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Senura has no time to stare, Aruni's mother has no time to spare

TIME: Senura is a seven year old boy at one of the top National Schools in Colombo. He lives next-door to his grandparents' home set in a large garden with spreading trees, a pond, a small aviary with parrots and one or two macaws, and little paths between bushes, leading nowhere. Senura has no time to climb the trees, talk to the parrots, feed and watch the fish, explore the little paths or do any of the other things his father and grandfather may have done, when they were Senura's age.

Senura has no time to gaze at the sky through the network of branches, or just stand and stare. Not that his life is full of care. Far from it.

Senura's day is a round of classes. He leaves for school at 6.20 in the morning. School starts at 7.30, but he has to leave that early, because the school van takes a circuitous route picking up boys at various addresses. School is over at noon, but it's past one o'clock when he gets home.

After his lunch and a short rest his round of classes begin. He has to go to an elocution class one or two days a week, a karate class one day and for a swimming lesson another day. Senura has a flair of drawing, and has even won a prize in his short lifetime. However his mother thinks he should hone his skill under the proper guidance of a teacher. So he goes to an art class on Saturday.

Sunday mornings are spent at the Dhamma school. Fortunately he doesn't have to go through the torment of attending tuition classes, to be drilled to sit the Grade five scholarship exam, as he is in a National School and a prestigious one at that.

It is this Grade Five scholarship examination that deprives kids, especially rural and small-town kids, of their childhood. Parents whose dream is to get their offspring into a National School in Colombo or in Kandy or Galle, start sending them to tuition classes when they are in Grade 4.

Some children start in Grade 3. In addition to this, teachers conduct special "after-school classes" for those sitting the scholarship exam.

The principal and staff are also keen to get as many to qualify for entrance to National schools - the cut-off point is usually around 170 marks out of 200 and more important, to get what is termed an 'island-rank'. Schools can then boast that one of their students was 2nd/5th/7th in the island rank, or that a student of theirs was first in the province or in the district.

While these children, urban, semi-urban or rural have no time to sit and dream or stand and stare, Aruni's mother has no time to spare. Recently she was asked if she could help in some project in her old school."

I would love to, but I have no time, she said. "You see, I am the family driver. I have to take the children to school and back and then take them to their classes." What classes?" asked expecting tuition to be number one, in the list, as indeed it was.

The daughter had a dancing class one day and a singing lesson on another day. She is one of the "Little Friends" who meet once a week. Then there was the art class which both the son and daughter attended. The son's tennis coaching took up another of her afternoons.

"Aren't they taxed too much? I said. Where is the time to play and to read, or dream?" "We must allow them to take part in as many extra curricular activities as possible, to develop the skills they are born with. Our parents didn't think like that. Let them attend these classes now. When they are older they'll choose whatever sport or art they like. We are only showing them the way."

I made no comment. Aruni's mother gave another reason to justify taking her children to various classes. In grade 7 they will have to choose one of the aesthetic subjects, so by attending these classes while they are still in primary school, they'll know where their real talents lie, and know to select the subject they are best at." And achievements in sports counts when it comes to jobs." She added to justify the tennis coaching.

There is something in what she said. Yet, shouldn't children have time to read and think and dream and be in their own fantasy world.

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