Principal: Mr W. A. Janaka
Belummahara Rahula Vidyalaya is a small school in Gampaha district in Sri Lanka. It has 375 students studying under a small group of academic, management and support staff. Currently classes are held from year 1 to 11 where 36 students are getting ready to face the GCE OL exam this year.
We, Education Forum of Sri Lanka had a short conversation with the school principal Mr. W.A. Janaka recently to find out how things roll during these difficult times. The following sections describe how the school functions at the moment and some important takeaways other schools may also adapt.
The new normal for Rahula students
After the closure of schools due to the pandemic the principal Mr. Janaka has been on the look for how and when the operation of the school can be resumed. They also started online teaching with available facilities.
“Students are from the same area and sometimes from family too so communicating with parents and students is not a big challenge” the Principle, Mr. Janaka says.
After some time of attempts to teach online, with PHI’s advice and permissions, and with prior notifications to parents, the principal, and the staff have traveled house to house in the village checking upon student’s status.
What they witnessed has been that students had not effectively received the online education they were pushing. “They did not have written down notes or have not been paying attention even though connected to the online classes” the principal stated. “The video-off mode used as an excuse to save mobile data had led to wasting teachers’ efforts and everybody’s sacrifices”, he elaborated.
After evaluating the situation, they have adopted newer ways to make remote teaching effective, according to the principle. Now teachers talk to the students online and make them also accountable for their own progress. The class teacher takes attendance randomly during the class to ensure that students participate in the class continuously. Students have been warned about repercussions of less attendance – having to repeat the same classes next year as well. “Despite the practicality, it worked.” the principal says.
In addition to this one teacher is assigned to monitor everything for all online classes — from missed lessons, completed lessons, attendance, problems and to send updates to the principal so he can decide necessary improvements and adjustments.
Most of the students’ houses have at least one phone and those are used as other communication channels to engage parents when necessary. Parents’ meetings are held once every 2 weeks in order to keep everyone in the loop.
However, the allocation of classes and periods now seems to be somewhat different from the pre-pandemic way. New schedules have been decided considering the practical issues according to Mr. Janaka. For example, year 6 classes are held only two days per week in the morning hours and year 7 classes are held only on Monday afternoon. A normal period consists of 1h with the exemption of having 2h for Science and Mathematics. The principle states that, with connection and communication overheads 1h per period is a reasonable amount of time.
In addition to how the school adapted to the normal, we had a look at the other aspects of the school as well. We noticed that, even though it is a small school, Belummahara Sri Rahula Vidyalaya has not been small in attempts to make sure that the students get the best they can get there.
English is an essential tool to get on and progress in the current society. So, we asked about English education in the school. There we got to know that the school is having more practical type approaches to teach kids English. There, students are engaged in activities where they can learn and remember English words. For example, one day they learn English names of fruits and vegetables hiding and picking them up, and on the next day they learn how to call family members in English with the help of diagrams of family photos, but no writing or use of Sinhala language instructions don’t happen there. The principal stated that students caught words quickly this way and some impressed parents were keen to send the kids to school ‘to teach them some English’ even during the pandemic.
Mr. Janaka also has plans to engage/mix his students with parallel students of Lyceum international school so that Rahula students can get more exposure and learn by associating students who learn in English medium, once the country’s situation gets better. We see this as a creative and going-beyond-the-call-of-duty type step for the betterment of the students.
Rahula Vidyalaya is paying special attention to honing the aesthetic skills of the students as well. The principal Mr. Janaka was on the view that every student should learn to play some musical instrument. With the help of the school music teacher as well as an external teacher and, with more musical instruments obtained via parents’ help, they have been running music classes successfully. Even in the current situation students happily practice every Wednesday at home or in their schools’ small music room.
Not only music but dancing as a subject is also being taught in this school aiming to send students to whole island dancing competitions. “The support extended by of an external teacher was also substantial. In this”, Mr. Janaka says.
Integrating new technology into classrooms
In collaboration with donors in the area including parents of students, the school has been equipped with a CCTV monitoring system with 26 cameras across the whole school including the staff room. The principal highlighted that they don’t call it the ‘Staff Room’ but the ‘Planning Room’ because it’s used for discussions and planning of school activities among staff members.
“All of these are because of the trust parents and students have on the school and the staff”, Mr. Janaka also stated. According to him, students’ parents help to organize every event and no money transfers to school’s/principal’s accounts or collections by principal/staff do not take place, but things happen as they need to happen.
Another important point worth noting was the admiration of school staff by the principal. He believes that the success of a student at a particular exam is not only the ability or success of the class teacher of that year but the collective efforts made by all teachers in bringing the student up to that level. On this appreciation, we could see that the staff of Belummahara Sri Rahula Vidyalaya must be well-motivated to do their best for the betterment of the students.