07 December 2015

The Most-Improved Student Prize

The then Ladies' College Principal, Nirmali Wickramasinghe with a very special student
It was at the end of the school year.  Grade 7 was done and Grade 8 beckoned.  Back then everyone passed, except the really, really, really bad students.  I can’t remember there being any though.  Anyway, I happened to be loitering around the Staff Room after school, waiting for my mother, who happened to be a teacher in my school. 

The up side of that fact was that most of the teachers knew me and I suppose paid extra attention to me in class. That was the down side too – every slip was reported.  That day, Mrs Sita Weerasooriya happened to see me and asked ‘What’s your class, putha?’  ‘7F’ I replied.  ‘I think I must have marked your maths paper,’ she said.  For whatever reason, our mathematics teacher, Mr Cooray, would have delegated the paper-marking to Mrs Weerasooriya, I reckoned. 

She went into the staff room and came out with a pile of answer scripts.  I can’t remember being too worried – the end of the school year has a way of sending a twelve year old boy to a universe beyond the reach of bad news and chidings. 

I still remember the expression on her face change.  She was disappointed and I like to think was upset about having to break bad news to a little boy.  ‘It’s very low, your score,’ she said softly. Kindly I would add, in the manner of commiseration.

I was, as mentioned, in another universe and responded as per the courtesies expected from a student to a teacher: ‘How much, Madam?’

‘Only 42,’ again in that soft, kind tone.

I was in another universe, true, but this bit of information elated me: ‘That’s good! I got only 17 in the mid-year exam!’ 

She smiled.  That’s all I remember.  The lady, until she passed away a few years ago, would call me now and then to comment on an article I had written and to inquire about my life. Kind, to the end.

I remembered Mrs Sita Weerasooriya a couple of days ago.  No one mentioned her name.  It happened at a school prize giving.  There were all kinds of prizes being distributed: class prizes, subject prizes, special prizes celebrating things such as leadership, loyalty, generosity, humanity etc, and school colours for sportswomen.  The category that ran across all the grades which interested me most was not ‘first’ or ‘second’ but ‘most improved student’.   Those students, I like to think, received the most applause. 

I didn’t know such prizes existed in that school or any other.  It made sense, considering that Rev Melvin de Silva, Chaplain, in his prayer spoke of and to those children who had not done as well as others.  It made sense, because a few years ago, at the annual sports giving, I was moved by a dance performance by the ‘special needs’ students and moved to tears when the then principal of the school, Mrs Nirmali Wickramasinghe embraced each one of these special and specially needed students. 

I am not an educationist and have had little reason to delve into the details of how a school is run, and what the priorities of an educationist are or should be.  I am not sure if other schools have prizes for most-improved students.  I hope there are such prizes.  I hope that all principles recognize how special every student is.  I hope all teachers are convinced that every student can be better than he or she is and pass on that conviction to their charges. 

Most-improved student.  That was a new one to me.  I felt it was the most important set of prizes among those distributed that evening.    All of a sudden I was taken to the end of the school year when I was in the seventh grade.  All of a sudden I remembered Mrs Weerasooriya’s response when I explained ‘improvement’ that afternoon I waited for my mother.  All of a sudden I remembered the smile.  

There were no most-improved-student prizes in our school then and maybe none even now.  In all likelihood there were many others whose improvement was better than mine.  But a few days ago, at the Ladies’ College Prize-Giving, I felt that so many decades ago, Mrs Sita Weerasooriya had secretly and illegally given me the ‘Most Improved Student Prize’ of that year.  Even though I got just 42! 



තිස්ස දොඩන්ගොඩ said...

A beautiful mind!

Appreciate the write up and loved it a lot!

Ambika Dissanayake said...

Your words are really worthy for the people who are in the field of education. Thank you for sharing your experience.