Peace for the World

Peace for the World
First democratic leader of Justice the Godfather of the Sri Lankan Tamil Struggle: Honourable Samuel James Veluppillai Chelvanayakam

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Global March for Science

By Dr. D. Chandraratna- 

The global March for Science was held last Saturday. Organisers said more than 600 ‘satellite’ marches had taken place place globally, besides the one in Washinton, in a protest timed to coincide with Earth Day. It is the first step of a global movement to defend the vital role science plays in our health, safety, economies, and politics. The Meethotamulla tragedy is proof that our lawmakers have, over the last so many years, deliberately ignored and actively suppressed science and the role of the policy scientist. Today, we have many lawmakers who do not comprehend the value of science education in the secondary and tertiary sectors. This is a misguided vision and in no one’s best interest as our lives are in every way linked to science and science education.

Thousands of demonstrators gathered at the Washington's National Mall to hear speaker after speaker laud science as the force moving humanity forward and rail against lawmakers who were ignoring fact and research in areas including clean water, energy and climate change. We still refuse to see the rootcauses of many of the problems. Lawmakers try but fail to silence scientists in the developed countries.

The recent tragedy at Meethotamulla has received wide publicity, but the non-recognition of science and policy advice has not figured prominently in the opinion columns. We are not a developed country to keep pace with the advanced nations, but we can beneift from thier knowledge. We have to popularise sicence education among the youth. This is a subject which should be discussed among the educationists in the fields of both hard and the soft sciences. While conceding that our mass education has been the great leveller and the surest way out of the cycle of poverty, it must be told that it has failed vis-a-vis the challenges of a traditional society. Most of our university graduates are not attractive in the job market mainly due to some serious problems associated with secondary and tertiary education.

Our tertiary system was designed for a small minority of students who were prepared to undertake tertiary study but for the vast majority of students who were not keen on tertiary study the system did not offer alternatives. Back then higher levels of education were not necessary for the thousands of jobs. Those who opted out were labelled failures in the prized system and had little recognition by way of salaries and taxation in the vocational system. Failing to attend to the wide variety of their needs the system ignored the huge pool of potential skills available to the nation. We were products of an age when academic learning was prized above vocational learning and theoretical learning was superior to practical learning and any training without university education was not for the best and brightest. Those days are over!

Needs of a modern economy are very different now. There is a high demand for problem solvers. Our supply of goods and services need workers who can manage routinely, among other competencies, the global interconnected networks for the supply of goods and services. Technological competence is not more important than mere literacy and numeracy. There is little one can say about the tertiary system without incurring the wrath of many academics in the country. The biggest of the faculties have become the weakest link in the chain. The willingness of governments to absorb the unemployable graduates to the public service as a welfare measure has worsened the problem. Increasing the number of girls in science education and effecting curricular changes is a policy issue that must engage the serious attention of education experts.

We need to consider very seriously that in the 21st Century employability, adaptability and use value in the economy are a mix of academic, practical, creative and emotional forms of education in equal proportions. Dependence on academic excellence is a thing of the past. In the West parents know that a bachelor of arts is of little use as a qualification for a professionally and financially successful career. We still have a culture based on the false assumption that university education is a prerequisite for financial and professional success.

We also have a false sense of value; practical work carries a stigma and a scientific vocational diploma is considered inferior to a worthless university degree. We must plan for a system where science based vocational training and other forms of higher education converge by way of salaries, perks and privileges. Students ought to be encouraged to strive for tertiary education in all sectors. It may take years to change our mindset but a start must be made somewhere.