“Care about your children. Just bless them instead of worrying, as every child is the little Buddha who helps his parents to grow up.” – Gautama Buddha
Schools are considered temples of learning, where the next generation is nurtured and nourished suitably to meet the demands of the society and the nation. A child spends 12 – 14 years of his/her life in school. These years see a child’s transformation from a kid to an adolescent, to an adult. Within this span of a dozen or more years the child learns about the world, the different forces that govern it, the different kinds of people and their languages and cultures. He/She is prepared to meet the world with knowledge, courage and to innovate and lead.
But sadly today, schools create a ‘robot-like’ next generation whose learning is just limited to facts and theories, and limits the child’s ability to think. Children are loaded with books and are forced to learn things even before understanding them. Students are taught things are supposed to learn at a higher grade, much earlier than what their little brains could accommodate. Unusual number of periods and umpteen number of subjects are imposed on those little children and force them to learn all in one year. In this regard, International Privates Schools, especially take the cake. It is more foolish than remarkable to put pressure like this on little minds.
Children live in a pressure-cooker like atmosphere today. The sacrifice of childhood at the altar of pedagogical rigours begins sometimes even before the age of three, in nursery school where children are given homework – numbers to learn, alphabets to decipher – and then subjected to stringent tests.
So the work-load – in the form of homework – further burdens parents and children. It’s a vicious circle. All these pressures on little minds have given rise to psychosomatic illnesses in children. We hear every day how parents echo their sentiments: “My heart just breaks when I see my child loaded with many books and with homework.” The tragedy is that those children have no childhood left.
The burden imposed on parents is such that they dole out exorbitant amounts of money to these schools and colleges, expecting value for money. We have to tell the parents that their absurdly high expectations are harming their children psychologically, as well as their achievements. They should be made aware of the fact that setting expectations too high is counterproductive
Although parental aspiration can help improve children’s academic performance, excessive parental aspiration can be poisonous. As a result, hundreds and thousands of school children in this country are today engaged in a rat race to the finish – a debilitating competition taking its toll on the quality of life and mental well-being of children.
It also scraps off recreation periods like physical education, co-curricular and intra- curricular activities periods extra to squeeze in more hours of science, maths, history, geography and computer studies. The poor students are hardly left with any time for play or to do crafts or arts to refresh and rejuvenate their minds.
Children forget to enjoy the small pleasures of life like enjoying the first rains, playing football just for the fun of it, rather than for getting the best players award, indulging in homegrown and indigenous traditional games.
Letting a child be what he or she is, while at the same time monitoring and channelizing their strengths and talents is what schools are supposed to do, and is what is expected of parents and teachers. Many children who are pressured into excelling by parents or teachers may gradually withdraw from them and shut down, say psychologists.
Such children may think they’re not important or loved enough by parents unless they are perfect, a standard to which few, if any, children can achieve. If you constantly demand A’s from your child, you may be sending the wrong message. Encourage him to do his best, but don’t act as if your child didn’t work or study hard enough if he gets a B instead of an A.
The constant struggle to get high grades is very high on the agenda of every parent. Even students who score in the 70s are often judged failures. Gone are the days when 50 per cent ensured a pass; when 60 per cent was considered very good, and 70, sheer brilliance. There are bright and sensitive children who score well into the 70s. But invariably stands only ranked 10th in the class. What a disaster.
Bringing up the next generation in the right way is no easy task, and does not simply include reading to them from textbooks and drawing diagrams on the board, but includes talking to them in person and understanding them for what they are. Applying the right amount of pressure can mold the raw talent into a reliable and wonderful personality, but excess pressure can damage the item and the raw talent would be lost to both his/her near and dear ones, as well as to the society.
Applying your child to maintain constant A’s or pressuring him to excel in an academic environment, regardless of his age, may create tension and anxiety in your child or teen. In older children, anxiety to perform academically may lead to eating disorders, excessive anxiety or worry, and erotic behaviour.
A child who is constantly berated for his or her grades or shamed when he or she brings home the report card, may ultimately begin to feel anger or resentment towards their parents. Invariably you may notice your child engaging in increasingly antisocial behaviors, such as refusal to follow rules or guidelines, lying, acting out, verbal outbursts and refusing to do homework.
Often, children are unable to express their feelings about stress, anxiety or even their performance in school. Such children often continually strive to impress, encourage pride, and receive the rewards of your love and adulation. If they do not get the expected ratings in their subjects, they often feel they have let you down. So be very much aware of your child’s emotional and mental outlook and health while still encouraging him to do his best.
In this context, we would appeal to the Government and the Ministry of Education, that they impose strict rules, regulations, terms and conditions on these private international colleges – streamline their syllabuses in accordance with their tender age and also have some sort of continuous monitoring as to their academic and extracurricular activities.
Because they are our children and they are our future and the future of our country.
