It was a routine exhibition of art by children for a competition organized by the Funday Times newspaper at a Colombo venue. Nothing fancy, the usual stuff. Visiting an exhibition of this nature after many years and walking around, however, I was intrigued by the expressions of what children brought out in their paintings under [...]

Business Times

Sweet innocence of youth


It was a routine exhibition of art by children for a competition organized by the Funday Times newspaper at a Colombo venue. Nothing fancy, the usual stuff.

Visiting an exhibition of this nature after many years and walking around, however, I was intrigued by the expressions of what children brought out in their paintings under the theme ‘Our world in colour’.

It was an expression of fun, frolic, laughter, joy, excitement, warmth, animals and play. The mood was also one of excitement and pure joy from unspoiled minds as the kids walked up to collect their prizes, with one small fellow grinning from ear-to-ear as he carried a heavy load, faltering and not sure of his step. Pure childish excitement and joy.

What also drew my attention and probably that of the other guests too, were drawings on the environment, nature, water, families together working in the garden, etc.

These are young minds happy as they can be and at the same time showing concern for nature, the environment and sustainability, while the older (adult) minds, are bloodletting on the streets. While some of the ideas from drawings may have been inspired by the parents, there must be a sizable segment of children who think and feel in a non-violent, non-cluttered and undisturbed manner.

As I reflected on the state of play in Sri Lanka today, Kussi Amma Sera walks in with my morning stimulant, a sugar-less, cup of tea, and asks, “Mokakda Mahattaya, prash-nayak-da?” When I responded with an analogy on the wonderful drawings of children as against youth fighting on the streets, she said in exasperation: “Aei apey lamai pare gaha-ganne? Meka, apey rate visadanna-barida?”

Reflecting further on the lessons adults can learn from a simple exhibition of drawings, it would be interesting to see the expression and outcome of such a competition for adult minds on the same theme ‘Our world in colour’; even organise it for a lark and find out what comes first to the minds of adults. Without any hesitation, it would be about war, conflict, trouble!

This then begs the question: If young minds are filled with positive thoughts, care for the environment and respect for elders (it was wonderful to see them, as they received their prizes, touching the feet of elders in a tradition of respect and gratitude), why do our politicians and adults spoil the party by talking about conflict, danger lurking in the neighbourhood, corruption, mismanagement, etc — more negatives than positives when addressing an audience of children? Yes, while children need to be cautioned about these dangers, shouldn’t such messages be balanced with positive thoughts as evident from the expressions from drawings? Something for our educationists and politicians to think about.

The cycle of youth, particularly in Sri Lanka’s rural countryside, begins with all the expressions seen in the drawings referred to earlier – playing, climbing trees, bathing in the river, eating fresh fruit and vegetables and studying. As they grow older the local politician appears from the woodwork, coaxing them to be good citizens, care-free youth and promising them a job after a university education. Then armed with the promise of a job at whatever cost, young people often rebel in universities – also coaxed by left wing idealism – and on the streets. They want a job at another person’s expense and to work lazily, in a state-sector job with a pension to boot. At the end of the day, it is the same young person who suffers and not the local politician, the real cause of a messed-up life. Eventually, everyone blames rebelling youth rather than politicians who ruined the innocence of youth!

If only those drawings could speak a thousand words, they would convey an important message to adults that life can be beautiful, caring, calm and untroubled and that education should be founded on the principle of love, play and caring for nature and the environment.

Unfortunately, as adults mess up by causing conflict, friction and suspicion, key areas like education are not given a prominent place in the development stride of a nation. For example consider the priorities in next year’s budget and place for education – secondary and tertiary: The education budget is fourth in the list of priorities after defence spending (allocated Rs. 290 billion versus Rs. 284 billion in 2017), finance (Treasury and mass media – 2018: Rs. 243 billion) and health (Rs. 173.4 billion vs Rs. 160.9 billion in 2017). The education budget comes from two different ministries – Education (2018: Rs. 102 billion) and Higher Education and Highways (2018: Rs.182.7 billion). How much the second ministry has allocated to state university education remains to be seen as highways is a big spender and the Appropriation Bill doesn’t give the breakdown. And, as one cartoonist jokingly drew: It’s the highway or my way for the minister in charge!

In an ideal society where there is more wealth distribution and less income disparities, education becomes less of a burden to the state where young people – across all strata of society – have access to good quality state and private education and equal employment opportunities. This is unlike today when a good knowledge of English gets you an interview, rather than a state degree with little or no working knowledge of English.

Another paradigm of education is that it’s more about churning out thousands of students (earning millions for tuition masters and fly-by-night institutes) to acquire paper qualifications like factories in every nook and corner rather than acquiring skills, knowledge, the ability to think, reason and resolve a challenging issue. The read and learning-by-heart culture that still exists today doesn’t pay in the long term with the advent of new technology and information. For, what you have spent hours and years to memorise, is now available at your fingertips on a slim rectangle-shaped tool on your table – the keyboard.

I can sense frustration in the household as I engage in another, wasted bout of pontification of what Sri Lanka should be and living in a fool’s paradise. Shifting gears, I am enthralled by a piece in, laying claim to Sri Lanka’s spoof and satirical website. The first paragraph of an article headlined, ‘Sri Lanka now ranked Number One Destination for niche market of Strike Tourism Enthusiasts’ goes like this: “Sri Lanka Tourism is set to benefit from the increase in tourists looking to engage in protests as part of their vacation after the country was named as the number one place to visit following a year of incessant strikes!” And on that departing note and jokes apart, it would still be interesting to see the outcome of an art competition under the theme ‘Our world in colour’ for adults, a challenge for colleagues at the Funday Times.

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