Thursday, February 28, 2013

For Our Children

Published in the Fiji Times's "OFF THE WALL WITH PADRE JAMES"  on Thursday 17th January, 2013

Earlier this week I had to talk to my children about preparing to return to school, after unsuccessful attempts by their mother to try to get them out of their holiday sleeping pattern. They made a strong argument about going to bed when the sun was still up, based on daylight saving. I pointed to their school-day timetable pasted on the wall and reminded them that as of next week, they would need to follow their daily schedule again regardless of when the sun rose and set.
All parents and children are preparing for the new school year. For some it is just a matter of buying books, bags and uniforms, and getting the children back into the rhythm of going to school after the long break.

For others of course, the challenges are much greater. Finding the money to pay for school levies (not fees) and the necessities our children is a challenge. I must admit that I found doing the back to school shopping for our children to be an ordeal, even if my job was to carry the shopping while my thrifty wife sought out the back-to-school bargains.

Some decisions require a little critical thinking – ensuring that the uniforms are big enough for the kids to grow into but not too big as to make them look like hobbits wearing human-sized clothes; or finding the school bag that is affordable but will not fall apart after the first month of use by an active primary school student.

Some of our children may, as the media have highlighted, begin the new school year in sheds or tents, in the aftermath of Cyclone Evan. Some may have to begin the year with only some of what they need for school, until parents can afford to buy the rest of the school requirements, or even extra pairs of uniform. 

As parents, guardians, family or community members, eventually our children return to, or begin school. We find a way to get them into school. Having a little involvement with charity work, I have witnessed not only the plight of parents who struggle to ensure that their children are able to attend school, but the resourcefulness of parents who have accepted their responsibility to ensure that their children are educated. I have also witnessed the generosity, of families, friends and sometimes complete strangers who support children that not only they do not know, but may also never meet.  Some provide support from a purely altruistic or charitable perspective. Some however do so because they themselves were the beneficiaries of someone’s generosity. 

Supporting our children’s education, however, is more than just making sure that they go to school. It is important we as parents and family take an active interest in their schoolwork – not only Parents-and-teachers day or when the end of term report is collected, but every day. It means not only checking that the homework is done but how it is done and helping our children with their homework when they are stuck. As busy as we may be earning what we can to feed, clothe and educate our children, we still need to make time to help them in their education. And we need to always remember that although teachers can provide academic learning and in some instances even religious education; our role as parents and family members is to ensure that good values, responsibility, love and understanding are taught and practiced at home. Teachers are given the responsibility to education our children, not raise them.

Living in Korea and interacting with teachers, parents and children in my community, I have seen what can happen to children whose parents are so busy working day and night that they have little time with their children. I have seen children who are in such a competitive learning environment – in school and extra classes from morning to night – that they are falling asleep in classes because of the long hours.

It is one thing to be busy working to make ends meet. It is another to be out at gatherings, talanoa/tanoa sessions and extracurricular activities and leave the children on their own.

Sometimes the challenges our children face are non-academic. Children continue to face bullying, peer-pressure, difficult social-relationships, teasing and sexual harassment in school. Even with Child Protection Policies in place in school, if parents and guardians do not pay attention to these challenges, along with changes during puberty that our children face, how can we expect them to speak out about it? A child who pretends to be sick in order to stay home may not just be trying to “step school” but may be avoiding a bully, be teased, suffering harassment or worse.

My plea to parents, guardians and family members is that we all take interest in our children’s wellbeing and do our best that they receive a holistic, grounded education that not only leads them to become successful in their eventual career path or vocation, but leads them to be responsible, caring and understanding human beings who can contribute to Fiji being a just and peaceful nation.

“Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity”

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