I would like to extend my warmest thanks to the staff at Shastrananda school for offering me the opportunity to visit my first Sri Lankan educational setting.
Sri Lankan schools are much like British schools in that there are a range of private, religious and government state schools. Shastrananda is a government school offering free education to the local children. The Sri Lankan government also offers free breakfast to school children which is much appreciated. This is something that back in the UK many schools see the value of, providing it themselves. Hungry children are at a disadvantage when they start their day of learning. Being well fed gives you the best start for a day, offering higher concentration and energy.
So, arriving by tuk tuk I walked through the gates into Shastrananda school, into their big grounds and was met by a host of interested, curious and welcoming children and adults. The children were very polite offering the formal Sinhala greeting 'ayobowan' and I had some interesting conversations with some highly educated teachers. Education is clearly a passion for the teachers in this school with some studying for their post graduate education and discussing pedagogy with me. Staff seemed keen to offer more hands on learning experiences and used the outdoors as well as their classrooms for learning.
In Sri Lanka, children start school in grade 1, aged 6 and most preschools and nurseries are private. During the early years of primary education, children also have a shorter school day 9.00-11.45 therefore having lunch at home. Older children finish their day at 1.30.
Things that stood out about Shastrananda school were the behaviour and presentation of the children. The children that I saw in class were focussed on their work and seemed very happy to be in school. Government school children wear white uniform. As an adult that struggles to keep my own clothes free from dirt, it was amazing to see the immaculate crisp white uniforms of the children! There is an obvious pride in the uniform of the school. The school however, just as many governmental schools across the globe, struggles for funds. The school relies on donations and fundraising to support the resourcing and maintainance of the building.
The youngest primary children have a structured day with subjects: Sinhala, Mathematics and Environmental Studies. I was interested to hear about Environmental Studies as a subject which incorporates and fuses aspects of science, geography and learning about the world.
As they get older, children at Shastrananda also take a Religious Studies class in which they learn about different religions. While the majority of the population is Buddhist, a number of other religions are followed in Sri Lanka, as it is a diverse society with many ethnic groups. It was good to hear that children learn about a range of religious beliefs and practices. I am sure that this helps to foster tolerance in a country with a very real and recent history of religious and political turmoil.
Thank you once again for making me feel so welcome in your school. Bohomo Istuthi!