The Sunday TimesPlus

25th August 1996



No more the models of discipline

Ragging filters down to schools
By Tharuka Dissanaike

Why has the ragging menace of our campuses filtered down to schools? What is it that prompts teenaged school children, to put such awful pressure on their peers? Incidents of ragging are quite common in schools - not just in outstation schools or National schools but also in so-called prestigious private schools in Colombo, Kandy and Galle.

Last week , several incidents of ragging in schools were reported in the media. In the wake of these, Education Minister , Richard Pathirana issued a circular advising principals and teachers to deal strongly with those involved in the incidents of ragging. The reports come as the new Advance Level term begins and students for year 12 grades are newly recruited from other schools. Shockingly, it appears to be tradition in most schools for the older students of the school, to initiate the new ones with a campus style bout of ragging.

The two incidents highlighted in the press last week were not isolated incidents . But they were probably more serious incidents than the norm. In the Tholangamuwa Madya Maha Vidyalaya in Kegalle, students were forced to eat grass and strange leaves. One student reportedly vomited and fainted after this punishment and had to be taken to hospital by the principal. when the principal closed school temporarily after this incident, some students had come with masks and threatened and stabbed the security guard and broke several school windows. In Elpitiya Ananda Medi Viduhala, some 31 students are suspended pending investigation into reports that severe harassment was meted out to new year 12 students . According to reports the new students were made to say and write utter filth to each other and the teachers . There was also an unconfirmed incident of stripping a girl student inside a class.

Why has the ragging menace of our campuses filtered down to schools? What is it that prompts teenaged school children, to put such awful pressure on their peers ? Incidents of ragging , as we find out are quite common in schools- not just in out station schools or National schools either, they are reported from so-called prestigious private schools in Colombo, Kandy and Galle also. These incidences are particularly disturbing because schools are considered doyens of discipline where the future generations of our country are trained and tamed for tomorrow. To find that it is all more an illusion is quite disheartening. Most principals and teachers blame the situation at universities and teacher training colleges for the downslide of discipline. “ The young students take example from what they see happening at campuses .” V. Rajapakse, Vice Principal of Anuradhapura MMV said . “ A/L students are at that difficult age when they are between childhood and adulthood and they are easily influenced either way- good or bad.” It is also a chain reaction, principals say. When one batch is harassed, they assume the right to rag the younger group.

Yet some schools deny that ragging occurs within their halls. Principal of the prestigious Royal College , Colombo , S. Kumarasinghe is adamant that ragging does not happen in the school. “I know it is common in some schools but not at Royal.”

The ministry circular clearly states that those found guilty of inhuman ragging to fellow students must be dealt with maximum punishment which could even be dismissal from school. These incidents of ragging and general violent behavior , pose a grave threat to discipline and administration in schools, the ministry acknowledges.

A case in point is what happened at the Badulla MMV when the school admitted a batch of new A/L students during the latter part of July. “From previous experience we found out that the older students were preparing to rag the newcomers.” Principal, T. Attanayake said. “To prevent this happening I asked for the co operation of my staff and deployed them at strategic points in the school- near bathrooms, the garden, the labs- to be on the watch out for any incidents of ragging. We even sent teachers on bicycles and vans along the roads leading to the school to ensure that no unpleasantness come upon the new students along the way.”

Mr. Attanayake said that after several days of futile attempts at ragging some of the students called him at school and threatened- “If you don’t let us rag, we will strike school.”

Refusing to give into this threat, resulted in some eight A/L classes walking out the next day. Immediately 250 students of these eight classes were suspended. They had to report to school with their parents and later all were readmitted.

“When the students came back last Tuesday (21), I asked them to kneel and worship their teachers before beginning class.” the principal said.

Mr. Rajapakse of Anuradhapura MMV said that before the new batches are admitted , the school holds meetings for the parents of the new students and warn the rest of the school to refrain from ragging .

“ Ragging in schools is not a new phenomena. It has been happening for decades. But recently the form of ragging- like in universities have become sadistic and inhuman.”

The Vice Principal of Badulla Visakha Balika Vidyalaya said that they have been able to successfully curb ragging. “There was an incident two years ago. But with very strict discipline we have been able to control it recurring, “ she said.

