The current Principal and the Founder of the Colombo School of Arts and Sciences, Shaleeka Jayalath, is a proud product of Ladies’ College Colombo. Taking a brief walk back to her school days, she refers to her alma mater as a school to which she is most grateful and where she received her all-rounder qualifications. Despite being a smart kid, Shaleeka paid more attention to extracurricular activities than academics, earning her Advanced Level results that she could easily have improved upon. This incident altered her focus. Being selected for a Bachelor’s Degree in Pure Mathematics at Queen Mary and Westfield College, University of London, at the age of 17, she made it her top priority to graduate with First Class Honours to prove her level of intellectual capacity. This, of course, she did by focusing on self-discipline and determination.
According to her, her downfall at Advanced Levels was the driving force behind her success at University. She turned down the opportunity offered by Queen Mary and Westfield College to do a direct Ph.D. and opted for a professional degree in Management Accountancy instead.
After returning to her motherland, she began her teaching career. A few years later, she returned to the UK to complete her Masters in Decision Sciences at the London School of Economics and Political Sciences, University of London. Having completed that, Shaleeka was headhunted into the Strategic Finance Division of Ernst & Young LLP, London. Returning home a few years later, she joined Kingsley Jayalath Associates as a partner specializing in strategic planning and resource optimization. However, she couldn’t help but go back to teaching, which she declared to be her first and forever love.
Shaleeka is a strong believer in the unshakeable fundamentality a good education supplies a person and believes it to be the only good foundation for a quality life. In her eyes, the education system’s flaws do not count as flaws of education and, thus, she resents the idea of not considering education important. She believes that within a few years, we will be facing rapid changes that nobody can see coming and trusts education to be the most vital way of keeping youngsters on their toes and ready to adapt. This strong belief of hers supplies her with the greatest push and motivation to be a committed educator.
A turning point and a major highlight in her life was the initiation of the Colombo School of Arts and Sciences. As the founder of CSA, the simple what-if question that has kick-started the process is: ‘What if there was a school that would place value on the Arts and Humanities so that students who were interested in these streams would not have to take up the sciences just to validate their intellectual capacity or satisfy societal expectations?’
One of her beliefs is that if a child is allowed space and taught correctly, and allowed to explore, they will put their capacity to good use, leaving no room for failure. “Every child is capable of being an independent learner. But before they can embark on their studies, they need to feel emotionally stable”, added Shaleeka. Thus, CSA is a space that provides students with a welcoming and family atmosphere where they are made ready to take up the journey of life, with ensured attention paid to every student, including tailor-made education for those who may need it. “Each child is considered unique at CSA and each child’s wellbeing is at the heart of everything we do at CSA”, added Shaleeka sincerely.
At CSA, under Shaleeka’s guidance, the pandemic was considered just another challenge out of many. The staff under her leadership have put together a complete digitized platform that enables students to keep up with their academics through the formal and non-formal curriculum.
According to Shaleeka, this effort runs deeper than just Zoom classes. Even through the difficulties, the team at CSA gives 100% to continually improving educational standards. They say you can turn any negative situation into a positive if you choose to look at it that way. Shaleeka believes this time to be a golden opportunity to reflect on nature, build relationships, learn from life and invest in personal growth, which is the same, revitalizing energy she directs towards those that seek her guidance.
It is not an easy task to convince a child who wants to be a Steve Jobs, with no commitment towards the cause, that his future may be resting elsewhere. It is equally difficult to convince someone who regards themselves as a failure that they haven’t had the chance to figure out an ounce of their potential. She believes it to be her biggest responsibility to give students the confidence they need to have, which also makes it her biggest challenge. Encountering children daily that have usually formed their self-worth much less than they should be, Shaleeka chases the challenge every day to shift mindsets, rekindle self-worth and belief, and make sure each kid achieves their best with the right attitude towards life and education. She joyfully adds that she has been lucky enough to witness such transformations, but it still counts as a major challenge in her career.
Shaleeka hopes to become a good parent, not just to her own blood, but to the many who have trusted to follow her guidance for a successful life. It is her belief that the best parents are not about whims and fancy, but rather about the hard decisions they’ve got to make, the high level of emotional intelligence they need to connect with their children and give the difficult millennials the confidence and independence they desperately need to grow and become humans who are capable of acknowledging and initiating differences in society.
“Seven years ago, I envisioned and created a schooling system that did just that, and already I have had the satisfaction of witnessing its multiple success stories”, Shaleeka added. In a decade, she hopes to see an upgraded version of her innovation leading the education of kids in Sri Lanka. “… that I hope will be my legacy to the next generation of students who will contribute to the development of a society founded on the pillars of integrity, respect, tolerance, and perseverance”, Shaleeka added, humbly and hopefully. Incorporating her early life experiences into her guidance strategies, her thinking is mostly empowered through her know-how.
“The biggest mistake we make in life is assuming it has to be painful”, says Shaleeka, purely a quote out of the experience and all that she has had to encounter in her life working towards a brighter tomorrow for many hopeless young stars.