‘Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world’- Nelson Mandela
The pursuit of knowledge is enshrined in the constitution of every nation. It is a basic human right. It is a sound education that enables a community to integrate with the rest of a country’s population. In this modern century, there remains a marginalized citizenry in Sri Lanka, who for decades have been systematically deprived of a higher education. All administrative powers from the 1900s to date must take responsibility for this exploitation, which continues to permeate the plantation sector, similar to the grey fog that often engulfs the tea estates.
Every one is aware of the origin of the plantation worker, their trials and the challenges that lay ahead for this community. In the past, there have been politicians who raised the issue of education for these people. Yet there remains a massive void, again like a black abyss that withholds the progressive march of the estate worker and their children. We are also aware of the drama that is enacted in school admissions in every district, with the most colourful dramas taking place in Colombo. Be that as it may the schools in the hill country offer little choice in terms of facilities for teachers and students!
One of the primary reasons for the estate citizen not desiring knowledge is their restricted thinking. It is not to say they are unwise in the areas of life.
Some have made good progress, but that is not a measure of success for the entire community. They have developed a mentality of being content with their basic existence on the hills. Having done, a corporate assignment in the hill country two years ago, I was able to understand how most of them perceive their future. The same education syllabus of the GCE ordinary level and advanced level that sends Colombo students to top universities is taught the hills. Then how come, they are not a liberated society? One of the answers is that the men and women of these regions are deeply rooted in superstition and restrictive forms of traditional thinking, inculcated in them partly by the once dominant British planters. A mind that is easily subdued and cannot embrace change.
A good example is for decades pol rotti remains their humble choice for dinner (amidst many food choices that cost the same). Even in an emergency like a landslide, their systems can’t digest instant noodles. Sadly, this is their routine approach to education. Many consider it an achievement to pass the GCE ordinary level and go for a mediocre job to a major city.
Another solid reason that students don’t desire to learn is perhaps beyond their control. It is the rough terrain of the mountains. Some schools are built in places that don’t have good roads. The innocent kids have to walk, often in the rain and cold wind to get to class. Even teachers who travel by motorbike grumble at the hazards they face to get to school. Apart from this many schools lack a productive library, playground and clean toilet facilities. Teachers on transfer don’t have decent accommodation.
It is comforting to see some schools being bestowed with modern computer labs, but this will take years to reach every school in the hills. Most schools lack the facilities for sports and other activities like scouting which teach leadership to students. The long distance from schools within the same region hinders children from taking part in inter-regional sports and literary contests. Whilst free school uniforms are appreciated they cannot clothe the estate student with acumen.
The absence of higher education institutes to learn subjects like computer is a severe setback to any aspiring student. There is a terrible demand for these children to learn English, the lack of fluency which quickly robs them of a chance to work in a Colombo-based company. This also affects many other rural districts.
The representation of plantation-educated adults in government sector is very limited. The government must bring about rapid change in this area. Vocational training centres need to be updated and expanded. It can be concluded with the opinion of Aristotle – “The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet.” Every child in this present time must have a chance to study and excel to become a liberated citizen who can transform and empower the plantation community and hopefully enter Parliament to voice their concerns in the near future.