ICTA’s E-Sri Lanka music video and the Year of English

Never mind that the Chief Operating Officer of ICTA Reshan Dewapura and our President don’t see eye to eye when it comes to IT literacy rates in Sri Lanka. For the President, our IT literacy rate is 23%, whereas for Reshan it’s 16%. IT literacy as some have pointed out is a politically dependent variable.

icta

The President has declared 2009 as the year of English and Information Technology. This is a good thing, since many in his own administration stand to benefit immensely from the emphasis on developing competancies for good governance. I was interested to note that the President says,

English, on the other hand, will be our language to reach out to the world and access the global pool of knowledge and technology. As the national initiative on English gathers momentum and achieves desired results, I visualise in fact a trilingual Sri Lankan society in the long run. My policy framework, ‘Mahinda Chintana’, clearly lays down our policy on language. The inalienable link between language and culture is recognised and respected. To the people of my country, Sinhala and Tamil are not mere tools of communication. They encapsulate our values and world-views, give expression to our inner feelings and define our cultural categories. They embody the soul of our people. They confer to us our distinct identity. (Emphasis mine)

This is a very good basis of appreciating the pronouncement from Gen Sarath Fonseka that Sri Lanka belongs to the Sinhalese.

But back on to ICT and the video, of the millions that must have been spent producing this ostensibly to promote ICTA and its work, I’m not entirely convinced that it was the best use of resources? The video for example doesn’t feature at all real footage of real ICT use. Images of children listening to iPods is great optics, but far removed from reality. What about the superb work and thought leadership of Horizon Lanka Foundation and its work in Mahavilachchiya? Are there not visuals here of real strides in the adoption of ICT by rural communities not worth highlighting?

I don’t find the video particularly appealing or meaningful, but it may be addressing a different target group. What is tragically ironic however is the cover in which ICTA chooses to distribute the DVD and another CD soundtrack, has gems like the following:

“…Enabling each Lanka proudly raise his head like a ship’s strong mast
For the gamut of knowledge overflowing in the world through vast
Will be at finger-tips of the man ‘e-Sri Lanka’ will recast”

I have no idea what the devil this means. Perhaps ICTA’s aim here was to suggest that the programmes it promotes nationally are those that are most needed first within its own offices?

9 comments on “ICTA’s E-Sri Lanka music video and the Year of English

  1. Donald Gaminitillake
    March 18, 2009 at 2:44 pm #

    What is the basis of the calculation?
    How does one know he/she is IT literate?
    Do you know that characters (AKURU) Sinhala / Tamil and Latin script cannot be written across all platforms of computers in Lanka?

    Then how can we say we are computer literate at any level.

    We have enogh BPO oppotunities within Lanka only if we have proper sinhala / Tamil / English across all platforms.

    Donald Gaminitillake
    I set the standard

  2. Chanuka Wattegama
    March 18, 2009 at 4:52 pm #

    I wrote a theme song for e-Sri Lanka somewhere in 2004. Offered to ICTA free of charge, but they never used it. Publish below (with an English translation) so readers can make their own judgments.

    විදු යොතින් නුබ ගැබෙන් ඇදෙනා -ලොවම එක ගමක් වී බැඳුනා
    නව දැයක මං ලකුණු හැඳිනා -පරිගණක නුවනගර මැවුනා

    විදුහලට – වැඩපලට – කම්හලට – නිවහනට
    විදුලි නැණ පවනක්ව හමනා

    හෙට දවස ලොව දිනන – මතු රැකෙන සිප් සතර
    දැනුම දොතින් රැගෙන අමිලා
    ගම් දනව් අගනගර – බෙදෙන වැට කඩුලු බිඳ
    සදන පුරවැසි අරුත් විපුලා
    සතරදිග නව පුවත් – දුටුමතින් එකතුකොට
    හනික අතැඟිලි තුඩට ගෙනෙනා
    විදුහලට – වැඩපලට – කම්හලට – නිවහනට
    විදුලි නැණ පවනක්ව හමනා

