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Saturday, May 28, 2016

Convocation Address at the University of Ruhuna by Prof. Sanath Lamabadusuriya

It is with much pleasure that I publish these two documents on our very own blog. On Friday the 26th of May, 2016, our colleague Sanath Lamabadusuriya delivered the Convocation Address at the University of Ruhuna.

The two documents referred to are:

1) Introduction by Prof. Lecamwasam, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, University of Ruhuna.

2) Convocation Address by Prof. Sanath Lamabadusuriya

We are immensely proud of Sanath who was a member of our batch that entered the Colombo Medical Faculty in June 1962.

Introduction by Prof. Lecamwasam, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, University of Ruhuna.








Convocation Address
Sanath P. Lamabadusuriya MBE
Emeritus Professor of Paediatrics, University of Colombo
Founder Professor of Paediatrics, University of Ruhuna
Visiting Professor of Paediatrics, University of Rajarata


                The Chancellor of the University of Ruhuna, most Venerable Rajakeeya Panditha Pallathara Sumanajothi Nayaka Thero, the 3rd Chancellor and Sanganayaka of the Southern Province, the Vice Chancellor, Prof. Gamini  Senanayake,, the Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, Prof. Sarath Lekamwasam, members of the University Council, Deans of other Faculties, members of the Senate, members of the academic staff, the Registrar, the Librarian, members of the non-academic staff, students, distinguished invitees and parents, I wish to thank you very humbly for the honour bestowed on me by your university.  It is a great privilege and joy for me to accept this singular honour for a second time. As a result of my initially long association, lasting more than a decade with the University of Ruhuna, I am filled with nostalgia, at this very moment.

                Ruhuna has its own uniqueness.  It has produced a galaxy of stars in the spheres of education, politics, culture, religion and even revolutions!  This inherent uniqueness is in its people and its soil, one nurturing and enriching the other.

                The citadel of higher education in the Southern Province, the University of Ruhuna, as it majestically stands today was established in 1978.  Its idyllic location with its corridors of learning is a fitting monument to its architect, the world renowned, Geoffrey Bawa.  From its small beginnings, the University of Ruhuna has grown exponentially over the last 38 years to be an equal with any other prestigious university on the stage of academia in Sri Lanka. It currently has 8 well established faculties as well as other units. Geoffrey Bawa no doubt dreamt of equally fitting products of eminence in its totality to leave its premises one day.  You should aspire to be one such group in the year 2016. Yet unwittingly haven’t we (I say we as I remain very much a part of the University of Ruhuna, myself) somewhat lagged behind, stagnated or even strayed during the last 7 decades of higher education? I refer to our being stifled within the confines of free higher education. I am certain that the vast majority of you who are present here are like me, the beneficiaries of free education.  It is a golden opportunity for us to pay a humble tribute to its father and mentor Dr. C.W.W. Kannangara, a son of Ruhuna. He was born in Randombe, Ambalangoda in 1884.  As a school boy he attended Wesleyan High School, Ambalangoda and carried away many prizes.  The chief guest at one such prize giving, was the Principal of Richmond College, Galle, a Britisher, who genially commented to CWW Kannangara that he would need a bullock cart to take away the prizes home. He also invited him to sit for a scholarship examination, after which he entered Richmond College and excelled both in studies and sports. When he was in the school hostel he observed that fee levying students were served with food of a better quality. Such inequities of the education system prevalent at that time reflected even in what was served on his plate and to which he was personally exposed to, gave this great person, food for thought. Later after being a teacher for a while, he studied law and entered politics. During his time as Minister of Education he introduced free education in 1945, established many central schools, founded the University of Peradeniya, improved Pirivena education and provided a free mid-day meal in schools. It was a vast stride by any standard; a feat that will remain hard to be beaten.  In providing free education Dr. Kannangara faced much opposition from the media, and even from some members of his own government as well as the combined Sinhala and Tamil elite of Colombo.  At that time the few foreign scholarships that were available, were invariably awarded to the elitist, affluent students from Colombo; or to those who had imbibed the ways and beliefs of the British.  The rural poor did not have access to these. Since gaining independence in 1948, successive governments have supported the free education system which has expanded on an exponential scale and tens of thousands of rural students have gained access to higher education. In the 1950s, another southern politician, Dr. W. Dahanayake who as Minister of Education introduced a bun for the school mid-day meal, after which he was known as “Bunis Mama”!

