Letter to Old Boys from the Warden

Feast of St Thomas the Apostle,  
3rd July 2021
Dear Fellow Thomians,

Fraternal greetings from the School by the Sea. 

As we start the second half of 2021 still in a situation where S. Thomas’, together with all schools in Sri Lanka,  remains closed, I thought I should write to you to keep you informed of how things are going at the moment, so you will have accurate and up to date information about the state of things for your various alumni groups. 

Sad Realities of 2020 

From March 2020 we were unable to engage in any of the usual activities that make up our school year  including the various sports and society events, the Chapel Feast, the Carol Service, Colours Awards  Ceremony and Prize Giving. An entire year group left us without having had the opportunity to enjoy their  final year at College. It looks as though 2021 will end the same way.  

Online School 

The first two and a half months of the year, everything had to be conducted online, because despite schools in  other parts of the country having reopened earlier, those in the Western Province remained closed. The G. C.  E. Ordinary Level Examinations of 2020, which were postponed due to the situation, were finally held from  the 1st to the 10th of March, and it was only after the O/Level examination that we were allowed to reopen for  physical school, first for the O/Level and A/Level forms on the 15th of March, and then for 50% of all other  forms on the 29th of March. After the Sinhala and Tamil New Year break, we resumed physical school on the  20th of April but with the Covid situation worsening, we had to close again on the 23rd and have had online  distance education ever since. Sadly, this method of education has reached a saturation point and fatigue has  set in where all stakeholders are concerned making it necessary to evaluate methods of online education and  taking a realistic look at long term sustainability. The lack of equitable accessibility to online education in the  country has raised the issue of a large portion of our student population being in a limbo of sorts. Along with  some other educators I have been a signatory to a recent letter to His Excellency the President of Sri Lanka, requesting his intervention to see how we can restart schools even on a small scale sooner than later before a  catastrophe overtakes our already overloaded education system.  

In order to ensure the boys have at least some physical exercise while being restricted to their homes, Physical  Education periods, in addition to academic work, are conducted online by the Sports Officers 3 times a week.

Academic Achievements 

As you may or may not already be aware, our boys fared quite well at the G. C. E. Advanced Level  Examinations, both local and international, in 2020.  

Out of 270 students who sat for the exam, 202 students (75%) qualified at the local Advanced Level  Examination, with 16 students achieving A passes in all 3 subjects and 15 students achieving A passes in 2 of  the 3 subjects. The top three best results were ranked 9th, 10th and 19th in the island respectively. 

27 students completed the International A/Levels held in May/June 2020 together with 30 students who  completed all the AS units. 26 students out of the 27 students (96%) qualified the IALs with 1 student  achieving A* in all 4 subjects, and 6 students achieving at least one A* in his subjects. 4 students out of 30  achieved A’s in all 4 subjects while 13 students achieved A’s for at least 2 subjects.  

We await the results of the G. C. E. Ordinary Level Examination for 2020 as well as those of the International  A/Levels held in May/June 2021. 

Clubs & Societies  

Online School has made it possible for us to also continue with our club and society activities. The majority  of our 54 student Clubs and Societies have continued to function online and have done quite well in helping  our boys to stay connected with each other and to also develop some social skills as well as their talents and  abilities in many areas. 

Some of these activities are as listed below:  

• The College Magazine for 2020 was published online 
• The Ternion (College e-newspaper) was published online once a month
• Essay Competition written on the life and work of past teachers of College
• Online Debating Competitions
• Online Drama Competitions
• An online Video showcasing the Folk Music of Sri Lanka by the students of Lower 4 to Lower 6 was released on YouTube
• Regular Webinars on Technology, Environment, Motivation, Current Affairs and prominent Social issues were conducted by a range of Clubs and Societies.
• Online Religious activities led by the Student Christian Movement weekly
• An Online Interhouse Quiz competition was held.
• Online camps, activities and regular scouting organised by the Scouts, Cub Scouts and Singithi Scouts.

Sports & Games 

All activities related to sports and games remain suspended by the Ministry of Education since schools were  closed in April 2021. However, online physical training and exercises for sportsmen by the coaches has  continued and has been greatly appreciated by the parents of our sportsmen. Sadly no sports events have been  held since the Royal Thomian Cricket Match of 2020 other than for some 1st XI and 2nd XI Cricket matches  played primarily in preparation for the Royal Thomian Match of 2021 and as part of a tournament organized  by the Schools’ Cricket Association in lieu of the usual season. 

