‘Catch them young’ – a response


Reference "Catch them Young", says Capt G. A. Fernando in The Island of 20th May. This is something any educationist knows and tries to do. What a child learns early in life is generally fixed in his mind. A famous Pope is reputed to have said, "Give me a child up to seven years. After that anyone can have him." He was referring to religious beliefs.

This attitude might have changed now since the advent of the Computer Age and the flood of information constantly beating on our brains. People are changing lifelong held beliefs and views all the time. Islam claims to be the fastest growing religion in the world. Probably true. Look at its converts!

One must hope that the schoolboys engaged in ‘Hate Activity’ on that fateful Black Day of July 1983 (whom the Captain mentions) are now mature and sensible citizens. But is it likely? They are probably still fanatical in their opinions and still prone to violence. So what do we do?

First of all, will parents kindly shoulder the burden of teaching their offspring religion? Why is it left to schools may I ask? Buddhist Temple schools and Christian Church Sunday Schools have so far had excellent reputations but the Islamic Madrasas are now viewed with great suspicion. Our Education Department saying that Madrasas will be monitored is ridiculous. How would they set about doing that?

Religion is an examination subject. The folly of THAT is obvious. In spite of many advanced countries not allowing religion to be brought into schools our own Education Dept. does not believe in teaching a unifying subject and using school life to bring our diverse and multi cultural communities together.

Religion does not touch the hearts of youngsters. This must surely be plain to all citizens of this country when the earlier and recent violence has made a mockery of the decades of religious instruction in schools. Teach VALUE EDUCATION instead. And do NOT make it an academic exercise. Let it touch the hearts of our students and not divide them further. Different language streams is already doing a good job of that

Religion should be part of the home life. Daily observances are a good idea. Christians say Grace before meals and Hindus often say prayers in the morning before sending kids to school. I would frequently see my Hindu pupils at Asian International School with holy ash on their foreheads as school started. There are Buddhist observances, too.

We all recall Sujatha Jayawardena (nee de Silva) one of Colombo’s best known women in many fields. A tireless social worker, an exponent of dance, well known in theatre productions, President of the Colombo University Alumni, Builder of the University Women’s Hostel (for which she is regularly blessed by hundreds of undergraduates.) I was more than just a friend. Sujatha’s mother was my guardian whenever my own mother left me to go to India. Having no relatives in Sri Lanka Sujatha’s parents were my honorary ones. So I stayed with them often.

Now, why do I mention this? It is because the de Silva’s three children had a DAILY regimen which not only taught them religious values but gave them an exceptionally solid Buddhist behavioural base. One custom was this. Each morning, as her two brothers and Sujatha left for school they knelt before their mother who then blessed them by reciting a relevant stanza. NEVER did the de Silva children rush out of the house saying, "I’m late for school. No time for the blessing."

This was one of the dozens of ways religion was practiced and religious teaching was painlessly taught. There was no memorisation of gathas and Sutras needed for examination purposes common in today’s syllabuses. Religion became part of their lives.

Religion and culture should be bred into our blood and bones. It should be absorbed by children in an osmosis like fashion. It should be part of daily family life. It cannot be taught.

Parents – shoulder your responsibilities.

Goolbai Gunasekara


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