In another section of this newspaper, two readers, one a Thomian and another a Trinitian are engaged in what seems to be a right royal battle on the subject of elitism in schools. In the new columns that have been thrown open for readers (page 9 Plus) the ongoing debate is on the subject of International Schools. However, interestingly, other issues seem to be surfacing rapidly in the process.
The ideological difference between two Bandranaike governments is exemplified by the fact that Ms Bandaranaike (mother) took over fee-levying private schools in order to stamp out elitism. In 1997, daughter Ms Bandaranaike Kumaratunga is sending her kids to an International School, and the Central Bank is asking for the monitoring of International Schools.
Incidentally, last week was the week in which a substantial slice of the Colombo ( elite ?) took off on an annual pilgrimage to Kandy, for the rugby encounter between two elite schools whose elitism is not being shed even by their most egalitarian products. Many hossanas were sung for Trinity recently, for instance by writers who are of generally of a socialist bent (or how shall we say?) a leftist persuasion.
Whats wrong with that one might ask.? Sarath Muttetuwegama, who was one of the most sincere and authentic champions of the downtrodden could not be accused of hypocrisy in his politics. Sarath was the staunch and stodgy champion of the working classes, even in days when working class zeal had reduced itself to a pathetic whimper.
But Sarath was a multi dimensional character, and it used to be said that he was fond of going for the Royal Thomian cricket match clad in a red shirt. On one occasion, Sarath got into a friendly brawl and tore his red shirt, or so the story goes, but Sarath not being the man to stand on ceremony went to his constituency in the torn red shirt after the last ball of the match was bowled...
Sarath Muttetuwegama could not , no doubt, disown his patrician beginnings. It could be argued that despite his authenticity he was nevertheless a mahattaya Marxist a patrician with a social conscience. It could also be argued that there were many of that breed such as Colvin NM and the lot. They were incidentally almost all products of schools which at least at that time were identified as very elitist.
Following this line of argument, it could be said that it is absurd to postulate that elitist institutions create social misfits.
Besides, if half of Colombo can decamp for the Bradby and even the most fire breathing left leaning scribes of our time can sing hosannas to Trinity College, it is moot asking why we deny to international schools the elitism that we like to apotheosise missionary schools of a different era with?
To digress, of course, with offence to none, it is well now known that even Ms Chandrika Kumaranatunge wanted to get her son into Royal College. But, the governing body of Royal College at that time apparently decided that she was out on two counts that pedestrian Polhengoda did not qualify for the area rule, and that having an uncle ( Anura B ) in college was not a sufficient qualification for a child to get into that particular school.
Subsequently, after her many peregrinations in Europe etc., Chandrika Kumaranatunge would have felt that the best option would have been to send her children to international schools, both kids probably being too internationalised by this time to adjust to the routine of Sri Lankan public institutions. Here is wishing that no panjandrums of government will get their backs up at stating these basic facts about the Presidents choice of schools for her kids, because it is interesting to go into the Presidents reasons, while granting that all of those decisions were entirely her business.
The Central Banks call for monitoring international schools may have not been due to any presidential prompting, but the banks concern seem to center more on the financial propriety of these institutions.
The larger debate is on whether these schools create a social menace. The pro-international school readers who have voiced their opinions in our columns are basically of the opinion that it is not very enlightening to demonise the international schools, particularly on the narrow grounds that they are elitist.
But, is the parallel between the missionary schools and the international schools valid?
Granted that there can be no exoneration of the top Colombo schools from being elitist, because that will smack of cant. But, it seems as if it is not the elitism per se that is in question, but the brand of elitism that is being peddled.
In other words, the question being debated by our readers boils down to one key issue if Trinity, Royal, St. Thomas etc., produced a responsible elite arent the international schools producing a rootless irresponsible and alienated elite, granting of course that the elite will in any case be elite?
Suffice to say here also that the elitism of most of the residual big name schools in Colombo is now somewhat diluted and benign in the process.
For example, though the Bradby Shield match was played in Palekelle with a salute to all the elitist imagery that can be mustered by these two schools, it is also a fact that the portals of Royal College at least are open these days to many students from various directions of the social divide.
Coming round to where we began from, it is the policies of social engineering put into place by the (Ms.) Bandaranaike government of the sixties which made schools such as Royal less obnoxious in their superiority to less privileged schools.
But yet, that has not stopped these schools from cloning more elite, more of the same, who if they are not strictly elite aspire to social superiority in one way or the other. (This word elite of course being used quite loosely)
The grouse against international schools is that these produce a brand of student who dont look upto any traditions, even borrowed traditions.
A flimsy argument this, considering that their brethren in the other big name institutions chase the oval ball and generally behave like a bunch of Australians.
But nevertheless, the argument against the new brand ( or new breed) churned out by the international schools should not be taken lightly, because if the older schools created pukkha sahibs, the international schools may be producing a new rootless elite who dont know what it is to be pukka or to be sahibbut know the length of pubic hair of the Spice Girls, oops. At least we shouldntbe closing that debate.
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