Many believe that Jaffna has always been home only to Sri Lankan Tamils. Of course, Sri Lankan Tamils make up most of the population but until the flare-up of the ethnic conflict in the early 1980s, Jaffna was also home to different ethnic groups: Sinhalese, Burghers, Moors, Malays and Bohras. It was only after the [...]


Together they studied, together they want to rebuild

Past students and staff of the Jaffna Sinhala Madya Maha Vidyalaya that was begun in the ’30s and destroyed in the ’80s during the conflict have rallied to revive their old school that brought together all communities

A proud moment: Decorations for the opening of a new building at the school in 1980

Many believe that Jaffna has always been home only to Sri Lankan Tamils. Of course, Sri Lankan Tamils make up most of the population but until the flare-up of the ethnic conflict in the early 1980s, Jaffna was also home to different ethnic groups: Sinhalese, Burghers, Moors, Malays and Bohras. It was only after the clashes between the LTTE and the  Armed Forces began that the Sinhalese and Muslims living in Jaffna were forced to move south.

Many would be surprised to know that there was once a school in the Jaffna District, whose students, regardless of their ethnicity or religion, were educated in the Sinhala medium. This government-run school was the Jaffna Sinhala Madya Maha Vidyalaya (J/SMMV).

In the 1930s many Sinhalese public servants and businessmen lived in Jaffna town and its surrounding areas.  However, as their children were unable to receive an education in their mother tongue, the members of the Young Men’s Buddhist Association (YMBA) in Jaffna came together to establish the first Sinhala public school in this region.

In 1932, the school was built on a half-acre land on Hospital Road close to one of the old Catholic churches. Initially only 17 students enrolled, and classes were held upto standard five. At that time the school was known as the Government sponsored mixed school of Jaffna (Yapanaya/Rajaye Poshitha Sinhala Mishra Patashalawa). The first Headmistress was Mrs H.P.M.Y. Wijesinghe, and her husband M.K. Amaradasa served along with her as a teacher of the school.

N.R.C. Goonawardhana: Principal of J/SMMV from 1964 - 1982

These pioneering teachers worked tirelessly to bring in more students, visiting the homes of Sinhalese residents in Jaffna to speak about the importance of a Sinhala education and allocating funds provided by the Government and by donors to provide nutritious food for the students. They also encouraged the students to participate in Inter-district and Inter-school sports competitions and tournaments.

The school was completely taken over by the Government on May 1, 1938 and renamed as the Government Mixed Sinhala School of Jaffna (Aanduwe Sinhala Mishra Paasala, Yapanaya). By the time Ceylon received Independence in 1948, the school had grown to 183 students and five staff members, with classes up to the S.S.C. Level of Education (Senior Certificate of School Examination).

It was in 1958 that the school received ‘Maha Vidyalaya’ status and much later, ‘Madya Maha Vidyalaya’ status. By the early 1970’s, it had 600 students on roll and Arts, Science and Commerce streams had been introduced for the Advanced Level exam.

Yet sadly, in May 1985, with the outbreak of the war in the north the school was destroyed.

Throughout the past decades, the school’s students had excelled in many different areas: drama, speech and writing, quiz competitions and general knowledge, academics and sports. The Jaffna Sinhala Madya Maha Vidyalaya had been recognised across the island for its students receiving awards and prizes in competitions and tournaments at the district, the inter-district and national levels.

Kalyani Goonawardhana: Former Sinhala teacher and wife of the former Principal

However, it was the school’s diverse community that drew the most attention. Students from the Tamil, Sinhalese, Moor, Bohra, Malay and Burgher communities belonging to the Buddhist, Hindu, Islam and Christian religions, were given an equal opportunity to study and participate in extra-curricular activities.

“There were no communal feelings among the students of our school. They all cooperated with the teachers and studied peacefully together,” said N.R.C. Goonawardhana, a former pupil, later teacher and principal of the school from 1964 to 1982.

“The experience we gained at this school was valuable. There was unity within the school community, which I have not seen in any other school. The students and teachers had such a close relationship, they would even play cricket and football together in the schoolground, after the school day was over,” added Anil Ranaweera, a former Social Studies teacher who taught students of Grades Three, Four and Five.

With the government’s emphasis on reconciliation and the co-existence of communities, many past students and teachers of the school, both here and abroad, hope to rebuild their beloved school. On June 27, Mr. Goonawardhana, a  former Head Prefect of the school Rohan Daniel, and a few other past students and teachers came together to officially establish the J/SMMV Past Teachers and Pupils Association, at Mr Daniel’s residence in Wanawasala, Kelaniya.

After the destruction of the school, most of the students lost contact with their peers and teachers, as many migrated or moved to other areas of the country to avoid the conflict. It is after nearly four decades that many former students have spoken and met their peers and teachers.

“After I moved to Kandy I did not have much contact with my students and the teachers. But a few months ago, Rohan Daniel (and a few other students), Kennedy Xavier, Ali Hussain Davoodbhai and Mohammed Jouzi came to visit me, and put forward this idea of forming an association and rebuilding our school,” Mr Goonawardhana said. “I was very happy with the idea and told them that they have my fullest support,” the former principal added.

Almost 150 students and teachers within Sri Lanka and in a few other countries, have joined the association and expressed their support and enthusiasm for the project.

“I am happy that these former students have devoted their time and effort to this project. They have a strong, clear aim and objective of rebuilding their school, and I believe that they will succeed in bringing in more students to the association,” Mr Goonawardhana said.  “It’s great that (the past students) have decided to get their old teachers involved as well, instead of trying to move forward with this project on their own,” he added.

Rebuilding the school and recruiting new students are the main objectives of this association, and the members hope that this project will contribute to  national reconciliation and co-existence in Sri Lanka.


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