Pass on props, pleaseUsing school children to fill chairs is completely wrong
When President Bidya Devi Bhandari visited Jhapa last week, three schools were shut. The reason: Students had to welcome the president. Instead of attending regular classes, students were expected to miss out on a day of learning to perform ceremonial duties. Dolled up like Kumaris, the living goddess, the children performed for the president and other dignitaries as celebratory props.
The principal of Shivasatakshi, one of the three schools that were closed in Jhapa, proudly proclaimed that he made the decision to cancel classes out of honour towards President Bhandari, who was visiting the ward for official purposes. As for the two other schools, requests were made by a contact person from a resource centre in Jhapa to close the schools by 12 noon so that the students could serve as the audience at Chandradanda Agriculture Farm. The event was attended by the president along with the chief minister, law minister of the province, and Provincial Assembly members. Given that, using school children to fill the chairs at the event and inflate the number of attendees is completely wrong. Although the Department of Education has issued a circular prohibiting the use of school children to welcome visiting politicians, the practice continues.
Oftentimes, when dignitaries visit a place, school children are made to stand in the scorching sun for hours. Singing and dancing become an inevitable part of cultural programmes at functions where the children mostly have nothing to do. In doing so, the children are stripped of their right to study, they are harassed and misused. The school administration must be mindful of the fact that closing the school simply to force students into performing for dignitaries is not a praiseworthy approach to show respect for visiting politicians. What’s more, such practices inculcate a culture where children unconsciously internalise being submissive to power. We often engage in activities that we see our elders engaging in. So when children are made to be submissive in front of overly deified authority figures and are used as props to please them, they might also model the same submissive tendencies when they get older.
It is also ironical that the same schools where children are taught to be non-conformists, employ their children’s bodies to ceremoniously bow down to power. Most of the school teachers, in this case, are party cadres. The excessive politicisation of education might have also resulted in the school administration employing such tactics to fulfill their vested interests at the cost of their students. Public authorities should be responsible on their part, too. During the event, no concerns were raised by any dignitary in attendance, capturing how such events have virtually become routinised. As our chosen representatives, these leaders are meant to serve us, not the other way round. It is a worrying situation when leaders develop a penchant for adulation and sycophancy.
Our leaders and chosen representatives have left no opportunity to emphasise the role education holds in taking the country forward. They have riddled their political speeches with promises to change the face of the country and disrupt ‘the old ways’. But to deliver on these promises, the first step begins with changing mindsets. And small acts like letting children study when they visit schools and attend programmes could be a starting point.