Ian Lockwood


Posts Tagged ‘Overseas School of Colombo

Sri Pada Field Study 2017

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Lights of the Ratnapura and Kuruwita trails from the summit of Sri Pada.

In December of 2017 OSC’s DP1 classes journeyed into the Central Highlands to explore and experience field studies in biology, physics and environmental systems & societies. These excursions are now a solidified and key learning highlight for DP science classes. The physics students looked at and experimented with hydroelectricity near Norton Bridge and the Biology class did field ecology exercises on Castlereigh Lake. Once again, I took the Environmental Systems & Societies (ES&S) group up to Peak Wilderness for a study of biodiversity and human impact. It was a very small group (three students), supported by Kamila Sahideen who was on her first visit to the sacred mountain. We enjoyed three days of learning, basic accommodation and an overnight stay at the summit of Sri Pada (this is only the second time that I have taken students on the overnight component -the last time was in December 2012).

As usual, we focused on four broad themes related to the Environmental Systems & Societies syllabus.

  • Theme 1: Land Use Variation (anthropocentric vs. natural ecosystems, plantation agriculture etc.)
  • Theme 2: Forest & Vegetation Types (lowland, montane tropical forests, cloud forests)
  • Theme 3: Vertical Zonation
  • Theme 4: Biodiversity in a ‘Biodiversity Hotspot’

Composite view looking north of Nalathani (Delhousie) and the Hatton Trail at dawn from the summit of Sri Pada. Pidurutalagala is on the horizon above clouds in the right corner. Wolfgang Werner’s book on Cloud Forest uses a view of the forest and falls to the left.

Because the group size was small this year, I consulted with the team and then made the decision to bivouac up at the summit. This meant carrying larger backpacks with food and sleeping gear on the hike up. In the past carrying loads has been a challenge for OSC students unaccustomed to backpacking and ascending altitudes after being at sea level. Our hike on December 12th was in persistent rain that lasted all day. The wet conditions and abundant leeches made it difficult to stop to conduct field observations and we pretty much walked straight up to the summit at a slow, but steady pace (see Google My Map below with metadata from Strava). At the top, we were not able to get one of the few rooms that are sometimes available and instead bedded down in the pilgrim’s shelter. We were at the summit by 1:30 and so the class got to spend the afternoon taking in the rhythms of the temple in season. There was a slow stream of pilgrims and pujas but for the most part it remained relatively empty all the way until the next day.

There were several important highlights from this trip. I was treated to a 10-minute observation of a solitary otter (presumably the Eurasian Otter Lutra lutra nair) at the Fishing Hut. I had observed a group of them at twilight a few years back so it was good to see that the species still visits the area. At the summit of Sri Pada there were more moths at lights than I have ever witnessed before. Many of these would eventually perish but hundreds were hanging out on walls, rock faces and sacred cloth. Birds included Blue Magpies at the Fishing Hut and then Yellow Eared Bulbuls, Dull Blue Flycatchers, Great Tits at the Sri Pada summit. No SL Whistling Thrushes on this trip (see 2010 post for my notable encounter) but another pilgrim posted a photograph of a male on Facebook shortly after our trip. On the way, home the group enjoyed a good sighting of a Legge’s hawk-eagle in a tea plantation on the edge of Peak Wilderness.

Mosaic of moths on the summit and slopes of Sri Pada.

On the morning of December 13th I was thrilled to see the clouds clear to reveal misty valley below. The view to the east was free of clouds and when the sun came up it provided the right atmospheric conditions to produce the magical mountain shadow that is a rare, ethereal phenomenon to experience. As usual, the shadow dropped as the sun rose and soon merged with the conical mountain that had cast the light. We lingered beyond the time that most pilgrims stay on the summit,


Composite image of the mountain shadow seen look to the west from Sri Pada’s summit. We were blessed with a fine sunrise and a clear shadow-an awe-inspiring phenomenon that is not guaranteed to pilgrims at the summit of Sri Pada.


  • OSC Class of 2010 (Sri Pada 2008trip)
  • OSC Class of 2011 (Sri Pada 2009trip)
  • OSC Class of 2012 (Sri Pada 2010trip)
  • OSC Class of 2013 (Sri Pada 2011trip)
  • OSC Class of 2014 (Sri Pada 2012trip)
  • OSC Class of 2015 (Sri Pada 2013 trip)
  • OSC Class of 2016 (Sri Pada 2014 trip)
  • OSC Class of 2017 (Sri Pada 2015 trip)
  • OSC Class of 2018 (Sri Pada 2016 trip)


Atmospheric Optics. “Mountain Shadow.” Photograph by Ian Lockwood. 2010. Web.

Fernando, Sarala and Luxman Nadaraja. Sri Pada. Colombo: Vijitha Yapa, 2011. Print.

Pethiyagoda, Rohan. Horton Plains: Sri Lanka’s Cloud Forest National Park. Colombo: WHT, 2013. Print.

Werner, Wolfgang. Sri Lanka’s Magnificent Cloud Forests. Colombo: Wildlife Heritage Trust, 2001. Print.


Google My Map showing our trail (collected on Strave and then exported as a GPX file)

Written by ianlockwood

2018-01-31 at 9:34 pm

GIS Developments at OSC in 2017

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GIS as a tool for teaching and learning in the DP Geography program (the field, Survey Department and in a final Geography EE map).

November 15th marked GIS Day, a time set aside to recognize the important role of Geographical Information Systems (GIS) in our lives. With a theme of GIS as the “science of where” it seems like a good time to look at ways in which we are using GIS as a tool for teaching and learning at OSC. Ten years ago, I put in the first proposals to adopt a GIS program at OSC as a part of our MYP and DP Geography courses. Since then the school’s small program has grown steadily while there have also been enormous leaps in the technology. This post reviews the newer applications and data sources that I am using as a tool for geospatial teaching and learning in the OSC environment.

Curricular Links in the International Baccalaureate DP

As far as I know, there are no explicit requirements that GIS skills be taught in any IB course. There are references made to GIS in the revised DP Geography, First Examinations May 2019 syllabus though they are not required (unfortunately, from my perspective). On page 19 it says “it is recognized that the ability to use GIS as a tool is a valuable geographic skill that goes beyond many of those listed below. Where GIS is accessible and practical, its use is encouraged.” Of course, there are many geographic skills listed in the guide that can be taught using a GIS platform. The Environmental Systems & Societies, First Examinations 2017 syllabus in the Investigating Ecosystems (2.5) section mentions GIS as a tool to use when tracking land use change (see p. 38).

