Thursday, October 19, 2006

Sri Lankan Attitude

Kumar Sangakkara is writing a column at CricInfo. He is off to a great start touching the very essence of Sri Lankan experience, 'Attitude'. The column is about the recent success of the team and the attitude change that caused it.
I quote ...
"One of the huge conundrums with Sri Lanka's cricket has traditionally been the absence of the question "why?" We are generally spoon-fed from an early age. The senior players are expected to know best and you can easily get caught-up in a herd. Nobody thinks of how things can be changed. An intelligent, questioning attitude is quietly repressed. But to stay ahead you must diversify. What we need is a system from grassroots to the national team that is continuously evolving to make you better. We need to free minds. "
If you grow up in Sri Lanka and went to a Sri Lankan school and university ,you will have a first hand experience of the what Kumar mentions above .An "Intelligent Questioning Attitude " as Kumar mentions is not encouraged at all .It is usually the opposite that happens, the suppression of creativity and inquiry .
Teachers usually (there are exceptions) don't like inquiry since they sometime don't know what they are talking about. The rest of the students do not like the guy who is asking all the questions since they consider him to be a show off and a distraction from their note taking .So teachers stick to giving notes they themselves were given by their teachers .Student obediently take notes down ,memorize ,pass exams and become teachers themselves .The vicious circle continues.

There are some areas you wouldn't expect this to happen ,for instance Science and Engineering education . Hence the following anecdote I got from a really curious guy who has a very sharp mind in his field, working for an IT company .He happened to be in a design meeting with some Europeans and Sri Lankans .Both groups of members had the same background in academics and in technical experiance.A third party came to conduct a class on one of the hottest technologies at the time.He said he sat there in amazement of the quality and quantity of the questions the europeans asked.He wondered why we don't ask questions.Is it our culture?Is it our religion or is it simply that we are destined to be lazy ass third world consumers?

I have sat through my share of class room time and listening to Buddhist sermons(Bana) expousing the virtue of obeying your elders and teachers.Those sermons are good but is it good enough to come at the expense of suppressing free thought ,creativity and inquiry?

Take for instance the Guttila Jatakaya.(Recommended reading for O/Ls and you get some question in the exam ,too).Guttila ,the good guy teacher has been wronged by his student Moosila ,simply because he has surpassed him in his subject!For any other teacher that would be a compliment!Not for Guttila.Vettawe Thero ,the 15 th. Century teacher monk who wrote the set of poems based on the story was involved in a bitter power struggle with his own pupil ,Thotagamuwe Rahula Thero.So he gave an extra twist to the poems ,too. That is simply a single story out of many .Then in every sermon and class room session it is respect to elders and teachers that is emphasized over and over again ,not that much creativity and inquiry.

To be fair to Bikkhus ,I have sat through several Bana session where they emphasised the following section from Kalama Sutta.Probably it is time we stress it more and cultivate creativity and inquiry from pre-school level.
From Kalama Sutta

Do not believe in anything (simply) because you have heard it. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. Do not believe in anything because it is spoken and rumoured by many. Do not believe in anything (simply) because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. But after observation and analysis when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conductive to the good and benefit of one and all then accept it and live up to it.
Buddha (Anguttara Nikaya Vol. 1, 188-193 P.T.S. Ed.)

Nice clip of Kumar


Fowleri said...

I couldnt agree with you more here. Having been to a local med school, asking questions by students had always been a rare phenomenon. I have to think the language barrier was part of the problem here as well. Most med students not conversent in English, would refrain from clarifying any doubts just to avoid the possibility of making fools of themselves. But this is certainly by no means the only explanation. The situation was the same even in my A-level classroom. I have to think this is part of the 'spoon feed' mentality of the Sri Lankan education system and the general laid back attitude of most Sri Lankans in general. Anyways you dont need to ask questions to get through exams well. As you quite correctly point out, all you need to do is memorize a set of notes and then regurgitate it at the exam!

sittingnut said...

you are right about the absurdly unquestioning respect shown to elders and authorities of all kinds here official or otherwise. most ppl do not have any idea to what degree they take on their family and friends ideas without any examination. as such they get shrill and defensive when questioned . most ppl here hate questions.

btw i think your reference to guttila may be wrong. guttila kavya as opposed to guttila jataka is more sympathetic ( in an ironic way ) to the moosila even though it follows the same story .

and as i faintly remember( somebody with greater knowledge correct me) i don't think the relationship between the two mentioned monks was one of teacher and student. ven rahula was one of the adopted sons of king parkaramabahu the 6th and was the author of several sandesha kavya (including salalihini sandeshaya ) all addressed to gods. he was also known to practice astrology and other magic. ven. vettawe who practiced a more fundamental buddhist doctrine was a student of the monk who wrote the hansa sandeshaya(which was pointedly addressed to buddha and sangarja instead of a god ) and it was this relationship he may have referred in the poem.

ddm said...

Good post, I've avoided cricinfo after we lost to pakistan so didn't know about sanga's column. I heard this guy speaking about education in SL long time back and he said something quite interesting about rote learning and general attitudes in classrooms. It's probably a bit far-fetched, but he said that back in the day education was mainly related to religion, and copying down the teachings that were given by priests. This would for two reasons stifle an inquiring mind, first it is not very "respectful" to question a religious authority, and second you can't really question anything when education comprised of copying down and memorising gaathas and stuff.

ivap said...

chandare - good post. this has been one of my biggest gripes about education in SL. it's amazing how little is questioned and it's one of the biggest differences I noticed when I started schooling in OZ.

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Anonymous said...

Hey I was just surfing when I saw this line of comments, and wanted to add what little I know from my field (it's a mix of language learning and ideologies). One of the main reasons for our acceptance of rote learning etc is our "culture of learning". Your culture socializes you to learn in a particular way. In most South Asian cultures, the teacher is seen as the repository of knowledge and the student is more like an empty vessel waiting to be filled. So that might explain why we feel that our seniors, elders, etc know more etc etc. But, of course, it doesn't mean that we can't change these things with enough commitment. I was a student of an English Dept in the country and we were taught to question, question and question, and it really stood me in good stead even when I left SL and did my postgrad.