Buddhism and education in contemporary
Prof. Oliver Abeynayake
Convocation Address by Prof. Oliver Abeynayake on
Buddhism and Education in Contemporary Sri Lanka held at
the BMICH on Dec. 31, 2007.
The origin of all problems in contemporary Sri Lanka is
due to the disorganized system of education. Some of the
problems to be recalled here are unemployment, poverty,
violence, underdevelopment and ethnic disharmony. Even
though sixty years have elapsed from our independence,
these problems have taken an alarming position day by
day without any hope for a solution in the near future.
The reason for this is the patching up of each problem
in isolation instead of delving into the root cause of
I believe that there is no way to solve the problems
that Sri Lanka faces today, except by introducing an
enormous change to the education system. Therefore, the
time has come to introduce a new vision to the teaching
and learning process. Any further postponement of it is
a gross disregard of the duty that history has imposed
on us at this juncture.
Education is a well developed and complex process. It
has become a universal trend spreading beyond the
societal and national divisions. Our duty is to identify
this process properly and apply it to suit our country.
The whole world is coming under a common curriculum of
studies and a system of examinations.
The problems of this county cannot be solved by going
against this world trend. Our duty is to conform to the
education system that has emerged worldwide. We still
follow the education system that the colonial rulers
introduced to Sri Lanka. It is doubtful whether a
structural or qualitative change has taken place in our
country. Instead of following the endeavours that the
United Kingdom implements to put the education on the
correct track on the basis of the experience of the
developed countries, we still continue with the old
system with minimal change.
It is accepted by many that our educational system,
carried out without any innovation in the curriculum,
system of examinations and evaluation, has become a
burden on this country.
I would like to mention here two nation states. One of
them is South Korea and the other is Singapore. It is to
be recalled that these two countries are located in Asia
like Sri Lanka and their religious and cultural
environment was very much akin to that of Sri Lanka. It
is also accepted by many that these two countries were
not as developed as Sri Lanka when we regained our
independence in the middle of the last century.
However, both south Korea and Singapore have overtaken
Sri Lanka to become two powerful and well developed
nation States in the modern world. The dream of most of
the under developed countries now is to become either
like South Korea or Singapore. Both South Korea and
Singapore reached the present position due to their
The Korean leaders of the era of renaissance introduced
a massive educational process with the understanding
that it was the sole method of developing the country.
It is known as the Korean System of Education. The
result thereof, was the instant forward march of the
country. When Leel Kuan Yew was once questioned as to
how he transformed Singapore as a topmost state of
scientific and technological development, he answered
that he achieved it by appropriate organisation and
management of education in the country.
Sri Lanka can be transformed into a developed country
devoid of all ills only by massive educational reform as
in South Korea and Singapore. It should be an urgent and
accelerated programme. It should also be a combination
between modern knowledge as well as experience and
traditional values. In this regard, Buddhism can be of
immense help. I would like to devote this convocation
address to highlight a segment of the contribution of
Buddhism to streamline our educational system.
Buddhism as well as the modern world emphasises that
education is a collective effort. It is not a concern of
a particular group of individuals or an institution.
Unfortunately, the belief in the developing countries
like Sri Lanka is that the State should take the sole
responsibility of education.
As Buddhism teaches us, education builds up only when
the parents, teachers, clergy and the State suitably
carry out the duties assigned to each of them. Buddhism
earmarks a special task to be adopted by all four
parties collectively. It is solely the instilling of
discipline into the relevant social stratum as parents
into children, teachers into pupils, clergy into laity
and the State into society.
I would like to say a few words about an important
phenomenon that exists in education in Sri Lanka. It is
competition that prevails in all spheres of education.
The students in Sri Lanka compete with one another in
three public examinations. They are the Grade Five
Scholarship Examination, General Certificate of
Education (Ordinary Level) and General Certificate of
Education (Advanced Level). The sole or most important
task of the parents is to prepare their children for
The children too have devoted their entire childhood to
face these examinations. There is no life either for the
parents or for the children except this. The children
who go to school early in the morning come back home
late in the evening only after spending their time in
the tuition classes. The parents of these children who
have become victims of this vicious circle not only
think but also declare that their children would become
disciplined citizens, after learning at the suitable
To be continued