At OSC I take time to teach several basic GIS lessons in DP Geography that allows students to use it as a told for case studies and then work on the internal assessment. In the past, I have worked with MYP students to introduce them to skills and methods for using our ArcGIS software. This year we are once again introducing GIS skills for MY 5 so that they can map spatial patterns from their Galle socio-economic survey work.

Survey Pan

Mobile Data Collection & Tracking

The advent of wide spread use of smartphones and improved 4G cellphone networks has opened up opportunities to use mobile data gathering apps on phones. There are a variety of options including open source apps (Open Data Kit, etc.). I am using ESRI’s Survey123 which comes with our ArcGIS site license. For the first time this year we recorded all of the DP Geography Sinharaja field surveys on Survey123. The class set up a common survey with questions about gender, housing, water access, land use and other variables. Before we went to the field we trialed a simpler version in Colombo. In the field, every student had a phone but we also backed it up with paper copies. At times, there was no cell phone access. We were able to upload the data later when we had cell phone connectivity (this worked quite well although photographs attached to the survey slowed down the uploads considerably). It was a much better way to tabulate the data (there were more than 70 individual respondents in total) and the class could map the data points since each had a spatial reference.

At the same time, I have been experimenting with using phone apps to track and record hikes and trails that we walk on CAS experiences. Strava, a fitness oriented app, offers an excellent way to record tracks. I am exporting GPX trails and then putting them onto Google my maps and sharing them with participants. I’ve taught students how to use them as a way to record key paths on their CAS blogs (see Maha’s Off the Grid post or my Mannar account for an example of this). We are currently using Google My Maps for this and layering the GPX trails onto a map that we make public. I would like to use an Openstreetmap for the base layer but this requires a WordPress plugin and $$$.

Hardware & Online Software

In terms of hardware we are operating a basic system with a server/desktop and then four lab desktops (each with decent specs-16 GB RAM, fast processors, graphics cards, large (2tb) drives and wide HD monitors. Geography students have access to ArcGIS Online on their laptops (both OSC and Windows platforms). When it comes to working with imagery I find it easier to use the desktops where I have spatial data stored for specific class assignments.

There are a variety of software options for using GIS as an educational tool. The most widely used open source GIS software package must surely be QGIS. It has an OSX version and the interface is quite similar to ArcGIS. At the school we continue to use the industry-standard, proprietary ArcGIS group of applications and have maintained an advanced license for over the last eight years through GIS Solutions here in Colombo. I am able to get technical advice from IWMI’s GIS lab when there are new operations or application that we want to put to test. I have also developed relationships with other major GIS users who are working on environmental issues in Sri Lanka.

Openstreet Map Contributions

In the last two years we have been using Openstreet Maps and have made minor contributions in our neighborhood and areas of interest. I value the idea of an open platform wiki space where users can contribute spatial knowledge. It is also an excellent source for downloading shapefiles of houses, building, roads, and other features in our Sri Lankan study areas. This data is often more update to shapefiles that are commercially available. We have had students download OSM data and then use the shape files to design studies of land use in the Colombo CBD (see attached image).

Recent OSC Student GIS work

Support from Local Contacts

OSC’s GIS initiatives continue to enjoy support for several key Colombo-based players. The International Water Management Institute’s (IWMI) GIS lab has been our main resource. They provide us with technical guidance and share public data that can be used for student learning. Their Water Data Portal is an important source of publically available spatial data.

Dr. Ajith Gunawadena at the Central Environment Authority’s Research and Development (GIS) unit  has become a good friend. He has helped me understand the ways in which the CEA and other government agencies are using GIS to tackle a range of national challenges. He helped guide the production of district level spatial databases (resource profiles).

I have developed good relations at the Sri Lankan Forest Department. Their GIS unit is working on updating the forestry map of Sri Lanka (last completed in 2010) and I have had a chance to see how they are using remoted sensed imagery to inventory different types of forest cover. The best way to access their basic forest data is on the FAO-sponsored REDD+ National Forest Monitory System portal. At the invitation of Anura Sathurasinghe, several of our DP2 students and I participated in the recently held 27th Asia Pacific Forestry Commission meetings here in Colombo.

Colombo is now growing rapidly and this has given students an opportunity to study process of urbanization and urban environments first hand. The port city project, still controversial but speeding ahead, is moving at a rapid pace. While the Urban Development Authority used to be the key agency for getting urban data, the Western Region Megapolis Planning Project  now seems to be the main agency with data and information about Colombo’s urban projects. Master plans are available on their website for download.

SL Survey Department Developments

The Sri Lankan Survey Department continues to be a remarkable government agency that supports geographic teaching and learning in the country. I have always appreciated their open view to public access to maps and spatial data. At the GIS Day 2017 event several of their team members spoke about developments at the SLSD. Sarath Jayatilaka and N. Wijeyanayake, traced the historical development of mapping at the department. Mr. Sivanantharajah bought the audience up to date with new developments in remote sensing including the use of lidar to generate highly accurate elevation models. The Survey Department is at work on a National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI) platform but this is expected to be another six months or a year before it is unveiled to the public. Meanwhile some of their maps and data can be viewed on an interactive portal and their land information system. What would be nice is if Sri Lanka’s larger neighbors would be willing to learn from the island nation’s open approach to making spatial data and maps available to the public to improve overall geographic knowledge and understanding!

Accessing Population, Development, Environmental, Energy & Poverty Data

When addressing core concepts of the Geography and ES&S syllabi there are now an amazing variety of map-based data portals to access up-to-date statistical data.

  • I have been using the Washington DC-based Population Reference Bureau data tables to study and analyze population patterns for nearly 20 years in my teaching and they now are accompanied by interactive map portal.
  • World Resources is sponsoring a useful Data portal on deforestation called the Global Forest Watch. Their data is built on a Google Earth Engine
  • World Bank data, a leading source of data on economic development and poverty, can be found on their data portal. DP1 students made an important discovery when they accessed the Interactive Bangladesh Map. We were able to download the GIS-ready data and then view and manipulate it in an ArcGIS environment. I understand that they will be doing similar sites for country and global data.
  • For data on the Himalayan region ICMOD maintains the Mountain Geoportal.
  • The Sri Lanka Census & Statistics department has always been a good source of data. They now have an interactive geoportal to access some of this data. It is layered on an Openstreet base map.



Bolstad, Paul. GIS Fundamentals: A First Text on Geographic Information Systems, Fifth Edition. Acton, MA,Xanedu, 2016. Print. Web Resource Link, (GIS lessons).

Brown, Clint and Christian Harder Eds. The ArcGIS Imagery Book: New View. New Vision. Redlands, CA: ESRI Press. 2016. Print (Web version).

