British children are being raised without morals and could learn something from young workers in the Third World, according to Joanna Lumley.
The actress and campaigner said that today’s youth “find it laughably amusing to shoplift and steal” and take little responsibility for their actions. In Africa, by contrast, children as young as seven are sent out to work and carry responsibility for their family’s livelihood.
Lumley, 64, said society had changed for the worse since she was a child.
“There was one ‘crime’ during the whole time I was at school, when a fountain pen went missing. Stealing just didn’t happen. I was taught not to shoplift, not to steal, not to behave badly. We weren’t even allowed to drop litter,” she said.
“We are very slack with our moral codes for children these days. Nowadays, children find it laughably amusing to shoplift and steal. We smile when they download information from the internet and lazily present it as their own work. We allow them to bunk off school and bring in sick notes.
“I have had the good fortune to travel widely, doing programmes all over the world, and I have seen quite small children take on huge responsibilities. So in Ethiopia, for example, you might find a seven-year-old expected to take 15 goats out into the fields for the whole day with only a chapati to eat and his whistle. Why are we so afraid to give our children responsibilities like this?”
The Absolutely Fabulous actress has a son, James, born in 1967, and is a grandmother-of-two. She lamented the decline in Britain’s educational standards over recent decades. Speaking to the Radio Times, Lumley said: “We have taken our foot off the education pedal, and I don’t think it makes anyone happy.
“We don’t respect education. Not at all. Not like in Africa or China, where it is hugely respected.”
Last week, the chief executive of the qualifications regulator Ofqual sparked controversy when she suggested that school exams be taken on computer because young people no longer use pen and ink for their studies.
However, Lumley said laptops should be banned in schools. “Until you can prove you can add up on your fingers or think independently in your head, you have learnt nothing. I think we’re leading our children into a false paradise. We’re not teaching them how to apply themselves and be present, how to accomplish a job and finish it, how to learn other languages and actually achieve a trade.
“What are we doing with our education policies? Running from one side to the other, with no notion of where we are going.”
Lumley’s latest role is narrating an Enid Blyton story, The Cheat, on BBC Radio 4 next Thursday. Blyton’s books have become increasingly unfashionable but Lumley said children remain drawn to the author’s “moral exactitude”.
The actress, voted Oldie of the Year in 2010 for her Gurkha campaign, said today’s children would benefit from Blyton-esque pursuits. “I would like to see children involved in hearty-sounding pursuits, such as building a camp. Or getting an entire school to go and work in a farm, for a term, altogether.”
Her comments follow those of Jamie Oliver, who complained recently that British teenagers are “wet”.
He said: “I am an employer of 350 chefs, and when it comes to the 16- 20-year-olds we see at the moment, I’ve never experienced such a wet generation.
“I’m embarrassed to look at British kids. You get their mummies phoning up and saying, ‘He’s too tired, you’re working him too hard’ – even the butch ones. Meanwhile, I’ve got bulletproof, rock-solid Polish and Lithuanians who are tough and work hard. Physical graft and grunt is something this generation is struggling with.”