The University education culminating in a degree is meant to be the icing on the cake on the path to self-sufficiency and emancipation of an individual; the resultant fall out on society is the wider and much larger benefit. An individual student is able to climb the social ladder and reap rewards thereafter. When the former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Lakshman Kadirgamar’s portrait was unveiled in the University of Oxford, he proudly announced that he was a home baked cake but that education at the University of Oxford was the icing on the cake.

                  Now our beloved country is at cross-roads, after graduating to be classified as a middle income country awaiting an economic boom. The world super powers are interested in us because of our geographical location and our potential in terms of human resource.  Those of my vintage are too old to benefit from it.  You, the young graduates have golden opportunities in this awakening.  Whatever your profession, fluency in English and Information Technology are two vital ingredients.  My sincere message to you is to acquire as much knowledge as possible in these two vital spheres. My next advice to you is to retain your ability to think out of the box and to do so in keeping with new trends; never forgetting our national roots but with an international perspective .
Mr. Steve Jobs of Microsoft fame said “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.”

                Our universities continue to produce the largest number of graduates in the discipline of Arts. Unfortunately, employment opportunities   are not freely available to them.  In the past, in the Arts faculties, the curriculum was such that a lot of free time was available to them.  The politicians exploited the situation to their advantage and made use of the students to achieve their ends.  To make our graduates more employable, there may have to be changes in the curriculum such as the introduction of vocational training.

                In the field of Arts and Humanities, there are more opportunities for learning of skills and expression of creativity and is far less rigid than the sciences.  The Arts generate discussion.  In this branch of learning various opinions are expressed and one has to learn to agree to disagree.  There is sufficient space for different ideologies and   philosophies to emerge with mutual respect to all discussants. A society that manifests this,consists of truly educated people.

                In my own specialty which is Medicine, the country has produced tens of thousands of doctors. At present we have nine state medical schools and one private medical school. Many have left our shores seeking greener pastures and have being able to hold their own among the best. The other side of the coin is the ‘Brain Drain which came in to focus in the late 1960s. The Peradeniya Medical Faculty was created because our country was short of doctors. Paradoxically, when the very first batch graduated in January of 1967, they were not offered employment by the Ministry of Health after they completed their internship. That was the catalyst for the brain drain. In the United States of America, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand some of our own   have become dollar millionaires.  However they all have an important regret in their lives.  Although they are well recognised in their place of work, they always lack a sense of belonging; money cannot buy them an   identity or recognition.  Those of us who have stayed behind to serve our motherland have the satisfaction of having a sense of belonging, a sense of fulfillment, and our work being valued by our fellow countrymen. You have been successful. You will realize one day that Fulfillment is different to Success. A recipe that contains both is what I hope you will aim for, and achieve in your lives.
In today’s context I wish to discuss the topic of private University education. Out of 150,000 students who qualify to enter universities, only 27,600 gain admission. Is it correct and appropriate that all students should strive to enter the Universities after the A level examination? What the country is lacking today is skilled labour. The oil boom in the Middle East drew thousands of skilled workers from our shores in search of individual social upliftment. In Sri Lanka too there are ample opportunities for skilled electricians, motor mechanics etc. The state should open more technical colleges to cater to this need. To make our graduates more employable, there may have to be changes in the curricula. Even in the field of Arts, where time is available, vocational training should be introduced.

At this stage I would like to comment on private medical education which is a hot topic at the moment. Although thousands qualify to enter medical faculties only about 1500 gain admission to the state medical faculties. The more affluent  students who fail to gain admission, travel abroad for medical education. They enter medical schools in countries such as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, China, Russia and East European countries. There is one medical school in Bangladesh where the majority of foreign students are from Sri Lanka. Some of these medical schools function as commercial establishments and offer poor quality training. At the end of the course they have to leave the country as they cannot practise their profession in the host country.  Over the last few decades, thousands of Sri Lankan students have travelled abroad to acquire private medical degrees. Some of these students find it extremely difficult to pass the registration examination conducted by the Sri Lanka Medical Council when they return to Sri Lanka.  The quality of medical education is some of these medical schools is so poor, that refresher courses conducted locally, cannot help them to pass the registration examination. The parents spend a lot of money for this wasteful exercise. Sometimes  a  failed investment and sorrow all round.