ESRI. Advancing STEM Education with GIS. Redlands, CA. 2012.   Web.

ESRI. K-12 Education portal. Web.

Harder, Christian and Clint Brown, Eds. The ArcGIS Book, 2nd Edition. Redlands, CA: ESRI Press. 2017. WebPDF.

Jensen, John R. Introductory Digital Image Processing: A Remote Sensing Perspective, 4th Edition. Glenview, IL: Pearson GIS, 2016. Print.

Keranen, Kathyrn & Lyn Malone. Instructional Guide for the ArcGIS Book. Redlands, CA: ESRI Press, 2016. Print (Web version).

Kimerling, A. Jon. et al. Map Use, Eighth Edition. Redlands, ESRI Press, 2016. Print. Web Link. Review by Daniel G. Cole.

O’ Connor, Peter. GIS for A-level geography. Geographical Association/ESRI, 2008. Print.

Written by ianlockwood

2017-12-01 at 11:39 pm

Mannar: Far Corner of Sri Lanka

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Baobab on the north shore of Mannar.

Off the Grid (OTG), OSC’s outdoor and adventure club explores different corners of Sri Lanka seeking adventure, new destinations and fresh opportunities to learn from our host country. In October we took a three-day visit to the island of Mannar on Sri Lanka’s west coast. The low lying, bone-dry island is steeped in myth but distant from the well-worn tourist track of most visitors. Mannar is most often visited by birdwatchers looking for flamingos and wintering birds (see my post from March 2017). On this trip, OTG was looking for opportunities to build a relationship with a local NGO engaged in mangrove and coral reef conservation.

We originally had a large group signed up but, in the end, only three students joined the trip. Theo from DP2, Madeleine from DP1 and MYP3 student Lenny. Kamilla Sahideen, the other OTG faculty leader, joined us and we were driven by Anthony who is fluent in three languages and one of the best drivers that the school hires. The Recycling & Sustainability service group (represented by Lenny and myself) and Reefkeepers (represented by Madeleine) were particularly interested in how a small community was dealing with solid waste management and coral reef conservation.


Tantirimale Buddha.

Getting to Mannar was a significant part of the adventure and we had stops at Negombo, Tantirimale, Madhu, and Vankalai sanctuary on the way up. On the island we had an opportunity to visit the historic fort, the grave site of Adam & Eve, Talaimannar pier and the last point of land before Adams bridge. Each of these places is interesting in their own way-for me it was the living mythology of the location that stood out. In Mannar we stayed at the Four Tees guest house, a place well known to birders. They have reasonable rates and the owner Laurence is friendly, hospitable and surely one of the most knowledgeable hoteliers on the island. Our meals were simple (but scrumptious) and mostly taken at Mannar’s City Hotel and other road- side eating joints. Out visit coincided with the onset of the North East (Winter) monsoon and the showers that we experienced were beginning to fill up tanks and ponds that are dry for most of the year. In this arid, near desert part of the island, the relief for people and wildlife was palatable.


In Vidataltivu

The focus of our trip was to spend time in a small village, Vidataltivu, located off of the Mannar-Jaffna road. Vidataltivu’s location in an area once trapped in the conflict between the Sri Lankan government and LTTE is still haunting. Many of its buildings, built with generous quantities of cement in an art deco style during the 1960s, lie abandoned and empty. There are signs of normalcy returning in the active fishing harbor but the town seems far short of full recovery. The Vidataltivu Ecotourism Society (VETS) is a small organization that was started to help protect the area’s mangroves, sea grass beds and coral reefs from unsustainable fishing practices. They are composed of a handful of young people who have worked with their neighbors to protect the area. UNDP has helped to support their efforts and worked with the community in fixing up the fishing harbor’s docks, providing VETS with a boat and sponsoring various capacity building exercise. Santhiapillai Augustine was out contact from UNDP who helped try to line up the permissions. Edison, one of their leaders now works with the DCW while working on a graduate degree in Ruhuna University and worked to help facilitate our visit.

Because this was formerly in territory controlled by the LTTE there is a strong SL Navy presence in Vidataltivu. Their base at the edge of the Vidataltivu harbor blends in with the surroundings and it is a non-threatening arrangement from the point of view of a visitor. The harbor is active with fishing boats who specialize in catching crabs just off shore. However, the Navy’s concerns about security have made it very difficult for tourists to take short rides into the water from the harbor. The jurisdiction of the coastal area has recently been transferred to the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC). I had worked in the weeks before our trip to get the necessary permissions and we came with written permission to conduct a study tour from the DWC. We thought that our group might be allowed to visit both the mangrove and the coral reef. In the end, we were only able to see the mangrove and will have to wait to visit the reef on a future visit.

Our trip was much too short but it did allow for us to get a sense of Mannar, Vidataltivu and the surrounding area. In general, I think all of us were impressed with the serene beauty of the low lying island, the palmyra trees, lagoons and infinite horizons. People were friendly and gracious in our interactions. We were, however, dismayed to observe large quantities of plastic waste on the roadsides, lagoons and beaches: it is clear that issues of non-biodegradable solid domestic waste pose a serious challenge for the citizens of Mannar. Some of this waste may be coming over the sea but most of the waste that we saw (broken buckets, plastic bags, shoes, wrappers and water bottles) that was on roadsides and near to Mannar’s human settlements. It is of course a problem felt at a national and global scale and Mannar is not alone in this challenge. On the positive side, I was happy that Laurence the proprietor of Four Tees welcomed us and then politely reminded us not to bring any plastic whatsoever into his premise.

As we were heading back to Colombo we stopped by the Mannar salterns and were treated to a sighting of the Greater flamingos-about 60 of them who are apparently resident all year long.  OTG looks forward to returning to Mannar to build on the relationships that were started on this visit.

Greater flamingos taking flight near Mannar town. These are apparently a resident group of about 60 individuals.


Google My Maps showing trip route and significant points.



Gnanam, Amrith. Discover Mannar Sri Lanka. Colombo: Palmyrah House, 2017. Print.

Experiential Education Across the Length & Breadth of Sri Lanka: OSC’s Week Without Walls Program

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Week Without Walls Exhibition Poster 2016

Week Without Walls Exhibition Poster 2016

The Overseas School of Colombo’s annual Week Without Walls (WWW) is a high point for many of our students and teachers. With collective inputs of faculty members, some who have moved to other schools, the program continues to grow as a model of experiential education in a small school. I’ve had the privilege to be involved with the program from its inception. In addition to running one of the groups I coordinate the program and help to give it direction. We have now developed several distinct goals that guide the way it runs and continue to look for ways to improve the experiences. One of these key goals is the focus that is put on the host country (rather than on exotic foreign locations) and how the program fosters a better understanding of Sri Lanka. In recent years the focus has been on integrating units of study from classes with the different WWW learning experiences. In this post I’ll go back in time to review the origins of the program and then highlight some of the outcomes this year.

