Childish handling of children’s issues

Last week, a schoolgirl in a leading private Buddhist school in Colombo committed suicide by hanging herself in the school toilet, after being reprimanded by school authorities for possessing a mobile phone. The incident received wide publicity and was the talking point in city households for good reasons.

A few days thereafter, the Ministry of Education announced that mobile phones would be banned in all schools. While sympathising with the parents of the schoolgirl who passed away, we propose to discuss the issue for one simple reason: This type of incident needs to be prevented in the future and we believe the authorities - both in the school and in the government - have gone about dealing with it the wrong way.

The student did what she did as she feared she would be punished and embarrassed both at school and at home. That poses the question as to whether the degree of humiliation students are subjected to in schools are within reasonable limits.
Clearly, from all accounts of what transpired at the school, school authorities, including teachers and prefects of the school, have mishandled the issue in a spectacular way, and an innocent child has had to pay with her young life for their follies.

We do not hesitate to say so because this is not the first such incident to occur in this particular school in recent times. Similar incidents have occurred before, and the school authorities have done little to change its policies. What they have done instead, is to employ the services of individuals with questionable credentials to deal with problems on an ad hoc basis.

Schools in the days gone by were places where children enjoyed life - not concentration camps run on the whims and fancies of school prefects or teachers; nor should they be little empires where draconian policies and dreadful punishments are dished out. As this incident showed, too much is at stake here, and lives may be lost as a result.

It is relevant to question what right a school has to impose such drastic measures with such dire consequences. Indeed, in most countries, this type of incident would have triggered a lawsuit against the school seeking compensation, even if that would not replace the young life that was lost.

Then, after all this, what does our enlightened Ministry of Education do? Its solution is simple: Ban mobile phones in all schools, including private schools. The brilliant educationists at Isurupaya, ironically, don’t seem to have realised that in the particular school where this tragedy occurred, mobile phones were already banned, and that this was what led to the incident in the first instance!!

This is the twenty-first century, and technology is advancing at breakneck speed. Mankind always found new technology to be a double edged sword. Put to its right uses, it can work wonders. Abused, it can wreak havoc. Blessed with an intelligence that no other animal possesses, it is up to humans to utilise technology wisely, so that maximum benefits are reaped, while at the same time, minimising the potential for harm.

The same holds true on the issue of using mobile phones in schools which, in this day and age, is hardly a luxury or a state-of-the-art technological marvel. For today’s young generation, it is merely yet another everyday implement as common as the toothbrush or the ballpoint pen, a mere tool used for a specific task.

The need of the hour is to educate the younger generation of today, of the pros and cons of using mobile phones, the endless possibilities for abuse and how they could use it with care, protecting themselves against nefarious activities.
Surely, banning mobile phones at school wouldn’t prevent school children from using it elsewhere and thus, the possibilities for abuse will still remain, as will the possibility of dreadful consequences similar to what we witnessed last week.
In fact, a mobile phone when put to correct use, can be utilised to protect children instead of harming them. The device can be used without unnecessary accessories such as camera phones, and restricted to function with only a few selected phone numbers. If used in this manner, it can be used by parents to keep tabs on their children, thereby ensuring their safety.

But, for the pea-brained educationists who occupy the upper echelons at Isurupaya, the remedy is simpler. They have banned mobile phones, therefore, it is no longer their responsibility, so who cares about educating the children of today, of the uses and abuses of mobile phones and using them with care? But then, what more can you expect from a bunch of busybodies who cannot do something as simple as printing and distributing end of term question papers for schools, without raising a big stink?
Of course, God forbid, if we were to use this strange logic, we should ban cars because they can cause accidents, and refrain from crossing the road because there is a chance of getting run over by a vehicle!

So, if this is what we can expect from the authorities, either in government or in schools, about the safety of our children, we might as well paraphrase a former President and say, ‘it is up to every parent to protect their own child’!