I visited the above school for a function on Wednesday, 25th January 2012. Prior to visiting the place, I Googled to get information, but was only able to find scant information about the place, which is in itself a shame an indictment of the fact that the school has not really even reached the Internet WWW world!!
Anyway to summarize, the school where DS Senanayake laid the foundation stone in 1951 was open in 1953 as the Mirigama English College, which much later changed its name, and received National School status, in that the funding is direct from the Central Government and not the Provincial Councils, which fund most of the schools. It is on 26 Acres of lush wooded grounds, with a playing field alone that is over 5 acres and much larger than the Trinity Asgiriya Test playing field.
There are 1750 students and over 100 teaching staff, with a Buddhist Priest as the current Principal. The classes are from grade 6 to 13, with the school sending on average 15 students to University every year. The computer lab which was opened in 2003 has 18 functioning computers of that vintage, which is used extensively to teach IT to all students, however it was set up as a Computer Aided teaching tool originally. It really needs an overhaul as after 9 years the age of the machines show
The notable feature was the lack of funding for any capital or repair work or even a facelift that is badly needed, as the central govt. has no allocation for that and only pays the teachers’ salaries and for normal consumables. The lack of funding showed, and I know for certain if this place was a private school, it would be world class bearing in mind the surroundings the kids have and the playing fields, that exude wasted potential.
If funding is not forthcoming despite this school being included in the much touted Govt. 1000 secondary school program that is supposed to give schools facilities that will permit them to improve their standards of teaching to a much higher level it did not seem to happen here! The large school hall does NOT have chairs. The kids have to bring their chairs from their class rooms when coming into assembly.
Unlike the well endowed Colombo schools, the old boys/girls of this mixed school are probably not sufficiently wealthy to provide all its needs. Money is NOT asked from new students who entered the school with a pass mark of 156 or above from the primary schools for the 5th grade exam (shishyathwaya) to pay for building improvements. Of the 200 or so kids entering Grade 6 all but 20 come from the Primary system in the area with the cut off mark noted earlier, with the rest coming on preference due to the Old pupil connections etc. It appeared on the face of it to be run well, but the exterior looks particularly run down, badly needing basic repairs and painting. One of the requests made of us on our visit was to see if we can find donors to build a wall around the school to protect the school from various intrusions, something that would protect the students and give them an element of safety and comfort.
I went with a descendent of DS Senanayaka a great grandson to be exact, to present the school with chairs for the Hall which was specifically requested by the Principal and he out of his personal funds also gave small gifts of clothing or cloth to all the Students who entered University at the latest A level exams, as well as the the best students who entered the school at 6th Grade who also happen to be students from very low income families. Do not forget that tuition in this school is completely free, a vestige of the Free Education system in Sri Lanka.
As part of my work I have looked into the budget allocations for the year for Secondary school capital construction and is less than 10% of the education budget, most of which goes to paying salaries for the approximately 220,000 teachers in the State Education sector. No wonder then that the crying need for Repair and Maintenance has to be met by private fund raising. Private schools are better able to meet this fund raising due to the better ties they have with old pupils.
I would appreciate input and comments from my readers on the following issue of “free is no good and good is not free”. I am a firm believer that when something is free it is not appreciated, and this is also true for education. Is it that as these kids do not pay for learning, they do not value their education in this school and thus do not feel a commitment to help their alma mater, or is it just that they are too impoverished to help? I do not have an answer to that, but it is worthy of debating, to know if we have not explored all the possibilities in being able to improve the quality of education with the inputs it needs for that qualitative leap.
I like to leave the reader with some thoughts and reflections of this absolutely fantastic site. It is a hugely untapped gem of a school in surroundings that I will envy for learning and playing sports. It seems so underutilized in terms of the potential, a benefactor can with complete cooperation of the government take over some responsibility, as an experiment to take this school to a different dimension using the existing pool of students that come to it, and obtain the most of these students maximizing their true potential as future leaders and a valuable human resource of our country by giving the inputs needed to create the productive human being with the tools that the country needs in the next 40 years.