Looking Back, Looking Forward

Experiential education is an approach in teaching and learning with roots in the writing of John Dewey and other education thinkers of the 20th Century. It is defined by the Association of Experiential Education as “a process through which a learner constructs knowledge, skills and value from direct experience” (Ibid 91). Kurt Hahn was an early practitioner of experiential education in founding the Outward Bound program and motivating the IB’s Creativity Action & Service (CAS) program. David Kolb’s 1984 publication Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development provided a theoretical basis that has underpinned the CAS program. His cycle or model of goal-setting, action, observation and reflection is a key part of the CAS learning process, and similar models are used in other areas of learning.

OSC’s WWW program had its roots in an ambitious outdoor education (OE) program that was integrated into the school’s Middle Year’s Program (MYP) in the mid 2000s. The OE program was envisioned by Elliot Bowyer, supported by Ray Lewis (MYP/DP teacher), Paul Buckley (Primary Principal), Laurie McLellan (Head of School) and several others in 2003-04 and implemented with the support of Borderlands Pvt. Ltd. Each of the middle school classes took a three-day experience and skills were built up to a culminating adventure in MYP5 that was used as a moderated sample in the PE classes. In its original design, the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award program was planned to be integrated alongside the PE units. This didn’t happen and we are now reconsidering it as an add on to our program. The OE ran into difficulty when there was a change in staff and the PE department lost interest in using the program to design their moderated assessments around. As it happened, other developments at school helped the OE program evolve.

An overnight trip to the summit temple on Sri Pada in January 2007 with the MYP geography students from the class of 2009 was a key event that paved the way for the WWW program as we now know it. I was leading the experience as a part of my MYP5 geography study of culture and ecosystems. There were 12 enthusiastic students from nearly as many countries. One was the daughter of an ambassador who had a security guard shadowing us discretely. We hiked up in daylight hours and spent the night in the summit temple. Oli Toore Hancock, OSC’s secondary principal was the female chaperone. Our observations of student engagement and learning sewed the seed for what would then develop into the Week Without Walls. (an account of the experience was published in IS Magazine in 2007)

At the same time OSC was supporting eight tsunami-affected community primary schools in the south of the island. Karu Gamage, the school’s legendary service coordinator for many years, was our link to these institutions and their hard working teachers. Students groups from OSC had visited the schools for short service learning trips and these experiences were woven into the initial avatars of the WWW program. Oli presented a WWW proposal to the board in March 2007 and it was approved for the 2007-08 school year.

Evolution in Experiential Learning

As the WWW took shape we worked to establish clear goals to guide the trips as experiential learning experiences rather than visits to exotic locations. Aside from incorporating the outdoor education and service learning goals, the WWW program was designed to better expose OSC students to our host nation Sri Lanka and its varied natural and cultural treasures. The ideals of the WWW were rooted in more fully realizing the OSC mission statement, which seeks to “develop the whole person as a responsible learner, striving for personal excellence within a culturally diverse environment.” It was initially only three days and all learning experiences were single (rather than mixed) class trips. By this time Anthony Coles was the secondary principal. Laurie McLellan was still the Head of School and would soon be succeeded by Areta Williams. It was a crucial time as the conflict and violence that had engulfed the country came to an end in May 2009.

The WWW program ran parallel to the OE program for the first two years. But with OE not being used in MYP classes it was decided to integrate the learning with the WWW into a single five day-long program in 2009-10. Costs were incorporated into tuition around this time (parents had paid a subsidized fee for their children in past years). MYP 1-3 (grade 6-8) trips focused on themes of culture, history and ecology in Kandy, Galle and the Cultural Triangle. MYP 4 (grade 9) kept the full outdoor education emphasis-something that was enabled when Borderlands established a permanent camp in Kitulgala. Grade 10 combined both outdoor education at Uduwalawae with two days of service work in Hambantota. DP1 (Grade 11) did a full service trip to the tsunami-affected community schools also in Hambantota.

I found that the large class trips were difficult to manage and advocated for smaller groups where students had choice in what they did. I had seen this model work extremely well on the two “project weeks” that I planned and organized while working at MUWCI. The idea was supported by other faculty members and Eileen Niedermann, who had become OSC’s secondary principal in August 2010. In January 2013 we offered the first choice “microtrips” for the MYP5 and DP1 students. The experiences were organized around themes from the Creativity Action and Service (CAS) program. Two of the four trips emphasized physical activity, one had a strong service element and a third was arts focused. These experiences also provided unique opportunities to visit once conflict isolated locations such as Jaffna and Arugam Bay as well as known places such as Sinharaja and the Cultural Triangle.

One of the key developments during Eileen’s tenure as principal has been the development of a detailed learning continuum (scope and sequence) for experiential education at OSC. The goal of this document, is to provide a framework for experiential learning in a variety of areas at OSC. It divides the learning into three broad learning areas (Knowledge & Awareness, Skills and Attitudes) across the three IB programs. With Eileen’s leadership, OSC adopted the document in 2012-13 and we continue to use it as a guide for the learning in the WWW and other experiential learning exercises.


This year the WWW learning experiences were grafted to the recently introduced MYP Interdisciplinary Units (IDUs). The motivation for this comes from the publication Interdisciplinary Teaching and Learning in the MYP. As stated in the guidelines MYP classes are expected to run at least one IDU a school year. Veronica Boix-Mansilla from Harvard’s Project Zero was the author of the first draft of the document. She writes in the opening paragraph:

“Quality interdisciplinary education invites students to integrate concepts, theories, methods and tools from two or more disciplines to deepen their understanding of a complex topic. In so doing, interdisciplinary instruction enlists students’ multiple capabilities (aesthetic, social, analytical) and prepares them to solve problems, create products or ask questions in ways that go beyond single disciplinary perspectives” (Boix Mansilla 1).

I had to the opportunity to work with Veronica and a group of stellar IB educators on the World Studies Extended Essay (WSEE) pilot process in 2009-11. This experience, as well as my background as an Environmental Systems teacher (one of the IB DP’s few interdisciplinary subjects) puts me squarely in the IDU cheerleading stand.