Principals seemed to agree that punishment, sometimes as harsh as total apprehension from school should be meted out to wrong doers in order to maintain discipline in schools. A gradual decline of stiff punishment in schools as opposed to earlier day when caning and harsh punishment were quite frequent ,have led to situations where students lose respect for authority . “Of course we try our best to warn and advise the students instead of resorting to extreme measures which are unpleasant to all parties.” Mr. Attanayake said.

He explained that parents had a crucial role to play in the scenario. “Parents sometimes complain of and oppose harsh punishment. But when we suspended the students from classes the parents asked us to punish them for striking but to ensure that they come back to school. It is essential for parents to instill the need to respect elders and authority in children.

Popularity is not their forte

the much misunderstood reptile family

By Sithara Khan

It is quite safe to say that the reptile family does not rate as the most popular species among common folk. Reptiles are not cuddly, furry nor do they look helpless and vulnerable. They are not soft to the human touch nor do they purr with satisfaction or wag their tails when they are around humans. Instead, they are perceived as being dangerous, cold and somewhat repulsive. Yet, Dr. Maren Gaulke, a German natural scientist feels differently about this much misunderstood species.

"What we must remember about the reptile and amphibian is their importance to the eco-system. They are natural predators to many destructive pests, which are destroying valuable crops. It is better to let the natural predators destroy these pests than introduce foreign or alien predators", the soft spoken lady explained. Dr. Gaulke, said that while many species belonging to the reptile family were found in Sri Lanka, the 'Kabaragoya' and the 'Thalagoya' were important. "The big ones seem to have been destroyed, but we don't know much about their population data yet. Also, not much forest is found here, and most species are found in high mountain areas and in jungles," she said.

Dr. Gaulke, was on a visit to Sri Lanka to address the International Conference of South Asian Amphibians and Reptiles which was held in early August on the ecology and status of monitor lizards and crocodiles in Sri Lanka. Commenting on the outcome of the conference, Dr. Gaulke was happy that many young local students showed a great interest in the reptile family. "Dr. Anslem de Silva, the President of the Amphibian and Reptile Research Department of the University of Peradeniya and Conference Director, together with the students have done a lot of research and are doing a lot of projects in his field which is good," she said.

Having spent over 12 years in the Philippines doing research and conducting studies on the reptile family, Dr. Gaulke said that the 'salt water crocodile' in the Philippines was dangerous and has been known to attack humans. "They are about six to seven meters long, but these are the really big ones. The 'Nile crocodile' found in Africa is also known to attack, but these are not found here," he said.

Discussing the skin trade which is a booming business in most parts of the world, Dr. Gaulke, noted with relief that this problem was virtually non-existent in Sri Lanka. "There is no skin trade here. I do not think the reptile family, be it the 'Kabaragoya' or the 'Thalagoya' or any of the other species belonging to that family, is killed here for their skins. The laws here are very tight on that aspect, and this is a good thing. The laws are tight in India and the Philippines too, but sadly in the Philippines the killings of crocodiles for their valuable skins, still goes on." she explained.

They have farms in those countries. In Thailand, some are kept for conservation purposes, while others are bred for their skins," she said. On their eating habits, Dr. Gaulke pointed out that the reptile family was carnivorous. "The crocodile and the monitors eat fish and prefer smaller prey to bigger ones!" she said. Their skins too are soft, according to her. "The reptiles are not cold and are very nice to touch, specially the pythons," she added.

Dr. Gaulke feels it is important to educate the young students on the importance of conserving the reptile family. "The Wild Life Department is also doing a good job, and it is of interest to note the various species of birds and other mammals which are found here," she said.

Citing a report, Dr. Gaulke pointed out that there are 174 species of reptiles here, of which 98 are endemic.

Discussing her life in Germany, Dr. Gaulke, who is happily married to a marine scientist, said she enjoys taking long walks and hikes. Her husband spends a lot of time in the waters and she spends about four months travelling mainly to tropical countries and other countries which have some interesting species of the reptile family. But, the time he and I spend together is very interesting, she smiled.

While thanking Dr. De Silva, she also hoped to visit Sri Lanka sometime next year. Relaxing at the Ranweli Holiday Resort at Waikkal, when The Sunday Times caught up with this busy scientist, the lady was thrilled with the resort and already had a 'kattussa' in her bag. "I have found a lot of reptile species here, and I am taking pictures of them for further reference," she said.

Continue to Plus page 3 - Health sector: a mixture of bad medicine * Rape still trivialised?

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