The watched pot never boils. Yet, the department of examination has released the much awaited G.C.E. (O/L) results in double quick time to the utter surprise of the parents, teachers and the students. In my ramblings, I came upon some children who were on cloud nine.
Even though they were in rural areas, they were busy communicating among friends about their results over their smart phones and their general mood was that they had earned good results commensurately to their hard work, dedication, devotion, alacrity and enthusiasm in studies. Unspoilt rural child in the bucolic environment fed with the pastoral nutrients always would do if the ideal facilities for education are provided with. Yet, it is reported in every media that their urban counterparts have competed well. It is not surprising because the schoolmaster is abroad. Their schools have the state-of-the art facilities, veteran teachers who have migrated into the city looking for green pastures, internet coverage to the fullest and to cap them all, educated parents who leave no stone unturned to make their children win the mad rat race of education for the upward social mobility in their new-found-land.
I had the good fortune to have a friendly exchange of words with some rural parents regarding their children’s education.
It is very poignant. I feel very proud of our rural parents because they are genuine to their heart’s core. Their ardent desire is to see their children shine. It was quite palpable to me that most of these parents kept half-starved to meet their ends. They work under the tea-bushes, in the muddy fields deep to their waists, send their elder sisters to the sweat-shops and mothers to the Middle East to wash the cutlery of the oil-rich Middle ast families who drive nails into their fragile bodies at the drop of a hat, just to give some younger ones a sound education. The children burn midnight oil to come out of the vicious circle of poverty through education and it is a commendable effort on their part. It is needless to say that they are the people who earn for the country, make doctors, and pay for the perks of our honourable parliamentarians. The irony is that the aforementioned segment of society is always put into oblivion when the dividends are shared.
My concern here is a matter of national significance. I hope the compassionate President, well-read Premier, the youthful Minister of Education and the fully dedicated members of the august assembly who always give priority to the underdog would contemplate on this matter in depth.
In an arm-chair study, I came to know that the rural children have scored very poorly in the English Language. In some cases, the Queen’s lingo is quite an alien to them. In our neighbouring India, English is their lingua-franca. But other languages are given pride of place. Our country is comparatively a very small one quite invisible to the naked eye on the map of the world. Therefore it is very irrational if someone says that it is impossible to propagate English in every nook and cranny of the country. It is not an Himalayan task. If our people-friendly people’s representatives take up the cudgels, we are here to back up. We, the teachers of yesteryear are retired, but not tired. Most of the retirees of our country are rejuvenated and ready to shoulder the responsibilities when a national need arises.
The writer begs pardon to digress your much needed attention to another crying need in the rural areas with regard to English education. It is discernible that the prevalent situation of English education in remote areas is poignantly pathetic. It could be attributed to many a distinguishable factor. Not enough teachers of English are available there on the one hand, and on the other, those who are posted to such remote areas manage to get transfers to convenient places in no time. It is a perennial problem quite chronic with the system. All the governments who rode to power on the back of the farmer and the chena cultivator, from the votes of the proletariat, turned their backs on this innocent segment of the population. Lo and behold, some students who had scored some good results asked me whether there was a subject called English literature. The urban reader or the students of the city schools may find these information ridiculous. Yet, it is the ground reality. I have come to know that some city schools visit their counterparts in the very countryside with books and other educational paraphernalia. They would have witnessed what I am writing here. It is I who made the children of one rural school in Monaragala wear white trousers. I shared their fate with me. After one school term, I stayed with them in their village and cleared the jungle and made a vast chena cultivation for the sole purpose of making them able to buy trousers and shining shoes. I derived much pleasure when they attended the school in pure white school attire with smiling faces. The rest is history.
I was able to make a revolutionary approach to teaching English with a multiple effect. I gave a thorough understanding of the rudiments in English to the entire staff within a record time of six months. I continued teaching them every evening after school. In fact, I was very crazy with teaching English after my university education. My second step was to teach each and every subject teacher, the English words they needed in their lessons. Thus, in their subject lessons they introduced their topics with the English version. The children’s vocabulary developed marvellously to the utter surprise of the principal. The much needed interest in learning was created almost effortlessly and children started learning English like duck to water. It was a feather bed start for a long journey. My effort came into fruition and some of my students now have become good teachers of English.
