Plus - Letter to the Editor

Lessons to be learnt from tragedy at top girls’ school

I have been closely following the wide media coverage surrounding the recent tragedy at Musaeus College, Colombo, where a student, Anuthara Kavindi Jayawardene, committed suicide over a mobile phone issue at the school.

Professor Ravindra Fernando provided some illuminating statistics on suicides in Sri Lanka. He said that “99 per cent of suicide victims were NOT mentally ill. Almost all of them ingested poisons on sudden impulse and were regretful, ashamed and guilty about what they had done, and certainly wanted to live when they were hospitalised.”

If children commit suicide on sudden impulse, then there is something seriously wrong in this “Budun Wediya Rate”. The problem may lie in the education system, the school, or with the parents. In a world where anything can happen, anything will happen. My thought is that there may have been more than one reason for the sudden impulse that cost Anuthara’s life.

As a past school prefect, cadet and scout, I firmly believe in discipline. Proper discipline is the reason some do exceptionally well for themselves, while a lack of discipline only results in people hurting themselves and others.

Schools are expected to instil discipline in their students and mould them into good citizens. But discipline must start earlier, in the home. A child’s failure or success should be attributed more to the parents than the school. Parents are expected to set an example to their children.

Why is it that so many children from poor families attending village schools end up as top-class professionals, while some children from rich, high-class families end up in jail? If a school’s status has a bearing on the kind of people who enter society, then surely the students of so-called “respectable and good” schools should become outstanding citizens, while the village schools should produce only vagabonds and criminals.

If every child in school who is punished by a teacher decides to commit suicide, then there won’t be many children left to attend school.

I was the class monitor when I was a Year 9 student. One day I decided to “cut” class because I was bored. I went for a walk round the school. My grade supervisor caught me, dragged me back to my class, slapped me across the face, and yelled at me in front of the whole class. He then made me kneel on the gravel road, in the sun, in front of the school building for one whole period. I never cut classes again. I am not saying that what the teacher did was right or wrong. I am only suggesting that he might have acted differently. All the same, on my last day at school I went to see him, and I showed him my love and respect in the traditional way. To this day I remember that teacher with affection.

Why is it that when something bad happens in a school, it is the “elite” school that gets all the attention, not the village school. If it is true that 119 schoolchildren committed suicide in 2007, then how come the newspapers did not give each and every one of those 119 child suicides in 2007 the same coverage they gave the recent Musaeus College incident?

As we all know, “pala ethi rukata, wawulo wahanawa”. Like bats, we choose to land only on those trees that have the tasty fruit. We are no better than vultures waiting to feed on carrion.

Attacking Musaeus College is not going to bring Anuthara back to life. What we need to do is find out what happened and look for solutions, so a tragedy like this will never happen again.One more thought: Let us not forget that every time we go on about what happened at Musaeus, we are causing the parents more pain. Let us leave the parents alone in their time of grief, and let Anuthara rest in peace.

M. Gunasekera, Via e mail

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