Children today face immense pressure to excel at public examinations, which robs them of time to holistically develop themselves and enjoy their childhood
If there is any job where the people concerned often attend to their duties with compassion and loving kindness for others with no pecuniary benefits it is parenting. Of course, the actual duties of mothers and fathers are different, with a mother’s duties often stretching from early mornings to late nights, especially during their children’s early childhood. Equally though fathers too have to do their duties to provide for the children and give them security, particularly during childhood.
The Buddha stated that mothers and fathers are the Brahma of children (Brahmathi Matha Pitharo, Pubbachariyathi vuchchera) and are the earliest teachers of children. Children get their early conditioning until they reach an age of self-reliance from parents, and thus parents form the foundation for children. This foundation in the old days was firmly in the four Brahma Vihar – loving kindness, compassion, altruistic joy and equanimity.
But sadly though this situation has changed dramatically today. Parents today are increasingly prone to ensuring that their kids do the best from a very early age in schools, getting the best marks at the Grade 5 scholarship exam and entering one of the so-called prestigious schools in the island. It would thus appear that the emotional wellbeing which is far more important than academic qualifications has been relegated to a lower level. The following are the Grade Five Scholarship results as per the available data on the rankings of schools for 2017:
- Of the top 20 Sinhala medium boys’ schools only one school ranked 19th is in a small city
- Of the top 20 Sinhala medium girls’ school only one school is in a small city
- Of the top 20 Sinhala medium mixed school, barring just two, 18 are in smaller towns
- Of the Tamil medium boys’ schools, out of 13 just four are in smaller towns
- Of the Tamil medium girls’ schools, out of 14 only three are from smaller towns.
Given this situation, almost all parents do their utmost to get their children admitted to the top-ranked city schools. Even though one may consider that this is due to their desire to provide a better education, immersed within parents is also a high degree of self-conceit (Sakkaya Ditti).
The pressure from education
As a result, children from their early days are pushed into tuition. Today one can often see children being led, often by their mothers, to tuition. These children of such young ages have no time to add value to their lives. As they approach the Grade Five Scholarship exams, the number of hours spent on education outside home increases with hardly any free time. Kids are often not allowed to take to other activities but are pushed into tuition and studying.
This continues after the scholarship phase into the GCE O Level and A Level phases as well. The net result is that the young minds are pushed into a narrow tunnel with no lateral vision where they are shown a light that they are told exists at the farthest end of the tunnel. Thus children have only one goal, to somehow or the other get there and beat all others. This syndrome does not enable young minds to develop the Four Brahma Vihar and the child’s mind becomes rather brittle.
This brittleness and lack of concern for others is well demonstrated today after they come out of schools and universities. The classic example are the SLTB and private passenger bus drivers. Anyone who has driven a vehicle on our roads nowadays will see how they drive with no regard for other vehicles or pedestrians. Similar to them are the young three-wheel drivers who too have no care either for themselves or for their passengers, and this is demonstrated in the number of daily accidents and deaths.
The earlier days
In my school days in the 1950-1960 period we did not experience this situation and after school we had time to play and interact with children from the village. Our playtime often involved swimming in the streams nearby, playing tennis ball cricket and Elle, etc.
We were also allowed to take part in paddy cultivation, from the ground preparation to harvesting time. It is difficult to think that today’s children would know the meaning of such words as Ela Mang, Nawatha Liyedda, Kumbaha, Poru Ganawa, Kadaduwa, Goyama, Kurulu Paluwa, Viya Gaha, etc. These extracurricular activities add value to the lives of children.
In an economy where the majority of people these days are only aware of supermarkets or Sunday fairs to get their daily needs, the natural life enjoyed by us in the early stages of the last century until the mid-’70s has disappeared from the majority of our people’s lives. Also as I could recollect, the Grade Five Scholarship Exam in those days was mostly to provide bursaries for needy children.
Society today has moved to overemphasise talent at a very early stage. With the kind of education system which prevails today and where such talents are given great prominence in electronic and print media (giving publicity to the top few with regards to Grade 5 Scholarship Exam results and GCE O Level results) children are bound to develop a high personality view or Sakkaya Ditti.
Our society worships talent and many people assume that possessing superior intelligence or ability, along with confidence in that ability, is a recipe for success. However, more than 35 years of scientific investigation suggests that an overemphasis on intellect or talent leaves people vulnerable to failure, fearful of challenges and unwilling to remedy their shortcomings (www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-secret-to-raising-smart-kids1).
It is a well-known fact that many children who received adulation in the early phase of their lives for high achievements falter later at other levels. Given the continuous strain on their minds and the illustration of their consciousness with negative Nama-Rupa, the forerunner to mind, in later years even if highly qualified and educated they could be devoid of the four Brahma Vihar.
That is why today many parents are ill-treated by their children even if they have reached higher levels. Many Buddhists today have misunderstood the Maha Mangala Sutra. The second stanza states: “Not to associate with the lowly, but to associate with the wise; to honor those who are worthy of honor, and this is the greatest blessing.”
Today a great majority believes that the wise mean educated while the foolish or lowly are the uneducated. As a result, society today gives great prominence to the educated and often lauds them. But if the educated are the wise people, then why do they opt for industrial action to achieve their parochial interests, putting their fellow citizens who bankrolled their free education with tax money through great misery? The Dhammapada says: “Do not serve mean ends, do not live in heedlessness. Do not associate false views, do not be one upholding this self-world (Dhammapada 13.167).”