The lasting curse of Janasathu
Let me begin with two anecdotes.
In the 1960s, my father would pull into the local Shell petrol shed and a smiling pump attendant, smartly attired in a uniform (khaki shirt and shorts) would come up to the driver’s side and inquire what was needed. While petrol was being pumped, the attendant would wipe the windscreen and check the engine oil. The toilet was clean. The air pump worked. To my delight, large, colourful road maps were given out, for free. Sounds like a dream, doesn’t it? All this for about Rs. 1 (one) for a gallon of petrol!
The next anecdote. In 1978, I visited Brian Howie, a former classmate, at Kataboola Estate in Nawalapitiya. Brian was an SD – assistant superintendent – and his bungalow was in a remote corner of the estate, so remote that it had its own mini hydroelectric plant. Mrs. B’s government, which had nationalised the estate, had recently fallen and the estate was now under new management.
The bungalow was sparsely furnished, and I noticed that a corner of the living room was blackened. Brian told me that the previous occupant, a former bus conductor turned “SD”, had not known how to use the kitchen stove, so he put some bricks together and had created a lipa in the living room to do his cooking. Meanwhile, every appliance and item of furniture in the bungalow had been stolen by the same man.
Janasathu has a false ring, meaning “owned by the people”. But, as everyone knows, the term instead means a nest of thieves, running up millions in losses at the cost of the people. A place where friends and political supporters are given employment, showered with generous perks, and given a free run to plunder. Government owned corporations, companies, and “other institutions” run into the hundreds, and perhaps a handful make a profit. The rest are leeches, sucking the blood of the nation.
Do we need a corporation/board for salt, ceramics, timber, cashew, lotteries, fisheries, films, ayurvedic drugs, handicrafts? For a publisher of newspapers? They are so swollen with employees that their raison d’être appears to be employment, perks and plunder that I mentioned above.
I recently read that Sri Lankan Airlines, the CTB, the Petroleum Corporation, and the Ceylon Electricity Board are the biggest loss makers. The Godzillas among them appear to be Sri Lankan Airlines, which reportedly lost Rs. 248 billion in the first four months of this year, and the Petroleum Corporation, which lost Rs. 628 billion in the same period. (The Petroleum Corporations is owed billions of rupees by both Sri Lankan Airlines and the Ceylon Electricity Board.) The Ceylon Electricity Board appears to be a mafia, subverting efforts to promote renewable energy, while promoting commission-earning fossil fuels. While the poorest among our population are starving, the crooks that run these organisations continue to deal and steal.
In Hong Kong, where I lived for 20 years, no airline, bank, petroleum company, telephone service, LPG or electricity supplier is owned by the government. The buses belong to the private sector. In Japan, where I live now, in addition to the list from Hong Kong, even the railways and the post offices are privatised and provide a courteous, efficient service. In Japan, the service at petrol stations is reminiscent of Ceylon’s in the 1960s that I described above.
At least in one instance, Mrs. B attempted to correct her folly in nationalising plantations. The de Mel family owned thriving coconut estates in Melsiripura. After nationalisation, the estates declined to such a sorry state that Mrs. B personally invited the de Mels to take them back. Today, the estates are thriving under efficient management.
As a nation, we need to admit that janasathu has failed, and take steps to remedy the situation ASAP.
Road to Nandikadal: Twists of Kamal and Ranil actions
I am re-reading retired Major General Kamal Gunaratne’s book “Road to Nandikadal ” these days. This is his first hand experience of the battle against LTTE, and his journey in the Sri Lankan army from Thirunelveli in 1983 to Nandikadal in 2009, where the final battle took place. Thirteen years have passed since the defeat of the LTTE in 2009 under the political leadership of former president Mahinda Rajapakse and the then secretary of defence Gotabaya Rajapakse. As we all know, Gotabaya became the president of Sri Lanka in 2019, and resigned last July, due to public pressure, and is currently travelling from country to country without a set destination.
In his book, Kamal has written an interesting chapter titled “A final chance for peace” and detailed the peace process followed by the then government led by Ranil Wickremesinghe, as the prime minister. This is Kamal’s narrative about the memorandum of understanding (MOU), brokered by the Norwegian government and signed by the then prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran in 2002. “According to the MoU, members of the LTTE political wing were allowed to enter government controlled areas to commence their political activities. The first group of such LTTE political wing members entered the government controlled area from Muhamalai, singing and cheering, as if they had won the war. They insulted and jeered at the soldiers manning the checkpoint with impunity whilst the poor soldiers, under strict instructions not to react, helplessly looked on. The Navy, which arrested a group of terrorists, was immediately instructed to release them. Upon release, the terrorists threatened the sailors and lifted their sarongs, baring their genitalia at the stunned sailors, who could do nothing but simply look down in shame. Such developments intensified the apprehension we held of things yet to come and prepared ourselves to face untold humiliation in the name of the Motherland”.