One of the solutions to this problem is the establishment of good quality private medical schools in Sri Lanka.  The admission criteria should strictly be the same as for state medical schools and scholarships should be made available for the less affluent students.  It will have several inherent advantages.  The Sri Lanka Medical Council should closely monitor the admissions and the standards and it certainly has the capacity to do so. This would  have  several  advantages. It would be less expensive for the parents, the country would save valuable foreign exchange and better quality medical graduates would be produced. With the establishment of private medical schools, more doctors would graduate. We could even attract  foreign students from other countries. Intellectually it is our turn to ‘colonise’ others now!

Sri Lanka has so far successfully established nine state medical schools. Ruhuna (together with Jaffna) were the third and fourth in line of succession. With the establishment of private medical schools, more doctors would be qualifying each year in Sri Lanka.  Although job opportunities in the state sector may not be available to all of them, there are plenty of opportunities for self-employment.  They would replace the quack doctors to whom unsuspecting rural folk fall prey to. More doctors would enable quality health care to be provided to the nation. Since they haven’t drained the coffers of the land for their tertiary education, even if they work abroad they will only be helping the country similar to the way how unskilled labour is doing so at present.
 It is time we ventured into new fields such as medical tourism. We have specialist doctors who could compete with any of the best in the world. So it is up to us to look further, and not merely through the prism of the 1940s and 1950s. As much as we are grateful and proud of our past and the journey we have come along, while safeguarding the rights of the disadvantaged it is up to you, the future leaders, to now take it on further. Your country asks this of you; you are after all the cream of your generation.

I wish to mention a few words about the age of retirement of public servants in Sri Lanka. In the state sector it is 60 years and in the Universities it is 65 years. In a country like Sri Lanka where there is a dearth of professionals and academics, should it not be extended beyond 65 years? Some of us retired at the height of our careers and thereby our services were deprived to the students and patients. In western countries as there is no retirement age, there are academics and other professionals actively involved in teaching and research in their 80s.

                Finally I would like to quote Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, who was a drop out of Harvard University. In his convocation address to the University of Harvard he said “What I remember above all about Harvard was being in the midst of so much energy and intelligence. It could be exhilarating, intimidating sometimes even discouraging but always challenging. It was an amazing privilege and though I left early I was transformed by my years at Harvard by the friendships I made and the ideas I worked on. But  taking a serious look back, I do have one big regret. I left Harvard with no real awareness of the awful inequities in the world, the appalling disparities of health, wealth and opportunity that condemn millions of people to lives of despair. I learned a lot here at Harvard about new ideas in economics and politics. I got great exposure to advances made in sciences. But humanity’s greatest advances are not in discoveries, but in how these advances are applied to reduce inequity. Whether through democracy, strong public education, quality health care or broad economic opportunity, reducing inequity is the highest human achievement”.
Let me conclude by   wishing all of you the very best in your future endeavours. May   you have the strength to be the change that you believe in, if and whenever such situations arise. Be leaders not followers. Find fulfillment rather than success.  May you and all beings be well and happy.

    Sabbe Satta Bhavantu Sukhi Satta’

Thank you. 




12 comments:

  1. Sanath
    As a speech it is a masterpiece. As for content there are enough gems for a long priceless necklace. You have done your homework and a great amount of background reading to make the speech so very good. I wish I was in the audience to enjoy the delivery.

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  2. Thank you very much Nihal for your very kind sentiments.
    Sanath

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  3. On behalf of Indra Ana.......

    I have read it twice & I like it very much.

