Yesterday we saw an explosion in social media in Sri Lanka with over 85000 people talking about a scandal of sorts involving the director of Sri Lanka’s largest group of private schools. Now, what happened there? We don’t care. The #LISscandal is none of our business and IntCa will not partake in a gossip on a national scale. Rather, this article will explore how the management of this school, over the past decade has managed to alienate a significant portion of her alumni and students. A number of alumni have retaliated on social media, thus dragging the name of the school through a cartload of mud.
During my entire school career, I was expected to not raise my concerns about the broken systems within my school. Since I would be viewed as one that did not love my alma mater. However, this is not true. I love my school. That is the reason I decided to pen this article. Keeping quiet at a point so crucial that it could cataclysmically breakdown my entire school. Not pointing out the broken system in place which no one has pointed out for the past 2 decades would be a disservice to my alma mater.
The systemic disintegration of my school began a while back. I will show how isolated incidents which seemed insignificant (but were never talked about) on its own accumulated and over a long term, managed to completely alienate a majority of alumni and students.
Role of the Prefects Guild
A key stakeholder within the school is the prefects’ guild, hence activities involving this group can contribute towards the quality of the school. What needs to be noted initially is that prefectships at this school are done based upon appointments by the management. Whilst feedback from the preceding guild is considered when appointing a new batch, the management holds a veto power over the selection process. One idea which needs to be taken home is that prefects are NOT given any authority over the students. How well an individual is capable to executing his/her role as a prefect depends solely upon how much respect he/she commandeers amongst the student body.
Over the past couple of years, we have seen students with strong personalities denied key positions within the prefects’ guild. We have seen students unfit to hold such titles, hold them. We have seen appointments made to the guild which violate procedure. All this has gone by relatively unnoticed, since speaking out would simply threaten the “whistleblowers” position within the school, and could possibly lead out to some disciplinary action against them. The fear of a detention/suspension kept the student community from actively pointing out these gross violation of ethics, how does this relate back to the bigger picture? It seems like this may have systemically built up to a loss in trust of the management by the students.
Specific Events Which Alienated Students
Public shame speeches during Assembly
Starting off since about 3 years back, violation of a certain school rule could land you with 2 choices. The first: Suspension. The second: Give a speech at the school assembly outlining why breaking the rule is not something one should do. A couple of years back, I attended an assembly of a lower grade (I believe it was the grades 6 to 8 assembly). A kid, no older than 12 was asked to give one of these dreaded speeches and then sing the entire school song on stage alone. It was quite a humiliating and embarrassing situation for the kid amongst his colleagues. I still remember sitting down there thinking, “This moment will haunt that kid’s entire school career”. Over the years I have listened to a number of these speeches, and whilst recounting them can prove interesting, what we need to see is that by subjecting students to this humiliation, they will begin to view the school not as their alma mater, rather as the institution which subject them to humiliation.
During my final year, a number of us decided to attend the religion classes for faiths which were (legally) not ours. I happened to be one of them. This happened for a couple of weeks. We attended the Non – RC class, the Islam class and so on. One day, protocol officers walked into one of these classes and asked who the students not belonging to the relevant faith, were present in the classroom. We were then escorted to a different classroom and told how the Portuguese, the Dutch and British invaded our island and tried to convert the “pure” Buddhists into their own faiths. To be completely frank, the majority of the students within our group were secular. What needs to be taken out of this is, how students within the same school were asked to view the students of different faiths as invaders of our land and culture. Racism under the guise of patriotism has landed our country as a whole in a very tight spot. Very subtly forcing this segregation amongst the student body clearly alienates the students from within, possibly against each other.
Ignoring the Student Opinion
The senior concert is a very popular event. Coincidentally, it is always heavily oversubscribed. This results in a number of angry spectators (majority parents) who pay to watch the event but end up standing in a cramped auditorium. The prefects’ guild of one year recommended that overselling way beyond capacity does in fact create the atmosphere described above and this makes the job of the prefects on duty nearly impossible to execute. However, this recommendation was ignored, senior concert was, once again oversold and the expected outcome was seen. This is just one situation, there are several more that can be recounted. What needs to be understood is the fact that the opinion of the student body carries little to no weight within the eyes of the management. If an employee feels undervalued, they will not care about the progress of the organisation and ignoring the student input makes the student body feel undervalued. If the student body is undervalued, can a school progress forward?
