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Going forward with the decision made in January, the new government on September 14(Monday), once again announced the cancellation of the so called military style leadership and positive attitude development training program, initiated by the previous government for school principals and university entrants.

While former Minister of Education Akila Viraj Kariyawasam in January said the government is ending the program that was compulsory for students entering the country’s universities under the former administration, this week the current Minister of University Education and Highways Lakshman Kiriella was reported as saying that the new government will eradicate the leadership training program for university students and will instead introduce an awareness program on international languages or a similar program.
On approaching a number of university students in order to acquire their thoughts on the program as well as it being scrapped the experiences of the students seemed largely varied just as their courses of study.   To Hasanthika Erandi a first year science faculty student of the University of Colombo (UoC) the program was mostly an opportunity to meet fellow students. This being the first time she had been away from home to Erandi life for 30 days at the Boossa Army Camp was a novel experience as she says students were required to manage everything alone. While stating that some lectures during the program were good along with the teaching etiquette, however, she felt the program could have been better. “I feel indifferent about it even though I believe it cost over 26,000 rupees per student,” she says adding that therefore unless improved it does not matter if it is in fact scrapped.

Also speaking to The Nation Shiran Perera, a third year science student of UoC, said hardly anything useful was gained for his course through the leadership program. “I felt there were some unwanted things like beauty culture taught,” he said laughingly adding, however, that some attempt was made to make the students socialize with their peers. Similar to Erandi, he felt the funds could have been utilized in a better manner while adding that the program had no positive effect with regards to ragging in the university.
Lahiru Madhushan of the UoC Management faculty felt, however, that he was able to gain leadership qualities from the program. Imali Surangika of the same faculty similarly felt that time management and other skills taught were useful in their studies. “Also it was an opportunity for students who had always lived at home to learn how to adapt to university life alone,” she said. Having being trained at the Embilipitiya Army Camp however according to Lahiru the facilities provided were lax. “We only got 2 liters of water a day which was not enough after strenuous physical exercises,” he said adding that he was also infected with a germ after washing a wound with water provided at the camp. “A camp environment is not suitable for such a program,” he said adding that it should be held in universities itself or a camp built for the purpose of university leadership training itself.

However, Upeksha Wijeratne of the University of Kelaniya the experience of the leadership program was a positive one. “There were a lot of good lectures on time management that I have used to better my life,” she said adding that there were even interesting and unusual topics such as how mind of a rapist works. “I attended the program at Diyatalawa and I feel the program was excellent and should continue,” she said. However, she also added that while introduced to stop ragging it only got worse towards students who attended camp. “Ragging does not stop and even we were told not to rag juniors after us many after becoming seniors engaged in ragging,” she said.

Giving the opinion of lecturers regarding the matter the Secretary of the National University Teachers Association (NUTA) Dr. Channa Jayasumana of the University of Rajarata said he did not notice any remarkable difference in students who attended the program. “The funds could have been utilized better is my opinion” he said.

Similarly, President of the Federation of University Teachers Association (FUTA) Dr. Primal Fernando said they had requested leadership training to be halted from its inception adding that instead the students should be made to attend an English or computer skills course through the university.

Speaking to The Nation, State Minister of University Education said the decision by the government to scrap the current leadership and positive attitude development training program was made by taking into consideration the positive as well as negative feedback received regarding it from parents and students alike. According to the Minister even though the program will be cancelled the government is now in discussion with the University grants commission to revamp the program in order to carry it forward in a different manner. While 300 million rupees were allocated for the previous training program the current government too has requested the same funding for the revamped program he said.

“When leadership training is spoken of today the image is one of militarization,” said the Minister adding that therefore proposals have been presented in order for students to be trained by their respective universities instead of being assigned to various military camps around the island. According to Minister Grero, the Ministry will set guidelines for the training and the program will include physical training as well. “However PT will be optional for students” he said. While the students will also be sent on an outbound training program for a number of three days the program as a whole is to be treated as an orientation program into the university and the respective courses.

“The program will include English, computer skills training as well while also providing the necessary background skills for a student to embark on the chosen course” he said adding that this preparation was found to be lacking in the previous program.

From the proposals put forward the thoughts of the relevant parties seemed to have been taken seriously by the current government while also addressing the issues of the previous program not being uniform to all students alike with the students experiences varying according to the camp they were made to attend. The new proposals also appear to seek to give better and needed language and course related skills to students that were not provided in the previous program.

While the previous leadership training program for undergraduates was somewhat unpopular among students and parents, and was seen by intellectuals as a militarization of the education sector therefore going by the various thoughts presented it is fair to assume that a revamping of the course will be readily accepted by all parties.