|Friday, 2 August 2002|
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Ending inter-school violence
Just a couple of weeks after the eruption of violent clashes among some students belonging to two prominent public schools in the city, the distressing news is heard of disruptive behaviour of the same kind among some students attending three well-known schools in the suburbs of Colombo. The disturbing developments have compelled the authorities to temporarily close senior classes at President's College Maharagama, St. John's College Nugegoda and Dharmapala Vidyalaya, Pannipitiya.
Apparently, school buses carrying the students of one school have been attacked by some students attending the other schools. These clashes have been intermittent over the past few days and have grown in intensity, forcing the closure of the senior grades of these schools.
It is, of course, crucial that the immediate causes for these violent clashes are investigated without further delay and remedied expeditiously by the authorities. However, what is of graver significance is the increasing proneness of sections of our secondary school students to violence, sometimes of the worst kind. For instance, it was veritable gang warfare that erupted in Colombo 7 a couple of weeks back when some students from the two well-known secondary schools clashed fiercely. Apparently the cancer of student violence has spread to other schools as well.
When commenting on the violence two weeks back, we mentioned the general climate of violence in the country and the relentless brutalization of Lankan society over the decades which have spread indiscipline and violence even among the young. Educational institutions and schools, we pointed out, are inseparable from the larger society: the ills of the latter impact on the former. This is an inescapable process.
We hope the correct inferences would be drawn from the foregoing by those claiming to mould and lead Lankan society. We have done well to end the bitter hostilities in the North-East but putting society back on the path of normalcy requires a multi-pronged effort involving major reforms in school curricula as well. In this commentary, over the years, we have made a strong case for the inclusion of peace studies in the secondary school curricula.
Resolving the North-East conflict by political means, it would be found, is only one dimension in the country's peace effort. It is equally important to sow the seeds of peace and unity in the hearts and minds of the people. The citizenry needs to see the importance of caring and sharing for each other and engaging in non-violent behaviour particularly when confronted with conflict situations.
To be sure, all this and more is envisaged in the doctrines of all major religions, most of which are very assiduously practised in this country. However, religion has proved problematic in Sri Lanka because most of it has been institutionalised and rendered distant from the everyday concerns of the majority of the people. The time is right to relate religion more closely to everyday living and this could be achieved through, among other things, peace and conflict - resolution studies in schools. Dahampasal, Sunday schools and religious gatherings are other fora for the spread of value-based education.
The Writing is on the Wall. Schools are in ferment. Lawlessness which is rampant in the larger society has made grave inroads into our schools as well. Before criminality raises its ugly head more prominently in these the nurseries of future citizens, we call on the educational authorities, teachers, parents and elders to do everything within their power to turn the tide of violent behaviour among our youth by inculcating in them the essentials of virtuous living. In this connection, serious consideration should be given to curricula reform, as we have suggested.
A compelling duty is cast on teachers as well as parents and elders to guide their wards along the path of ethically wholesome living. The media have become a primary means of enhancing the appeal of violence among the impressionable and young. Accordingly, TV time has to be firmly regulated and monitored by elders.
However the problem with some elders is that they do not take the responsibility of setting their wards a good example, very seriously. Violent joustings and fisticuffs in even our law-making bodies are a case in point. Constant bickering, backbiting and back-stabbing in the public realm, which have increased of late, also send the wrong message to the young. To some "elders" we are compelled to say: "Physician heal thyself".
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