Speech at the Prize Day 1952 at Chavakachcheri Hindu College, Jaffna

I do not believe that it is within the power of a school to pay a greater honour to an individual than to invite him to preside over its Annual Prize Giving. Such an honour has fallen to me on this occasion and it has therefore brought me a very special happiness as well as pride. I am indeed grateful to you, Principal, Sir, for this great privilege, and I can assure you as well as the Staff and Students of Chavakachcheri Hindu College that the memories of this occasion will be among the most treasured in my possession.

As many of you, Ladies and Gentlemen, may be aware, I belong to Jaffna and the roots of my being are deeply embedded in its soil. Today I am being honoured in my own place and you have thereby disproved the old adage that a prophet is not without honour save in his own country and in his own house. Although certainly this is my first visit to your school, I do not consider myself a stranger here. There are many ties binding me to your school.  In the first place, your Principal is a good friend of mine and our collaboration on the Executive Committee of the All-Ceylon Union of Teachers has made our  friendship a close and intimate one. Moreover, your former Principal, Mr. T. Muttucumaru,  to  whose devoted labours for your school a fitting tribute has been paid in the Report just read, was one of my teachers at Jaffna Hindu College; he was a teacher whose inspiring guidance has proved of great value to me.  And thirdly there is the still closer link- Jaffna Hindu which is your parent institutin, in my Alma Matter too. It was at Jaffna Hindu that I spent five years of the most impressionable period of my life. I find it difficult to assess the value  of the  training I received at that great institution where education was not  divorced from  religion  and where the correct emphasis was placed on the training of  character  which was never allowed to become subordinated to the needs of the curriculum. This deeply spiritual atmosphere that hovered round Jaffna Hindu  could  not but exert a most wholesome influence even on those who belonged to a different faith. It is not without significance  that both Hindu College and Zahira College came into being in the nineties of the last century and both institutions are therefore  nearly sixty years old. About that time both Hindus and Muslims had begun to appreciate the value of English education;  but  it is greatly to their credit  that this desire for English did nor blind them to the  importance of preserving their respective cultural  individualities. The establishment  of  these  two  colleges quite definitely  indicated  the  growing  realisation  on  the  part of these two religionists  that  the  lack  of  English education  not  only  involved  a  renunciation of lucrative government employment but was also an effective barrier to all progress whether in the political, economic or intellectual spheres. I feel sure that the assumption is a correct one that both Hindu and Zahira in their origins represented a dissatisfaction with the existing state of affairs which instead of leading to passivity or despair inspired an admirable effort in self-help.
Thus  Hindu  like  Zahira  owes  its  genesis  to the desire for the preservation of cultural individually. This inevitably meant greater emphasis on Swabhasa and a soft pedelling of the western classic and western music, with a correspondingly  greater  attention  to the Eastern classics and Oriental music. In the context of  present  educational trends the ideals which the nascent Hindu and Zahira Colleges set before themselves are certainly  not without interest. Our  two schools may even call ourselves pioneers in this important sphere. Certainly some of the changes that are taking place today in the curriculum seem to us neither so modern or so revolutionary. Hence as Principal of Zahira College I may  claim a special affinity to your School and it is therefore a source of special happiness to me to preside on this occasion and I fervently hope the happiness is mutual.
I referred a little while ago to the freedom which we have enjoyed in adapting our curriculum to the needs of preserving something  very dear to us-our individual cultures. We have had freedom enough to adopt whatever  measures we thought necessary to realise our ideals without of course doing anything  injurious  to  the  general  welfare.  In brief, we have not been hampered by any kind of undue interference at all. This leads me by a natural sequence of thought to touch on an important problem which concerns your school and mine as well as every other Denominational School. From the point of view of State School relationship, Hindu and Zahira belong to the category of Assisted Schools as distinguished from Government Schools and Unaided  Schools. We the Denominational Schools do not regard ourselves nor shall we tolerate others to regard us as inferior to either the Government or the Unaided Schools. It may be that  the large majority of the pupils of the Unaided Schools belong to the upper income tax brackets. It may be also true that   some of the  bigger  and  newer Government Schools can boast of buildings luxuriously planned and generously equipped. But neither the wealth of parents nor the  grandeur of buildings and equipment can be the ultimate criterion of a School. In making this statement I do not mean to convey the impression that either Government Schools or Unaided Schools cannot have a place in the scheme of things. There are many areas in Ceylon where neither the  organisational   ability  nor  the  financial  resources  exist  for  the establishment of Schools by the religionists concerned for the needs of the people of those areas; and they cannot do without Government Schools. Though I have no predilection for Unaided Schools, there is a definite place for them in a democratic Society; one of the reasons being that no selective test can be regarded as infallible; besides there must be a few  Schools which will enjoy unrestricted opportunities of experimentation in the field of education. But when all this is said and done, I maintain that the Denominational Schools must always fill an honoured place in the life of our Country.
It is to the everlasting credit of the late Prime Minister  that he always stressed this vital role of Denominational Schools.
We  take pride in the fact that in our Schools there have grown up traditions that are of  immeasurable value to the Country. These traditions cannot be created overnight nor can they be produced to order like an article from a modern factory. They are plants of slow growth which must be tended with infinite care and devotion. To the growth of these traditions have gone the self-sacrificing instincts and labours of several generations of distinguished Ceylonese- Ceylonese whether by adoption, birth or choice.