Kamal further writes, “At the time of drafting the MoU, experienced officers like myself, knew it was premature to enter into peace negotiations. On the one hand, LTTE could not be trusted to keep their word, as past experience had taught us bitterly, and on the other hand, negotiations should be ideally undertaken from a position of strength”. He continues, “The government of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was very confident of the peace process and strongly believed there would never be a war again. They did not have any confidence in the Army, which spurred this belief and therefore pursued peace at any cost”.
Kamal’s criticism of the Wickremesinghe administration continues: “The step motherly treatment the Army received during this period was terrible. Strict instructions were given to cut costs and the ever obedient army reduced many of our facilities and benefits. The army even stopped the annual issue of face towels to soldiers, given as a benefit for decades. It felt like they wanted us to live like ‘Veddhas’ without a bit of comfort”
Now the same Ranil Wickremesinghe is the President and Commander-in-chief of the armed forces, and Kamal Gunaratne, who was highly critical of the Wickremesinghe administration, is the trusted Defence Secretary of the president. Is it a twist of fate or twist of faith!
Need for best relations with China
(This letter was sent in before the announcement of the government decision to allow the Chinese survey vessel to dock at Hambantota – Ed.)
I once met Pieter Keuneman sometime after he had lost the Colombo Central at the general election of 1977. We met at the SSC swimming pool, where he had retreated since his favourite haunt at the Otters was under repair. Without the cares of ministerial office and constituency worries he was in a jovial mood, and in the course of a chat in reference to a derogatory remark by one of our leaders about the prime minister of a neighbouring country, he said, “You know, Ananda, we can talk loosely about people in our country, but in international relations care is needed in commenting on other leaders”.
Pieter, the scion of an illustrious Dutch burgher family, the son of Supreme Court judge A. E Keuneman, after winning several prizes at Royal College, went to Cambridge in 1935. There he became a part of the Communist circle, which included the famous spies Anthony Blunt, later keeper of the Queen’s paintings Kim Philby, and Guy Burgess. Eric Hobsbawm, the renowned historian commenting on this circle, wrote of the very handsome Pieter Keuneman from Ceylon who was greatly envied, since he won the affections of the prettiest girl in the university, the Austrian Hedi Stadlen, whom he later married. Representing the Communist Party in parliament from 1947 to 1977, soft-spoken in the manner of an English academic, Pieter belonged to a galaxy of leaders, whose likes we sorely need now.
I was thinking of Pieter’s comments considering the current imbroglio that we have created with China. Our relations with China in the modern era began in 1953, when in the world recession we were unable to sell rubber, and short of foreign exchange to purchase rice for the nation. The Durdley Senanayake government turned to China, with which we had no diplomatic ties. He sent R G Senanayake, the trade minister, to Peking, where he signed the Rice for Rubber Pact, much to the chagrin of the United States, which withdrew economic aid from Ceylon for trading with a Communist nation at the height of the Cold War.
Diplomatic relations with China were established in 1956 by S W R D Bandaranaike, and relations have prospered under different Sri Lankan leaders and governments, without a hint of discord. In fact, in addition to the vast amount of aid given, China has been a source of strength to Sri Lanka during many crises. In 1974, when the rice ration was on the verge of breaking due to lack of supplies, it was China, to which we turned, and who assisted us when they themselves were short of stocks. In the battle against the LTTE, when armaments from other countries dried up, it was China that supported us with arms, armoured vehicles, trucks, ships and aircraft.
It was China and Pakistan that stood by our armed services in this dire crisis. More recently, amidst the furore, created by Western nations about human rights violations, China was at the forefront of nations that defended us. A few weeks ago, it was reported that the UK was ready with documents to present to the UN Security Council to press for war crimes trials against the Sri Lankan military, but the presence of China and Russia with veto powers prevented it from going ahead with its plan.
It is in this context that we have to view the present troubles that have engulfed us.President Ranil Wickremesinghe, in the short period he has been in office, has won the sympathy of people by the speed with which he has brought some degree of normalcy, to what was a fast-disintegrating political environment. On the economic front, his quiet negotiations and decisions are arousing hopes.
A shadow has been cast over these achievements by the refusal to let in the Chinese ship to Hambantota, a decision made on the spur of the moment after first agreeing to allow it entry. The manner in which it was done is a humiliation for China, one administered by a friend. We must remember that these things matter greatly in Asia.
These are matters that can be rectified among friends, if action is taken immediately, recognising that a mistake has been made. The President should send a high-level representative to assure the Chinese leadership that these are aberrations that a small country suffers due to the threats of big powers, to smoothen ruffled feelings, and normalize relations between two old friends. The American-Indian effort to disrupt a 70-year old friendship, will only lead to its further strengthening in the immediate future
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