Sri Lankan school in Qatar hits a blank wall

The Stafford International School in Doha, State of Qatar is the only school that caters to the educational needs of Sri Lankan expatriate workers in Qatar. The school currently serves 600 students from Montessori to Grade 10 where students are prepared for the "Key Stage" (SAT) exams under the British National Curriculum followed in Sri Lankan international schools.

Far away from the motherland but not forgetting the roots: Children of the Sri Lankan school in Qatar sing 'Bakthi Gee' during Vesak.

Although it offers the British curriculum, it does so not losing the Sri Lankan identity or culture. The school has staged many theatre productions from western classics to 'jathaka' stories.

Students of the school are sort after for many functions of the Sri Lankan embassy from singing 'jayamangala gatha' on auspicious occasions to performing Sri Lankan cultural dances on many important functions.

Established in 2001, the school was the brainchild of Sri Lankan philanthropist and social entrepreneur Kumudu Fonseka. Located in the heart of the Qatari capital, Doha, the school is affiliated to the Embassy of Sri Lanka and is an approved educational institute from the Ministry of Education.
The school currently provides employment to nearly 50 Sri Lankans and the number is steadily increasing. An interesting fact of the Sri Lankan School is that it has never advertised itself but the response from parents to admit their children to the school have been overwhelming.
As Fonseka says, the first three years of the school was a major battle for survival. Despite all odds the school has grown to become one of the premier educational institutes in Qatar that offers quality British standard education at a subsidized rate.

Children of the Lankan practise a dance item for the Sinhala and Tamil New Year celebrations in Qatar.

Although this is the only educational institute that caters to the Sri Lankan children in Qatar, the space of the school is woefully inadequate. Repeated requests from Fonseka for a land to build a better campus for the Sri Lankan school have gone unheeded from officials of the Sri Lankan government. Due to space restrictions Fonseka says that the management is now turning down requests for enrolment to the school and there is an imminent danger of the school being completely shuttered shortly for want of more space.

Fonseka said that his aim in starting the school was to cater to the middle income Sri Lankans in Qatar, who were provided with family visas and basic allowances. "Middle income Sri Lankan employees bring their families here and make a lot of sacrifices purely to remain under one roof as a family unit. The Sri Lankan society is closely knit around the family and I thought it was a necessity to help those who wanted to be together as a family even in a foreign land," Fonseka said.

There are many schools in Qatar that offer the same education as the Sri Lankan school but these schools levy exorbitant fees. Workers on higher income slabs and for those who are employed in firms that take care of the education of their offspring, the fees may not be a factor. But it makes a world of difference for middle income workers. This is where the Sri Lankan school had made its presence felt.
What can the Sri Lankan government do to address the needs of this vital educational institute in Qatar, which does a yeoman service to its fellow citizens?

Children during the Science Exhibition held at the Sri Lankan school in Qatar this year.

There should be an intervention from the highest authority in Sri Lanka to get a land for the school. Although there have been promises for an allocation of a land to build a more spacious campus for the school, these have just remained as only promises.

The responsibility is now with the Sri Lankan government to look into the welfare of the children of the school and take concrete steps to address the space problem. A visit to Qatar from the highest authorities in Sri Lanka is a must in order to address this issue, as shutting down the Sri Lankan school will be a national problem affecting the lives of over 600 families.

Former Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama had sought the assistance from Qatar's Minister of State for International Cooperation Dr. Khalid Bin Mohammad Al Attiyah who was on a state visit to Sri Lanka in March last year for a suitable facility to accommodate the Sri Lankan School in Doha. But sadly there has not been any follow-up action from officials of the Sri Lankan government on this request.

Education is one of the most important aspects of any society but as Fonseka says, in Sri Lanka this is the most over-looked sector. For instance there are many "international" schools that provide British education in Sri Lanka but sadly these schools lack integration. Hence there should be some sort of intervention from the authorities to get these schools amalgamated and later overseas Sri Lankan schools, such as the Sri Lankan School in Doha-Qatar, should be brought into this network. It is only then that the education in Sri Lanka can thrive.

Sri Lankan expatriates contribute almost Rs. 340 billion (US $3.3 billion) annually to state coffers, which amounts to close to 47 percent of the national budget allocations of the island (the 2010 budget revenue has been estimated at Rs. 817.8 billion). Hence there is a greater responsibility on the shoulders of the government to look after the welfare of this sector. Taking care of the educational needs of these unsung heroes would be one of the best bases to start.

As Fonseka says, he has been working out of the country for almost 30 years and if he is to return to Sri Lanka tomorrow he will have difficulties in integrating back into the society. Many expatriates who have been employed for long spans have the same social integration issue - they have lost their Sri Lankan identity. The government should take robust steps to address these issues soon.

- Lester Jansz
(The writer is the local News Editor of the Qatar-based The Peninsula newspaper.)

SL School 2
Children of the Sri Lankan school practice a dance item for the Sinhala and Tamil New Year celebrations in Qatar.

SL School 3
Children during the Science Exhibition held at the Sri Lankan school in Qatar earlier this year.

Pix by Lakshika Ramanayake, Lankadeepa Middle East Corr.

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