In this context I feel I must address the speculation that is rife regarding the College’s stance on the 142nd Royal Thomian Cricket Encounter. It was clear from the latter part of 2020 that playing in March 2021 would  have posed significant challenges given the fact that the G C E Ordinary Level examination scheduled for  December 2020 was postponed to March 2021. As such my counterpart at Royal College and I entered  discussions with our respective Sports/Games Councils and Cricket Advisory Committees as to alternate dates  and venues as playing in Colombo was not going to be permitted when the discussions began in late 2020.  The two Schools’ Cricket Advisory Committees and Joint Organizing Committee settled on a possible venue outside the Western Province for a spectator free match. After an initial request from S. Thomas’ to play a  two-day match in April (given the lack of time for training and practice matches that were only permitted in  late January 2021) was not accepted by Royal College, dates in the first week of May 2021 were agreed upon for a three-day game. It was also agreed that both teams would enter bio-secure bubbles two weeks prior to  the match. Sadly and most unexpectedly 12 of our boys were tested positive for Covid-19 at the start of the  bio-bubble and the entire squad and officials were in quarantine for 14 days thereafter during which time the  country itself once more faced a fresh outbreak of the virus and all sporting events for which permission had  been given by the authorities were either postponed indefinitely or cancelled. We are now awaiting fresh  approvals and our boys have been eagerly going through physical fitness programmes at home monitored by  their coaches in anticipation of starting formal practices soon and playing the Royal Thomian sooner than  later. The Principal of Royal College and I are in regular touch with the Joint Organizing Committee and plans  are underway. The view therefore, that nothing is being done to ensure the match is played and/or that S.  Thomas’ is somehow reluctant to play or has indicated an unwillingness to play, has no basis in truth  whatsoever! Thomians have never shied away from challenges in our long and illustrious history of 170 years  and have certainly never tried to avoid playing the Royal Thomian Cricket Match since it started in 1879! We  are firmly resolved to play the 142nd encounter and will leave no stone unturned to do so for the sake of the  two Captains and their teams, above all, who deserve their place in the Royal-Thomian Record Books.  However, we are bound by the current restrictions governing Government and Government Approved Private  Schools and thus we are not able to do very much until the mandated approvals are granted by the relevant  authorities for school sporting events such as Big Matches to be played. We are all eagerly awaiting these  necessary approvals in order to go ahead.  

Infrastructure & Campus Maintenance 

We have used the empty campus as an opportunity to complete many much-needed infrastructure development  projects and maintenance work. The ‘New’ Science Laboratory was given a complete facelift externally and  internally with financial support from the Old Thomians Healthcare Professionals Union among others. The  Swimming Pool spectator stands have been nearly completed now thanks to the supporters of Thomian  Aquatics both here and abroad although the new diving board and canopy for the stands have been delayed  due to covid related issues but will be installed sooner than later. The Chapel Gardens, once the hive of activity  during intervals for challenge fights, other mischief and also served as an exit point for erstwhile ‘scooters’,  was given a complete facelift thanks to the Parent Teacher Association. There were also much needed  improvements effected on the Primary School, J Block and their environs as well as the Sports Complex and  Pavilion. In this context I must record my appreciation to the HR Manager and Manager Operations Mr Dillon  Fox, Manager Sports Facilities and Director of Sports Mr Dinesh Kumarasinghe, and their staff for the hard  work and commitment put into seeing these projects to their successful conclusion. Many of the College  Support Staff remained resident on campus during the travel restrictions and worked night and day to see these  projects completed. When the staff and boys return to school they will be surprised to see a well maintained  and well-kept campus despite the fact that we have been closed for so long. 

Work on some major infrastructure projects will commence shortly such as Phase 3 of the Senior Quadrangle  Project that will include a Performing Arts Studio in memory of the late Vinodh Senadheera; the upgrading  of the Indoor Cricket Nets to include a second floor with a pavilion and state of the art dressing rooms; the  upgrading of the Indoor Sports Complex; and an addition to the sports rooms next to Thalassa for the Sports  Department.  

In addition funds are still being raised for the ventilation/air conditioning of the College Hall; an additional  set of classrooms for the Lower VIth form that is at present scattered in different areas of the School together  with activity rooms necessitated by the education reforms and we also have plans for a new building to house  visiting teams and resident staff on land to the south of the College where the existing building has been  condemned and is to be demolished. We are also looking at relocating the College Heritage Museum to a new  larger space at the bottom of the ‘Old’ Science Laboratory and the completion of Phase 3 of the Library project  which is an upgraded audio visual theatre and lecture hall. 