If I go back to my beginning with regard to their asking about literature, it was quite palpable to me that without a formal study of literature, the elements of literature had been in their veins. The writer wishes to project some salient aspects of their genuine expressions for the readers to judge the situation. The pith of the matter is given with possible interpretations to make a case in point why they deserve to be given a proper coaching in literature. They requested me to explain a poem about the jungles, animals , waterways, rain and clouds, weather, rural scenes, winds an fairies. They could be better students to study the romantic period of literature. They asked me to tell astry about child abuse and cruel women. My mind went back to Havisham. I described to them the episode and at the end they were overjoyed on Havisham’s tears in apologizing PIP, the protagonist. At the same time it was discernible to me that they were very shocked to learn that Havisham was caught in a fire in her bridal saree. They showered immense praise on PIP for his daring effort to rescue her from the tongues of fire. Yet, it was heart rendering to them when I explained to them that PIP’s hands were severely burnt. Their empathy with PIP would make them literary geniuses one day if they would be given the necessary facilities for learning English literature. The picture in rural schools is not so rosy, so the authorities have to wake up from their slumber and do the needful. They could visit either M/Galearawa or Nelliyadda in Monaragala or any other rural school to have first hand information. If a need arises, I would be available as such a pilgrimage is sweet.
Many a question they asked me prompted me to write this in detail. Another pertinent and heart-rending question was a gross injustice to them done by educational policy planners and higher authorities from time immemorial. As they had mastered the rudiments of Sinhala literature, they put forward a barrage of questions and also complaints about not teaching English literature to them. The questions were really thought provoking. They put me against the wall as the idiom goes and questioned me as from an educational authority. Their main question was why they had been educationally ill-treated, discriminated, cornered for no fault of theirs? They told me that their parents had voted all the leaders to come to power from elections to elections in turn, yet their right to education had been given the Cinderella treatment. I really thought that I had opened a Pandora’s box that should have been a debate in the parliament. They put raised a question that I was not able to answer straight forward. When the urban child learns English literature and get an ‘A,B,C or even an S pass they would have an edge over the rural child at an island level interview for the recruitment for the government or private sector employment. Moreover they very logically pointed out that they are blessed with opportunities for improving spoken English with their parents and peers. In addition they learn Western music, ICT, and play cricket which are given priority at recruitments for both local and foreign employment. They pleaded with me to air these views in the relevant forums on their behalf. When I asked them whether they had read
Gulliver’s travels, Oliver Twist, Great Expectations, Round the World in 80 days, Tenzing and Hillary on Mount Everest, Napoleon Bonaparte, Mayor of the Casterbridge, Le Miserable, Grass for my Feet, Daffodils, The Brook or any other novel or a piece of poetry they felt very envious of their city counterparts when I told them that city children were keeping them in their satchels. Even the names of the above books were Greek to them.
To clinch over, who are responsible for this educational calamity. They have already become the eroded shores in the intellectual flow of the Nile. As a teacher of English language here and abroad having a proven track record of almost well over four decades, having braved many a weather in teaching, I dare say that this anomaly could be rectified very easily. It is not a Herculean task. One of the English language teacher methodologists of high calibre of our time of TV English language teaching programme fame Gernel Mayakaduwa is of the firm view that the prevalent bizarre situation could be rectified with no extra sweat if the English language teachers in rural schools are given a sound footing in teaching literature,too. Another drawback of the system is that these innocent rural children are herded to compete with the city children at English competitions. The city children are jubilant because they bag all the certificates, medals, trophies and credits. The principals boast at their morning assemblies of their talents without knowing the ground realities of the grave situation that their rural counterparts paved them the golden path. These things are done under much fanfare and the rural child is the victim of the system.
Tennakoon Bandara of the Monaragala English Teaching Resource Centre who has successfully shouldered the responsibility of resurrecting the stamina of the teachers of English language and literature deserves the salute of the nation’s Anglophiles for his ardent desire to see the light at the end of the tunnel. The country ought to be geared towards a literary Sri Lanka because it is in literature where we breathe the true fragrance of Queen’s Lingo.
Share; and share alike.
What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.