Not as big an event as in Glasgow but Hillwood College Sports Day for the Nursery and Playgroup was great fun.
We knew we were to be invited but when the invitation came it specified us as “special guests” and that, before the prizes were distributed the special guests would make a speech. We thought we had better try to speak in Sinhala. How would you do it?
We wrote the speech in English and a friend translated it and tutored us in elocution. It began ‘Suba udesanak,’ Good morning.
Languages in Sri Lanka
Language has been a source of political conflict since Independence in 1948. The government has defused the situation by declaring all three languages, Sinhala, Tamil and English, as official after the civil war ended in 2009.
There is a fourth language spoken by an aboriginal tribal people, the Veddas but most of them speak Tamil or Sinhala as well. Sinhala is related to Sanskrit and written in a curious rounded script said to be suited to being written on leaves which preceded the coming of paper. A friend calls it ‘Bubble Writing.’
Music and Races
We sat nervously under an awning with the teachers and parents and watched the 4-5 year olds play the school song on drums, triangles, cymbals and tambourines. Next there was a drill display followed by various forms of relay races including a doggy race on all fours picking up a bone in the mouth on the way.
Audience monkeying around
The 4-5 year olds did ‘dressing like Mama’ and then there was an exciting cycle race. We noticed a troop of monkeys arrive and watch from the opposite side, intrigued as we were with the antics of cheerleader display with pom-poms. My wife Brenda took a few pom-poms to the school a year ago and they proved popular.
The finale was the parents’ race where fathers rushed to a pile of mothers’ shoes to find the correct pair, then to run to their wives and run home together with her. The ladies, of course, ran the race in saris.
Then it was our speech. The children all lined up, the microphone was in position. Then the heavens opened. The children all rushed for shelter leaving us stoic Brits standing in the rain. After a brief panic, everything was re-arranged and the rain stopped. Suba udesanak, we began.
After the speech we asked a friend if she could understand it. ‘I tried very hard’ was her diplomatic reply. Our speech was the only Sinhala spoken, even the 3 year olds have their lessons in English.
Education in Sri Lanka
Free state education is available to all up to the age of 16. There are difficulties in the rural schools which lack facilities and teachers. Some good urban schools unofficially erect barriers to the poorest children.
Hillwood College is an independent school with good facilities (Fees £87 per term.) Independent schools were founded by Victorian tea planters for their children and were based on the English Public School pattern with Anglican or Roman Catholic religion. Now they are mixed faith. As in UK there have been attempts by Muslims to take some of them over.
Unlike many parts of UK, education is valued and revered. Knowledge of English is a passport to a decent job. State education is backed up by private tuition at weekends and evenings usually in English, Maths and IT. School uniform is white throughout the whole country.
Post Series: Dispatches from Sri Lanka, by Mike Sedgwick:
- Dispatches From Sri Lanka
- Kandy Lake vs Chandler’s Ford Lakes
- Self-Employment In Sri Lanka
- Sri Lankan Wedding
- Sri Lankan Food
- There’s Some Corner Of A Foreign Field
- The Cultural Triangle of Sri Lanka
- This Is the Record Of John
- Tuk-tuk: My Transport Of Delight
- Life On The Road
- Commonwealth Games In Kandy
- A Temple For A Tooth?
- Dawn Train Down The Mountain To Colombo
- Traditional And Modern Medicine in Sri Lanka
- Ancient Vedda Tribe Becoming Extinct