Goolbai Gunasekara urges parents to help their kids become global citizens

Do all Sri Lankan parents want their children to study at university? And does this seem like a silly question to you?

After nearly 50 years as a teacher and more than half that time spent as the principal of an international school, I can say with absolute certainty that parents over here are not always sensible.

Rigorous advertising in the Sri Lankan press urging parents to opt for various (and often dubious) local higher educational facilities for their children causes many to be dazzled by their spurious claims.

Of course, affordability is the main issue but assuming it’s not a problem, can a school principal count on the sensibility of parents?

So let me first speak about parents who can afford to send their children overseas but hesitate to do so for reasons that seem totally without substance, to me at least. Let me mention a few of these instances.

Four sisters in school were high achievers right from the nursery. The first one was completing her A-Levels and I had no doubt that she could apply to a university anywhere in the wide world.

But I soon struck a snag.

Her father had no desire to see any child of his leave the nest. He and his four daughters together with their mother did not visualise a scenario where one child would be absent from the evening’s fun and happy family time, which was a daily occurrence.

I could hardly believe my ears!

Then came the case of a hotelier who also could not bear separation from his offspring. “He is my only son,” he pleaded: “How can I part with him?”

In the meantime, the young man had applied and been accepted into some of the UK’s best colleges.

“A degree in business studies will help him in his future career, surely?” I ask, politely but pointedly.

“He can do something here, no?” the proud papa replies nonchalantly.

Thankfully at this point, I received help from his mother who had no wish to have her only son mollycoddled for no reason. So he was sent on his way abroad with his father on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

Another instance was with one of the school’s head girls who had also been a success story from the nursery upwards.

An only child, she had won a full scholarship to the United States and her proud parents gladly sent her forthwith. The obstacle encountered in this instance came in the form of homesickness – in this child’s case, her homesickness was so acute that she phoned home three times a day and called me daily.

The problem in this case was her father. He was ready to travel to America and either bring his daughter back or live in the US with her! His wife had no patience with either her daughter or husband and quietly hid the latter’s passport. Of course, things settled down…

But the worst nightmare is when a parent tells me that his children do not have to work because he has enough money for them to live in comfort for the rest of their lives.

“My daughters do not even need to marry if they don’t want to,” he told me complacently. The daughters concerned were happy either way.

In the case of parents who can’t afford to educate their offspring overseas, they have the option of choosing from among the few local educational institutions that match the standards of those in the UK, Australia and the US.

But there aren’t many, and it is to my eternal and ongoing regret that I can only counsel my students or the children of friends who seek my advice. I’m happy to say that in almost every case, parents have seen the advantages of carefully chosen education either here or abroad.

The aggressive advertising by certain institutions in Sri Lanka draw many kids – especially from local schools – to their doors. These children don’t enjoy access to reliable counselling or have very poor A-Level results. And the only criterion for acceptance to these unworthy institutions is money.

To my mind, the only possible way that these kids could be saved from a mediocre education is if the government adopts the same measures that it did in the SAITM case. Why it doesn’t do so is only one more example of how poorly education is handled in this country.

Meanwhile, to return to my original dilemma of parental resistance to higher education based on personal feelings, I am happy to report that in almost every case parents have listened to wiser counsel – and they have never regretted giving their children the opportunity to become global citizens.

That opportunity is available in Sri Lanka too but only if half the current higher educational institutions with dubious claims are closed down after a thorough investigation by incorruptible educationists without any political interference whatsoever.

Surely, our clever youngsters who have a lifetime ahead of them deserve this from their government.