The joy of learning
fostering healthy, happy children through positive environments
At Mudagamuwa School, located in rural Kandeketiya, in Sri Lanka’s Uva Province, a teacher has created an informal learning space for students under the shade of a Jam tree. Fondly referred to as the ‘green library,’ the space which was previously used for idle chatter now attracts students with a selection of reading material and puzzles.
“I firmly believe in fostering healthy minds; to engage children rather than discipline them through punishment.” Wijeyewardene Rajapaksha (52) teaches dancing to grades 6 -11. Having worked as a teacher for 23 years, and despite nearing retirement, he remains enthusiastic about improving his teaching skills.
"As teachers, we should always strive to learn and grow to provide the best possible, and a joyful learning experience to the students. We have to be effective, and adjust teaching approaches to suit different situations, facilitating positive changes in the students.”
Wijeyewardena’s attitude is a welcome change from the more common teacher-led classroom setting in Sri Lanka; rules and regulations define the country’s public schooling system where students are required to learn passively and often punished when they are unable to meet the teachers’ expectations.
To counter school level punishment and promote a safe and conducive learning environment for students, in 2022, with funding from Primark through UNICEF Ireland, UNICEF in Sri Lanka piloted a child-centred learning environment in 50 schools in Uva and Central provinces. A key component of the programme was to build capacity of teachers and school administers to introduce to these schools multi-level teaching and positive disciplining techniques as an alternative to corporal punishment.
“The positive discipline training provided by UNICEF taught us how to deliver a more holistic education to children, encouraging them to engage in their studies, without resorting to any form of punishment,” explains Wijeyewardene. “This also inspired us to think beyond the classroom.”
“As the school did not have a library, or a place for students to sit and read, I introduced a few tables, chairs, books, newspapers and puzzles at the shade of the Jam tree - a place where students generally hangout to talk and play games. With the learning material, the shade of the tree was converted to a positive, engaging environment for students to learn at their own pace outside the regular classroom.”
“Ours is a very rural school,” explains students Pavani (15) and Thushani (14), “we don’t have any resources for sports and other extracurricular activities. When the library was created everyone started reading. It has become very popular. Even the disobedient students who never read a book before have now become avid readers.”
Pavani, a grade 11 student, and Thushani from grade 10, are studying Kandyan dance, a local dance form. The expression of confidence, optimism and energy through their performance is an affirmation of the new improved learning atmosphere in the school.
“Since the introduction of positive discipline, the attitude of the students towards the teachers has also improved; previously, teachers were very strict – it stifled us, and students would disregard and disrespect teachers' instructions. Now, the classrooms are more relaxed, students are self-aware and more focused on learning,”
The conducive learning environments created as the result of this programme has to-date benefitted over 19,500 children in the two provinces.
Mudagamuwa School is one of the 50 schools that has benefitted from the UNICEF supported programme. Students’ attitude towards learning has since improved immensely and reading has now become a popular pastime. To sustain the school’s new positive atmosphere, two more out-door libraries have been established; the simple, yet creative, approach has now introduced the joy of learning to the entire school from grades 1 to 11.