Writing on the blackboard for ‘military principals’
W.A.S.Wickremasinghe, Principal of Pragnananda National School in Raddolugama, Seeduwa had apparently decided to participate in the leadership programme offered by the Cadet Corps, with the hope that obtaining the military rank of ‘captain’ and a uniform would bring more recognition to the school.
But today, his vacant office still bears the name board ‘Mr. W.A.S. Wickremasinghe, Principal’– as he never returned to school as Brevet Colonel or Captain Wickremasinghe. The 52-year-old father of three, died during physical training at the National Cadet Corps Training Camp in Rantambe last week.
According to his eldest son Prasad Suranga (27), Mr. Wickremasinghe, a Class I Principal’s Service officer was determined to follow the training despite having a history of diabetes and cholesterol, both of which were apparently under control. After receiving the letter regarding the training, he had started jogging along with his son for almost three-weeks and in the last week had been feeling exhausted.
“My father obtained a medical report and submitted it for the one month training. He wanted to return as a military officer with rank and uniform. After he went to the camp, he called home and said he was fine,” the eldest son said while his grieving mother Sujatha Weerasinghe (49) and younger brother Chalitha (8), looked on.
However, just three-days into his training, on June 28, Mr. Wickremasinghe had complained of a chest pain during morning exercises. He was pronounced dead on admission at the Mahiyanganaya Hospital, 30 kilometres away. His son said that the postmortem revealed that a blocked artery due to his cholesterol levels had resulted in a cardiac arrest.
When the Sunday Times visited the school, students, parents and teachers were preparing for the principal’s last journey to the school.
“Before leaving for the training he briefed us about it and said once he completed it he could work along with national school principals towards the development of the school,” Wimala Rajapaksa, the Assistant Principal said.
She said he had more than 20 years of experience working as a principal in areas such as Alutgama, Ja-ela and Trincomalee. “He would sit at his desk till late in the evening preparing documentation and other written work. I don’t think he had time for physical exercises daily,” she said.
Parents of students too are saddened and shocked by the principal’s sudden demise. Parent T.B.Hassen said during the two-years in the school as principal, he was loved and respected by students. He was a father-figure to them and at the same time restored discipline and introduced English medium from Grade 6 onwards.
“One does not need to go through training at a military camp or a military rank, just to prove he or she is a good principal. It is their behaviour towards the students that make them better principals,” K.Sarath Kumara, another parent said. On the day of the funeral fellow colleagues who were at the training with the principal had failed to be present. This move was condemned by teachers and parents from the school and principals and teachers from other schools too. Many refused to comment in fear of risking their jobs.
However, Ceylon Teacher Services Union (CTSU) General Secretary Mahinda Jayasinghe hitting out said the move by authorities preventing the principal’s colleagues attending the funeral as ‘inhuman.’
“Not allowing them to attend the funeral is just one step in grooming insensitive principals. Students too will have to follow orders in future.” He said about 163 principals are in the process of being trained as ‘Brevet Colonels’, ‘Lieutenant Colonels’ and ‘Captains’. In Mr.Wickremasinghe’s batch there were 97 principals.
“In order to give a military rank, proper training should be given. A majority of the principals are nearing retirement age. A female principal who holds a military rank, retired a few months ago. The principals are also told to submit a medical report, but some reports may not be accurate,” he said.
Mr. Jayasinghe said this was the principal’s first heart attack, and his death could have been prevented if there was emergency life support at the camp. He said there had been several untimely deaths in the camp due to unavailability of emergency medical services and the nearest peripheral hospital was seven kilometres away.
“The Cadet Corps Act says the age of those participating in the training should be above 14 years of age and below 30. Authorities have not yet revealed the age of the principals taking part in this training,” he said adding that if there is a need to have leadership and management training, it can be conducted at the leadership training and management centre in Meepe or teacher training colleges and colleges of education.
Meanwhile, Ceylon Teachers Union (CTU) General Secretary Joseph Stalin said hundreds of principals in the Sri Lanka Administrative Service Grade I and II and Class I in Principals Service have been chosen for the training. “These are principals and not soldiers. The principals should have been brought to pay their last respects to their colleague. The Education Ministry has to be held responsible for giving principals military ranks,” he said.
He said principals have been asked to boycott the training. “Previously a group of principals of leading schools were commissioned as ‘Brevet Colonel’ ranks after a few days’ training. This is unfair because there are Colonels who go through proper training. Principals like Colonel V.S. Kudaligama held military ranks with proper training. A principal from a leading school in Colombo got a military rank after just three days of training,” he said.
Education Ministry Secretary Gotabhaya Jayaratne said that the principal had submitted medical records before the training started and this was a civil training course and not a military training. “This is a voluntary civil training. There are no age barriers for officers and they have to face the risk if they want to undergo the training,” he said.
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