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Saturday, October 16, 2021

SLB Update: Covid 19 Pandemic and Silent & Unequal Education Crisis in Sri Lanka

  1. Free education has been the only upward mobility opportunity for non-privilege children in Sri Lanka. Covid pandemic and government’s inability provide affordable alternative ways and means to continue education has been dealt a devastating blow to these children.
  2. School education in Sri Lanka is facing an unprecedented crisis due to Covid 19 pandemic and threatening to leave 60 percent of student population behind, claims teacher trade unions and concerned civil society actors. In a public appeal Joseph Stalin, General Secretary, Ceylon Teachers Union has called for urgent attention and action to remedy this situation. *
  3. For Sri Lanka the pandemic is not only an economic and health crisis but also an educational crisis, which can have long term repercussions. But the Government has not understood the gravity of this crisis yet, states former secretary to the Ministry of Education Tara de Mel. *
  4. On 18th Friday 2021, eleven teachers’ trade unions called on the government to stop forcing teachers to teach online as so far government has failed to provide facilities and Internet data required for online education.
  5. On 12 March 2020 Schools and universities throughout the country were closed as a covid preventive measure. Although schools were open for short periods of time, now and then, until now no school and university education has been properly started. (Issues faced by the University students deu to the pandemic  are not covered in this update.)
  6. There are 10,012 government schools with a student population of 4.2 million and 736 Pirivenas (monastic schools for the education of monks.) (There are hundreds of madrasas run by Islamic clergy.) 235,924 teachers are employed the government sector. There are 104 fee levying private schools with 127,968 students where English medium education is offered.
  7. Out of 10,012 government schools 2644 do not have toilet facilities and 1627 do not have drinking water.
  8. During the 15 months of school closure only opportunity provided by the government for the students to continue their education has been online based distance learning.
  9. One of the main teachers’ unions in Sri Lanka, Ceylon Teachers’ Union estimates that almost 60% of the school student population has been affected negatively in the online based distance education programme of the Government. Primary education in rural areas is almost non-existent.
  10. The main reason for this deplorable situation is non-availability of proper internet connections, computers, tailer made education syllabuses and almost non-existent suitable teacher training programmes, according to the unions.
  11. Although unions and other concerned groups have repeatedly requested, no other distance education channels, such as television and radio, to which students in rural areas have relatively more access, have been used.
  12. Sri Lanka computer literacy (2020) is limited mainly to middle and higher segments of the population. National average of computer literacy is 32%. (Urban 43.5%; Rural 30.7%; Estate 12.1% – Persons 5-69 years old is considered as a computer literate person if he/she could use computer on his/her own, even playing a game) Digital literacy: National 49.5. (Urban 65%; Rural 47.6; Estate 23.1 – Persons 5-69 old is considered as a digital literate person if he/she could use computer, laptop, tablet or smartphone on his/her own.)
  13. Vast majority of the students, who can afford to own an economically priced smart phone use them for online education. Nonetheless, online education accessed through smartphones limits access to reading materials, writing assignments, and solving quizzes etc. in Some areas students had to climb trees and hills, walk distances to access internet date of 3G/4G data connections. Further medical personal has warned that prolonged usage of smartphones could harm students’ physical and mental health. *
  14. Because of non-availability of a comprehensive national/ provincial work plan for teachers, some students must be on smart phones from 6.00 am to 6.00 pm claims Ceylon Teachers Union. Female teachers are forced to wear sarees while doing online teaching. Students are forced to wear school uniforms just to sit in front of a smart phone. Instead of addressing the issue with due seriousness, government focus on trivialities like uniforms. As majority of teachers do not have skills and access to online platforms, they use PDFs and WhatsApp massages in online teaching. *
  15. Teachers have not been considered as frontline workers in the vaccination programme by the government. They have not been paid any expenses for providing online education.
  16. According to teachers’ unions only 5-10% of the syllabuses have been covered by online education. As Sri Lanka’ school education is exam centric this will affect majority students. *
  17. The report published (Sep 2020) by the Presidential Task Force on Education Affaires has not even touched upon any of these issues.
  18. Sri Lanka first Covid 19 case was reported 27 January 2020. Only 19 deaths were reported during the first wave of the pandemic.
  19. Second and third waves have affected the country badly. By 17 June 2021 320,692 Positive cases and 2,374 deaths have been reported. Tests per Million stood at 174,126. State Minister for Health has stated that undetected daily COVID-19 cases possibly three times what PCR testing suggests.
  20. Sri Lanka has approved four vaccines to be used: 4 approved Pfizer/BioNTech- BNT162b2, Gamaleya- Sputnik V, Serum Institute of India – Covishield, Sinopharm -BBIBP-CorV
  21. By mid-June only 2.81% (613,200) of the population has been fully vaccinated’ Doses administered stood at 3,027,917. Vaccination programme has been politicised and ad hoc.
  22. Projections of flattening the curve in Sri Lanka differs. The best-case scenario predicts that the pandemic situation will remain until October 2021.
  23. These figures show that pandemic will last few more months at least in the country and as result free education in the country will continue to suffer.

*Inputs provided at the webinar held by the National Movement for Social Justice on 13 June 2021.

For more information on the global situation and some remedial measures: A silent and unequal education crisis. And the seeds for its solution.

 

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