Law, a sub-unit of Civic Education | Sunday Observer

Law, a sub-unit of Civic Education

Social media was abuzz, when the year began, with the news that Law would be included as a subject in Sri Lanka’s school curriculum. The lawlessness displayed by different factions of the country’s citizenry during the last months of 2018 added wings to the news, with opinions expressed both in favour and against, on social media.

The Sunday Observer spoke to the Director General of the National Institute of Education (NIE) and also sought the opinion of a few organisations and a cross section of Civil Society on the topic.

The Director General of the National Institute of Education (NIE) Dr. Jayanthi Gunasekara said, “Some people and the Media have misinterpreted the story that Law will be added as a separate subject to the curriculum. A cabinet memorandum was recently passed by the Ministry of Justice and Prison Reforms, for the introduction of Law as a sub-unit of Civic Education in the school curriculum from Grade Six up to the G.C.E Ordinary Level Examination.”

Current curriculum

Dr. Gunasekara said that according to the current Civic Education curriculum, values such as respecting the law and traditions in the School System and other qualities that students should respect as a valuable member of society, are included in the Grade Six syllabus.

Adhering to the obligations and responsibilities for the good of society and promoting national peace while protecting cultural identity, is in the Grade Seven syllabus.

Currently, the Grade Eight curriculum has topics such as ‘Democratic Society and Understanding Child Rights and Obligations’ and Grade Nine has ‘ Democratic Governance and Resolving Conflicts’.

Topics such as ‘Multicultural Society and Understanding Democracy and its Evolution’ exist in the Grade 10 syllabus. Grade 11 has ‘Understanding Human Rights and the Judicial System in Sri Lanka’.

“Although some concepts related to Law are discussed in the current curriculum they are not examined as separate units. Hence, it is important to include these concepts as sub-units in the subject of Civic Education.

“It is very important to give knowledge to students to be good citizens. Some concepts such as human rights, child rights and women’s rights for peaceful living, and to think democratically and to act and promote social cohesion, should be taught to students.

“Sri Lanka is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious and pluralistic society. We should obey and respect others and other religions. There should not be discrimination. So if we have knowledge, and practice the law correctly, we can lead a very good life. “Society is complex. Civic Education gives background to students and we want to enrich the curriculum accordingly,” Dr. Gunasekara said.

She said that currently Civic Education is compulsory from Grade six to nine and is optional for Grades 10 and 11. “Curriculum reforms are made once in every eight years. Currently we are getting ready with the next set of curriculum reforms. We have plans to revise and modify the Civic Education syllabus with emphasis on Law related concepts and include sub-topics from Grades six to 11 which will be implemented after 2020,” said Dr. Gunasekara.

Empowered with a voice

The ‘Know the Law’ movement under the supervision of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL)- comprising young lawyers and law students- strives to raise legal awareness in communities, schools and the public through work in schools, legal aid camps and legal awareness camps.

The Movement’s co-founder Jayani Nethmini Perera said, “Students will be empowered with a voice - when their rights are violated, properties are snatched, sisters are abused or sexually assaulted in an office. Law needs to be a subject taught responsibly and sensibly with focus on its usages and responsibilities.

A Right always comes with a responsibility. Thus moral intervention and ethicality is essential. That’s why law must be introduced carefully. This first step towards change is huge and is much needed for the betterment of society.”

Perera said that when people are empowered with legal knowledge no one can easily mislead or misuse powers. Rulers and law enforcement authorities will think twice before misusing powers. Know the Law’s co-founder Ishara Madhushani Jayasena said, “Law is not only about Constitutional or Criminal Law. It’s an area with a wide scope which grows wider with each passing day. At the designing stage, syllabus makers should keep in mind to provide students with a basic knowledge of constitutional law, traffic regulations, human rights law, cyber-crime law, fundamental rights, family law, child protection law and also to whom you should complain, when the need arises. We can expect that knowing legal restrictions will give students a healthy dose of knowledge on how to obey the law.

“Teaching law at school level is important since it is at this particular age that their attitudes, behaviour and beliefs are formed. Considering today’s circumstances, growing into an adult isn’t easy. Most young children design their lives on negative aspects - become drug addicts, creating violence and being violent. They are ready to harm others or even themselves and to engage in criminal activity. These children do not consider themselves valuable to the community. Hence the teaching of law at school level will sow the seed of responsibility, children will learn to follow the rules and later the laws of society,” Jayasena said.

Prevention is better

“The Maldives which has included Law as a subject to its educational curriculum. Every child is conscious about its own fundamental rights, freedom and privileges and of other groups in society. They also know that if they flout or disagree with the law there are consequences.

“The best way to make people morally and ethically conscious is to educate them. We educate them on the negatives and positives and then they decide. Educating them is a preventive exercise. Rather than punishment, prevention is better. Legal knowledge is a primary requirement for every citizen. It’s a good sign that the country is becoming more democratic,” said a teacher from a recognised school in Colombo. Children are the future leaders of our country. Ethics and law go hand in hand. Knowing the Rights of a student, a teacher, a citizen and a community helps discipline,” she said.

A great subject

“I think Law is a great subject to learn because it disciplines us. When we are adults it will help us to be good citizens,” said Roshith Abeysundara, a young student of St. Peter’s College, Colombo.

“We are old enough to understand. We can be taught the Law. Without this knowledge we would be just doing anything we want. When you obey the law you learn how to be disciplined. I think our Parliamentarians should also learn the law, they should be more knowledgeable than us because they are in charge of our country,” said Sharin Fernando, another student of St. Peters College, Colombo.

A Grade nine student from Amina Girls’ National School, Matale, Nuha Isfahany said, “ The Parliament bedlam a few months ago was very confusing.

During this confusion people didn’t know the law. In my opinion, every citizen must know the law as it is very necessary when making correct decisions. When we learn the law at a young age, we will be able to make correct decisions. Bringing in Law as a subject in the curricula, would bring a huge change to society.”

“A sound knowledge about the law of a country is a must for every citizen. Introducing law as a subject in the school syllabus is a much needed and appreciated change in the education system. This will for sure enlighten the future generation of our Nation and bring about a huge social change. There will be a positive enhancement in individual relationships which is very vital to society,” said housewife and mother from Kandy, Usha Manoharan,

Anoma D. Wijesinghe - a housewife and mother from Colombo said that there were many cases reported and many people discriminated against due to lack of knowledge of the Law. “I believe the public will be benefited by the knowledge of Human Rights.

Our society is being corrupted by various social issues and illegal acts conducted by civil society members. Educating the new generation on public law will enable us to raise a disciplined society,” she said.