Shame attached to relationships
Over my 13 years at the school, the golden rule which everyone knew was: NO LOVE AFFAIRS! They’re bad. They distract you. Right now I’m living within an atmosphere where this is not the case. Where puberty, emotions and relationships are treated as a common and very natural human need. By imposing a relationship ban the management has imposed an artificial standard. Now, it needs to be noted that I am in no way saying that we need a couple making out in every corridor. Rather, what I am saying is that by humiliating students having relationships (and in extreme cases, even expelling), affected parties within the student body will view the school (once again) as the institution that humiliated them.
Lack of attention to soft skill extracurricular activities
Soft skill extracurricular curricular activities (e.g. Modal UN) is often classed as irrelevant relative to the more brawn activities which bring fame to the school name. This once again relates right back to the undervaluing of certain portions of the student body.
My Personal Experience
The first incident occurred at an inter house drama competition. The drama competition was in the night, and as expected it was loud and had apparently received a noise complaint. Towards the end a prominent figure within the school structure stormed into the event, called us (students) dogs for making too much noise in front of 3rd party judges and parents. I was quite vocal and claimed the action was very extremely unprofessional. The next school day I was “escorted” to the office and asked why I insulted this individual. I very calmly explained that I didn’t and simply called the action unprofessional because it was.
However, the biggest incident which alienated huge proportions of my batch was the cancellation of the graduation ceremony without a substantiated reason. The organizers had to demand and negotiate with the management to be granted permission to host a tradition which had been done since inception.
Looking at what we read so far, what we can see is a broken system which is at its core severely undervalues the student body and strikes down and denies any individual with a strong personality that challenges the norms expected by the school which has alienated a number of alumni. Which is the reason for all the superficial social media attention.
Effect of Alienation
The effect of alienation leads to students retaliating against the school. This outburst by the student community over the situation today is perhaps one of many retaliations by parties against the school. Acts of vandalism and hatred have occurred multiple times in the past.
Leaving aside the student body. What else does the school lose? If the atmosphere within the school is alienating, staff will leave. The past year saw a number of stepping down of senior teachers, members of management and other staff. The sports department which was filled with professionals while I was in Year 10 was completely different when finishing school.
What can we do about it?
The reason I wrote this article was to point out that there exists a broken system within our school. I don’t want to see my school disintegrate into nothing from the empire that it once was. I genuinely love my alma mater and I want to see her succeed. The only way to fix a problem is to first accept there exists one.
A comprehensive review of existing “rules” alongside a system where student opinion is weighed in on decisions is essential to generate a sustainable school system.
The rapid spread of social media has enabled the student body to hold relevant parties accountable for what has occurred. Let’s use that chance we have been given to provide critical yet constructive solutions to the broken system within our alma mater. Frankly, putting the actions of a single individual under the microscope achieves nothing – if at all taints the school image. Rather use this opportunity wisely. The entire country is listening to you right now. How will you use this opportunity?
We have taken the first step in addressing the core problems which need to be addressed. To kick off the solutions, the head prefect of the guild of 2013/14 has proposed what he sees as solutions to some of the problems mentioned above.
“I believe that this school has the perfect environment to allow for the growth and evolution of ideas, but it insists on archaic teaching philosophies which suppress the growth of the child’s creative abilities. A child who grows up in the age of having unlimited information at the tips of their fingers cannot be lied to and bullied by authority anymore, it is imperative as a school to implement better teaching strategies to sharpen the skills of the students and include them in the conversation. In the end like the straw that broke the camels back, this incident set off a firestorm of memes and accusations of hypocrisy which might have stained the image of my alma mater forever. This public evisceration of my school’s name isn’t something that was pleasant to watch at all, but I can’t say it wasn’t something I didn’t expect. I think school can learn from this and implement measures such as:
- Appreciating all achievements of all students, instead of picking and choosing individual students for their achievements and ignoring others.
- Letting the prefects be the bridge between the management and the student body, instead of just using the prefects as spy services to rat out on their fellow students.
- Encourage open dialogue between the students, teachers and management to avoid such deep-seated anger developing within the minds of students.
I think its time for school to step back and think where did this all go wrong. Sure they might be thinking it’s a few bad apples making all the noise, but that simply isn’t true. Entire batches of students feeling like this is finally the opportunity they have to hit back at an oppressive management clearly shows something has gone severely wrong.”