(May 20, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Students who wish to enter into national universities have to engaging the new compulsory task of spending 3 weeks in a army camp which is allocated to them by the higher education minister S.B Dissanayeake, has now become a controversial topic which need to be analyzed carefully. The higher education ministry has acquainted the new programme to the public with asserting that the intention of this programme is to develop leadership skills of the student, but it is important to scrutinize whether the above programme truly deals with the given intention or it is another step taken to militarize the Sri Lankan society.
Most, if not all universities already conduct orientation programs at which Leadership development skills, English, IT and other soft skills are developed. And if this all about leadership skills and personality development it is much better to strengthen the existing process and direct it inside their respective university premises which will help them to be exposed to their future academic environments. But the government decision to take them to army camps is a critical issue and majority of students are apprehensive about participating. It is not clear how Tamil students will react to this as they would not like to be in military custody for 3 weeks.
A university student is a person who is not going to become a soldier in the future. Military is there to administer national security, but not to teach students. They have not given rights to deal with civil affairs of people (some exceptions have given under the prevention of terrorism act and emergency regulations).
Members of military forces are restricted from enjoying most of the fundamental rights granted by the current constitution of Sri Lanka as a mode of maintaining disciple among them. So the students who have to go through the given process will have to dwell three weeks of severe disciplines which could be oppressive to an ordinary citizen.
University students are privileged to acquire their higher education charged on government budget. They have been given that exclusive right on the ground to make sure the best brains of the country will enter to the development process with new ideas and inventions. To achieve that task they need to be given total freedom to think out of the box and let them to come up with new discoveries beneficial to the country. The problem arose is whether they will be able to achieve that goal with highly maintained disciplines which peculiarly given to military soldiers who deal with terrorists. It is problematic whether the students, who are expecting to enter medical, music, engineering fields etc, would be benefited from going though such training.
Sri Lanka is a democratic country free of any imminent security threats. But using these kinds of measures, government is trying to bring civilian affairs under the control of the military establishment.
And on the other hand, if the government engaged in this process to conquer ragging and make the university students well disciplined citizens; I see that this will make the condition worse by militarizing them (trained them to be fearless). So instead of making the minds tranquil after 30 years of violent war, the minister is trying to let the students recall the memories of that abrasive scenario again.
And from the parent’s aspect, could a parent send his child to a military camp far away from home for 3 weeks unhesitatingly? Disinclination would be more severe in case of girls. And it is important to scrutinize whether those students will get the needful protection and all other requirements in case of any emergency (such as the medical treatments). Letting a child to expose to unfamiliar environment with unknown people at once would sometimes help them to develop their personality. Nevertheless it would probably make some of them mentally anxious. There could be some students who have never exposed to such situation before and it is need to be considered how effective this compulsory training will be to them. (this could be a mental torture to them).
As a result of fear of some parents which could arise from the initial step of local higher education process, who could afford their child’s higher education may prefer private universities which already allowed by the government and as a consequence of this decision a large number of students who are still studying to achieve the university goad might lose their interest to enter the national universities. This could affect the A/L system as well. Even now most parents are afraid to send their children to national universities with the marks of disgrace made upon them (specially ragging). So this new process may make the situation worse.
So if the government becomes successful in continuing this process it is vague what will be the next move and it may be compulsory cadet training for all students at schools.
( The writer is a student at the Faculty of Law, University of Colombo )