It is true that the modern  State  has  to  accept as  its bounden duty the responsibility for the education of its future citizens. It is fortunate that our Government has already accepted this obligation and has indicated that it is alive to the compelling  need of adequate education for national regeneration. But it is unfortunate that this obligation on the part of the  State is completely misunderstood  or  misinterpreted  by  some of the officials dealing with education. According to these pandits this fundamental duty of the State is regarded as incompatible with any kind of real autonomy for Schools, even though it has been categorically stated in the White Paper  of July, 1950, that it is not the wish of Government to destroy that individuality which is so important in the life of  the  Assisted  School.  To  these officials any increase of the Government  grant   inevitably  connotes a   corresponding   increase  in Government control of the Schools. The officials of England, however, have been realistic and sensible enough in their acts of administration to adhere to the principle that financial assistance by the Central or Local Government is quite compatible  with the  autonomy  of  Schools  thus  assisted. In this connection i can do no better than quote the words of Mr. Robert Birley, Headmaster of Eton,  in  his  Presidential  Address  to the Conference of Educational Associations at the beginning of this year : “What we must do is to keep ourselves free from the dogma, which is the bane of any State which provides services for the Community, whether they be Schools or hospitals, the dogma that he who pays the piper should call the tune. If you do this, you do not get the best tunes or the best playing by the piper. What the State should do is,  by means of the  best  possible  training and by providing adequate  salaries,  to  engage the services of the best possible pipers- or teachers -and then give them the utmost freedom as to what and how they play. There will be mistakes, of course. Sometime the State will feel that its money is being wasted. Some kind of  control is obviously inevitable, even if it takes the form of  weighty  advice  or,  to use a time-honoured phrase, “Suggestions for teachers”- how much of our national tradition at its best is enshrined in those words. But in the long run this act of faith will earn the dividends it deserves”. Mr. Birley goes on to say that  “the second demand to be made of a School, if it is to serve a Free Society, is the inspiring of its pupils with a creative energy which will give life and vigour to the State, and this also requires this condition of independence”. In the words of the Spens Report   “for  where  the  schools lose their freedom, the freedom of the individual citizens is in peril”. These are words of wisdom that may with profit be inscribed in the rooms of some of our officials because they are illiberal enough to interpret school autonomy as merely the freedom given to schools to do only those things that are specifically permitted by the Code instead of interpreting school antimony as the freedom inherently vested in the  Schools to do everything other than those specifically prohibited by the Code. And besides they have a penchant  for extending the area of the Code regulations to permit  themselves  opportunities of interfering with school autonomy, perhaps in the belief that they thereby improve education without realizing that they in fact tend to destroy one of the essential ingredients of a Free Society.
Apart from the obvious unwisdom of the theory, the official, attitude stands self condemned  since it is an indisputable fact that the buildings of the Assisted Schools are cheaper, their enthusiasm greater and their results better than those of Government Schools. Some of our officials appear to be so purblind as to recognize no difference between Government and Assisted Schools even from the narrowly accounting point of view, quite oblivious of the fact that the Government does not provide Assisted Schools with any capital expenditure at all. I dare say that this attitude is not universally shared among the officials. But unless eternal vigilance is exercised by us there can be no guarantee that the purely financial and legal aspects may not overshadow and dominate the educational aspect of education with incalculable harm to the progress and welfare of the country. For these reasons the importance of school autonomy is something that cannot be too often or adequately stressed. School autonomy is necessary not merely for teachers and principals but is equally essential for the ultimate well being of our country if it is to be true to its ideal  of democracy.
Education no doubt is the concern of everyone even of the politician. It is the concern of the parent as well as of the citizen and it is the concern of the local authorities no less than of the State. It affects the child, youth and man. In fact, its far-reaching effects are felt from the cradle to the grave or as some one has pithily put it from the womb to the tomb. But, above all, it is the concern of the teacher,  because no one else plays a more important, more vital and more dominant part. The teacher besides is a citizen and invariably a parent himself and besides  has  himself  gone through all the manifold experiences of a child and a Schoolboy. Thus on us who are teachers more than on any others devolves the sacred responsibility of being the guardians of this school autonomy.
This discourse of mine on school autonomy must, I fear, have sounded dull and tedious to the student-members of my audience. Nevertheless it is a subject that affects them as closely as teachers and pricipals and parents. For, any diminution of this autonomy is bound not merely to sap the strength but also  to  injure the spirit of the School and thus weaken it for the task of developing the best in its pupils.
To you too, students, I therefore preach the need for eternal vigilance. In a few years time, my generation will be called upon to pass over the torch to you and it will be your sacred obligation to bear the torch, bright and aloft and hand it on undimmed to those who will follow you. It is in order to equip you well  for  that  task  that  Schools  have to be safeguarded from any encroachment on their cherished freedom.
At the beginning of my address, I referred to the ideal held dear by our two Schools of preserving our cultural individuals. But while insisting on the need for cultural diversity  in the midst of political unity, we must not be unmindful that any rigid isolationism can spell nothing but disaster for us and for all. We must believe  with  Sir  Richard Livingstone that a man must comprehend the four citizenships he is born to and thereby should be able to live as a good member of his family, a good member of his community,   a good member of his country and a good member of the whole human society. And we must also realise that for the happiness of humanity these four citizenships must co-exist and that the transgression of one of these loyalties must necessarily involve the transgression of the other three.
In conclusion I thank you, Sir, once again for the great honour you have paid me today and I offer you, your staff and your students my sincere good wishes.

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