| by Victor Cherubim

( November 8, 2014, London, Sri Lanka Guardian)
Working with children is about the way parents, including teachers and administrators, work in order to make changes, build on strengths and stay update with new developments.

We read in research that every child is different, every family is different. There are often changes to resources, the curriculum and approaches to early education in Sri Lanka. Due to the prolonged civil war, it may well be different in the Northern and Eastern Province as opposed to other parts of Sri Lanka. But children are children. The war in one part of our small island did, no doubt, have an impact on children in other parts too. Thus the quality of work with children has a huge impact on them and their families. Finding ways to develop and maintain this quality is never easy. The best person to help work effectively with children, in my opinion, is the Teacher working in tandem with the Principal of the School.

Extending learning

We know that children, who have sensitive and reflective adults as mentors, are more likely to have their learning experience extended. These mentors are likely to be more knowledgeable across many subject areas, to make them confident as well as improving the quality, type and range of early learning experiences for children. These adults are likely to be more skilful at forming relationships, especially with parentless children, traumatised children and special needs children. They are also likely to be good at recognising the best way of responding to individual children’s interests and needs, thus extending their learning.

Planning Children’s Needs

We need to tailor our approach to suit children’s interests and needs. This is because they are all special, not only because they are young, willing to explore, but because they may be traumatised and unable to express, adjust or adapt to a different relationship at school, where trust and understanding are pillars to the learning process. Thus being aware of what the teacher is doing when they are with children and gaining feedback from a range of sources, such as parents, colleagues as well as children, is more than a learning process for the teacher.

Behaviours, beliefs, values and aptitudes

If a teacher, for instance strongly believes that all children should be “taught,” it might mean that the teacher is resistant to practices that encourage children to be “independent” and to learn for themselves through child initiated play. It is a mix of formal education, coupled with self learning. Does it mean that for change to take place in the child, the teacher also has to find a way of changing their approach?

Rights of the Child, particularly after trauma

We talk all the time about rights of every one in society. Does the Child have rights? While basic needs of children have not changed in centuries, society and the perception of childhood are constantly changing. New developments from research and in fact legislation are influencing the curriculum and the expectations of children. A culture of transparency and openness, in fact, readiness to try out new ideas is emerging.

Children as a group and children needing special needs learning according to levels of child development is now creating a more dynamic environment. This is noticeable in areas where traumatised children are being taught, in the Vanni for example. Special Needs Children require not only special attention, but more so teachers must know or be trained, on how to use current best practice, including playfulness, play opportunities, observation, assessment, response planning for adult child relationships.

Children, who have been exposed to bereavement, child abuse, and sexual violence at home among others, need not only education, but a trusting relationship at school. The importance of this best practice cannot be over emphasised. Teachers cannot wait for legislation, or governmental directions, to install best practice. Further, best practice in this field also changes over time and teachers should keep abreast to any changes in best practice by shadowing other schools that are up to date with best practice. Teachers here again need to learn.

Children in Education in UK
Children in UK have more rights according to legislation. We may name a few:

We have the Children’s Act 1989 and 2004 dealing with child welfare. Local authorities such as Police, NHS and Youth, Justice System are required to work in conjunction and cooperate with one another, sharing information to promote and protect the welfare of children.

We have the Data Protection Act 1990. Information about children must only be used for the sole purpose not to cause serious harm or risk to the child or any other individual. Personal information on children is held manually and not on school records, for sake of child privacy.

We have the Child Care Act 2006 to reduce child poverty by supporting parents to reduce inequalities for all children up to age of 5 years. It also introduced the Early Years Foundation Stage, which came into effect in 2008.

Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 concerns a vetting and barring scheme for people who work with children, monitored by the Home Office.

Equality Act 2010 applies to school and early year’s settings treat children the same.

Children and society in practice

Whilst every effort is being made through monitoring regulation, legislation and best practice, there appears a gulf which exists between children and society in the West. Living in the fast lane in the so called “developed world” has its drawbacks. Technological advances have revolutionised our lives. The way we shop, talk and trade has changed beyond recognition. The internet’s ability to connect people like never before, with mobile apps has exploded in popularity over the last few years. Children are being driven to be precocious.

Neglected marriages that end in divorce, children left on their own or with child minders who are unscrupulous, no parental controls on children viewing porn on their computers at home, parents having little quality time with their children, among others have caused a scare in the West among educationists. The “abuse phenomenon” is becoming exposed more and more and cities such as Manchester and individuals in High Society, have hit the headlines.

There is an underlying disillusionment among some children at progress and coping mechanisms perhaps, are failing them. More and more we see bill boards, placards at railway stations advertising “we are in your corner” by the Samaritans with Help Lines, Survivors becoming part and of a culture of dependency.

Family and Teacher Support for children

Whilst the extended family in Sri Lanka is a fall back situation for children, when everything else fails, this seems to be lacking in the fast moving world of the West. Irrespective of all the other difficulties with pay and rewards for teachers and administrators, much progress has been achieved by the teaching profession in Sri Lanka. Although we may not be well trained in all the best practices in children’s education, it cannot be denied, that there is an undeniable effort on the part of teachers particularly in the Vanni, giving of themselves for the welfare of traumatised children.

I had the privilege of visiting one such School during my recent visit. I was impressed by the work of Mrs.S.Thayaparan, Principal and teachers of Chavakachcheri Sakthiamman T.M.S and the valuable work this school performs for young orphan children under 11 years. Without much notice, this school is in the forefront of working with children with trauma. I noticed how children bonded with their Principal and teachers and how much respect the teachers valued the experience with the children.

Social construction of childhood

The social construction of childhood, perhaps, through the institutions of education is grounded in not only a strong conceptual, theoretical framework but also on practical knowledge. The potential of children in the growth and future of Sri Lanka has been recognised at least, in the photo opportunities recently with President Mahinda Rajapaksa. We hope they will lead to child friendly future educational policy in Sri Lanka.


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