Educational aspects of Sri Lanka


EXTRA CURRICULAR AT ITS MOST EXQUISITE

There are times when parents need to justify a day off school here or there in order to persuade head teachers that a trip is of educational value. Sad fact, but true. Anyway, here are some reminders of some of the curricular and extra curricular benefits of taking your family to Sri Lanka, either as your own inspiration or just in case you need to do some convincing at school. Not that we are condoning skipping school, of course. We would never do that…

History


From the ancient history of the Sinhalese dating back to the 5th century, who created the extraordinary cities which you can visit around the Cultural Triangle, to the colonisation by both the Dutch and the British in 1500s and 1700s respectively, there is a lot of history in Sri Lanka. More recent history includes the gaining of independence in 1948. However, the name of the island wasn’t actually changed from Ceylon to Sri Lanka, which means “resplendent island” in Sanskrit, until 1972. The British colonists brought over Tamils from southern India to work on tea plantations, many as bonded labourers. Today, working conditions and pay are still poor in some places. This was one of the underlying factors in the fight for Tamil independence in the north by the Tamil Tigers, leading to a 25 year civil war which ended in 2009.

Politics & human rights


With schools increasingly studying global politics and human rights, Sri Lanka is a fascinating place to visit. Times may be more peaceful, but there are still major concerns over human rights here and, in 2011, the UN announced that both sides in the Sri Lankan civil war committed atrocities against civilians and called for an international investigation into possible war crimes. The go ahead for this full investigation into alleged abuse of human rights on both sides was only finally announced by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in June 2014. It is hoped that this will finally allow ghosts to be put to rest, and for Sri Lanka to become a thriving, multi ethnic beacon of reconciliation and restoration. For more details on the UN decision, see Amnesty International.

Religious studies


As well as the predominantly Buddhist culture, and you certainly can’t miss that with temples at every turn, pilgrimages and poya festivals almost once a month, there are also Hindu and Muslim populations in Sri Lanka. The Hindu population is mainly in the Tamil areas of the north and, after years of war and strife, Sri Lanka is becoming a beacon of integration and cooperation again. There is a lot to learn here for all of us.

Geography


Traveling around Sri Lanka with a guide is like having the coolest geography teacher ever. Even weather patterns become interesting. The humid, tropical climate, the fact that it has two monsoons, and the different coastal and mountainous weather patterns.
Moving onto topography, Sri Lanka is one colossal case study. An island in the Indian Ocean, its tropical mountainous interior is carved into deep valleys and gorges, and the highest point, Pidurutalagala, is at 2,518m along with Adam's Peak at 2,243m. Horton Plains National Park is a great spot for hiking through cloud forest up to magical spots such as Baker’s Falls. These dip down to a flat coastal plain with a ring of endless beaches, and some gushing rivers en route. White water rafting field trips compulsory for closer inspection. And then, of course, there are the cause and impacts of the tragic 2004 tsunami.
In terms of national parks, there are 26 of them although many of them are still quite inaccessible in the far north. The most popular in terms of wildlife watching are Yala, Wilpattu and Minneriya National Parks. Sinharaja Forest Reserve is a must for really keen botanists, a UNESCO site that enshrines over three quarters of the island’s biodiversity, with an array of endemic birds, butterflies, rare amphibians, and rare trees. And for family volunteering trips, tracking and monitoring wild elephants, Wasgamuwa National Park is the place to go.

Art & photography


If ever there was a time to splash out on good art materials and photographic equipment for the talented visual artists in your family, this is it. Photographing wildlife includes chances to see elephants, water buffalo, crocodiles, monkeys and, if you are lucky, leopards. As well as a photographer’s dreamy array of birdlife. With a tropical climate, the light changes all the time with quick showers adding a shiny glow to the luscious hills, or sunsets giving their gift of gold over the sea at night. Traditional art forms will be of interest too, of course, from wood carving to gemstone work. It’s a visual fiesta in Sri Lanka.

Educational tips from those in the know


TIPS FROM OUR HEAD TRAVEL TEACHERS

Helene Cooper from our supplier, Stubborn Mule: “There are so many educational aspects to Sri Lanka vacations. For starters: the cultural side and the interaction with local people, as we always recommend staying in a family homestay. You learn to cook with the mother of the household and play football with the kids running around. We recommend a place to stay in the heart of a tea plantation, it’s just gorgeous, not posh at all but an old family house and totally wonderful. You literally walk out of your bedroom into the tea plantation, and we could see the tea pickers picking the tea. You can hire bikes there, go on guided walks around the plantation and see the tea factory, you can do cookery classes and so much more. Even the street scenes are fascinating for children, such as when you see giant monitor lizards that stop the traffic because they are waddling across the road!”
Photo credits: [Top box: Etienne Boulanger] [Politics & human rights: Vikalpa | Groundviews | Maatram ] [Geography: Scott Edmunds] [Art & photography: Shehal Joseph] [Helene Cooper quote: Chris Shervey]
Written by Catherine Mack
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