Ides of March

It looks as though Rick and I are going for a dive or two on Sunday morning at Hikkaduwa. It depends on the water conditions. Rick has been in touch with Poseidon Dive Centre there and the underwater visibility over the last few days has been rather poor, though the company hope for an improvement by the weekend. If that happens we’re on for a dive, but of not, then we won’t. It’ll be my last opportunity out here, so I’m hoping for the best as there’s no point in submersing ourselves in a murky sub-sea environment.

Last weekend, I spent some time preparing lessons for tomorrow (Wed.) on declarative languages, tying it in with Google’s recent success in beating the World Go Champion with their specially developed computer system. (If you don’t know what Go is, it’s sometimes called “Othello” and involves placing black or white counters on a grid to surround, capture and “invert” your opponent’s pieces. It’s reckoned to be more of a challenge to a computer program than Chess is.) Google had already trounced the European champion, but the Chinese world champion of this Chinese game was thought to be much more of a challenge. Obviously, this level of programming, and the associated logic, is well beyond anything I can cope with, but it seemed a good hook to hang a couple of lessons on and give the kids experience of a different type of computer language.

As generally happens, plans changed and I ended up giving the introductory lesson on Prolog on Monday, due to Angela’s need to get something else done. There are end of term exams and I’m not even sure that part two of my lesson will in fact happen tomorrow: if not, it’ll be a shame because I’m quite enthusiastic about the family tree problem that we’re going to tackle. I have to remember, though, that I’m potentially something of a distraction from the main business of the school and that end of term exams and so on are important. Class 7/8 had their Computing exam today and I have to say they’re not really aware of the importance of success, or the etiquette / behaviour expected in a formal environment. Mind you, they’re only young!

Yesterday was supposed to be a fast day, but Purmina undermined that by producing noodles and fish curry for me after I’d given Sulakshi her Photoshop lesson.  Nevertheless, I was fairly peckish by the time school finished today and headed into the Fort for a dose of Anura’s wife’s cooking. The poor woman, strapped up in bandages after a fall from her bicycle, was suffering from the heat. Weren’t we all, but at least the rest of us didn’t have to slave away in a kitchen. I went for an omelette served with “toast”, followed by a fruit plate and ice cream. Just the ticket!

When I was wandering round the bird sanctuary near Tangalle, I managed to mislay my sunglasses when taking off a tee shirt or something. A few days ago, I bought a pair of replacement glasses for a ridiculously low price. I wasn’t taken in by the Rayban look-alike sticker, but thought they’d do me a couple of weeks until my eyes were rested by the grey skies of Caledonia. However, they were even crapper than I thought: the plastic coating on the metal ear-pieces started to slide off, the lenses developed an oily coating that smeared and refused to come off and they were generally exactly what I paid for. Vanushka’s not the only one to make an unfortunate cut-price purchase! After lunch today, I tracked down a real optician’s and bought a decent pair at what is still a low price compared with the UK, but which was enough to make a female SL customer trying on reading glasses almost fall off her chair in shock. It’s a sobering reminder of the price and wealth differentials.

I don’t normally go into school on Thursdays or Fridays, but this week is going to be different. I’m going over on Thursday to attend a staff meeting / talk on the role of parents in education (I think!). Rick has invited a lady / friend from Australia – I may have got all those salient facts completely wrong – to address us. He has recommended it and the rest of the staff have no option, so I thought I’d go and show solidarity. Also in a show of solidarity, Rick has invited some Principals of other schools, including Mrs Saraswattie of TIS! I gather she hasn’t committed to attend, but said she hopes to. It’ll be “interesting” to meet her again, as I haven’t seen her after walking out several weeks ago. In fact I didn’t even see her then, as she wasn’t around and I just left a rather curt note and disappeared into the sunset. I’ve also been invited to Friday’s weekly assembly, none of which I’ve had occasion to attend so far: it’ll be the last of the term as school finishes on Thursday 24th at lunchtime, with the early New Year celebrations. Both Rick and Angela have been at me to attend, so I obviously have to turn up! I know there are a number of kids leaving the school: with the sort of parental profile the school attracts – expats working in the country for a few years’ contract etc. – there is always going to be a bit of a turnover.

I don’t know what the kids leaving will think about it but no doubt they’ll have mixed feelings. They’ll have the excitement of a new “posting”, but they’ll also be leaving behind friends and a very positive environment with supportive and able teachers. The classes are small: perhaps smaller than the management / board of directors would like; the school is generally well-equipped, though again less than the management would probably wish; the kids seem genuinely happy to be there (barring the odd tearful and reluctant kindergarten attendee!); there are superb grounds with lots of simple fun things for the younger kids to do such as swings and a climbing frame etc. (the trunk from the felled tree which caused some disagreement between Sera and Rick has just been cut into lengths and partly buried to provide a small stepping stones /obstacle course); I could carry on. But the main thing is the general ethos: Rick and his staff are not afraid to be stern when need be, but there is every encouragement to the pupils to do their best and lots of praise for jobs well done. Education here is enjoyable.

If there is a disappointing deficiency, it is that TGS has not managed to hang on to enough of its senior pupils to maintain a viable upper school. I believe there was a small year 9 until recently, but currently the 7/8 class of 12-13? year olds is what passes for a senior school. Mostly mature and sensible as they are – generally delightful to teach – they cannot really count as “senior students”. Rick has taken the admittedly risky step of sending these kids to another school in Galle on a Wednesday morning: this allows them to measure themselves against their peers in other schools and to experience a different system. This is a brave step which undoubtedly has many benefits for the kids, but carries with it an element of risk that some may “jump ship”. In the hothouse conditions and pressured environment of SL education, with its shortage of university places and concomitant emphasis on exams, many parents have understandably taken the “safer” option and enrolled their offspring in more exam-oriented, but less holistic or inspired schools. Understandable, but regrettable.

I’ve only been at TGS for a short while: I may have got facts wrong; I may have misinterpreted what has been said or what I’ve gleaned. If I have misrepresented the school in any way, I welcome corrections and comments at the end of the blog.

I said I don’t know how the kids leaving will feel. This is a bit premature as I’ve got the remainder of this week and also next week, which will be different in many ways: I’ll be taking some of Rick’s classes as he’ll be supporting Kris when she has her hip-op, Tuesday is a Poya day (holiday!), Wednesday is celebration and end of term. However, having mentioned the kids who are moving on, I’d just like to say that whilst I’m looking forward to seeing Sonia and even to getting onto the Scottish hills when I’m allowed out again I’ll miss TGS, its staff and its students. I have been made to feel welcome and useful and have made some friends. I wish it well for the next 10 years and longer. I’ll stop there as no doubt I’ll waffle on again in a similar vein next week!

new apartments

The other apartments are progressing well.

first floor

I’m glad I’m staying on the ground floor!


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