The civil war in Sri Lanka has affected every aspect of the nation's development. Since the war began in 1983, over 800,000 people, primarily Tamils, have become refugees, and over 62,000 Sri Lankans have lost their lives. There are five Tamil guerrilla groups; the most feared are the Liberation Tiger of Tiger Eelam. Peace mediation efforts by India failed in the 1980s. Norway has offered mediation in the 1990s. It is evident that not all Tamils want an independent Tamil state, but guerrilla warfare has coerced into service those Tamils who would prefer peaceful compromise leading to increased autonomy. Under the leadership of President Chandrika Kumaratunga, many of the oppressive and discriminatory aspects of education and the language laws that contributed to the civil war have been scaled back. The university system in the Tamil region remains open and funded by the central government, even as many Sinhalese universities have suffered from Tamil insurgency.
Long-term peace in Sri Lanka will require the creation of political, legal, educational, and cultural institutions that will foster a pluralistic and multiethnic environment. The Report of the Presidential Commission on Youth (1990) could be a bridge to resolving educational issues. Among the commission's recommendations:
- Bilingualism should extend throughout Sri Lankan society.
- Tamils and Sinhalese should learn each other's languages.
- Textbooks and educational materials should be available in both Tamil and Sinhalese, and should be inspected and periodically reviewed for any traces of cultural bias and favoritism.
- Students need to be introduced to the cultural heritage of Sri Lanka's other religious and ethnic groups.
- The public media should be more ethnically sensitive, with television and radio programs catering to a multiethnic society.
- Subtitles should be provided in film and television.
- Joint radio programs should be broadcast in both Sinhala and Tamil.
- Print media should be given the responsibility to promote multicultural awareness.
In spite of the civil war more students are being educated, the number of schools and teachers is increasing, the student to teacher ratio has improved, and national literacy has increased. Tamil overtures for peace in 2000 and 2001 and a reduction in armed conflict offer encouragement that an improved future awaits all the people of Sri Lanka. Education reform is an essential component to solving and ending the civil war.
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—William A. Paquette
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