In the Army Now: the Arrival of the Soldier In the Pre-School

“Night is falling and you just can’t see
Is this illusion or reality
You’re in the army now”

— Status Quo: In the Army Now.

I came across a souvenir published in 2010, on occasion of the 5th anniversary of Kingo International Montessori. The souvenir had been printed by Sagara Communication Industries — the shop at Mulgampola Junction where I generally go for print outs — and was on a rack that displayed samples of printing work Sagara had done for different clients.

Kingo International Montessori, in the souvenir, is five years old. It carried an assortment of photos of its studentship — a variation between 3-5 year olds of both sexes. Underneath each photo of these 3-5 year old pre-school hopefuls, is a small character profile which includes the name of each student, age, and “future ambition”.

I felt that the “future ambition” of each of these children was probably gained through a feedback form which — perhaps — listed out a range of jobs / vocations from which the students had to choose. This would account for the limited variability of the choices made by the students, whose vocations / options of career aspirations, then, would be the prerogative of the Kingo administrators.

Of 35 students, the following list indicates what these students — as 3-5 year olds — aspire to be once grown up:

Doctor: 11
Teacher: 05
Scientist: 02
Swimmer: 02
Businessman: 01
Nurse: 01
Armed Forces: 04
Engineer: 01
Job Abroad: 01
N/A: 05

imagesAs kids of 6-7 traveling in a private school van, a group of girls attending a Private School used to play a game (which, perhaps, is a game played by kids today as well) called “doctor-proctor”. In it, you have to give your name and the number of letters to the name. Then, the formula “doctor-proctor-coolie-clerk” is applied in that order to all the letters in your name. Depending on the number of letters you have in your baptism your future career is settled. With 7 letters to my name, I had to settle with “coolie”. Another girl in the van, who also had seven letters to her name, insisted in including her surname as well: a crafty ploy to escape being a fellow “coolie”.

The Kingo International Montessori choice of “would be vocations” is intriguing for several reasons. While vocations such as “Doctor”, “Engineer” and “Teacher” etc are quite common and frequently used as choices in a context as the above, options such as “Swimmer” and “Job Abroad” come across as odd / novel choices. More than the case for overseas employment (a vague and unspecified option, really, which may mean anything from janitor to executive), the choice of “swimmer” — which has notched 2 votes — reads as unlikely. Once again, I emphasize, that it is my assumption that these choices were given to the students; as opposed to the students coming up with their own preference.

There is nothing surprising in the 11 hopeful doctors-to-be, nor the 5 votes in favour of a career in teaching. There is nothing too uncannily middle class in these choices, or aspirations. The 5 students who wanted to join the Security Forces were all male, and it is the choice with the second highest mode. The survey is done in 2010 and the euphoria of the government’s military crushing of the LTTE would have been still fresh in its many-faced patriotic pronouncements.

seekers_02However, it is quite intriguing, really, that an educational institute would give soldiery as an option in a survey of the above form — but, then, again, it shouldn’t be either; given the social climate and the dynamics of career aspirations of the age. For the 3-5 year old kid, in 2010, the “patriotic soldier” as seen and heard on the TV and as filtered through the daily discourses of which s/he is a part would be the de facto status of supreme nobility. The government had craftily made it so, in order to substantiate its own selfish militant goals. The 5 students whose future desire was to be a militant comes to nearly 14.3% of the voter base.  If we are to consider the current sample as a “colony” of the average Lankan Child — and it should not, and it is an unsatisfactory sample — one of every 15 children out of 100, then, can be said to dream of becoming a military personnel.

The Kingo Montessori souvenir was also enriched by a “message” by the Head of that institute whose insistence of values and principles that showed remarkable resemblance to the “national rhetoric” of that immediate post-May 2009 period was noted.

The option of being a military personnel indicates both the quasi-prestige and the heroic value that has been fused into that vocation, in its promotion among the masses. It also shows how “natural” and at harmony such an inclusion has become in the past few years: an inclusion which identifies “soldiery” as a favoured pinnacle in one’s road to glory and success. In any case, the government’s recognition of a military elite and the development of a military bloc in between the Political Class and the common masses has been a closely considered investment of which I have written of extensively in previous submissions to this space; and elsewhere. The growth of the military tier — in post-conflict times –, as I have pointed out before, is the raring of a bloodhound that will, in turn, be used to attack the regime’s “local opponents”; thereby, safeguarding and satisfying the regime’s status as an “untouched” and “uncontested” bastion.

Inquiries from Sagara — the owner of the Printing Shop — informed me that Kingo Montessori shut down a year or so ago.

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