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British School in Colombo accused of discrimination

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The British School in Colombo has been accused of engaging in unethical educational practices by trying to force some students to sit for their International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) examination as private candidates rather than from the school. The students concerned had reportedly underperformed at the recently held ‘mock examinations’ and it is alleged that the school is trying to force these students to sit as private candidates due to fears that it will hurt the goal of obtaining a 100% pass rate at the IGCSE examination.

A letter to this newspaper’s Editor, written by a ‘Concerned British School Parent’ also alleges that the school has asked some students from its Special Educational Needs (SEN) Department to sit for the examination as private candidates and not through the school.

However, the parent alleges that at no point during a child’s entry into the school or educational process, is it mentioned that students should sit for the examination privately if they fail to obtain satisfactory marks at the mock examination.

Sources confirmed to The Nation that the school had in fact told some students who have underperformed at the mock examinations to drop certain subjects if they are to sit for the IGCSE examination from the school. One student with special educational needs has been asked to sit for the entire examination as a private candidate. Sources say the school has offered to pay the examination fee for this student for sitting as a private candidate.

This follows a similar incident last year where another student had been asked to sit for the examination privately. However, administrators had backed down after the parents had threatened legal action against the school for violating their child’s fundamental rights, sources further revealed.

The Nation reached out to the school’s principal, Dr. John Scarth for comment. However, in reply via email, the principal said he was out of the country and will only be able to respond later this week when he is back in Colombo.

The letter
Dear Editor,
I write to you as a concerned parent of ‘The British School in Colombo’. While my child is doing well and thriving in the system, I am extremely concerned about the unethical practices that these so called ‘educational’ institutes seem to inflict on the weaker and less able students and parents. Practices that I am sure contravene a child’s right to access to education and the contractual obligation that the school undertakes in willingly accepting exorbitant school fees.

The school has just completed their mock examinations and, as is to be expected, some students have not performed as well as they could have. Keep in mind that this is a school that prides itself on having a Special Educational Needs (SEN) department and probably uses this facility as a means of marketing this school, most of theses students with special educational needs have been asked to enter for their IGCSE examinations privately and not through the school.

Why you may ask? Merely to ensure that the, be honest and call it a business, can ensure a 100% A-C grade pass rate and can use that as a marketing strategy to lure in future parents / clients. You may think that as these institutes are registered under the Business Act, why should we expect any more from them? Well, we should because of their fraudulent advertising. They claim to be a school, they claim to care about the children with educational disadvantages and provide them with special facilities, they claim to educate ‘Mind, Body and Soul’ but yet have no compunctions about casting children out in the eleventh hour, a week before the examination entry deadline to fend for themselves.

At no point of this educational process is it mentioned that if a child fails to get the required grade at their mock examination they will be forced to enter for their examinations privately and not through the school. On entry to the school, if parents and children were told about this, it might give them time to prepare, but I suspect that the school does not do this precisely because it is deemed to be an unethical practice. The manner in which this is carried out is similarly inhumane. Imagine your child has attended a school their entire life, has perhaps contributed to the school’s sports teams, has woken up at the crack of dawn to go and decorate their house tent for the swimming meet and has spent a lifetime developing a sense of belonging and loyalty to their school only to be told a week before their examination entries go in that they are not worthy of entering under the school name. Their contribution to the school, to say nothing of the school fees, has been accepted willingly but when push comes to shove these children are discarded with a phone call from the school’s examinations officer.

Are they called in to school for a meeting? Does the Principal sit them down in his plush office adorned with photographs of his own family and explain to these families why this is happening? Are they given enough time to adjust to this? Are these young vulnerable teenagers given some sort of counselling or help through what must be a difficult time for them, with all the attendant feelings of rejection? The answer to all of these questions is a resounding: no. Again, this coming from a school that claims to educate ‘Mind, Body and Soul’. These students engage in the sporting activities of the school, they attend lessons in this school everyday, they live their lives in this school, thus engaging their ‘Body’. But it seems that, despite offering SEN support their minds are labelled as inadequate for the school and as a consequence their souls are crushed.

The alternative for many of these students with special educational needs is to enter for their examinations as private candidates through ‘The British Council’. A process which is time consuming and more expensive. At this point the teenager must be going through a range of emotions which I feel that the school does not address. They feel rejected by the school they have grown to love, they feel guilty for having let their parents down (even though their educational disadvantage is not their fault), they feel embarrassed as they are distinguished from their peers further and they feel stressed about having to go through a new application process. This, on top of all the stress and fear associated with having to sit for a public examination for the first time and study for it. I do feel sorry for these children and it would break my heart if this were my child.

You may want to lump me, at this point, with the rest of the meddling parents with nothing better to do. It’s just that I find it very difficult to stand by and watch when I feel that an injustice is being perpetrated. There is a reason that we have so many laws governing and protecting the rights of a child, they are the most vulnerable and precious sector of our society, if we do not protect them and instill the right values in them, we are looking at a future generation that believes that it is alright to discard under- performing human beings, that compassion and humanity have no place in a dog eat dog world. That is not a place I would like my child to grow up in. I was heartened to see that one of the new President’s goals was to ensure regulation of international schools. Should we not expose the inherent hypocrisy of these schools / businesses? Is this not the time to do this?
Yours sincerely,
Concerned British School Parent

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