Thursday, February 04, 2016

What do people in Kandy DO? and other random thoughts

Some random thoughts on a couple of topics, the result of a chat with a few people last evening.

What do people in Kandy do? 

I was having a chat with someone who mentioned that she was from Kandy. Apart from the usual gripes about the terrible drive to actually get to Kandy, we got on to the subject of economic activity in the town.

My friend, like many others from Kandy works in Colombo. She travels to Kandy on weekends to see her family. I remarked that there did not seem to be a lot of opportunity in Kandy, which she agreed with. She said that apart from Banks and Finance companies there was not a lot else to choose from. She went on to state that observing the number of people queuing at the Pettah bus stand on Fridays waiting to return to their villages one wonders if there is any significant economic activity outside Colombo and its suburbs.  

Why is it that most economic activity seems to be centred around the capital? I don't have a proper answer but I wonder if this is a historical accident caused by the agriculture centred economy we had until the 1980's.

For eons Ceylon had three principal exports: tea, rubber and coconut. Much of the population was rural and lived on the land, tending smallholdings. The main plantation crops were run on a more industrial scale and the towns in the countryside catered to the needs of the plantations. The hill country towns would have branches of Walkers or Brown & Co; firms that supplied equipment to the tea and rubber industry. Baurs and similar firms that supplied fertiliser would have outlets as well as a few motor repair shops, some banks, a general store or two and a few other shops supplying the people with their daily needs.

Beyond this there was not much else. As the majority of the people lived on the land there was not much need for anything else.

After independence in 1948 the country experimented with a closed economic system for a few decades, effectively putting the country in a time capsule. In 1977 things had little changed from the 1950's. When the economy was liberalised in 1977 growth seems to have taken off around the capital. Why? I don't know but perhaps the infrastructure was better?

Whatever it was, the Western Province spurted ahead of other areas of the country in terms of growth.  The towns in the rural areas were left largely untouched, which is why they offer little new opportunity.

Does anyone have any views or comments?

Why does everyone want to come to schools in Colombo?

In 1981 Sri Lanka had a population of around 14m, today we have something close to 21m an increase of about 50%. Casual observation suggests that the number of students attending schools in Colombo in the same period has increased many fold, maybe by as much as a factor of ten. Where did these children come from? Its not the population growth, it is something more that this.

Was it that children who were not going to school entered schools? No, Sri Lanka had high school enrollment for decades.What seems to have happened is that rural schools were abandoned in favour of schools in Colombo, presumably because this improved job and marriage prospects.

I have heard that there were Central colleges in all districts that used to be good, did they decline or were they abolished?

Assuming that there is a demand, why do the Colombo schools not open branch schools to cater to students from rural areas? The private "international" schools like Ceylinco Sussex, Gateway and Lyceum have established branch schools in outstation towns. Why can't the other state and private schools follow this example instead of burdening pupils, parents and residents of the city with extra traffic? One of the people at the table, from Musaeus College remarked that they used to have students commuting daily from Ratnapura and Embilipitiya! I have no idea what went through the minds of the parents and teachers when subjecting children to a daily commute of 3-4 hours, one way. 

Migrants in Europe and Islamic extremism

We also had a conversation with a Frenchman who now lives in Asia. On the subject of migrants in Europe and fundamentalist Islam he felt that the problem is one of poverty. When France was growing in the1960's they needed labour and attracted workers from places like Morocco. The children of those workers are now in the labour market but due to the recession many do not have a proper job. This breeds frustration and resentment which extremists are able to channel into their own nefarious purposes. If these people had jobs, a mortgage, a house my acquaintance mused they would be focused on paying their loans, maintaining their property and advancing their job and lives; not thinking of blowing themselves up.

Personally, I wonder if the attraction of religious extremism is similar to the attraction that Communism held for blacks and minorities in the 1950's and 1960s? The Soviets were attempting to spread their ideology and perhaps disadvantaged and discriminated communities who had little hope in their lives thought a change in the system would improve their lot?

In general I think religion can offer the distressed and the desperate some sanctuary, perhaps a sense of identity, purpose or security. Having found it they can become very passionate and this can be manipulated and misused by others.
Large Muslim families

There is a perception that Muslims have large families.  I don't know if this is true but there is a perception as such. The perception may be due to a cultural phenomenon, the extended family.

In the past all communities lived as extended families, in large houses with several generations, in-laws, siblings and cousins living together. The other communities have, by and large, moved to more a more Westernised (?) practice of individual family units living separately while only a part of the Muslim community seems to have done so.

There seem to be more extended families within the Muslim community than amongst other communities, which may give the appearance of larger families.

Of course when one lives within an extended family it eases the burden of childcare, as there are many who can lend a hand to look after children. This makes having more than one or two children a workable proposition, it is very difficult for two parents to look after one or even two children, especially if both have to work. With an extended family at hand even three or more are not a problem.

Perhaps its a combination of both? Again these are just random observations not based on any systematic study so could be quite untrue. Any thoughts, anyone?