student activists calling for democratic revolution. Make no mistake, the state of free education is the canary in the coal mine for the health of Sri Lankan democracy. This is why safeguarding free education must be a central tenet of our continued struggles towards broader and more meaningful democracy and socio-economic justice.

The author Nicola Perera works at the University of Colombo.

(Kuppi is a politics and pedagogy taking place on the fringes of the lecture hall that simultaneously parodies, subverts and reaffirms social hierarchies.)

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