The idea being the IDU is to have two subject areas integrated into the learning goals and to address questions that can be best answered using a broad-based interdisciplinary approach. This year OSC decided to graft this requirement on to our WWW program with mixed, though mostly positive success. It works very well where the subject area teachers are also involved with the planning and implementation of their WWW. It also helps when teachers have been in Sri Lanka long enough to develop suitable learning that is closely tied to their units of study. Because we are a small school where teachers teach across grade levels this is not always possible.

There is also the issue that DP1 students mixed with MYP5 students on the WWW microtrip (choice) experiences. In my original design of learning I used the CAS umbrella and its learning outcomes to guide learning objectives. This still seems to make sense to me as the best option for them. What we tried doing this year was to fuse this with the need for MYP IDUs. To make meaningful connections between the IDU and their regular learning is still a challenge that needs to be realized.

In mid-February we hosted the culmination of the program in the annual WWW Exhibition. This is designed to be a celebration of the learning experiences that students share with the broader OSC community. I am now reviewing feedback for students and teachers as well as the finances as we get ready to start planning the 2017 WWW. One of my ideas is to rename the program to make it more reflective of our program’s unique attributes. We’ll revisit the scope and sequence and see how we can better incorporate the IDUs. I look forward to many more years of experiential learning here in Sri Lanka…


Boix-Mansilla, Verónica. MYP guide to interdisciplinary teaching and learning Middle Years. Geneva: International Baccalaureate Organization, 2010. Print.

Interdisciplinary Teaching and Learning in the MYP. Geneva: International Baccalaureate Organization, Print & Web.

Itin, C. M. “Reasserting the Philosophy of Experiential Education as a Vehicle for Change in the 21st Century.” The Journal of Experiential Education,.22(2), 91-98. 1999. Web.

Kolb, David. A. Experiential learning: experience as the source of learning and development. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall. 1984. Print. Web Link.

Lockwood, Ian. Experiential Education in Sri Lanka: OSC’s Week Without Walls Program. 2016. Web.



Cultural Triangle

Jaffna Narratives

Sri Lanka Highlands


Written by ianlockwood

2016-03-08 at 11:06 pm

GIS Developments at OSC in 2015

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Screen shots of a Storymap utilizing base layers from National Geographic with layers of spatial data from Sri Lankan sources. The bottom map utilizes the Stamen Water color tint and is also layered with a n urban areas layer sourced from IWMI.

Screen shots of a Storymap utilizing base layers from National Geographic, simple annotations and layers of vector data from Sri Lankan sources. The bottom map utilizes the Stamen Water color tint and is layered with an urban areas layer sourced from IWMI ( see the links to actual story in the text).

The GIS program at the Overseas School of Colombo continued to evolve and adapt to broader technological changes in the school and world in 2015. The most significant development has been the school’s move away from campus-based servers to cloud-based applications and online data.

For the past seven years we have been running a small, but robust, GIS introduction program for students using desktop applications on computers in common spaces such as the library. Instruction has been based on using ESRI’s ArcMap desktop applications that are bundled with extensions as part of an annually renewed license. This represents a significant investment of the school in the software, provided locally by GIS Solutions Pvt. Ltd. I have also explored using QGIS and regularly utilize Google Earth, MyMaps and other freely available software. At the moment I am the only teacher providing the skills so it has been difficult to get all classes on board but I have been evangelizing colleagues to get them to weave GIS into their science and humanities units. In the 2015-16 school year students had to have their own laptops as a part of a 1:1 tech program and most of the desktop computers were phased out. One clear benefit of this is that all students can access ArcGIS Online regardless of their platform (ArcMap desktop was never available for Macs). Loading the desktop software on multiple machines is cumbersome and so the online options save time and hassle. Necessity being the mother of invention, I have been adjusting many of the DP Geography exercises that I had developed on ArcMap desktop to ArcGIS Online. Bandwidth and Internet speed is still an issue and for my own mapping and remote sensing work I prefer to use ArcGIS desktop. In the last two years I have refined my cartography with maps on Sri Lanka’s Central Highlands, the southern Western Ghats and Landsat imagery over the Pune Sahyadris.

Screen shot of Maptia story on Kukkal (created in 2014).

Screen shot of Maptia story on Kukkal (created by the author in 2014). This is not a spatial platform but Maptia offers a dynamic way to share digital stories that emphasize fine photography.

New Opportunities in Digital Storytelling

One of the dynamic tools that has been introduced by ESRI alongside ArcGIS Online is StoryMaps. This online software allows users to create visual story lines that incorporate narratives, images, videos and maps. There are a variety of templates to set your Storymap up and you can utilize a treasure trove of online maps to illustrate your story. You can also load up your own spatial data and overlay this raster and vector data on the base maps to help tell a compelling story. Storymaps has excellent potential for teaching and learning and I have deployed it in the DP Geography classes to give students an alternative way to create case studies that are a key part of their course preparation ahead of the IB exams. To model this potential I have built a story around OSC’s Experiential Education program.

StoryMap table of contents showing layers and projects.

StoryMap table of contents showing layers and projects.

While story maps is ideal for sharing narratives that have spatial aspects there are other options for sharing visual narratives. Maptia is one free service that I have experimented with to tell a visual story. It offers impressive visual opportunities to share high quality images and a meaningful story. The numerous examples emphasize epic adventures and fine photography but could also serve as a vehicle for students to share learning from school trips and learning experiences. I used a story that I had written up about hiking in the Palanis for my first project entitled “Kukkal: Beyond the Last Ridge.” Maptia would be an ideal platform for students to share learning from experiential education – something I am trying to promote with colleagues at OSC.

ASB Unplugged Workshop

In February 2016 I will be giving a workshop at ASB Unplugged in Mumbai entitled “Geospatial Teaching & Learning: Opportunities, Applications, and Ideas.” The aim of this workshop is to help educators understand some of the developments and opportunities for geospatial learning in middle and high school programs. There will be some direct sharing of my experiences but will have hands-on opportunities to try out some of the free web-based applications. Here’s what I have written up in the workshop description:

In the last decade huge advances have been made with making remotely sensed (RS) images of the earth available to the public. Google Earth helped popularize and introduce Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to the wider public as a free web-based application. While GIS software once had a reputation for being both expensive and cumbersome to use, developments in commercial software (ESRI’s ArcGIS platform) and freeware such as Q-GIS now make it accessible to anyone interested. The cost of remotely sense imagery is now within reach of organizations and much of this is in the public realm. At the same time growing concerns about changes on the planet associated with rapid economic development have provided a real need for better analytical tools. GIS and remote sensing helps us to better understand and address these changes.

 International Schools are beginning to use GIS in their secondary school curricula following on the heels of North American schools that have geography standards that incorporate GIS (see AAG links below). Given the rapid change in software and hardware options it can be a daunting program to add on to a school’s already packed curriculum. GIS and RS offer ideal opportunities for inquiry-based, interdisciplinary learning in international schools settings.

