If you ever dread teaching on a hot summer day, spare a thought for the teachers at Vijaya School near Galle in Sri Lanka. Having recently spent some time at the school sharing a very different experience of education, surrounded by noise, intense heat, flies and what often feels like chaos, I can only congratulate and admire the staff.
ASDAN decided to support the school a few years ago as part of its Charitable Objects to help raise levels of achievement through ASDAN awards and in the relief of poverty, which inhibits opportunities for the pupils.
Vijaya is a government school where three of the teachers speak some English. The Principal is keen to improve English skills amongst both pupils and staff, as well as encourage activity-based learning alongside the very formal Sri Lankan curriculum. This school is a good example of how people try their utmost to help themselves but have few resources to enable them to make significant progress. The 130 pupils who attend Vijaya School come from rural labouring families, many of whom live in real poverty. The children from these families typically have no shoes and are frequently sent to school with no food. The school now provides grains and dry bread for breakfast to prevent the pupils from fainting in assembly. School begins at 7.30am and finishes at 1.30.
There are very few facilities at Vijaya. The classrooms are basic and two of the three buildings are open plan with a flimsy divide between the classrooms. Water comes from a nearby well. When I first visited the school, there was one toilet and three urinals for all 130 pupils and the staff; hand washing facilities consisted of a standpipe next to the rubbish area. This year, I was delighted to see that two additional toilets have been provided. Books are in short supply, there is neither fridge nor sports facilities/equipment but there is a small field where the children can play. The school is surrounded by paddy fields and arable land; imagine the view from the classrooms!
Despite what we would class as very difficult conditions, the children and staff are always incredibly happy and positive. This year I was lucky enough to be invited to visit the school on World Children’s Day. The school always celebrates this day to highlight the rights of children. I was treated to some amazing dancing, singing and football (they must have been aware of my love for the beautiful game!), all shared with parents, children and staff. The charity ‘KitAid’ was kind enough to provide some football shirts for the pupils. We presumed they would be used for football, but appeared at every opportunity, even as part of the boys’ dance costumes! ASDAN staff raised money to provide a much-needed and -appreciated amplifier, used on the day, and cooking equipment to help the school teach ‘Home Science’.
As part of my visit, I introduced some Australian teachers to the school, and whilst loving every minute of the experience, they were overheard to comment, ‘I’ll never complain about my teaching conditions again!’
Sri Lanka is known as the land of smiles. It’s true - the smiles of the children stay with me long after my visits are over.
Maggie Walker, Associate CEO