The English that you know is good enough-why do you need university qualifications?
I can’t imagine that I worked in such a Fagin (remember Oliver Twist?) type workplace. It was in the early ‘90s. I got paid LK.Rs. 2032 (approximately US$ 15 at today’s exchange rate). It was a commercial company that dealt with brokering and auctioneering different commodities. An average day was just filled with work. I didn’t have much of a choice because I didn’t have any work experience to toot about. Deep down I was so eager to get a specialized training from a recognized institution, one that would come close enough to a university accrediting and something that I could learn and improve my skills. There was one hitch it had to be affordable too.
An advert in a local daily grabbed my interest. It was the University of Colombo conducting a Diploma in Advanced English. I thought the awarding body was credible enough to work my way to the top and also improve my language that was the more desired skill to be eligible for a job in the country. The fee was Rs. 1000 (approximately US$ 10) and was permitted to be paid in monthly installments. During a lunch break I visited the Registration counter of the University and picked up the entry forms. Happier than I left I couldn’t wait to get home to fill in and send it before the deadline. On my way home I scrambled to get a seat in the bus just to be able to read the guidelines, eligibility criteria and the level of recognition the entire program would bring in. That night I filled in the entry forms and couldn’t wait till the next day to make another visit to the University to submit the forms.
One day while I was at work I got a bulky pack addressed from the University of Colombo. Leaving my work aside for a while, I went into the rest room unable to curtail my anxiety. The formal letter with the fragrance of freshly printed paper simply wanted me to come over for a test that would help them to slot me in the desired level. Instantly I made up my mind to refresh my linguistic skills that would take me directly to the top, enough to qualify for the Advanced level. I figured this way I wouldn’t have to spend another year in a lower level and then qualify to get the Advanced level qualification.
I took one Saturday off to go for the exam. The questions were tricky but I gave it my best. There were the typical 9-5 employees who had filled the hall and were hastily scribbling away. When I got out the only thing I hoped was that my efforts will pay off positively.
The weeks rolled by and once more the UOC stamped envelope excited me. Taking a deep breath I opened the envelope to read the words that I had been waiting to hear. Yes! I had qualified to take the Advanced Level programme. The class would be held on Saturday mornings for one year. The challenge was to now let my employers know that I was selected and ask them if they would let me take the Saturdays off and I would compensate the lost hours by working after hours.
After a lot of mental gearing I walked into my immediate supervisor’s room that felt like the North Pole. All big wigs were comfortably sitting in air conditioned individual rooms while we sat out with ceiling fans to ward off the humidity, heat generated from 35 degree weather. He glanced up as if to ask me why I was in. I told him my new achievement. Snickering at my request he asks to see the letter sent by the UOC. I don’t know if he really cared to read or even glance but within a split second he just said “The English that you know is good enough-why do you need university qualifications?” I told him that it was to improve my language skills and then he goes “We can’t let someone not work on Saturdays just because of some course, You need to complete studying and come to work, (Does this moron ever realize that learning is continuous?) This is not workable. You are not someone who needs to know more English? what will you do after learning more? I felt humiliated and lost. All my efforts had just been washed off. There wasn’t a way that I could say good bye to this job because the money was needed. A million things flooded in my head. Dejected I walked out.
In the days to come this moron had not kept quiet. He had shared my humble request with every other manager and together whenever they passed my desk they jeered “What advanced English, English is English, this maybe a cover up to go on some other visits or just a lame excuse to not work during the weekends. Only worked here for a year, planning to do what?
There was nothing more definite than the need for me to move out of this useless rut. With a heavy heart I shred all the letters from the UOC that I had treasured. The job was more important, because the money was needed to keep up going. I went back to the rest room and wept. Along the way home, each time those razor sharp words kept coming, I felt ridiculed. Was it so wrong to ask for permission to learn something? I became stronger and thought to myself I will learn something in someplace where they will let me or where I could. I bounced back sooner than I fell. The weeks that followed were spent looking for another job. Some months later I was out of that door for good.