Recently, I was invited for the Kingswood French Day. It was organized by the French Club of the college and was the first of its kind. The event was presided by Dr. Jacques Soulie, the Director of Alliance Francais de Kandy and was attended by several Alliance top brass and members of other bodies of French language and culture of the town. There were some memorable items and a good participation by neighbouring schools. Prizes and awards were given out to winners of numerous competitions that had been held parallel to the event — overall, I was fairly impressed by what I saw.
My impression, of course, does not mean that there was something ‘wow’ in the programme. But, set in the context of ‘languages studies’ at Kingswood, the event was a positive initiative that has been in want for the many years I have known the school. At one end, Kingswood has within its fold an uncanny and narrowminded few who view “non-Sinhala” language activities with an awkward eye. They, more often, — as I have experienced over the years in my involvement with English debating and drama — try to put their personal convictions into practice by discouraging all cultural activity of the underlined form, sabotaging projects and being snooty. In fact, for a brief moment, I noticed one such reputed saboteur lurk inside the hall operating her spy-glass with Barbossa-like tenacity.
The French Day, therefore, is initially a triumph over such vested forces who with ignominy try to maintain a narrow “Sinhala” cultural monolithic within the school. But, the Principal’s speech — brief and to the point — illustrated a perceptiveness that has often been the driving spirit of school activities for the past decade or so. The Principal spoke on languages in general, highlighting the need to foster language as a key to different cultures and practices. He argued that Sinhala, like Latin and Sanskrit, is on the path to being a “dead language” within the next century.
As a student who, a decade ago, occupied the very seats the members of the French Club today occupy I note a positive move ahead in the Club activities. Barely a decade ago, the Languages Class was fighting for some decent space in the school premises, being moved from building to building in a gypsy-like imitation. During my stay in the Department, our classrooms were located within meters of the Commerce Section toilets, giving us a free inhale of the toxic fumes on a daily basis for five years. The students were marginalized and they were made to feel it — both by sections of the General Arts studentship as well as by some elements of the staff.
Kingswood Languages has often been told not to have an academic initiative. This, in my view, is a point that carries some weight — as majority of the entrants to the A/Ls have, todate, been more career-oriented. This is not to argue that Kingswood Languages has not produced some upbeat scholars, but an attempt at merely highlighting a general trend. But, what the French Day indicates to me is a positive turn around of this marked strain — for, for such an event to materialize it takes serious commitment and a quasi-academic bent.
From my Peradeniya experience, there is a drop in the university entrance (to Peradeniya) by Kingswood Languages students over the past few years. For the past 5 years not a single student from the Languages Section has entered Peradeniya (in spite of the fact that there are / have been one or two entrants to Kelaniya and Sri Jayewardenapura). This hiatus has to be transcended and I see positive glimpses of a resurgence on the cards.
The French Days to follow would be — one hopes — more polished and enriched with an even more progressive offer. To look beyond the Eiffel Tower is a noble objective and one hopes that the French Club is looking in that direction.