Feature Article

Education in peril

[TamilNet, Sunday, 18 February 2007, 00:33 GMT]
More than 7% of school-aged children in Jaffna, amounting to 10201 students, dropped out of schools in 2006, most of the dropouts occurring following the fresh outbreak of violence from 11 August 2006, say education officials in Jaffna. The schools in the district that boasted highest literacy rates 3 decades ago, and produced nearly 40% of the medical and engineering freshmen, now are gripped with fear of student abductions, and with high school education crippled with lack of school supplies and scarcity of books.

Jaffna children

Jaffna Secretariat Education department records indicate that in the beginning of 2006, there were 155,389 students attending 418 schools in five educational zones in Jaffna district. However, at the end of the year, there were only 145,188 students remained.

Two schools in Tellippalai area in Valikamam region, Union College and Thanthai Selva Vidyalayam, were barred from functioning owing to their location within the Sri Lanka Army's (SLA's) expanded High Security Zone (HSZ) and declared as a 'security risk.'

Editor of an educational monthly journal "Kalviyalalar" (Academic), K. Rajaratnam, a teacher, expressed serious concerns of the future of Jaffna students. In addition to the lack of facilities, the militarized climate is severely impacting the education in Jaffna, he said. If and when the situation turns to normal, it will take least a decade for Jaffna education to reach the pre-1980 levels, he added.

In April 2005, in Jaffna educational zone alone, 2930 students sat for the General Certificate of Examination Advanced Level (G.C.E. A/L). 64.4% of those sat passed the examinations, Mr Rajaratnam said. In April 2006, 3079 students sat the same examination and 62.7 % passed. If the same examination is conducted this year in the prevailing conditions he said the results will be worse by at least 15%.

Abductions of students by SLA and alleged members of SLA-backed paramilitaries have left high schools in a state of fear. Recent disappearance of Murugananthan Paramananthan, 19, from Northern coastal town of Viyaparimoolai, a student of Hartley College, and Thananjayan, a student at Velayutham Boys’ School in Point Pedro triggered district-wide student boycott for two weeks. Although students have returned to schools, tension continue to prevail among the student body and parents.

Student political activism and harassment of students by the occupying troops have interfered with the proper functioning of Jaffna campus struggling to reopen for lectures the last several months. Transport of students from outstations with the closure of A9, and finding private accomodation for the students with the ubiquitous presence of armed troops in the campus vicinity have contributed to the delays, administrative officials of the campus say.

Principals and school staff are also worried about the indifferent attitude of powerful agencies including UNICEF that labors for the welfare of children. No local or International institutions working on promoting child rights have been proactive in raising the plight of children's education, civil society acitivists said.

Among the five educational zones in the Peninsula, in Jaffna Educational zone alone 934 students left schools in 2005. Most of the school dropouts were in the villages of coastal areas. Economic hardships due to stringent security measures in coastal areas, including ban on fishing by the SLA was attributed to the many dropouts in coastal towns, educational officials say.
Jaffna children
Jaffna children

Civil society sources point to some fundamental reasons forcing children to leave schools:
  • Restriction of movement of persons by either imposing curfews or creating a climate of fear,
  • Ban on fishing in coastal villages of north and east, and southern coastal area along the lagoon, and as a result, deprive the income of the large section of the population.
  • the closure of the main access route to the Peninsula, A9 highway, and the concomitant stopping of flow of provisions and raw materials to reach Jaffna, and
  • Escalating prices of essential food items and other commodities.

Thousands of families who lost their daily income due to the militarized situation are forced to send their children to the contracting labor market to supplement the families income. Students between ages of 14 to 16 from low income families are the most vulnerable, and majority are from fishing and farming families.

Among the school dropouts are also students from families that fled to the Liberation Tigers of Tamileelam controlled Vanni region for their safety. There are no officials records to show if this group of students attend schools in Vanni area.

Education officials see no immediate relief to the Jaffna student population in the horizon. Normalcy has to return, and only if the freedom of movement for the children is assured, that one can hope the educational standards will improve. Then there are other impediments including lack of school facilities and teacher training that need to be addressed to make any significant progress, officials add.
Jaffna children

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