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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2008

Lalin’s Column: Royalised Education

By Major General (Retd.) Lalin Fernando

‘Hurrah for the Mary, Hurrah for the lamb, Hurrah for the Royalists who passed the buck to Trinity, drowning out the battle cry of free education’(with apologies to the version of the US civil war song ‘Battle cry for Freedom’ that used to be sung at cricket matches by some schools.)

A child in the Kuliyapitiya area was refused entry into a school. Apparently his father or mother or both were rumoured to have been HIV infected. No one was medically examined. The Principal of the school said he had refused entry to the child as the other parents had objected. They had refused to send their children to school if that child was allowed to attend. It did not bother him that he was out of order legally (Education Act, Ordinance etc) and morally. As the law if not the people who matter look unkindly on the poor, the mother knew that child had little chance of redress.

The Minister of Education, who has wide powers, instead went on record to unthinkingly support the Principal’s decision. All this was splurged in the media giving unwelcome publicity to the problem and considerably more so to the child and his parents. The same Minister it was who had thought last year that Napoleon had fought in WW2 and lost to Wellington even though it was about 100 years after the battle of Waterloo.

The mother nevertheless appealed to the Supreme Court. The appeal if heard could have embarrassed and disgraced the government for reneging on the guarantee of free education for all exercised since 1938 that led to SL having in 2015 a 92.63% level of literacy, probably the highest in the world. More so as the government had in 2015 just promised good governance, both to high heaven and the ‘whole’ world (international ‘whites only’ community).

The Prime Minister then appeared on the scene. He announced to the media that both Trinity and Ananda Colleges had ‘volunteered’ to take the child. Trinity College, a private fee levying denominational school, did so. The child was saved.

Did it surprise anyone that the Prime Minister and the Education Minister both being for the same school, like 29 others in Parliament, had not ‘volunteered’ Royal College as the most suitable school for that Kuliyapitiya child? Why? Was Royalist education not for such a child?

Royal College, over 180 years old in the heart of affluent Colombo 7, is a government free school. It is a government show case. It is provided at great cost to the government with the best that the Education Ministry can give, free. It has 8,000 of the over 4 million Children Island wide being educated free in 9830 schools. Its Old Boys own much of SL’s wealth. Why could it not set an example by admitting this pitiful child to Royal College? Why did it, in the absence of any action by its powerful Old Boys, not show concern, interest or sympathy or volunteer to help? Why can’t it, or they, do so even now?

Is this free education or Royalised education –with its 31 high riding Old Boys ‘leading’ hundreds of thousands of other old boys in its Union? After learning ‘of books and men’ and apparently having stout ‘hearts of oak’, (like the Royal Navy), did they not have the moral spunk to set an example?

It is in the same Royal College three years ago that a young Sasanka Jagath who was a Boy Scout nearly drowned in its swimming pool during an official Boy Scout activity. The boy, the son of a poor single parent mother, having initially spent about a year in the National and the Ragama General Hospitals is now bed ridden at home. According to his mother who can barely afford to keep the child alive, the school has not given her any help to meet her expenses or rehabilitate the child. Apparently this is so as she has ‘spoken to the media’. Is this also Royalised version of education?

A Royalised education however saw an interloper get on the presentation stage after the ‘Big match’, shake hands with the flabbergasted chief guest and hang around on the stage during the presentation. Despite VVIP security being present, no one on the stage had the guts to tell the man to beat it.

Royalised education may win matches, but it brings little solace to hapless children in the little Republic to which the rest belong. Maybe it was better for that little Kuliyapitiya boy to go to Trinity after all. Does this bring a new meaning to the decade’s old ‘Big Match’ song that goes: ‘Hang all the Royalists On the cadju pulang tree’ (adapted from another US civil war song “We’ll hang John Davis on a sour apple tree”)?

Note. How adaptations of these American civil war (1860s) songs came to be sung at cricket matches nearly a hundred years on in an ex British colony must be as mystifying as the Royalised decision on free education for the Kuliyapitiya waif.

- Asian Tribune -

Lalin’s Column: Royalised Education
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