The Fault in Our Future Leaders
by Ernest Armah
I looked straight into his eyes. He blinked too fast, perhaps uncomfortable with my fixed stare. I smiled. He reciprocated. His body is wrapped in dirt and topless with a makeshift, tattered short sparing him a public show of his birthday suit. I speculated his age to be around 14. His presence at the beach on a breezy Sunday afternoon is enough for wild inferences to be made of his background. Let me call him Mensah.
“What are you doing at the beach?” I asked.
“Oh I am here to swim…but those people at the entrance (pointing to a kiosk) aren’t allowing me to enter unless I pay a gate fee. So I am hanging around with my friends…maybe someone would pay for us to enter”, he said.
“So you want to go to the beach to swim?”
I asked whether his parents are aware of this. He said no.
“So then, why are you here? You know very well that if your parents know you are here, you would be in serious trouble”, I said. He let out a short laugh and said, “We (including himself and his friends) come to the beach all the time. This is not my first time here.”
I beckoned Mensah’s friends to join us. One of them had his left arm amputated and I wondered how a child in such condition could swim. In total, they were four. All boys. We sat on the pieces of breccia allowing the breeze to hit our skins. The sea meandered toward us whilst we engaged in a lengthy conversation.
Unknown to them, I wasn’t interested in getting them to the beach. I only needed to understand why they wanted to be at the beach. Of course Mensah said they wanted to swim but that answer judging from their outward appearance was superficial and untenable. I figured they needed money. For food. So, they needed food. Going to the beach would afford them the opportunity to beg for alms from foreigners and revellers for food. Maybe I was wrong; they could be after adventure. I decided to test my hypothesis.
“So instead of paying for your entrance fees, how about getting you guys something to eat?”, I suggested. Their faces lit up. There and then, I knew my hypothesis had been proven right. Even though I got them something to eat, I knew I had not solved their actual problems.
Aside the gifts of nature, the environment children grow up in exerts a significant influence on them. Environment wields so much power on the cognitive and affective development of children that the Behaviourist John Watson proclaimed “Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed and my own specified world to bring them up in and I’ll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select – doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief, and yes, even beggar man and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors”.
I have come to believe that our society trivialize issues of children except our usual emotional outrage to defilement, rape, and physical abuse. The structures for ensuring that children are well raised to be functional adults in the future are weak.
The fact that some parents buy funeral cloths when their children are sitting at home for not paying their school fees is nothing new. I learnt that in the past, irresponsible parents were penalized. But now I do not think such a system exists to check against parental irresponsibility.
In other jurisdictions such as the United Kingdom, the well-being of children forms a crucial part of their national policy. The psychological and subjective well-being of children are assessed on scheduled periods to identify areas of neurosis. Recreational facilities are also made available for the development of their motor skills and overall physical development.
Replicating a similar condition in Ghana is something we should have done by now. It seems we have reduced everything about children to rights. As a Sunday school teacher, when I explain the needs of children to persons in the church, the best I get is lip service. The will to invest in children is clearly lacking.
The community recreational centres we have are being encroached by human settlements. Electronic gaming has become the order of the day. What most parents and guardians do not realize is that this trend is having a negative impact on their children in respect of their motor and fine skills development.
It is not strange that reported cases of childhood obesity are on the increase especially in basic schools. For instance, the results of a recent study conducted by Mohammed and Vuvor (2012) buttress this point. They randomly sampled 270 students at the University Primary School, Legon. They observed that “prevalence of obesity in the university primary school was found to be 10.9% with higher prevalence in girls (15%) than in boys (7.2%). There was higher prevalence among children from high socio-economic background (21 – 23%) with least prevalence in those from low socio-economic homes (10 – 20%) though this was not significant”. To develop their motor skills, children need to move and play.
Children like Mensah from low socio-economic homes would be on the extreme left. Absence of adequate food (talkless of balanced diet) means stunted growth and a significant impairment on their cognitive development.
In respect of fine skills, have you paid attention to the handwriting of children lately? I have heard a number of people (some parents) boasting of how adept their children are with the Ipads and Galaxies. In an era of ICT explosion, it is alright to expose children to the new order but the cart should not be put before the horse. Children should learn to write legibly, sketch and draw beautifully before being migrated to the ICT platform.
Children like Mensah may not have the privilege of early exposure to ICT tools. Their hands may even fidget with pens and pencils, may write horribly and perhaps struggle spelling their own name. If we as society stop being dismissive of the needs of children, there may be hope for Mensah who together with his friends are enjoying their food whilst I type this.