 The workshop will highlight examples from the IB Middle Years and Diploma Programs. A unique part of the presentation will share details on developments in South Asia and ways that the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) is sharing data through its Bhuvan platform.





Clarke, Keith. Getting Started with Geographic Information Systems, 5th Edition. Upper Saddle River, Pearson Prentice Hall, 2011. Print. Companion website (password required)

Fox, Lawrence. Essential Earth Imaging for GIS. Redlands, CA: ESRI Press: 2015. Print.

Heywood, Ian, Sarah Cornelius and Steve Carver. An Introduction to Geographic Information Systems, 4th Edition. Essex,Pearson Prentice Hall, 2011. Print. Companion website. Instructor’s Resources.

Harder, Christian. The ArcGIS Book: 10 Big Ideas About Applying Geography to Your World. Redlands, CA: ESRI Press: 2015. Print & Web.

Horning, Ned et al. Remote Sensing for Ecology & Conservation. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010. Print.

GIS Geography. Web.

Jensen, John R. Remote Sensing of the Environment: An Earth Resource Perspective. Upper Saddle River, Pearson Prentice Hall, 2007. Print.

Kimerling, A. Jon. et al. Map Use, Seventh Edition. Redlands, ESRI Press, 2011. Print. Review of book.

Keranen, Kathryn and Robert Kolvoord. Using GIS and Remote Sensing: A Workbook. Redlands, CA: ESRI Press Academic, 2014. Print. Web link.

O’Connor, Peter. GIS for A-Level Geography. United Kingdom: ESRI UK & Geographical Association, 2008. Print.

Palmer, Anita et al. Mapping Our World Using GIS: Our World GIS Education. Redlands, ESRI Press, 2009. Print & Online Resources.

Written by ianlockwood

2016-01-12 at 10:54 pm

Solar Developments in the OSC Neighborhood

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DP2 Environmental Systems & Societies Experimenting with a 15 W PVC panel.

DP2 Environmental Systems & Societies students experimenting with a 15 W PV panel.

Like other parts of the planet there are significant developments in solar energy generation in Sri Lanka. The costs of photovoltaic (PV) panels have come down and net metering allows small operators to export their power to the grid built and maintained by the Ceylon Electricity Board. After many years of reading about the solar revolution it has been thrilling to have a colleague install a system at her house. Encouraged by these developments, OSC’s DP Environmental Systems and Societies (ES&S) students are investigating the basics of PV-generated energy. It has given me a chance to brush up on power and energy concepts as are applicable when talking about the generation of renewable energy.

My personal interest in energy goes back to my father Merrick Lockwood who has been working with alternative energy projects since the late 1970s. His significant work was on a biomass-fueled Stirling cycle engine that produced power to run a rice mill. You can about the joys and tribulations of his work in Bangladesh in How I Built a 5HP Stirling Engine (it is an intriguing account narrating the Rice Husk Energy project though the title was not Merrick’s choice). Stirling engines were a major focus point but Merrick has always been interested in an array of conventional and non-conventional energy technologies. I have strong childhood memories of PV cells, batteries, meters and literature on renewable energy in the wonderful clutter of his office and workshop. Earlier this year my alma mater KIS installed a 2 kw set of panels though the tireless work of Class of 1952 alum Dr. Clarence Maloney. His efforts helped get me thinking about solar energy as a viable option.

Sri Lanka sits in an enviable location to tap into renewable energy. Because it is so close to the equator (6°-9.5° N) it is bathed in insolation (solar irradiance) throughout the year. Sri Lanka is blessed with high rainfall in its “wet zone” and here it taps into large and medium-sized hydroelectric schemes which generate about half of all the electricity use in a year. Sri Lanka’s coastal areas offer great potential for wind power generation (something being explored in the Kalpitiya region). Biomass fuel provides for much of the country’s cooking needs in rural areas and if managed correctly can be a sustainable energy source. At the moment Sri Lanka’s electricity demand is growing and it gets significant power (up to 40-45%) from thermal plants burning heavy oil and coal. The chart below shows the source of electricity on 16th November 2015. Because of the high rainfall in the catchment areas there is optimal hydroelectric production (68% of the total).

This chart shows the source of Sri Lanka's electricity on 16th November 2015. Because of the high rainfall in the catchment areas there is optimal hydroelectric production (68% of the total).

This chart shows the source of Sri Lanka’s electricity on 16th November 2015. Because of the high rainfall in the catchment areas there is optimal hydroelectric production (68% of the total).(CEB)

The catalysis for my current interest interest in solar energy at OSC was my colleague’s Chamilla Ratnaweera decision to install an array of PV panels on her rooftop in July this year. She and her husband have sixteen 0.46 m2 panels for a total of 23.36 m2. They have a net-metering arrangement, which means the power that they generate goes straight into the grid and runs their meter backwards (“exporting” units on their bill). When they draw power (it is mostly at night and on weekends) the system takes electricity from the grid. Not having batteries and having to deal with the storage of solar generated electricity simplifies the process in net metering. It assumes, of course, that there is functioning electricity grid.

In September Chamilla’s panels produced an average of 14.3 kWh of solar energy every day (see graph below) and they have not paid an electric bill for the last three months! What is even more remarkable is that have also purchased a Nissan Leaf eclectic car and are able to charge the vehicle and meet their electrical energy requirements with their panels! Chamilla has access to daily, monthly and yearly data on solar energy generated (in kWh). There are several companies offering schemes and they purchased their set up through Solar Edge (marketed here by JLanka Technologies). According to their company literature a similar set with installation costs roughly LKR 1.1 million (US$ 7,700). Our class has been checking on her daily power generation every day for the last two weeks.

Graphs showing solar production in kWh generated at Chamilla’s home in September and October 2015. Even though these were relatively wet months the system generated 430.4 kWh in September and 468.87 kWh in October.

Graphs showing solar production in kWh generated at Chamilla’s home in September and October 2015. Even though these were relatively wet months the system generated 430.4 kWh in September and 468.87 kWh in October.

As a part of this study I visited the Sri Lanka Department of Meteorology on November 6th. On this initial trip I had several interesting discussions with the meteorologists who run operations and I was also able to purchase solar radiance and rainfall data. The graphs below chart solar radiance (in MJ/m2/day) against the solar energy generated by Chamilla’s panels (in kWh/day). Other than the days where there was maintenance on the panels there is a clear pattern between radiance and solar energy generated as one would expect.