The wise and the lowly
The lowly or the wise are not outside but within us. This we do with our six touch-agencies of the eye, ear, tongue, nose, body and mind. Those associating with and developing the right things are the wise while those associating with wrong things are the foolish. Thus it is clear that even if one is highly educated yet does the wrong with the six touch-agencies then such a person is not wise. Today the youth who enter into employment after different levels of qualifications from the GCE O Level, A Level or university degrees seem to have a lack of empathy and understanding. Within a few months of employment, they want high increments and promotions even if they have not grasped the content of their work.
This is not due to their fault but the faulty education process where children were put through great misery at a young age, causing an absence of understanding. At a recent discussion on one of the Buddhist TV channels, a university professor said that some university students after finishing their education, before leaving residential halls, break room locks, commodes and many other things. Young lecturers after finishing the morning lecture do not switch off the lecture hall lights or fans, resulting in the wastage of electricity.
All these things exist today due to the failure of our early education system, especially during the Grade Five Scholarship process and tuition from as young as four to five years of age. Education does not make one wise or foolish. If that is the case, then Chula Panthaka Thero, who could not even commit to memory one stanza for three months, would not have become an Arahath Maha Thero. On the other hand, Bhikku Potila, who knew all three texts - Sutra, Abhidhamma and Vinaya - and who gave guidance to Bhikkus in meditation and had many Arahath Bhikku students, one day went to the Jethavana Viharaya. Seeing him the Enlightened One said: “So you came Thuchcha Potila (meaning Empty Potila).” The Enlightened One said so because Bhikku Potila was not walking the path to Nirvana but helping others and thereby had built high self-conceit. But as per present day acceptance, Bhikku Potila should have been addressed as Wise Potila.
The authorities surely must be aware of the difficulties in changing the current education system that leads to tuition pressure on children. To alleviate the stress on children, the only solution is meditation in schools.
At least for two hours a week children should have mindfulness meditation. In this aspect the program implemented by Ven. Udairiyagama Dhammajeeva Thero in meditation known as Sathi Pasala is most laudable.
At the recently concluded Sathi Pasala Global Conference, a speaker from the UK told the gathering how the ministers and members of parliament in the UK engage in meditation at Westminster regularly. Further, a professor from a Sri Lankan university in his presentation spoke of the high stress factor with undergraduates and how they strike for the slightest reason. This is the symptom and the cause was the stress developed early in their life with education.
Already many schools are participating in this program. The authorities must implement this as soon as possible. With mindfulness developed, children will find it easier to cope with undue external stress. Recently while at the Vocational Training Institute to attend a meeting, I met a Bhikku who told me that one boy of about
12 years of age comes to his temple every day in the evening and after sweeping the lawn will offer flowers to Buddha and meditate for a while. He never went for tuition and in the 2017 Grade Five Scholarship had obtained over 180 marks. He now wants the Bhikku to help him because the parents are urging him to apply to top-ranked schools. The boy has told the Bhikku how can I come to temple every day if I go to these faraway schools?
So it is mindfulness and not tuition which is the need of the hour. Powered by mindfulness, children can easily comprehend it all at school and not focus too much on tuition, creating lots of space for their development of loving kindness, compassion, altruistic joy and equanimity, the greatest need of society today.
These days the Police and the presidential taskforce on drugs are doing a lot to prevent drug addiction among our citizens. The presidential taskforce slogan is ‘A country free of Intoxicants’. Yet if one were to walk past a liquor shop in the evening or a liquor shop at a supermarket, one can see many people thronging it to buy liquor.
Then the second danger is the exposure of our children to the machinations of drug pedlars. Today children are so stressed by the education system that they are easy prey to these unscrupulous people.
The third danger is smart technology, mainly the smartphone which today is used for cyber bullying. Children also spend too much time surfing useless things and also waste time on frivolous talk. The way to prevent these intoxicants reaching our children is not by treating the symptoms but the cause. Supposing a farmer going to the paddy field finds water draining away from the field through the sluice gate, he will not try to stop it from the farther end but block the entrance to the sluice. In the same way to prevent drug pedlars and liquor-makers from encroaching on our lives, the way forward is meditation.
Treating the cause is also the core basis of Co-Dependent Arising or Patichcha Samuppada. When there is a cause, there is an effect. If the cause is not there, then the effect does not arise. So the authorities, particularly at the presidential taskforce, must see that the way to prevent taking to intoxicants is by removing the cause, the mental stress at the child level.
The solution that must be applied from childhood through all ages is Mindfulness, Meditation and Vipassana Meditation (more can be found from these TIME Magazine articles http://time.com/1556/the-mindful-revolution/, http://time.com/4108442/mindfulness-meditation-pain-management).
It would appear that the whole world is going in the wrong direction. On 14 February, a 19-year-old schoolboy walked into his former school from where he was expelled and shot at fellow students, killing 17 students and adults. Meditation and nothing else is the only solution.
Yogā ve jāyatī bhūri, ayogā bhūrisaṅkhayo. Etaṃ dvedhā pathaṃ ñatvā bhavāya vibhavāya ca, tath’ āttānaṃ niveseyya yathā bhūri pavaḍḍhati (Verily, wisdom arises from meditation; without meditation wisdom wanes. Having known these two paths of progress and decline, let one so conduct oneself that one›s wisdom may increase (Dhammapada 20.282)).
(The writer can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org and Sugath_ras@sltnet.lk).