The Prefects We Need

If the stories are true, in the late 1980s, when state-sponsored crackdowns on young men and women was at their height, many Kingswood boys would opt to spend the night at school, without going back to their homes. At times like that, some of the Prefects who were active in the years 1987 and 1988 are also said to have stayed back with the boys. The name of one of the Senior Prefects of the “Bheeshana Samaya” is specially mentioned in his commitment to curb violence from entering school — both from the government paramilitary and the JVP.

In the early 1990s, when I was a young student of Kingswood College, we had a very exclusive Prefects’ Court which we looked up to with a sense of awe. In one of these Prefects’ Courts I remember a very small made “aiya” by the name of Wijesiri, who was an artist and was very good at drawings and such. He used to live close to the house I lived in back then for a few years, and lived the life of an artiste, living simple and with the people. He often drew boards and signs for villagers without a charge. Wijesiri, as I remember, died sometime in the late 1990s.

The Prefects' Court of 1987 with Principal Nihal Herath.
The Prefects’ Court of 1987 with Principal Nihal Herath.

In the 1990s, up to about the late 2000s, the practice was to have 20 Prefects, wearing gold plated badges. They were promoted from a group not exceeding 30, who were Monitors for a year. Kingswood’s Prefects were generally from after the A/L year — unlike the Prefects of some other schools whose “duty” ended a few months before their A/L exam — and were required to be in office for a year after studies. Until this changed in the late 2000s, the system worked quite well, except for 1994, where there are three Senior Prefects: Nagahapitiya, Ekanayake and Ranil De Silva. One version of the story is that Nagahapitiya stepped down and Ekanayake — who was then elected — had to back off in favour of a study opportunity that came his way. Ranil De Silva was one of the best loved and best feared of Senior Prefects of the last two decades.

Why was this system changed? One argument is that by requiring the Prefects to stay back another year or half a year at school, they were being asked to sacrifice a few months from their young lives, whereas they can be elsewhere doing a job or preparing for higher studies. With the changing times and changing expectations, maybe this argument sounds valid. But, isn’t this where the decay of Kingswood starts? The office of Prefect should not be a stud or a jewellery item you wear — but an office you take for the love of the school. It should not be something you take up to make your CV look pretty, but a commitment you make in the name of the school that nursed you. In that sense, the “additional year” is not a punishment or a burden, but a commitment of love and honour. Of course, the Prefect — before applying for the job — knows what the job is going to be; and for how long. Therefore, there is no reason for the administration to worry too much about Prefects “growing old” at school.

The stress, here, being Asiri Attanayake (2001), and of course the misspelling of Nathavitharana's initials --- DK, instead of WD.
The stress, here, being Asiri Attanayake (2001), and of course the misspelling of Nathavitharana’s initials — DK, instead of WD.

In a recent seminar at school, the Senior Prefect of 2003 WD Nathavitharana, shared with the senior boys the advantages of being “after ALs” when being a Prefect. According to him, being “after AL”s makes the Prefects biologically the oldest group of students in college and free of any other commitments but to serve the school full time. He also said that, as such, the Kingswood Prefects — wherever they went — were looked up to based on their seniority. The “training” they got in people management, event organization, crisis management and decision making, according to Nathavitharana, was worth the extra year spent in school. I feel that the change brought about in the late 2000s has made the Prefects’ Court both “soft” and vulnerable. This was one step that was taken to bring the Prefects to heel, and on the long run the strength and quality of the Prefects’ Court has come under comment.

In recent years, the Prefects seem to have some confusions regarding their “duty” and way of conduct. This is not the Prefects’ fault, entirely. The problem seems to be the “violation” of a “tradition” the Prefects’ Court had, in very short-sighted, dictatorial ways. In recent Big Matches we saw Prefects donning cowboy hats and dancing while on Big Match duty. We even saw some teachers (who, I am sure, are unaware of the traditions of the school and the Prefects’ Court) justifying this behaviour. Today, the cowboy hat seems to have come to stay and become a “tradition” of the Prefects’ Court. This is lamentable, to say the least and this policy has to be thought of again, considering the Past. At rugger matches we see Monitors holding a gigantic maroon and blue flag/banner of the school. They generally spread this on the railing of the main stand. But, we also see some Prefects who are in coloured clothing, while no Prefects are seen on duty at the game. These are drastic changes from the 1990s where Prefects were the leading force in maintaining order. They were never “spectators” in games or outings.

There were many Prefects during the time who were not the favourites of teachers. But, a good Prefect (in the way he conducted himself) always prompted the teachers and the administration to tidy up their game. In a time where the school was going through a very precarious passage — when the school had many internal issues and discipline was rocking like a boat in bad waters — the Prefects of 2001, in my view, gave the best as anyone could give for the school’s welfare. Back then, as a senior student, I remember feeling antagonistic towards these Prefects for the “harshness” of their policing, at times. But, I also realized that that kind of ruthlessness was needed to push Kingswood through the threat the school was facing at that time.

The 2001 Prefects were led by Asiri Attanayake, with Milinda Attanayake and Malalasekara as Scribes. The ruthlessness of the discipline they exacted off the students didn’t even spare boys of their own Grade. From top to bottom, from Siberia to the Primary, these Prefects combed the school of its lice and bugs — and were not always preferred by some of the teachers, too. But, their “duty” knew very little barriers and the foundation they laid that year, I am told, made the work of the Prefects of 2002 and 2003 a whole lot easier.

Today, the school needs boys who are ready to serve Kingswood, and not wear the name Kingswood as a jewel or a tie pin. We need boys who are ready to study the past, sustain the tradition and to give the best for a quality Kingswood that will live its 125 year old spirit and dignity. It is going to be hard — but, we need people who are ready to stop and re-think where we are, and where we are heading. The Prefects, I feel, have much to do in setting the standards for Kingswood to flourish and stand tall.

3 thoughts on “The Prefects We Need

  1. I’m a member of the 2006 Prefect’s court and we stayed in office till November after finishing our A/L’s in April. As I see it the reason son for the Prefects to get softer is that the current system does not allow one to use force even when it’s absolutely necessary. And after sometime, students who become Prefects shy away from taking stern actions simply because they are not familiar with Prefects being stern. If the school is to stay disciplined the Prefects have to come to the fore and make it happen.

  2. 100% true. Most of the students who have the ability and personality to become a good prefect are being abandoned. As a result dignity is being loosing from the prefects as same as the pride of the role “principal”

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