The Sunday Leader

Step-Motherly Treatment For Tamil School In Wattala: Teachers Appeal To President

  • School Operates In Two Sessions
  • New Building Promised By Government Going Slow

By Roel Raymond

The unfinished new building and Classroom in a garage

It was around 1.00 in the afternoon when I made my way across the dusty outfields of St. Anne’s Church in Wattala to reach the gates of the Roman Catholic Tamil Mixed Vidyalayam. As the school was still in session, I was asked by an old man clad in sarong — who seemed to take the place of a security officer at the school — to wait a while until the teacher I was there to meet would be free to speak to me.
A bell clanged, signalling the end of the school day and children rushed out, shouting and screaming, scuffing at the cement floor and raising a cloud of dust. Parents stood outside under umbrellas in the scorching sun, catching hold of a child’s hand here, reprimanding another there, as together with the teachers they made attempt to regain a semblance of control over the chaos.
A strange event then began to take place. A number of vans drew up at the school that had just let children out for the day and over a 100 youngsters of about five to six years old began lining up and walking into the school premises. It was the strangest sight I had ever beheld at a school.
Principal A.R. Godwin explained the situation. “The school is overcrowded,” he said. “We have just 12 classrooms and over 800 children. It’s because of this that we have come up with this system, where the teachers conduct schooling activities in two sessions.” School begins for grades three, four, five, six and seven at 7.30 am and ends at 1.30 am — like all other schools nationwide. The little children in grades one and two however, begin their studies at 2.00 pm and go on till 5.30 pm.
Godwin explained that although the school was situated on premises gifted by the Roman Catholic Bishop’s House in Colombo, it was a government run institution. Being however, the only Tamil school in the entire Wattala area, the Roman Catholic Tamil Mixed Vidyalayam faced numerous difficulties in keeping itself afloat. While there was no shortage of teachers, a lack of space to conduct classes and a shortage of teaching material, library books and furniture etc. made things difficult for all of them. “Every year we have about 200 children for admission at grade one level,” he said, “But we only have space for about 150-160.”
He explains — pointing in the direction of an unfinished three-storey building less than 100m away — that the government had promised the school a building that held 22 classrooms as well as a number of toilets and a library. The building is however still far from habitable and Godwin mentions that electricity was yet to be connected, while toilet facilities and other basic amenities were still lacking.
The teachers at the Roman Catholic Tamil Mixed Vidyalayam said they had previously appealed via the Schools Development Society to the Minster of Economic Development Basil Rajapaksa, to speed up the building process at the new school to no avail.
On behalf of the children at the school however, they said, they wished to collectively appeal once more to President Mahinda Rajapaksa, asking that work on the new building be speedily re-started so that activities at the school could resume the normal way and so that the little children of grades one and two could go back to playing, eating or napping as other children their age do in the afternoon.

1 Comment for “Step-Motherly Treatment For Tamil School In Wattala: Teachers Appeal To President”

  1. LJaya

    I know this area very well, during my childhood days we used to play cricket in this tiny area with our friends during school holidays – We call “Paliya waththa” There is not much of space to build class rooms. During 60s-70s’ this was a single cadjan roof warehouse type low cost building having 6-7 class rooms partitioned by moveable wooden planks. I do not think you can accomadate 800 students even if you build 3/4- storey building(s). There is hardly any space for children to move or play during the breaks and will be unhealthy without much physical activities. Therefore it is better to re-locate few grades to elswere.

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