Chart showing solar energy generated vs. solar radiance as recorded by the Sri Lanka Meteorology Department. Noe that at the beginning of the month the panels were not running at their full potential. They were serviced on September and.

Chart showing solar energy generated vs. solar radiance as recorded by the Sri Lanka Meteorology Department. Noe that at the beginning of the month the panels were not running at their full potential. They were serviced on September 22nd and 25th. There is 5-10 km between the two locations where the data was recorded, which may partly explain discrepancies.

Chart showing solar energy generated vs. solar radiance as recorded by the Sri Lanka Meteorology Department for the month of October. Like the graph above the energy generated follows the pattern of the solar radiance.

Chart showing solar energy generated vs. solar radiance as recorded by the Sri Lanka Meteorology Department for the month of October. Like the graph above the energy generated follows the pattern of the solar radiance. The data from October 9th and 27th was originally missing and I have substituted near values.

To better understand solar energy the class tested a small 31 x 37 cm 15w panel that the Physics class purchased last year. Will Duncan, the Head of Science, gave me a primer and demonstration on how to rig up the voltage and current meters and make calculations on energy generated by the panel. We are using Vernier’s Labquest2 devices and these are versatile data loggers that allow students to gather raw data from a variety of probes. This year we purchased the pyranometer probe, which measures irradiance (in w/m2) and allows you to then calculate the efficiency of solar panels. I ran trials with the Labquest simultaneously taking in data from three probes (voltage, current and irradiance). The raw data is then imported into Loggerpro where power and efficiency is graphed and analyzed.

Measuring raddiance (in w/m2) in a Colombo neighborhood

Measuring electromagnetic radiation (irradiance) (in w/m2) over the course of the day in our Colombo neighborhood. The results are given below.

Graph showing irradiance data gathered over a 12 hour period at our home in Battaramulla on November 7 2015. The Labquest2 with the pyranometer gathered data every minutes for 12 hours (720 minutes). The total energy available, thanks to functions on Logger Pro, for the day was 2.65 W/ m2 or …NEEDS TO BE COMPLETED.

Graph showing irradiance data gathered over a 12 hour period at our home in Battaramulla on November 7 2015. The Labquest2 with the pyranometer gathered data every minutes for 12 hours (720 minutes).

Map showing irradiation (radiance) levels in kWh/m2 draped over an elevation model (sourced from SolarGIS).

Map showing annual irradiation (radiance) levels in kWh/m2 draped over an elevation model (sourced from the amazing website SolarGIS). Both Sri Lanka and southern India have optimal conditions to tap into solar energy!

Weather is obviously a major factor in producing solar energy. We have just experienced unseasonably wet months in September and October. In fact his last Sunday- an overcast, gloomy day that experienced rainfall for much of the day- Chamilla’s panels generated 6.89 kWh of solar energy! That is lower than the 14.34 kWh September average but still significant. We have not yet done a full cost benefit analysis of the panels but it is quite clear that they pay for themselves quickly. If the electricity bill was roughly LKR 25,000 a month, the system would pay for itself in under four years. The company, like many here in Sri Lanka, is advertising the system to have a 25 year lifespan. If you are a house owner or run a large institution, such as a school like OSC, investing in a PV systems makes both sense for the climate and your wallet.

Sun or shine there are ample opportunities to generate solar energy on OSC's roofs.

Sun or shine, there are ample opportunities to generate solar energy on OSC’s many roofs. With net metering the school could potentially offset its high monthly bills.

In the next post I’ll explore rainfall data in these last few months in order look at patterns and changes from past years.


Biello, David.  “Less polluting energy sources are proliferating in the U.S. If other nations join in, the results could have global impact.” Scientific American. 18 November 2015. Web. 24 November 2015.

Jayawardena, Dulip. “Potential for renewable energy in Sri Lanka.” Sunday Times. 31 October 2010. Web. 14 November 2015.

NASA. Global Maps: Net Radiation. Web. 17 November 2015.

NASA. Net Radiation (1 Month). Web Data Portal. 17 November 2015.

Plank, Alexandria R. et al. Renewable Energy With Vernier. Vernier, 2012. Print & Web.

Renné, Dave et al. Solar Resource Assessment for Sri Lanka and Maldives. Boulder, CO: National Renewable Energy Laboratory, 2003. Web. 14 November 2015.

Renewable Energy for Rural Economic Development Project-Sri Lanka. Web. 13 November 2015.

Rodrigo, Chatura. “The Road to Becoming an Energy Independent Country: Can We Deliver?” Talking Economics. 5 August 2015. Web.

Solar GIS. Irradiance Portal. Web. 14 November 2015.

Sri Lanka Sustainable Development Authority. Solar Resource Atlas of Sri Lanka. Web. 14 November 2015.

Sri Lanka Sustainable Development Authority. Sri Lanka Energy Balance 2007: An Analysis of Energy Sector Performance. Web. 14 November 2015.

On the River

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Kelani River looking east at the bridge.

Kelani River looking east at the bridge near Karawanella. Taken in 2005 on one of the author’s first visits to the river. The basin due east of this point (center of image) is what surrounds Kitulgala.

“Dreams and restless thoughts came flowing to him from the river, from the twinkling stars at night, from the sun’s melting rays. Dreams and a restlessness of the soul came to him.”

― Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha

Every year at the beginning of the school year we take OSC’s new DP1 (Grade 11) students on a three-day experience to initiate them into the IB Diploma Program. The river-the Kelani Ganga-serves as our teacher and home as we work to build a team that will work together to meet the challenges of this rigorous academic challenge over the next 18 months. Much of the program involves physical and mind challenges set in the wet, densely forested Kelani River valley near Kitulgala.

The River

The Kelani Ganga is an important river in Sri Lanka. It is not the longest (that distinction goes to the Mahaweli Ganga) but it is important as the main river that flows through (northern) Colombo to the Indian Ocean. The Kelani begins its seaward journey in the cloud forests of Sri Pada (Adam’s Peak) and flows eastwards through Maskeliya, Laxapana, Kitulgala, Hanwela, Kaduwela, Kelani and out to the ocean just north of the port of Colombo. It drains one of the wettest areas of the Central Highlands and thus river discharge is very high. In its higher reaches several large hydroelectric schemes dam the river and provide power to the Ceylon Electricity Board. These schemes help contribute to Sri Lanka’s nearly 50% generation of all power through hydroelectricity. However, a new 35 MW dam has been planned and is under construction just upstream of Kitulgala. It will potentially adversely affect the white water rafting industry (see the article links below for further details) and destroy a key canyon that has become a prime destination for low impact tourist adventure tourism.

