Ministry of National Policy and Economic Affairs together with the Ministry of Science, Technology and Research, will prepare proposals for a Central Institute of Science and Technology, said Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe delivering the welcome address at the STS forum yesterday in Colombo.
Our Universities and Research Centers will have the opportunity of being affiliated with the CIST. Furthermore our national policy is based on the expansion of science and technology education in the school system and the universities, the strengthening of research development of private and public sectors. This calls for more Science and Technology Teachers and Academics. The concerned Ministries are now addressing their minds to preparing a report as the first step, said the Prime Minister.
The quality of our science and technology developments will ultimately depend how successfully we can broad-base these endeavours. I notice that you have “Citizen Science” in your program of discussion and welcome its inclusion. We need to have the same levels of enthusiasm that a music concert a cricket match or the Galle literary festival generates among the public in the field of science too. A national Science Center initiative, with spectacular outreach even to the remotest part of Sri Lanka is needed to engage our citizens in science, to foster young minds in our schools, and to advise on how our pedagogy might be reformed.
The revision of the science curriculum in our schools and improvements to their laboratories are called for and an open science initiative which partners with the international community is called for in this era where globally significant issues of the kind I have mentioned earlier need to be addressed urgently with creative local enterprise, said Prime Minister Wickremasinghe.
Sri Lanka is turning a new page in its history. Inclusiveness, sustainability and greater engagement with international society, all symbolized in the agenda of this Forum, are the three pillars upon which we plan to build our future. Harmonious coexistence is at the core of inclusiveness and Sri Lanka has to re-learn that diversity is not divisive but can unleash the full potential of the creative human spirit. The coexistence of human society and nature in an era which Nobel Laureate Paul Crutzen has termed the “Age of the Anthropocene” calls for responsible human stewardship of the earth. I am happy to tell you that Sri Lanka has embraced the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, SDGs, as central to its national development strategy. Science and technology-driven innovation is the enabling force we hope to mobilize for this endeavour. It is thus important for Sri Lankan society to have a broad awareness of the importance of science in shaping our destinies, said the Prime Minister.
We are beginning to feel the adverse impacts of neglecting to protect the land cover on our hills, the rich habitats of our wildlife and the hydrological management of our river basins and flood plains. The highlands to the south of our central hill, home to our fabled Uva teas, are showing dramatic signs of land degradation. In the Knuckles Man and Biosphere reserve, designated by UNESCO, we are beginning to see rill and gulley erosion around the settlements of its buffer zone. With the disappearance of drizzles characterizing the hills of NuwaraEliya, we see a less dramatic but just as profound change in our hydrology. I am told that this gradual drying up could well cause a shortfall of water in our longest river, the Mahaweli, by as much as 30 per cent. It is certainly beginning to change the leaf content of our high polyphenol NuwaraEliya teas as cellulose increases proportionately to counter this drying effect. We need to counter these trends where we can and adapt them where we cannot with foresight and advanced planning. For this, science and technology are imperatives.
Prime Minister Wickremesinghe said that in this quest for solutions, we must not forget to uplift the human condition, as stressed in the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. To chart the new paradigms this calls for, science must strive for excellence. Here in Sri Lanka, we need to establish a “research culture” in our institutions of higher learning. I am mindful of the sentiments, expressed to me by young Sri Lankan postgraduate students and post-doctoral fellows whom I met while travelling abroad, that this is lacking in our country today. Having talked to our scientists, many of whom are dedicated to societal betterment through the introduction of science and technology, although the spirit is willing, our research infrastructure is yet quite weak.
To be at the frontiers of science and technology, quality instrumentation needs to be purchased or developed and deployed with strategic intent, accessible to a broad base of young talent, gently guided by mature minds. To house this, we need to establish a dedicated national institution of advanced studies for science and technology, benchmarked with the world’s “best and brightest”, where excellence is rewarded. Academia Sinica was established in Taiwan by Professor Lee Yuan Tseh, Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, who has visited Sri Lanka in the recent past, to address this issue in the fundamental sciences. Similarly, in Japan, the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST) was established by Hon. Koji Omi, in collaboration with Dr. AkitoArima, former President of Tokyo University and Minister of Education. Dr. Sydney Brennar, Nobel Laureate in Medicine and OIST’s first President, and a whole cast of Nobel Laureates helped in the launch of OIST. I am happy that Dr. Robert Baughman, Vice-President of OIST, who worked hard towards its establishment, is here to share this experience with us today.
The government headed by His Excellency President MaithripalaSirisena is an inclusive one. We have forged an alliance among our two political parties, the largest political parties in the country, to serve all the people of Sri Lanka. This is also Chemistry. Concomitant to this, it is important that our economy grows at a steady pace over the next decade. We are laying the foundations for a science and technology led drive to enter the global value chain, making Sri Lanka the dynamic Hub of the Indian Ocean as it was in times past along the maritime Silk Road.
I would like to share with you five priority areas we have identified in this regard, namely:
(1) Advanced STI in agriculture, forestry and fisheries,
(2) STI-driven manufacturing and service industries,
(3) Quality “next generation” infrastructure and regional development,
(4) Global freight, logistics and tourism through our international ports and airports, and
(5) Civil safety on land, sea and in the air, including disaster risk reduction and vastly improved hydrology management.
I hope your discussions at the Forum will shed light on how science and technology can help us achieve these ends and inspire Sri Lankan entrepreneurs and industrialists to invest in science, said the Prime Minister.