When I started this blog, which I must admit I did with a certain level of cynicism (I’ve always been a bit of a Techno-Luddite!), it was with the intention that it might provoke some discussion and debate, particularly amongst students participating in the MA programme in Bangalore. Whilst this remains an important primary function I am not sure that it has been wholly successful in this regard, though perhaps it has served as a means of gauging the opinions of others who make up a wider audience. It is always reassuring when a response is posted on the blog, as at times it can feel a little indulgent, or appear like talking to oneself with an imminent danger of someone coming to find me with a straight jacket!
When individuals do post remarks they are generally thoughtful and make a significant contribution to my own thinking on issues around children’s rights and inclusive education. When this happens I try to respond positively to these comments in the hope that the debate may be continued. Sometimes the observations made are so powerful that they inspire me to write further on a topic and thus keep the discussion going. Such was the case yesterday when I read the comments posted by Saneeya from the UK and Tim from Canada.
I had written about Rooban, a child featured in the Hindu newspaper who rises each morning at 4.30 to deliver morning newspapers around Bangalore (Trying to deliver a better future May 20th). After two hours of working he goes home to collect his younger brother and prepare for a day at school. The money he earns from his job is aimed totally at ensuring that the two boys can obtain an education without becoming a drain on the family income. Whilst this young man is clearly demonstrating a noble commitment to self-improvement, I raised concerns that his childhood is fast disappearing and that society is failing in its duty to enable him to lead a balanced life. My own concerns when reading about Rooban were reinforced by the comment posted by Saneeya who wrote that:
“One of my main concerns, however, is that in shouldering such heavy burdens from young ages, so many children are robbed of the enjoyment of mundane childhood activities such as old-fashioned play time with their peers outside of school, reading for pleasure, and so on, which are so essential for the nurturing of their characters and personalities”.
Saneeya juxtaposes two interesting concepts here, firstly the acceptance of a burden of responsibility and secondly the nurturing elements of play. These are wise words indeed as they go straight to the nub of the issue. Whilst children certainly need to learn elements of responsibility and we should undoubtedly encourage them to recognise their duty of care towards others, this should not be at the expenses of their own development through engagement in play with their peers. Childhood is short and should be recognized as a critical phase of life during which children learn to form relationships, explore materials and their environment and understand how to utilise the skills acquired through play for the benefit of themselves and others.
Tim takes these concern further by citing the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which he rightly says emphasizes that:-
“The child shall have full opportunity for play and recreation, which should be directed to the same purposes as education; society and the public authorities shall endeavour to promote the enjoyment of this right.”
Of course, there will be many who argue that through his work Rooban is learning to explore his environment, co-operate with others and develop a broad range of generalizable skills. This is undoubtedly true, but at what cost? The importance of play in the formation of well adjusted, inquisitive human beings has been well researched. Children deprived of these opportunities often have difficulties adjusting to social mores, in forming lasting relationships and knowing how to solve problems.
Both Saneeya and Tim express concerns that appear to be debated less today than might have been the case a few years ago. In many quarters it is now simply accepted that childhood is a necessary period of high dependence and economic demand which needs to be endured prior to individuals becoming effective workers to support national economies. If you think that this is an exaggeration, I would urge you to read the recent UNICEF report on progress towards the Global Education for All Goals that recognises child labour as one of the greatest obstacles to achieving universal education.
In posting his remarks on the flouting of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Tim is careful not to apportion blame. He highlights that addressing these issues is the responsibility of “society and the public.” He then closes with a perceptive comment:-
“I think ‘society and the public’ means us. We have some work to do!”
Well said Tim, and Saneeya and thank you for responding.