An educationalist’s enlightening book, My Life | Sunday Observer

An educationalist’s enlightening book, My Life

Author – R.I.T. Alles

An author publication

There are many books written by school teachers, school principals and educational officials. But when you read the autobiography of R.I.T. Alles titled My life, you may feel that it is a literary autobiography that cannot be expected from an educationalist. Definitely, it’s a very readable, enlightening and teacher’s guide type of book. Not only teachers, but also students, parents, principals, educational instructors, officers, and even education ministers should read it.

Alles (RIT) was the founder of D.S. Senanayake College, Colombo and an assistant principal of Royal College, Colombo before moving to DS. He was the father of parliamentarian Tiran Alles, Dr. Harsha Alles, Chairman of Gateway Group and late Malik Alles, a cricketer at D.S. Senanayake College.

Ralph Ignatius Thomas Alles or R.I.T. Alles was born on October 3, 1932 at Maha Modera, Galle. He had three brothers and an elder sister. RIT’s father was the head steward at the Galle hospital and his mother was a housewife.

Financial hardship

Initially, the family was well off, because of his father’s government job and the inheritance of his family. But after his father fell ill and suffered for long years they lost almost all the assets they had inherited except for a three quarter acre of land at Akmeemana, Galle. Eventually, his father died when RIT was seven years old and family had to face many financial hardships which caused the abandonment of higher education of his family members.

As he describes, “The bond between my mother and me was very strong. I remember I used to scrape coconut and mother used to make ‘rotti’. It was a very affectionate relationship. We had no beds. We used to sleep on mats.

“We had to be mindful of the fact that we had to look for other sources of income. So we reared poultry, and yearned for the hens to lay, as our lives depended on the income it brought. I also had a nanny-goat and kid. They were my pets and I used to bathe them and got jak leaves to feed them. In fact I had to milk the nanny-goat every day and we got about half a bottle of milk, but of course I was not entitled to drink that milk. Instead I had to take that half a bottle of milk to the boutique, barter it to get the rice or coconuts we needed for the home.”

Bennette Commercial College

When RIT sat for the GCE O/L examination or Junior School Certificate in December 1950, he was unable to enter the group of students who were exempted from the Matriculation considering their exam results at St. Anthony’s College, Kandy. He had no option, but to come back home to Galle. At this time, a friend, Cyril Ranasinghe accompanied him to a betting centre and bet on a horse, and he won seventy rupees. Empowered with the Rs. 70 he went to Bennette Commercial College, Galle to meet the Principal, Fernando. R.I.T.’s only intention was to sit for the O/L examination again in 1951, but Fernando told him “Well you can sit in December 1953 for the exam.” But he couldn’t afford to wait another two years without financial support. However, through repeated appeals to Fernando he got the chance to sit for the examination in 1951 and was able to pass it.

Here he describes another incident. Though he got the chance to sit for the O/L examination, he only had seventy rupees which was enough for a month at Bennette Commercial College.

So he describes, “….Mr. Senanayake, the Registrar came around to collect the fees for the next month. As you know, I did not have the money. So, when Mr. Senanayake appeared at one end, I disappeared from the other. But this game of hide and seek could not go on forever.”

According to the autobiography, in the meantime, a mathematics teacher at the College, Rudolph Ludowyke had to leave due to illness and RIT got the chance to teach there on behalf of him. This sheer luck helped him to continue his education at the Commercial College free. Not only that, he could join the permanent staff of the College despite the fact that Ludowyke had returned after he was cured. A salary of Rs. 100 was offered to him by Fernando. Recalling this incident he says, “As you can imagine the happiness I felt at that moment was beyond any that I could ever explain.”

Hardships

These initial hardships moulded RIT to become a student-friendly, kind and smart - teacher at Royal College, Colombo, then as principal at D.S. Senanayake College and later chairman of Gateway International School, a leading private school in Sri Lanka.

There are very interesting details in this book about his life at Royal, D.S. Senanayake, Zahira College and thereafter, in the Educational Ministry too.

Describing the early efforts to build up DS he says, “It was a very busy in January, 1967, getting the furniture, attending to the water etc. I was, may I say, the watcher, the contractor, the supervisor, the principal all in one. Not a single teacher was appointed up to that time to help me. When I went to have a look at the property, I got a shock! It was a three quarter acre cleared land, and there was a little more. There was also a drain dividing the land. The land was actually one and a quarter acres in extent, but only three quarter of it was cleared and the rest was jungle. People referred to it as ‘Koombi Kelle’ – ant-infested jungle.”

These details of ‘My Life’ are very interesting to read though the experiences were hard to tackle for RIT. He presents us very important facts about the school management system in 1980s and early ‘90s as he was the Secretary to the Ministry of Education from 1989 to 1993. When he was a Director of Studies at Zahira College, he tried to establish a student-friendly, moralistic environment within the school and set up a mosque in the school for the students convenience.

Boastful remarks

However, the last chapters in the book such as ‘My Accomplishments as State Secretary’, ‘Gateway College’, ‘Value Education’, ‘Illness and Treatment Abroad’, ‘Challenges Faced by us as a Family’, ‘My country and My School Felicitations’ are somewhat boastful remarks.

Due to the stylistic emphasis on the reportage form and thereby the preponderance of facts, it has less literary value. If the writer had depicted his school education and his career as a principal exclusively, the book could have been a great autobiography. But in spite of that, RIT reveals very valuable facts about schools in Sri Lanka and gives insights into developing a student to a higher level, respecting their values, cultures and religions.

The book, on the whole, is very helpful to educationalists as well as education officials. The contents of ‘My Life’ is of value for all times.

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