When the sari becomes more important than education! | Sunday Observer

When the sari becomes more important than education!

Those behind the World Record “Saree Pota” fiasco in Kandy may have possibly committed several punishable offences due to their use of schoolchildren during school hours, according to the National Child Protection Authority (NCPA).

NCPA Chairperson Attorney-at-Law Marini de Livera told the Sunday Observer that initial investigations on getting 250 schoolchildren to hold the train of a bride’s osariya during a wedding ceremony for a Guinness World Record in Gannoruwa, Kandy revealed that the parties concerned may have committed certain offences under the Penal Code.

Investigations are being led by NCPA’s Assistant Superintendent of Police Merril Ranjan. A Special Police Team has been deployed by the NCPA to carry out further investigations. They will determine details of the schoolchildren who participated in the event, their names and details of the school teachers who accompanied them, names of officials who requested class teachers to engage schoolchildren in this event, lists of names and other details of the parents of the children who participated in the event and whether the children were provided food and drinks during the event.

They will also seek a detailed statement from the School Principal, statements from the Provincial Education Director and the Provincial Education Secretary with regard to the event and also details of any child who fell ill during the event. Children who fell ill during the event are to be produced before a JMO and a report obtained.

The NCPA Chairman said the Police will also seek details of the person(s) in charge of the protection and well-being of the children during the event, the nature of police protection given to the children and how far each child had to walk during the event.

The Sunday Observer spoke to Psychologists Dr. N. Kumaranayake, Clinical Psychiatrist, Government Base Hospital, Psychiatry Unit, Kiribathgoda and Tina Solomons, Senior Lecturer, Clinical Psychologist, Department of Psychiatry, Faculty of Medicine, General Sir John Kotelawala Defence University and Consulting Clinical Psychologist at Asiri Surgical Hospital on the psychological impact on children due to such an activity.

Dr. N. Kumaranayake said, in this instance the school principal has used his authority to get the children’s participation in the event. “Children are never able to question or ask the importance of participating in this kind of event. The Principal has used his power over the children and exploited them. Child abuse or child maltreatment is physical, sexual or psychological maltreatment or neglect of a child or children, especially by a parent or other caregiver. I think there is a more psychological impact than a physical impact, as children are helpless to refuse or argue the principal’s action of forcing them to participate in this event.

Although psychological or emotional abuse does not leave visible bruises, it is often more seriously damaging to a child’s self-esteem and self-worth,” he said.

“Emotional abuse is cruel and scars your soul. What could have happened to a child who refused to take part in this Sari Event? This is a very clear point that indicates how these figures had used their power over the children. At least, the principal should have sought the consent of the children before compelling them to take part in the event,” Dr. Kumaranayake said.

Dr. Kumaranayake explained how this kind of situation can be avoided in the future. “Children are not to be considered as guinea pigs. Nobody should use children for their own gratification or for any commercial purpose.

The Education Ministry and the school authorities have a big responsibility to preserve schoolchildren’s “self esteem”. Poor social and emotional skills of the children are some of the reasons for becoming victims of various outside powers. Education should be life skills based,” he said.

“Here I would like to point out one study in which I participated in the Homagama educational region. Then I was at the Psychiatry Unit of the Colombo South General Hospital. This study was done under the supervision of Prof. Samudra Kasthiriarachchi.

Our main aim was to find out how children and parents understood a child’s self-esteem. This study revealed that in their view a good child is the child who always obeys teachers’ commands and listens to the teacher in a submissive manner without arguments. This is really a humiliating concept that is against child self-esteem. The development of a positive self-concept or healthy self-esteem is extremely important to the happiness and success of children and teenagers. Self-esteem is how we feel about ourselves and our behavior clearly reflects those feelings,” he said.

Dr. Kumaranayake questioned whether the present school environment has that kind of freedom for schoolchildren. He explained that the teacher and student interaction is poor in schools. “School education is subject oriented. We have to improve the interaction between children and teachers positively. Positive relationships can also help a student develop socially. Improving students’ relationships with teachers has important, positive and long-lasting implications for both students’ academic and social development. Solely improving students’ relationships with their teachers will not produce gains in achievement. However, those students who have close, positive and supportive relationships with their teachers will attain higher levels of achievement than those students with more conflict in their relationships,” he said.

“Picture a student who feels a strong personal connection to the teacher, talks with him or her frequently, and receives more constructive guidance and praise rather than just criticism from the teacher. The student is likely to trust the teacher more, show more engagement in learning, behave better in class and achieve higher levels academically. Positive teacher-student relationships draw students into the process of learning and promote their desire to learn, assuming that the content material of the class is engaging, age-appropriate and well matched to the student’s needs,” he added.

Psychologist Tina Solomons explained that it is hard to say that there will be a direct or immediate psychological impact on students unless they were coerced with abusive measures. “The psychological impact of such an incident will be transferred to people and children in a more subtle way via societal attitudes. A child or an adult who sees this can form the attitude that children can be easily used for commercial purposes or publicity stunts like this. Such an attitude can promote actions which can lead to child abuse and exploitation among adults and when such a thing happens children will not have the knowledge to resist as they would have the attitude that it is a normal part of society,” she said.

“If they were forced to do it (which we don’t know about) they can form an attitude that they are at the service of the rich and powerful. This attitude would not help them when they grow up to be adults.

They would develop a mindset of serving others as opposed to becoming independent adults who would serve the society. Further, the values that would be inculcated in these students would be that something like the length of a saree is more important than values inculcated by education which should be the main focus at this age for becoming a successful adult in future,” she explained.

Solomons said: “If the consent of the children was not obtained, it would have really confused the child in trying to understand the purpose and the meaning of the activity they were involved in. This can give them the attitude that it is correct to do things without any purpose or meaning. To overcome any negative attitudes the parents can discuss the incident with the children and see what they think of it and clarify what took place. Also they can reiterate the value of education and other life skills as opposed to what took place.”

Overall she said that the society in general should be careful in dealing with young minds as things that happen during childhood leave lasting impressions, which affect adult personality and success in adult life. “As a country we should develop a protocol to weigh the costs and benefits before we make our children participate in anything. People should not overreact to the situation but think well in developing standards of care in working with children rather than doing petty personal insulting,” she added. 

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