08 October 2013

Sandaru and Damith as students and teachers

A week ago few outside family circle, teachers and school friends would have heard of Sandaru Sathsara Balahewa.  Today, if there’s any 10 year old child whose name is known outside of such domains of acquaintance, it has to be this little boy from Mahinda College, Galle.  Sandaru scored an incredible 198 out of a possible 200 at the Grade 5 Scholarship Examination.  That’s no mean feat and therefore eminently warrants attention and accolades, both of which have been showered on him in abundance. 

Recognition and rewarding of achievement encourages recipients.  It also spurs those who are to follow, that is the little ones who are yet to sit the exam.  There is also the downside of course, for example of parents wanting their children to bask in similar glory and therefore slave-driving them to their books at the cost of other necessary and healthy activities that make for wholesome childhood and meaningful growing up.  Still, nothing should take away from the achievement and deserved celebration, not even the outrageous promise by the Southern Province Education Minister to send little Sandaru to Disney Land, a promise that is disproportionate to achievement and worse, could have unintended but nevertheless disastrous consequences for one so young and impressionable. 

There were others who did remarkably well. They too had their media moment; voice-cuts, interviews and such. Even those who scored above the ‘cut-off mark’ but did not obtain exceptionally high scores, would have been rewarded in some way, in the very least with modest treats from parents and smiles from teachers.

Let us not forget the disappointed, among them the children who just missed the cut and the parents who invested too much hope but most of all those for whom this exam was of the make or break kind, at least in the minds of parents.  Let us hope that the efforts were educative and inspirational and that the disappointment hardens resolve to do better; the Scholarship Exam is, after all, one of many hurdles and stumbling here does not mean that the race will not be completed.  Turning defeat into victory is not obtainable by policy, but mind-set of child, parent and teacher.  There will be other moments to celebrate, let us hope.

Sandaru, for now, has the nation’s eyes because the media, following society, turns gaze on the big winner.  But ‘lesser’ gazes, shall we say, focused on lesser stories, lesser victories, and lesser reasons to celebrate. 

Two come to mind. One, a little boy who passed and said that the only reward he wanted was for his father to stop drinking; when the results were announced, the boy’s father wasn’t around to greet him with smile, kiss, hug and promises of gifts for he was in hospital, courtesy his indulgences in things that did nothing for his child.  That boy had little to celebrate but who can say that he deserved anything less than what Sandaru received?

Then there is little Damith Nuwan Kumara from Wellawaya.  He too passed.  Damith, however, did not attend school, did not study.  In the first week of January 2013, this little boy was admitted to Lady Ridgeway Hospital; he had been diagnosed with cancer.  No one promised him trips to Disneyland. No one can promise him a return to a childhood where perfect health permits everything that children his age take for granted, like ‘tomorrow too I will play with my school friends before school starts, during the interval and after school too!’ 

Let no one take anything away from little Sandaru, he deserves it all.  He achieved.  Even if few had known his name a week ago, few would not have known his school, Mahinda College.  Damith Nuwan Kumara had attended Buduruwagala Maha Vidyalaya; very few would be able to mark the district in a map of Sri Lanka and fewer still find it in a map of the district.  Forget all that; little Damith’s achievement is rare.  It is real and in some ways more ‘newsworthy’ than the stories of the kids who scored higher than he did. 

If the ‘Disney Trip’ was reward unreal then it also spoke about proportions or lack thereof.  And if Sanduru’s achievement is real (and it is!) then Damith’s is no less tangible.  It also speaks of proportions, the exaggerations we indulge in and the strange, structured and sad downplaying we are all guilty of.  Both children have, in their own way and without intending to do so, taught us all some lessons.  Both are deserving of accolade, both are deserving of the warmth of embraces we wish upon them, and both have made their parents proud and made us all proud.  Let us not assess relative merits or be frugal in our cheers and giving; let us instead draw deep from the abundance of lessons that their little hearts and minds, and tiny strengths have put together, in their childhood and in their innocence.