    සකල ලක් දුපුතුන් එකම මහ නදියක්ව
    ගලන ඉදිරිය බලා නිතිනා
    එමඟ ඉඳුකිලක් වී – උන්ට පෙරමඟ කියන
    විදුරුමිණි මන එකට බඳිනා
    දිනිඳු නැණ අඳුරු බිඳ – නැණස පහණින් විදුල
    සහස්වස නියමුවන් තනනා
    විදුහලට – වැඩපලට – කම්හලට – නිවහනට
    විදුලි නැණ පවනක්ව හමනා

    Translation:

    The ‘cables of wisdom’ running in the sky,
    Connect the whole world into a single [global] village
    Having recognised the spirit of a [brave] new nation,
    The computer ‘domes of knowledge’ were created

    From the school to the office and from the factory to the home,
    The wind of electronic knowledge flows

    Carrying the invaluable knowledge,
    Required to conquer the tomorrow’s world, by both hands,
    Obliterating the differences between the urban and rural [areas],
    Offering the useful [e-gov] citizen services,
    Collecting the news around the world as they happen [and]’
    Bringing them to the finger tips immediately
    From the school to the office and from the factory to the home,
    The wind of electronic knowledge flows

    When the sons and daughters of Lanka
    Become a massive river that flows forward continuously,
    Standing as a great solid rock [=Indrakeel] on the way,
    Showing them the correct path by joining [the powers of] diamond sharp minds,
    Combating the stark darkness of poverty
    With the lamp of intelligence [and],
    Creating the leaders of the [new] millennium,
    From the school to the office and from the factory to the home,
    The wind of electronic knowledge flows

  3. Sanjana Hattotuwa
    March 19, 2009 at 8:02 am #

    Chanuka, I never took you for a fool and am very sad to discover the fact.

    Never mind that your song makes far more sense. Never mind that it is more mellifluous in its lyricism, or meaningful in its expression. Never mind that your English translation makes as much sense as the Sinhala original.

    Your egregious mistake was that you offered it free to ICTA. This makes it contemptible in their eyes, as to how a single individual can come up with more sense than a multi-million rupee video production.

    ICTA’s tragic irrelevance in Sri Lanka to any meaningful growth of ICTs and a knowledge society is matched only by the quiet dedication of a few in it towards meaningful progress, sans party political bias and nepotism. I often wonder how they manage to survive in such a morass of incompetence masked by highfalutin marketing and now, pop videos.

  4. Nalaka Gunawardene
    March 21, 2009 at 7:45 am #

    Hey, there’s nothing wrong with pop videos per se, as no less a person than Barack Obama demonstrated in his innovative, vote-winning campaign which was boosted in no small way by the Obama Girl video, http://movingimages.wordpress.com/2008/11/04/obama-girl-can-this-little-video-change-history/

    Let me hasten to add that’s probably as much as ICTA and Obama have in common! Whereas Obama’s campaign was built on a bedrock of vision, reason and dynamism, the ICTA of Lanka is characterised by the complete absence of all these virtues.

    For Obama and other serious political and social players who cleverly use pop culture elements – ranging from music videos to social networking sites – these are the sizzle that makes their steak more appealing. But as we all know, ICTA is all sizzle and no steak. (Or might they plead being vegetarian teetotalers now?)

    This is no place to critique the efficacy and relevance of ICTA, and even if we do it, that would be an exercise in futility. We who believe in the power of ICTs to do public and social good should continue to find ways to operate in spite of ICTA, while ensuring its attempts to take credit for others’ work (I have personally been present at meetings where ICTA senior management have shamelessly taken credit for Horizon Lanka’s accomplishments in Mahavilachchiya!)

    As for the unimaginative, parasitic babus and barbies at ICTA, all we can say is to heed Rabindranath Tagore’s words: “If you can lead, lead. If you cannot, then follow. If you can do neither, then get out of the way!”

  5. Piglet
    March 15, 2010 at 10:01 pm #

    As long as the Secretary to the President wields his power over ICTA, it will be used and abused for everything other than the purpose for which it was established. But, then again, wasn’t Peter Harrold behind this? Need we say more!? As for the article on Bangladesh’s strive to promote English through mobiles, well, we have Sunimal Fernando doing his ‘thing’ with this nonsensical English the Sri Lankan way no! Arrrggghhh!

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