23 September 2012

Nobody’s children belong to us all

Vasudeva Nanayakkara, Minister of National Languages and Social Integration, is reported to have made a thought-provoking observation on the current crisis in higher education.  A group of professionals had solicited the minister’s opinion on the tug-o-war between the Government and the Federation of University Teachers’ Associations (FUTA) over multiple grievances and demands articulated by the latter.  Nanayakkara had said that the whole drama reminds him of Bertold Brecht’s celebrated play ‘The Caucasian Chalk Circle’.

The story itself has multiple residences, with various versions of it being articulated in different languages and different cultural settings.  It’s about the ownership of a child.  There are two claimants, the biological mother (who abandoned the child) and the foster-mother who took care of the abandoned child.  The shrewd judge asks the two claimants to pull the child.  The foster-mother, in this instance, not wanting the child hurt, allows the biological mother to ‘win’ the battle.  The judge determines that she loves the child and that she deserves custody. 

Whose child is education?  Whose children’s future is at stake here?  There are multiple children involved here, one can argue.  Every child is a child that’s being pulled.  Every fetus in every womb is being pulled in different directions.  Part of the tragedy is that even if there was no pulling each and every child is made to suffer multiple anxieties by the very fact that it is born into and grows up in a house that is totally out of order.  Sadder still is the fact that the ‘pullers’ themselves were once children subjected to the very same anxieties. 

This is a sick child in the proverbial chalk circle. Unlike in the story, it is hard to determine which of the contestants is mother and which the foster-mother.  Both claim motherhood and consequent ‘rights’ of ownership.  A hundred and one arguments can be submitted by both claimants to support their respective cases.  The truth is that neither is parent, but both are part-time guardians. Parentage is not what matters but the fact that a sick child is being pulled apart, limb by limb, and for all the love professed by all claimants resolution of the dilemma is as distant as it was when the pulling began.  And for all the claims made and all the love professed, one cannot ignore the fact that the ‘pullers’ are largely self-serving individuals trading barbs and banking on the currency of rhetoric. 

Vasudeva Nanayakkara has opined that it is the Government that really owns the child.  Ownership notwithstanding, the larger responsibility lies with the Government, not FUTA.  If FUTA is a paid nurse, it is the Government that pays its salary and the Government that has to decide how to bring up the child.  The Government does not seem to care how the child grows up. 

The people can vote governments out. Employers can sack errant employees.  But this issue will not be sorted out that way.  A bad rash is not cured by changing nappies or by sacking nurses.   It is a problem of salaries and of fund allocation, yes.  It is also a problem of horrendous mismatches between curriculum and employability, an overemphasis on rights and underplaying of responsibility, politically motivated appointments and the inflation of unreasonable hope, focus on overcoming today’s headache while ignoring a malignant tumor, a fascination with criticism and unpardonable aversion to self-appraisal. 

Four months into the battle the contestants are still engaged in sledging, engaged in various forms of one-upmanship.  We have a case of adults behaving like spoilt brats. They are not fit to take care of children.  The sad thing is that they must.  It is not a case of one party letting go because a) the child is sick, and b) the ‘winner’ is incompetent. 

It is time to start from scratch.  ‘Scratch’ begins with correct diagnosis.  It includes a complete evaluation of the baby’s health and a sober consideration of all treatment options, not just to make one symptom disappear but to cure all ills and make the baby healthy enough to survive in a harsh environment. 

The baby belongs to us all.  And indeed each and every single one of us is that baby being pulled apart. 

Four months into the battle, the child is starving.  Both are convinced that the other is vile.  Both are correct, sadly.  But this is not a matter of figuring out who is the bigger bad wolf.  This child has been neglected and allowed to pick up all kinds of diseases.  This child is dying and when the child dies, the nation dies.  At that point the pulling will cease because corpses are not pulled apart, they are carried.  No one will want this baby at that point. 



Anonymous said...

I do not believe that the university teachers deserve what they ask for as the university education system has deteriorated to such a level that apart from reading from a outdated set of notes, no useful research is done by them for the benefit of the country.