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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Contribution of Education to Tamil Separatism and to the Ethnic Conflict in Sri Lanka

  • Author(s): Pieris, Grace
  • et al.

Although there are many factors that have contributed to ethnic separatism and the 30-year ethnic war in Sri Lanka, this paper explores just one factor: education. Prior to the war, the discrimination against the Tamils through education was done explicitly through outright anti-Tamil rhetoric, programs, and policies. However, modern discrimination against the Tamil community through education is implicit because it is embedded and legitimized in the culture. Prior to the war, the education system continued to teach students in their native tongue despite the Swabhasha movement for a Sinhala-only language policy. This resulted in poor educational and employment opportunities for Tamil students because the Tamil language was devalued in the education system. Practices in education, the 1972 admission policies, and the 1974 quota system explicitly discriminated against the admission of Tamils into higher education. Now, the discrimination against Tamils is normalized within the culture by pro-Sinhala practices and policies. Popular textbooks express a Sinhala-centric view, and second language education policies are ineffective. Although such racism was explicit prior to the war, it is more naturalized within the culture today.

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