Revisiting history! | Daily News


Revisiting history!

Gateway College, Dehiwala, launches a History Museum in the school premises
Chelliah with history students. Pictures by Ruwan de Silva
Chelliah with history students. Pictures by Ruwan de Silva

How would a student feel if he or she got the opportunity to play a peek-a-boo game with ancient kings and queens, emperors, pharaohs, scientists, poets and artists? What kind of an experience would students derive by stepping into their own History Museum in school that offers a wealth of tangible and intangible knowledge?

Anthony Chelliah the brainchild of History Museum in Gateway College also being the history teacher and deputy principal of the college has paved way for his pupils to traverse time and familiarize with the vivid history of this blue planet.

Chelliah who is well versed with innovative teaching tactics uses his prowess to bestow knowledge on his students.

Daily News T&C met Chelliah to find out more about his endeavour.

Q: History Museum at Gateway College initiated by you sheds light on an innovative means of history education.

History is sometimes seen as a boring subject. Although memorizing is part and parcel of the subject with long notes and heap of facts to memorize, these features themselves have alienated children from the subject.

I thought of a process to make children explore by themselves and learn. Thus, I created a means of motivating the child to like the subject. If a child likes something he will definitely focus on it. Elders interpret the process of learning with words like memorizing and studying. I want my pupils to explore and understand the past.

Then they would feel the pulse of a warrior emperor like Genghis Khan or our own king, Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe. This new approach to learning history has won the hearts of youngsters whose curious minds are now seeking to learn deeper and look closer into this subject.

We launched History Museum concept at Gateway Rajagiriya branch in 2006 and Dehiwala branch followed suit.

Q: How were you groomed to become a teacher?

I started my teaching career when I was just 18. People tried to see me as a lawyer or a doctor but nothing of that worked. However my parents always advised me to do what I am passionate about and move forward in life.

In 2001 I joined an international school as a history teacher. I joined Gateway College in 2005.

I didn’t want to adhere to stereotype teaching methods. Thus, I went in an entirely different way. I may create dramas…dances or comedy sessions in my class to win the hearts of children.

I was into drama as a child and have played kings and emperors on stage. Those attributes would have helped me to design my own teaching method. My teaching concept is to persuade students towards learning without dragging them towards studying.

Q: What kind of support did you receive when you wanted to initiate the History Museum concept?

Dr Harsha Alles the Chairman of Gateway College offered me his blessings. He simply read my mind and gave the green light to do it my way.

I have worked with R I T Alles who was the founder of Gateway College as well as with Rohini Alles before making alliances with Dr Harsha Alles. Being very approachable and sensible people they build a cordial relationship with teachers. They nurture teamwork and that is the strength of our college.

In 2007 we wrote to embassies and communicated about our history museum. In response, with appreciations on our initiative many embassies here and in India donated us with books and souvenirs.

All of my students are not ardent readers though. Some read extensively and some would like to portray kings and queens of the past in drams and learn in the process.

Since they should also know the history of our motherland, I take my students to various places of historical importance in the country to stimulate their interest on their own country’s past.

Q: How is the enthusiasm of the students towards the history museum concept?

I see my history students as kings, queens, duchesses, dukes, emperors and leaders.

I see them as great personalities in the making. They are the ones who would be future leaders here or somewhere else in the world.

At times they too dictate terms to me (laughs) but with good intentions. They would come up with new ideas and it becomes food for thought for me. I like this positive approach that motivates them to explore and learn.

This interactive learning exercise has made students more curious about the happenings in history than ever before.

Q: How have they excelled academically?

Two of my students have already entered universities with full scholarships.

In time to come most of these students would enter foreign universities. They are yet to know the seriousness of these universities. In those universities they would perhaps be given zero marks by lecturers if assignments are not submitted on time and they would not be able to compromise.

Hence I discipline my students right now to be punctual in their learning. I implement strict discipline amidst all the activities with students for their own betterment.

Q: Ambiance of the History Museum is impressive.

This magnificent room is filled with numerous ancient souvenirs, statues and relics collected from Russia to Greece and many other countries and it possess a rich historical settings and stories.

It is a notable feature that several embassies from Romania, the UAE and Netherlands have helped in this learning endeavor by donating books which portray detailed accounts of world’s historical progression.

The history room is a haven to build on dreams of students to take them on a journey through time. 


The students have their say

- Imaad Muwahid (Year 12)

Chelliah is a passionate teacher and he motivates and inspires us to explore and learn history. He does this by conducting interactive sessions to see that we don’t lose interest on the subject.

He is determined to see our continuous development.

To arouse our interest on Russian and Chinese history he even conducted drama sessions.

Hence students are so enthusiastic to associate with him and experience his innovative ways of teaching.

- Damian Demotte (Year 13)

Among children, history was generalized to be a boring subject. Chelliah harnesses all synergies of students to create an interest on the subject.

He makes sure that a student is going to be a part of particular country’s history.

This involvement by the students makes them explore deep into the subject. There always is something special for everyone in his class and it is something that everyone would enjoy.

Hence ‘boring’ is an adjective that could never be used to describe teaching done by Chelliah.

Wall paintings of life-size images of prominent personalities in the past stimulate interest of students on the subject.

Banan Shimau, a Maldivian national (Year 12)

Because of the fact that there are so many pictures and visual presentations it is easy for us to understand and feel what we are learning.

It really stimulates our imagination as to how things would have happened in bygone eras of the world.

Statues and sculptures of personalities like warrior emperor Genghis Khan, Stalin or Lenin would invite us to glide through time to learn about them.

Akshaya Handy (Year 12)

Chelliah has taught me since year nine. His ideas and perceptions are different and it opens new vistas in students’ minds.

Each picture he has displayed in the History Museum depicts a story, so even children who don’t know about history are free to stopover at the history room and gather knowledge.

I personally love Indian history hence I would ask from him many questions with regard to that since he has been in India for a long time prior to taking up teaching in Sri Lanka.

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