It is the week of the Children’s Day celebrations with the accompanying rhetoric on children’s rights, and the adults of Sri Lanka are doing what they do best in the service of that uniquely indigenous enterprise of lobotomizing the nation’s future – our children – through education.
This week a civil society organization announced the commencement of a month long series of island-wide programmes involving close interactions with children and parents to obtain their views towards formulating a set of proposals to be compiled in the form of a charter to be submitted to the authorities’ for adoption and implementation. A trade unions collective handed over a petition to the United Nations Children’s Fund regarding children not getting a proper meal and safety and related environmental concerns.
The said proposals include the removal of taxes on school equipment, the continued enforcement of the family background report, helping find schools for children of families that migrate, ensuring the right to education of girls by making the minimum age of marriage 18 under the Muslim Matrimonial Law, the establishment of mental health counseling centres in schools, and juvenile justice system reforms. All highly commendable. However, even if the entirety of the substance of the UN Child Rights Convention is codified into law this would make no difference as exemplified through the most excessive manner in which the follies of the youths atop the Pidurangala Rock were dealt with. Enforcing morality is not justice.
The ongoing ‘save the children from their childhood’ project is a cause that has drawn the parents, educators and Governmental/State authorities together in an unholy trinity. In this production of transmogrifying ‘happy children to unhappy adults’, a set of circumstances revolving around a fundamental lack of confidence reposed in each group (parents, teachers, Government/ State) and persistent doubts about each parties ability, it is the children who constitute the object of expectations of this triumvirate who are very much at the receiving end of ‘double, double toil and trouble’.
The concept of vicarious liability arises in law. It is also wholly applicable to the mostly good intentioned actions of parents. Certain parents tend to treat children like chattel and attempt to live vicariously through their offspring’s achievements. Thus, especially during the formative and highly impressionable years of early development, the child’s growth becomes that tabula rasa, upon which to subtly or forcefully indoctrinate the parents’ hopes and dreams, fears and failures. The results are progeny that are caricatures of parents, mirror images, perfect in their imperfection. Children receiving guidance to articulate their own destiny, one that is different from their parents’ plans, is not what is taking place.
It is therefore high time we collectively engage in that simplest of solutions – listening to our children, in particular to the nuanced subtleties that form the complexities of their volatile communications. Conversations of this kind between parents/teachers and children, would yield insights into dealing with the tumults associated with adolescence – body image issues, doomed romances, experimentation with drugs and alcohol, unhealthy competition, bullying, and the sensory overload of the social media and connected cyber-technology age parables. The latter has become a whipping post for the Government to hang its incompetence on, and recently a certain Minister in charge of children’s affairs has expressed a desire to prohibit Facebook for minors.
Teachers and principals, when they are not boxing the ears of their ‘lords of the flies’ subjects mostly render a thankless service. But they are buckling under the pressure to drill into the students’ minds the accumulated knowledge on various phenomena in the form of syllabi and the requirement, which though unspoken looms large, to produce grades worthy of media coverage. This is not to mention the human and material infrastructure related disparities which worthwhile affirmative action policies such as the ‘nearest school is the best school’ and the diversification of educational options available for students through the introduction of new subjects to the curricula, seek to address. In this context, it is no wonder that education fails in its central tenet – to allow each person to maximize their potential. We are breeding functions instead of individuals, a situation which has now even resulted in institutions of higher learning and research based knowledge production such as State universities being placed under pressure locally to cater to and indulge the job market.
The Government while deserving of praise on certain aspects such as the various fledgling moves to enhance youth innovation and entrepreneurship and the aforementioned primary and secondary education initiatives, has completely overlooked among other things, post-education care for youth in the form of early career counseling and continuous professional development whilst obtaining their services for nation building endeavours. And they complain of brain drain.
In overeducating, it seems we have lost the idyll of childhood altogether.