What do our children really need to know

Posted on September 24, 2010  /  4 Comments

Education reforms are in the air in Sri Lanka. Finally,  a proposal to draft a new education act is being considered by a special consultative committee of the parliament. In these deliberations simple truths often get lost in  the details. Take the issue of curriculum, for instance.

What do our children really need to learn to be well and happy in an increasingly complex and competitive world? How we do we give them an early start?

As parents, you already making a good effort by spending much time and energy getting your little ones to and from per-school, burning petrol, fighting  the traffic etc, but are we focusing on the important things?

As Robert Fulghum once famously said in a book titled “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten”:

All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten

Robert Fulghum (1988)

Share everything.

Play fair.

Don’t hit people.

Put things back where you found them.

Clean up your own mess.

Don’t take things that aren’t yours.

Say sorry when you hurt somebody.

Wash your hands before you eat.


Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.

Live a balanced life – Learn some and think some and draw and paint

and sing and   dance and play and work every day some.

Take a nap every afternoon.

When you go out into the world, watch for traffic, hold hands and stick together.

Be aware of wonder.

What good are these attributes you may think when how much you know seems to be the measure of success in our society? The Grade 5 scholarship exam is designed to cram enough material into a child’s head that would be considered child- abuse in a sane society. We applaud 10 children who top these exams and forget the 1000 that did not do well because they are too well rounded; or the 10,000 who are just not quite ready for serious learning, although it is well known that children learn at different rates with no apparent harm. Take Mario Capeechi, one of the three Noble laureates for medicine in 2007, who did not start school until he was almost nine years of age, having been separated from his family during the war.

So why push our young children, when we know that late bloomers can shine and early and early bloomers can wither and flop? Especially why do so when that takes time away from the more important stuff that Fulgham talks about?

The pushing that begins from the kindergarten to primary school and  gets more intense at the end of Grade 11 as children face their first public exam. The GCE (O/L) exam at the end of grade 11 is only the beginning of a life preparing for more exams. In grades 12 and 13, we take two precious years out of an adolescent’s life to stuff  them with facts on three subjects at school and then after school. Think about the absurdity of it all. Our local education system is designed as a life–long preparation for a scant few opportunities at local universities, which judging  by their track record, are doing injustice to even the few that they absorb. Besides, a university is not necessarily the best option for all school leavers. We have a thriving private professional education system where you can study while you work. Many young people now follow professional knowledge and experience. Book-learning is only one of many avenues for a career. Artistically or technically inclined children now have more opportunities than ever.

Whatever your child chooses to do, he or she can not do it alone. They need to learn to live and work in an increasingly connected world made up all type of people where empathy, balance and tolerance and the likes are the only tools that work.

Stop for a moment and think. Don’t lose life’s precious moments prepping your child for a competition that leads nowhere. Take time to do the important things, things that make a wholesome person out of your child, especially things make your child aware of wonder.

Take my 5- year’s nephew who recently wanted to know where all the ‘kakka’ is going. He was so interested that he drew his own sketch from the toilet to the cess-pit. The interest was brief and he is now into something else. Life is full wonder   whether it is in the intricate structure you find inside a flower or the journey that your food takes from the mouth to kakka in the toilet to fertilizer in the soil. An appreciation of simple wonders of  life is the most important survival tool for your child in the evolving world of where you not only have to find the answers but have to think of the questions as well.

Start talking to your child’s teachers, beginning with his or her kindergarten teacher, as to how we can reduce the work load on our children and let children learn by being children. Continue asking questions from the teachers when your child starts attending school. The education bureaucracy will keep piling stuff into the curricula unless the parents being to question. Only parents and teachers working together can stop an education system that can do more harm than good.

Sujata Gamage


  1. Looks like ym last comment did not get posted. Good advice, Sujata and top post!

  2. greate education website – i’m from Poland and I like our content !

  3. I love what is been advocated in this article. I would like to add that it is necessary to skill children not only to be awed by wonder but also to be analytical about what is wonderful, why and how it became a wonder. We often say that some thing is good, but dont go on to think about why it is good or what it is that makes it good.

    As a parent I am all for reducing the burden on children. However, I am concerned that Sri Lanka’s education system does not teach life skills which help children to get on (social skills), be respectful (rights education), appreciate and sustain values (value education) and live a productive life with integrity.

  4. Problems regarding HNDE(Electrical) syllabus of SLIATE is listed at http://makkaspage.blogspot.com/ Visit to see how the engineering education of sri lanka is treating the valuable intelligent youth.

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