There is no end to the wonders, like the varieties of curries, vegetables and fruits awaiting the visitor here in Sri Lanka. It’s hard to believe that when I sit down at the table of this average family here in the village of Pamunuwila, each and every day I have been surprised and delighted by the six or seven different dishes arrayed before me. Impossible not to try each one and wonder at the patience and ingenuity of the womenfolk who produce such delectable items as well as coping with the everyday chores of running their homes while coping with the overpowering heat and humidity. It is all done with such sunny smiles and quiet dignity.
The day starts for all mothers of school children at four-thirty or five every morning when the day’s breakfast and lunch of chick-peas and ground coconut plus fruit and water are freshly prepared, cooked and packed into backpacks ready for school which starts at seven every morning. No school-child is allowed to eat ‘junk-food’ and the food they do carry to school is strictly monitored. If the children attend some of the top schools they may have to travel as far as Colombo so must be ready to catch a minibus at six o’clock; returning home at around two or even four in the afternoon.
Those preparing for what would be the equivalent of the eleven-plus go to tuition classes for perhaps two or three hours after school every day. Girls and younger children are accompanied by a parent, usually their mother, returning home to do another two or three hours of homework before going to bed at the end of another long day. Saturdays and Sundays are extra study days when those preparing for O and A levels attend extra-tuition classes for twelve hours. Their dedication is amazing – but so are their results.
Even after graduation, the obsession with improvement does not stop as there are professional examinations to prepare for. Youngsters are eager to repay the sacrifices of their parents and there is an obsession with higher education. Standards achieved put western youngsters to shame when you remember these young people use English as a second language for all specialist subjects like; IT, law, medicine, accountancy and engineering – since all the textbooks they need are written in English – whether that of UK or the USA.
I recently read an internet news item in which the head of a school in UK sent children home because they were incorrectly dressed for school. I wish these young people would realize that dressing for your job is an important psychological factor. Dressed for work, your mind is tuned to concentrate on the job in hand but if dressed for play or in competition for the latest designer gimmick, your mind will lack that degree of concentration. It was something I tried to impart to parents and children when a head teacher myself and was met with some choice adjectives used to describe my ideas. Fortunately, that was in the days when head teachers still had some authority and the support of local authorities.
The schoolchildren of Sri Lanka wear their immaculate uniforms with pride and great care. White is the predominant colour – all white blouses and skirts for girls with white socks and shining black shoes; boys have white shirts with grey or white trousers. School is obviously the place where they expect to work and study hard for they return home looking pristine – unlike our UK youngsters who pass me on the odd days I drive into town looking as if school is somewhere they pass the time, and ‘get through’ the day looking like Richmal Crompton’s schoolboy hero ‘Just William’ after being pulled through a hedge.