In the context of the challenges the entire school system is facing with the growing demand for different sorts of curricula and methods of teaching and evaluation many of us have been asking some hard questions about the future of education in Sri Lanka.
For instance in the context of our own school we need to ask difficult questions about our continued relevance and about what sort of education we want to offer here.
What do parents expect when they send their sons to S. Thomas’ College?
To be at the ‘Best School in the World?’ Were we ever that? Really?
To end up as an academic and go on from here to Oxford, Cambridge or Harvard? How many Thomians have done so in the past 172 years?
To be an outstanding sportsman or debator or actor or scout or whatever? Don’t other schools also produce such and often these days even better ones than ours?
So then, what is it that we still have to offer or what is it that we should strive to offer as we draw close to our 175th year of existence?
I recently read an article about Thomas Arnold the 19th century educator and theologian who was also legendary Headmaster of Rugby School in England. The type of education he and many others like him envisaged is that which influenced our Founder, Bishop James Chapman – it was not an education that focussed on academics alone or extra-curricular activities alone, rather it was a holistic education for life that aimed at forming integrated young men (and of course young women). ‘Tom Brown’s Schooldays’ by Thomas Hughes in which Rugby School is depicted has an episode that illustrates Arnold’s and Chapman’s philosophy and the desire of parents in that era, a desire very few parents today seem to have: “‘Shall I tell him to mind his work, and say he’s sent to school to make himself a good scholar?” meditated old Squire Brown when he was sending off Tom for the first time to Rugby. “Well, but he isn’t sent to school for that – at any rate not for that mainly…What is he sent to school for? If he’ll only turn out a brave, helpful, truth-telling Englishman, and a Christian, that’s all I want.’” A brave, truth-telling or honest, person with a sense of spirituality and a sound moral conscience. Education for life is an education that certainly takes the development of intellect seriously together with the development of social skills and physical development as well. But Education for life that does not also cater for the nurture of the moral and the spiritual aspects of a child is severely lopsided and to my mind the greatness of a school is in how many men and women the school produces who are good human beings with integrity and whose moral compass helps them make the right decisions and to determine what actions would help or harm others in community, society at large and the environment around them. There are sadly no A*s for integrity and sound moral judgement in our evaluations systems. Therefore for schools like ours to focus entirely on grades at public exams and exceptional achievements in sports and other activities will be to miss the point of our existence completely.
Some years ago I replaced the excerpt from Warden W. A. Buck’s farewell letter to the school in 1901 printed on the inside cover of the College Handbook with some very challenging words about Thomians by Justice Noel Gratien and I did that intentionally.
“What I conclude on behalf of S. Thomas’ is that year in year out, she has sent out into every walk of public life so many men, not necessarily born with the advantage of wealth and influence, not too well endowed with the enviable gift of superior intellect but nevertheless decent men, who marry decent wives and by their own endeavours set up decent homes; men who stand for common sense, integrity, courage and faith in the traditions of liberty and fairplay” Justice E.F.N. Gratiaen.
For too long we have been drumming into the heads of our boys the view that ours is one of the best schools in the world etc without stressing the need for each generation to exemplify that greatness by living productive and wholesome lives beyond school.
How many Thomians today are making a wholesome difference in the world – and I don’t just mean in industry and the commercial world of the private sector or the legal, medical or other traditional fields?
How many Thomians have displayed moral courage in recent years to resist systemic corruption and other social evils that have brought our beloved nation to its knees?
How many Thomians have risked standing up and being counted on behalf of marginalized, exploited and oppressed people in our country such as the Mallaiyaha Makkal community on the tea plantations whose 200 years in this country we commemorate this year?
How many Thomians are willing to risk ‘staying on’ in what is being called a ‘failed state’ to try and make a difference and engage in nation building, rather than look for the first opportunity to fly away?
These are hard questions. But they are questions that pose a serious challenge for schools like ours that claim to be among ‘the best’ and ones that we will wrestle with as we go onwards.
With peace and blessings to all,
Warden S. Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia
Excerpt from the Prize Giving Speech
03rd February 2023.