Famous authors have given us gems about the greatness of children. For instance best selling American author Denis Waitley has said the greatest gifts we can give our children are the roots of responsibility and the wings of independence. American cultural anthropologist and writer Margaret Mead has said children must be taught how to think, not what to think, while Russian philosopher Fyodor Dostoyevsky goes deeper by saying the soul is healed by being with children.
Such and similar thoughts need to come to our minds as we celebrate children’s day today. According to Census and Statistics Department Director General Amara Satharasinghe, Sri Lanka has made significant advances to stabilize the welfare and well-being of the children in important areas such as healthcare and education. But many challenges also remain, some of which have erupted recently.
Children, legally those under the age of 18 comprise about one fifth of Sri Lanka’s population.
As at 2012 the population of Sri Lanka stood at 20.5 million That means the total child population in Sri Lanka in 2012/2013 was 4,451,229. Some 50.7 per cent were males and 49.3 per cent female.
According to the Director General, the percentage of the child population in 2012 was 25.2 and has been declining from a level of 35.2 per cent in 1981, while the percentage of elderly population has doubled to 12.4 per cent in the same period.
The Director General says education in every sense is a fundamental determinant of development. No country can achieve sustainable economic development without substantial investment in human capital. Education enriches people’s understanding of themselves and the world.
Over the past fifty years, a free education policy and a national commitment to the value and benefit of education have led to some of the highest literacy and enrollment rates. The most significant characteristic of education in Sri Lanka, is that the achievements were across the social strata, reaching even the most marginalized, thus helping to reduce social inequities, the Census Chief says. The 2011 census data shows that nearly 45 per cent of children aged 3 are attending pre-school. More than 85 per cent of children aged 4 and 20.5 per cent of 5-year-old children attend a pre-school. These figures show that most children below the schooling age are sent to preschools for some time. Thus, it is important that pre-schools prepare a child for the world of learning and living in the best possible manner, the DG says.
At present the compulsory period for children to attend school is 9 years, from the age of 5 to 14. According to the reports received by the Daily Mirror, the national unity government, with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe taking the forefront has declared that from next year it will bring about not just a transformation but a revolution in the education process. One of the features is that the compulsory age for schooling will be increased from 9 to 13. At present hundreds of thousands who failed the GCE Ordinary Level examination in an exam-oriented process, move out of education and it is reported that as many as 900,000 boys have gone into the three-wheeler driver sector where there is little or no vocational training and less scope for creativity, innovation or imaginative moves in a world of digital and nanotechnology.
The government says more emphasis will be given to vocational training, information technology and related areas while students will also be encouraged to learn more English through excellent English lessons being provided on the internet. The government believes that with a good knowledge if not a command of the English language and professional training in areas ranging from technology, business and marketing, students could find highly paid jobs and thereby help restore the dignity not only of themselves but of their families also. It is essential that this transformation must be all inclusive and include students in rural areas also.
If this transformation process is worked out effectively with little or no party political interference, our next generation will not only be well educated but also well disciplined knowing that their rights are linked to their responsibilities.
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