The Kelani became famous to much of the world in the 1950s when it was used as set for the Academy award-winning Bridge of the River Kwai. The movie set included a real steam engine being blown up over a life-size bridge straddling the Kelani river just east of Kitulgala town. To this day the romance of the movie is played up at the Kitulgala Rest House where pictures of the actors and actresses adorn the restaurant wall. Actual remnants of the movie set are non-existent though a sign points visitors down to the river at the former bridge set.

Scenes from the Kelani. (Above) Laxapana falls-beautiful but actually severely reduced in flow by upstream water diversions. (Below) Passengers crossing the Kelani near the Kitulgala Rest House.

Scenes from the Kelani. (Above) Laxapana falls-beautiful but actually severely reduced in flow by upstream water diversions. (Below) Passengers crossing the Kelani near the Kitulgala Rest House.

IB Orientation

We have designed the IB Orientation program to take students straight from the busses into the cold metaphorical waters of the Kelani. Water and the river play a key role as students and teachers raft and canyon their way into the camp on the first day. The team at Borderlands has an excellent safety record and time is taken to emphasize safety in the different spheres of the challenge. Some of the students have been here on past school trips or with their parents but a few came with limited swimming skills and were nervous about the challenge. We rafted through a series of rapids, took time to play in the river and then made our way through a gorge (“the Canyon”). The Class of 2017 was joined by secondary principle Eileen Niedermann, DP coordinator Tim Getter, TOK teacher Laurence Mueller, guidance counselor Rosanne Noble and myself (CAS Coordinator). By the end of the first day the team was exhausted, but exhilarated from the river and canyon. We took time to reflect on the day both as a group and individually. This is where CAS came in and the four step learning cycle (plan, act, observe, reflect) was emphasized (The new IBDP CAS Guide uses a modified five stage cycle based on Catheryn Berger Kaye’ s Five Stage of Service Learning).

The unique opportunities that students have in building leadership skills are an in important part of this program. This is a key feature of any Borderlands youth experience/camp and a goal in our own OSC orientation programs. Skills that students build in these programs serve them for life, something that I have seen in my many years here. Numerous OSC students have worked at Borderlands after graduating and it is gratifying to see them quickly transition into very capable, safety-minded guides. Olivia Molden, Jason Staeck, Margret Watts and several others have all had impressive life experiences working at Borderlands. This year John Fredericks (who graduated in the Class of 2015) was a supporting guide working with the Borderlands team. He proved to be a clear communicator, fine role model and first class river and canyon guide. John relished the reversal of roles on the abseil where he commanded and then supported teachers (and students) as they descended the falls and had to swim across a deep pool of moving water while still harnessed to the rope. For the Class of 2017 students a majority of them were given key tasks to help with guiding our group to a safe, successful conclusion. They thrived even though at times the perceived risks (scare factors) were considerable.

Orientation Collage#2

The preparation , learning and adventure begin…

Collage of OSC students on IB orientation.

Collage of OSC’s Class of 2017 students on IB orientation.

Students negotiating the “canyon.” Several of them had an opportunity to take on leadership roles that helped the team safely navigate the slides, jumps and pools. This is a beautiful area now at risk from plans to run a large pipe down the gorge to a hydroelectric generating plant.

OSC’s Class of 2017 after passing through the upper and lower canyon.

OSC’s Class of 2017 after passing through the upper and lower canyon.

The Theory of Knowledge (TOK) component of the orientation program is set in the historical Belilena Cave located amongst rubber plantations above Kitulgala. This is a significant Sri Lankan archeological site and is thought to be one of the oldest locations showing evidence of early Homo sapiens in all of South Asia (estimates range from 12,000 to 30,000 years before present)! The setting is sublime and with a little imagination it is possible to imagine a very different scene so many years ago. The students were invited to think about knowledge and test their senses as they grappled with a series of cognitive challenges. In the second part of the afternoon the tasks were much more physical and the class hiked up to a 100-meter waterfall to be tested in a slippery abseil. The skies opened up on the second group but almost all of our team was able to do the abseil regardless of the weather. We wrapped up the day with reflection and then free time. On the final morning OSC’s service coordinator Amanda Lenk led the group in an activity to learn about the stories of the people of the river. Small groups fanned out with Borderland’s guides to listen and interact with a variety of individuals who are from different strata of Kitulgala’s community. The stories that we listened to and recorded are part of an effort to help our students better understand the broader human community outside of their normal spheres of interaction.

Series on a tea planter being interviewed by OSC students near Kitulgala.

Series on a tea planter being interviewed by OSC students near Kitulgala.

Landscape above the Kelani Valley highlighting rubber plantations (to the left) and land being readied for tea cultivation.

Landscape above Kitulgala looking west down the Kelani Valley. The image highlights rubber plantations (to the left) and land being prepared for tea cultivation. The original vegetation in this area would have been lowland tropical rainforest. This panorama was taken during the 2013 IB Orientation.

An Uncertain Future

People living in the Kitulgala area are dependent on a variety of livelihoods mainly connected with small-scale home gardens and plantation agriculture. Traditionally the area has been important for rubber and tea plantations and of course the kitul syrup that is tapped from the palm Caryota urens. In recent years tourism has become an important source of income for Kitulgala residents. The road between Nuwara, Eliya (via Hatton) and Colombo runs through Kitulgala and this is a major artery for tourist traffic. Kitulgala’s tourism is largely centered around the thriving white water rafting activities that first started in the 1990s. Other activities such as bird watching, abseiling, canyoning cycling and hiking have developed in the area. All of these are potentially sustainable, low-impact forms of tourism with no significant impact on the landscape. Most of the guides both on land and on the river are from the area and the activities have been a significant economic benefit to the Kitulgala community. The proposed Broadlands dam could potentially jeopardize this fine balance.

GIS generated Map of Kitulgala and Kelani River Basin.

GIS generated Map of Kitulgala and Kelani River Basin created with SL Survey Department and NASA SRTM data by the author.

Google Earth image looking at the Kelani rafting area from the south.

Google Earth image looking at the Kelani rafting area and “canyon” from the south.



Broadlands Hydropower Project Website.

Jayasinghe, Amal. “Broadlands power project will kill Kitulgala’s white water rafting.” The Island. 30 August 2014. Web.

Kannangara, Nirmala. “Power Project To Dam White Water Rafting.” The Sunday Leader. 29 September 2013. Web.

Lockwood, Ian. “Taking the Plunge in the IB Program.” Ian Lockwood Blog. September 2013. Web.

Radrigo, Malaka. “War for water in Kithulgala.” The Sunday Times. 16 March 2014. Web.

Written by ianlockwood

2015-09-22 at 1:08 am