Quality education lacking in tsunami-hit areas- NGO

[TamilNet, Thursday, 22 December 2005, 12:34 GMT]
Saying "considerable strides have been made in education delivery considering the enormity of the disaster," the Save the Children (Sri Lanka) in a media release issued in Colombo Thursday, said lack of proper housing, absence of essential facilities like clean, functional classrooms and toilet facilities in schools, increased alcoholism in society, and threat of military action still hamper quality education of children in schools across tsunami affected areas of Sri Lanka, one year after the disaster.

Full text of the media release follows:

One year after the tsunami disaster, in spite of some progress, children’s right to a quality education in these areas is still slow in its realization, according to the preliminary findings of a Save the Children in Sri Lanka study.

230 children from seven schools in the Galle, Hambanthota, Ampara and Jaffna districts commented on their concerns in the first phase of an extensive Children’s Consultation on Education (CCE) being conducted by Save the Children in Sri Lanka.

Considerable strides have been made in education delivery considering the enormity of the disaster. Children appreciated the efforts of organizations that had provided them with material and other support to continue their education. Yet, the consultations show that humanitarian efforts could be better focussed to meet the real needs of children in education.

Permanent housing would be a critical factor in ensuring children’s education rights. In temporary shelters, where most children still live, they do not have enough peace of mind to study. As one child said, “we don’t even have a table to keep our books on. And insects destroy our books. This is a big obstacle to our education”.

Children spoke of the unfocussed distribution of resources in education, and the lack of prioritization and appropriateness of resources distributed. One 14 year old boy from Jaffna said “They have given a computer which is now filled with dust, but no toilet and water facilities. Our immediate priority is sometimes forgotten”. They also did not have proper furniture. One secondary school boy said, “We are sitting in chairs used by grade two and three students”. Another 14 year old boy said “Some of us are standing in the classroom due to the lack of furniture and we also sit on the floor”.

Teachers have still not been replaced in schools. In one school in Hambanthota, a child said, “We don’t have teachers. The school has nine periods. But we learn only for about four or five periods. Before the tsunami, we learnt during all nine periods. But five of our teachers went with the tsunami. Even the principal. We were promised teachers. But we never got them. We won’t be able t learn those subjects until they appoint teachers. Now it is one year since the tsunami. Yet this problem has not been solved”.

Temporary classrooms are obstructing a quality education. In one school in Kalmunai, where a school building was entirely destroyed, the temporary units that have been built have no separators for classrooms. So there’s a lot of disturbance. And the heat from the zinc sheets affects the students, specially the girls. During the rain, it is also very difficult to hear the teacher, according to the children.

One 15 year old girl student from Kalmunai said, “Even during the exams, we had to write in very dirty surroundings with a very unpleasant smell because there were no doors and dogs, cattle and goats roam there in the evening and night.”

Children spoke of the lack of canteen facilities, playgrounds, play facilities, and lack of access roads.

A grave concern for children was that destroyed toilets were still not repaired. One child from a school in Hambanthota said, “The toilets in the school are really bad. It was fairly okay before the tsunami even though it was not all that satisfactory. Now, the toilet walls have been damaged. How can girls use these toilets? We can’t wait without using toilets from eight in the morning until two in the afternoon. We are worried that we will get infections because of the state of these toilets.”

School children in Kalmunai expressed similar concerns: twelve months after the tsunami, there are only three toilets for both boys and girls, and that too, without water facilities. This has created a situation where bigger students do not use toilets. “We feel ashamed specially to go to the toilet with a bucket of water, when others notice”.

Children also spoke of increased threats of abuse and alcoholism in society that increased the threat to a quality education. Children in the North and East spoke of renewed fears of attending school due to the rising threat of military action in communities.

Emerging evidence from the consultation seems to suggest that a clear stock-taking should take place of material and human resource gaps in the tsunami education reconstruction process, and that the reconstruction process should be expedited to bring normalcy to children’s education and lives. Save the Children hopes to continue its partnership with government and other agencies in realizing these objectives.

The Children’s Consultation on Education (CCE) in tsunami affected areas is a Save the Children initiative which has the objective of bringing children’s experiences and concerns to responsible authorities. 1500 children will be respondents in this year-long process to be carried out in 2006. In the current accelerated phase of the project, child-friendly research tools including interactive play and art were used with children in focus group discussions. The study is being conducted for Save the Children by the Centre for Development Alternatives, Kandy.

External Links:
US: Save the Children


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