The OBA, PTA and individual old boys or groups of old boys have also helped us equip more and more  classrooms with smart boards. Our intention is that all the classrooms in the school will be equipped with  Smart Boards in order to make the teaching and learning in the classrooms much more interesting and exciting. 

We also have plans for the installation of solar panels on the roofs of some of our buildings. Such projects  will ensure that while we contribute to the grid, we will also be able to bring down the cost of our monthly  electricity consumption. 

STC @ 175 

We will celebrate 175 years of existence as a School on 3rd February 2026. Bishop James Chapman, when  preaching at the ceremony during which he laid the foundation stone for the College of Saint Thomas the  Apostle at Mutwal on 21st December 1849 had said in the course of his Sermon that “Enduring works are  often of humble beginnings…” S. Thomas’ College has endured and is where it is today having had those  humble beginnings at Mutwal where the Collegiate School was opened on 3rd February 1851. The Board of  Governors has given me the necessary approvals to commence plans for the 175th anniversary celebrations in  February 2022 and further details will be made known to all our alumni about the manner in which we hope  to celebrate God’s goodness and faithfulness to our alma mater in 2026.  

My Appreciation 

While my Sub Warden and the entire staff (tutorial, administrative and support) have worked tirelessly despite  there being no physical school, to ensure the smooth running of operations and I record my appreciation to  them here, I want to take this opportunity to thank you old boys as well.  

Many of our alumni in Sri Lanka and overseas have journeyed with the College during the challenging days since the Covid-19 pandemic reached our shores in March 2020. I am so very grateful to each and every one  of you who have given of your time and your resources to support the work of the College, often without  being asked to do so, but of your own volition. The STC OBA, the STC PTA, Class Groups, Support Groups,  OBA branches in the UK, Australia, the USA, Canada, Qatar, the UAE and even in far-flung New Zealand  have all done their bit for their alma mater during this time.  

The Covid Bursary Fund initiated by the STC OBA and supported by so many of you has enabled almost 100 boys up to now to continue their education uninterrupted despite their parents having been adversely affected financially due to the effects of Covid-19 on the economy. Many individual old boys and groups have  contributed directly to the College too. A school like ours which is a not-for-profit service-oriented institution  could not survive situations caused by unexpected things like pandemics without the support and good will of  their alumni, friends and well wishers. Thank you one and all and God bless you for your generosity and  solidarity. 

Having read and re-read our Founder’s memoirs, The Memorials of Bishop James Chapman, in recent years  the one thing that stands out for me is the faith by which he did all he set out to do between 1845 and 1861.  Over the past 170 years our successive Wardens oversaw the development of the school with the same faith.  During Warden E. F. Miller’s time the financial situation reached catastrophic depths and it was only the  timely intervention of generous benefactors such as Mudaliyar Sampson Rajapakse and Sir Charles H. De  Soysa that the school was saved from closure. When in 1918 the school reopened at the new site here at Mount  Lavinia Warden W. A. Stone was able to do so not only because he had received support and solidarity and  resources from people like Bishop E. A. Copleston and Mr C. E. A. Dias and others but also because he too  had taken a leap of faith – and that faith never let any of them down. When Warden R S de Saram took over  the school he inherited a massive debt that had arisen during his predecessor’s time due to the various building  projects that had been undertaken. Again it was the intervention of some prominent alumni such as Sir Stewart  Schneider and even non-alumni such as Mr J. L. D. Peiris that helped him as he steered the school into calmer  waters. When we embarked last year, out of pure necessity, into the whole new world of the ‘New Normal’  not knowing where we were going or how we would get there it took faith to take and stand by some very  risky decisions. Now, over a year later I can affirm that our faith has not been in vain. We will survive this  storm too. Through a combination of volition and divine intervention we will continue to stand tall, our heads  slightly bruised, but unbowed in “the fell clutch of circumstance…” We will make use of this opportunity to  fine tune our systems and procedures as well as to take stringent steps to economize and move forward in faith  towards the end of this tunnel. We will come out stronger and more efficient.  

In this age of social media there is much that circulates purportedly as “news of College” much of which is  based on supposition, presumption and downright “fake news”! I request you to please clarify such things  with me directly before contributing to the social media frenzy that often follows such releases that I have  now come to accept as attempts to create sensation more than to inform and educate. My email address is  public as is my mobile phone number by which I can be reached on WhatsApp. 

I conclude with the assurance of prayer for you all in general, for your families and for all you are engaged in  out there.  

With peace and blessings to all, 
The Rev’d Marc Billimoria