    You have made it CONCISE, & PERTINENT TO WHAT UNDERGRADUATES NEED TO KNOW TO START THEIR respective CARRIERS. Whether we like it or not ENGLISH has become the most used & useful language & INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY a must know how for survival in the world. It is the name of the game & you have pointed in the right direction. We live in an interconnected world & education & skills have to be geared with that in mind.

    The advice about revamping the ARTS stream of education is timely. Here it is called liberal arts & it is not ARTS in the sense we grew up with in HSC 1 & 2. It has the sciences too with exposure to computer science, etc.

    Vocational training is great advice because not everyone is going to be a doctor or scientist.

    As for the sense of fulfillment , I think you can find it anywhere as long as one works hard, has a goal & achieves it.

    Congratulations on a great speech.

    Indra

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  4. Sanath, you have made us proud as our number one medical student at graduation and later on in the way you conducted your life in Medicine.You are truly qualified to talk about the subjects you refer to and our new generation of medical graduates have a lot to take note of. I particularly like your mention of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates from both of whom we have a lot to learn about innovation, hard work and reduction of inequality in the world. Congratulations on all your achievements! From Zita Perera Subasinghe

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  5. Thank you very much Indra and Zita for your very generous comments
    Sanath

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  6. Sanath has distinguished himself immensely and it is so nice to recall that he is from our batch. His CV is astonishing in the range of achievements during his long and distinguished career. The undergraduates who listened to him would do well to pay heed to his advice.

    Well done Sanath.

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  7. Congratulations Sanath on a very polished,thoughtful and thought provoking speech.You have addressed a number of very important issues.One being,change in circumstances and scenarios necessitate fresh thinking and approaches.You rightly advocate "medical tourism " and a new attitude to private medical schools.
    Many of us had to go overseas primarily due to the lack of training opportunities and even jobs locally.Personally I have had fulfillment and satisfaction in my work abroad and am fortunate being accepted by the local community who consider me one of their own.

    Kumar

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  8. Thank you very much Kumar for your very appreciative comment
    Sanath

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  9. Thank you very much Kumar for your very appreciative comment
    Sanath

    ReplyDelete
  10. Post Script.
    Transport for me was very kindly arranged by the University of Ruhuna. Precisely at 5.00 am on Friday the 27th of May, I was picked up at my residence by a Kangaroo cab driver. We drove to Matara on the Southern expressway.My first "hair raising" experience was when my driver overtook another car at over 100 kmph, almost brushing the other vehicle! Later he tried to overtake a truck on the wrong side of the road and almost hit the barrier! When I made inquiries ,he told me that this was the very first time he was driving on the expressway. Later he tried to overtake another vehicle far too close to it and had to apply brakes suddenly so as to avoid a collision.I was like a captive prisoner. I could do nothing but hope for the best. On the return trip he drove at greater than 120 kmph in pelting rain! Fortunately I returned home safely. The next day I reported him to the management who conducted an inquiry. He had admitted to all the incidents. He was fined Rs. 2000.00, suspended from work for 4 days and sent for training. This is a lesson I experienced the hard way and is a warning for my friends who may wish to travel in a hiring car, long distances.
    Sanath

    ReplyDelete
  11. Post Script.
    Transport for me was very kindly arranged by the University of Ruhuna. Precisely at 5.00 am on Friday the 27th of May, I was picked up at my residence by a Kangaroo cab driver. We drove to Matara on the Southern expressway.My first "hair raising" experience was when my driver overtook another car at over 100 kmph, almost brushing the other vehicle! Later he tried to overtake a truck on the wrong side of the road and almost hit the barrier! When I made inquiries ,he told me that this was the very first time he was driving on the expressway. Later he tried to overtake another vehicle far too close to it and had to apply brakes suddenly so as to avoid a collision.I was like a captive prisoner. I could do nothing but hope for the best. On the return trip he drove at greater than 120 kmph in pelting rain! Fortunately I returned home safely. The next day I reported him to the management who conducted an inquiry. He had admitted to all the incidents. He was fined Rs. 2000.00, suspended from work for 4 days and sent for training. This is a lesson I experienced the hard way and is a warning for my friends who may wish to travel in a hiring car, long distances.
    Sanath

    ReplyDelete