Extra-Curricular Activities and the Focused Big Brother.

At Kingswood, extra-curricular activities are highly regulated today — they are regulated, monitored and teacher-centric than things were, say, a decade ago, when I was in my advanced classes. There are teachers and deputy teachers in charge of activities of sorts. You require the permission and “good favour” of 2-3 teachers at numerous “official capacities” even to move a desk from a class to another. When the crucial moment comes, students gape staring at the teachers for approval and for inspiration.

Perhaps, it is wrong of me to generalize — but, this was the highlight for me at a dance event and a debate event which I happened to attend recently. Nor is this necessarily an assessment of the participants of these events — but, more the general “air of things” that I felt: the “atmospheric condition” of KCK arts activities, so to speak. It is also a reality I have been exposed to over and over, the more I return to college. “Where are the initiative takers?” I ask myself. I am sure that the excess of regularization has maimed them young.

The A/L students today were born in 1993 and 1994. When I left college in 2003, they would have been 9 years old. Their initiation into the upper middle school — and the extra curricular culture, so to speak — would have happened in 2007 or 2008. Around 2004 or 2005, there was a “central body” that was established to monitor all extra school activities. I do not remember what it was called back then — “Kingswood Foundation” or whatever — but the initial focus was to bring under a manageable eye the numerous and various activities happening at college. Some wannabes of the staff (among dedicated others) were in this monitoring body. At that time, I felt, that for some of them this was yet another foothold to advance themselves; little more.

Romesh of "Romesh-Lakshan" was an improviser who knew how to treat stifling idiocy

This, indeed, was a double edged knife. On one hand, some form of regulation was timely, as at that point KCK was mushrooming extra-curricular interests. At one point, I remember, there was said to be 40-odd clubs and societies, some of them defunct or malfunctioning. But, the lop-side of such streamlining was the risk of “students’ creativity” being, at some point, subject to official wisdom. In a less regulated setting there was always more room and scope for improvisation and arbitration (by the kids involved). With less signatures to get and with lesser teachers to please things are more challenging and often innovative.

“Spoon feeding” or the need to be thus fed is system-dependent. You get an oligarchy of middle aged teachers — more often uncles and aunts with attitudes and convictions — and at their mercy sits gaping the innovative energy of a generation decidedly apart. What I realized of late is that the numerous “shows” and “days” today have become more and more the arena where teachers, too, compete teachers. Perhaps, this was the case always; but, it appears decidedly more so, today — specially, in a context where the “creative output”, too, is somewhat mediocre and lacking in originality.

Kingswoodians who are post-my time, do not feel bad; and do not think I am doing the same thing all “ancient holier than thou” old boys with hang ups usually do — look down on the present. But, with history on my back, I am automatically moved to compare some of the things I see at the present with the phenomenal achievements of some individual / groups in the not so distant pre-2003 past. Take the initial “Kala Ulela” as a prototype. This “Kala Ulela”, held in 1997, was a massive one week showdown. It was an “involved affair” by all means — there was much commitment, innovative spirit and involvement from all the leaders of this programme.

Nalaka Swarnathilake (5th from left, seated) heading the 'Live at 8' news team

The “Kala Sansadhaya” had the mediation of numerous Sinhala teachers and teachers of the arts, but the centrally involved were the students. The President of this hub was Nalaka Swarnathilake (today, of Dhanga Malla and Swarnavahini News fame). As 12 year olds we were well maneuvered as well as truly inspired by the way the forum was being laid out for us. The artists that were brought in was a well chosen mix of the conventional, the controversial and the contemporary. The deliveries were well spaced out; and the arts given a solid representation.

Romesh Sugathapala (later of Romesh-Lakshan) was another ace that ploughed his own path with his creative impulses. In a sense, Romesh was “bigger than” his contemporaries — and of a different plain, let us say, than his music teachers. He is a chap that carried the arrogance of an artiste and who lived to downplay the system requirements. The teachers often found themselves at sea as to how to respond to this fellow, who was an original genius; but, one who had a mind of his own. As one safely does when you encounter a phenomenon bigger than you, many of them ignored him; or cordoned him off.

Amidst the battle of the teachers nor is there much of an “exceptional” output or originality to boot. People are more running the motions, trying to be there and earn the shirt. In a different time and place, even to dodge a lesson to be with the organizing of an event was a challenge. Today, students have become so “righteous” and made into “pleasers” of the System that you wouldn’t cut a class because “Mr. X will be pissed”. A debater tells me as much and in facing a particular gentleman of the staff — who disallows students out of class during school hours — he is both cowed and submissive. The same gentleman was the same regarding his students’ class attendance 10 years ago. But, 2/4 of the 2002 debate team was from his class; and we did practice during school hours. We did commit ourselves at that level (while being able to win around the teacher). Excessive regularization has also brought about this “dependent” mentality. Options and avenues are less forthcoming. Your “saviour”, then, is the System — and that System in itself is not enlightened or progressive. Then what?

The saviour does not wear old hats

What is seen as a “lethargy” in the students and the “lack of creativity” is caused by the stifling of freedom to expression and experiment by the System. When you bend the ground unnecessarily to satisfy the egos of the System (and those couched within it) a negative output results. You can superficially blame it on the “age” and the “times” — but, it is more the scope and the regimental policy. Of course, there can only be one Swarnathilake; but, nor are we in search of another.

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