A boost for the North | Daily News

A boost for the North

One of the most horrendous consequences of the conflict in the North and the East, apart from the loss of precious lives, was the denial of one of the most basic rights of children – education. The LTTE conscripted children as young as eight for their fighting ranks which kept them away from the formal education system. Schools and other educational facilities especially in the North were severely affected as a result of the 30-year war, which further restricted educational opportunities for Northern children.

Sri Lanka has a free education system that is envied by the rest of the world, even the developed countries and some of our education indices are on par with those of the developed world. But some of these developments did not reach the North as it was hit by the conflict. Now the challenge is to bring the North in line with the rest of Sri Lanka as far as education is concerned.

Since the conflict ended in 2009, there has been a tremendous improvement infrastructure-wise in the region. Unlike the previous Government which believed only in that particular objective, this Government has released a vast acreage of land back to civilians, started livelihood programmes for the affected families, speeded up de-mining and rehabilitation of ex-LTTE cadres and started a process for achieving reconciliation and lasting peace.

The Government has now turned its attention to education in the Northern Province, with a 10-year-plan to improve the quality of education there. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has already instructed Education Minister Akila Viraj Kariyawasam to take necessary measures to implement the 10-year-plan with the assistance of Northern Province Education. It has already been mentioned that the assistance of retired principals and teachers would be sought to create an ideal education system for the North.

Before the conflict started, the standard of education in Jaffna was very high with a large percentage of students from the District qualifying for university entrance. In fact, the Northern Province has produced a large number of renowned intellectuals, artistes, educationists, scientists and yes, politicians. As a result of the strife, the education sector in the North was paralyzed due to the lack of physical resources and valuable human resources.

During the past few years, a number of measures had been taken to solve major issues such as the teacher shortage and the lack of physical resources in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. Indeed, the Government has pushed back the “tabs for schools” programme to allocate more funds for basic infrastructure facilities from classrooms to toilets in schools islandwide.

Thousands of young LTTE cadres have been rehabilitated and released back to society since 2010, but they do not account for all the children denied the right to education. It is thus necessary to conduct a census to determine how many children in the North had their formative education abruptly cut off either through conscription, disability or any other means. Once that is known, the authorities can formulate a programme, depending on their ages, to resume education or to direct them towards job-oriented vocational training.

It is imperative to teach them all three languages – many Northern children lack literacy in Tamil as a result of the disruption caused to education, even though they can speak the language. Teaching Sinhalese to Tamil-speaking students and vice versa is very important in the context of reconciliation. More Northern children must be taken on tours of Southern schools to build bridges of friendship with the South. If all children islandwide can speak and understand the three languages, they will not naturally feel any ill-will towards one another. This would be the best answer to those who try to fan the flames of ethnic hatred, which we witnessed recently in Ginthota, Ampara and Digana.

Indeed, it is entirely possible that in 20-25 years, everyone will call himself or herself a Sri Lankan, instead of ethnic labeling. Moreover, many have expressed the sentiment that in the future, new schools based on ethnic and religious lines should not be allowed. This will also go a long way towards banishing ethnic tensions.

Education recognizes no boundaries and all children have the right to education regardless of gender and poverty levels. The UN has included the goal of universal education in its 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This timeline fits in perfectly with the Government’s proposed 10-year-plan for uplifting education in the Northern Province. This will no doubt be fairly comprehensive, covering all aspects of education from pre-schools to university. Attention will also be paid to developing a number of schools and educational institutions in the neighbouring Eastern Province, which received a lesser blow from the conflict.

In line with the SDGs, the Government has already made education compulsory up to Year 13 and grants free school uniforms, textbooks and a host of other facilities to the 4.3 million students in 10,000 schools islandwide. It has increased spending on education. In outlining plans to include the North in the Government’s future education plans, it has reaffirmed its commitment to education for all children. 


 

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