Sri Lanka, Pallewela 22 June 2015 – A beehive of delightful little girls and boys dance to traditional drums welcoming the dawn of a fresh new beginning for the small village preschool of Pallewela. Their voices reach a joyful crescendo as they sing their favourite nursery rhymes in unison to the group of parents and […]
Rebuilding schools by responding to multiple challenges
Vavuniya, Sri Lanka, 24 July 2017 – “The children of this area had so much to deal with, their lives were affected in many ways due to the war,” says Karthi Sabaratnam, UNICEF Education Officer. “The children needed to recover as fast as they possibly could, they could not afford to fall back once again. Losing out on education would mean losing out on so much more.”
From 1983 to 2009, Sri Lanka experienced intermittent but continuous violent armed conflict between government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). This caused severe disruption to the provision of services, including education, particularly in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. The Panrikkeithakulam School in Vavuniya is located in what was the border area between the conflict- and non-conflict zones – a on no-man’s-land. In the final years of the violent conflict the school was deserted – with people leaving the area for safer ground – and soon occupied by the armed forces.
When the bunkers were removed, and the school started again, some of the first lessons introduced were by UNICEF – on mine risk education. Not long afterwards, UNICEF was back with OfERR, the local partner, implementing an initiative of the European Union’s Support to District Development Programme (EU-SDDP) to help rebuild schools in an approach that took not just the physical aspects that had to be improved in the school into account, but also the ‘software’ aspects, which were perhaps even more crucial.
EU-SDDP support ranged from the renovation of classrooms and the building of toilets to improving health and hygiene practices, developing the capacity of teachers to create a child-friendly environment, and addressing the challenge of out-of-school children.
“Parents who had returned to the area after the war had many priorities, getting children back to school again wasn’t always on the top of the list. The EU-SDDP played a major role in changing this mindset,” says Arumoham Ramya, OfERR’s Child Friendly Education Promoter. “But parents are key to the progress of a child. We needed to improve their involvement.” The parents and teachers together produced a School Development Plan. Once this was done, they started to address the priorities one by one, starting with the building of two classrooms, toilets, and hand washing units.
In parallel, OfERR started talking to the parents about school attendance – something the organisation describes as “a huge effort”. An Attendance Committee of parents and teachers, was activated, with committee members making home visits in response to irregular attendance. Students whose school attendance is good are given badges in recognition of their commitment. Giving badges motivates children and also creates health competition among children to win badges, there by children try hard to improve on their attendance.
“Basic hygiene practices have also been introduced,” says Rasaiah Thanabalasingham, the school principal. “Earlier it was difficult to manage the mid-day meal without proper hand washing facilities. Now that we have the new hand-washing unit, the task is much easier.” EU-SDDP conducted hygiene promotion sessions with school children along with hand washing demonstrations.
New hand washing units facilitated the hygiene promote efforts
Menstrual hygiene is an entirely new subject introduced to secondary school students. “We had a special session on menstrual hygiene in school. Since we had discussions on menstrual hygiene I no longer miss school nor sports activities when I have my period,” says Rani Chandrashan, a student. “I’ve shared this information with my sisters and friends. There are many superstitions surrounding menstruation, one that still continues is that we should not draw water from the well when we are menstruating. We were also asked not to run around. Now things are changing. We can speak confidently to our parents. We can influence them. Our grandparents used to say that if we bathe when we have our period our body will become weak. But we now know that is a myth.” UNICEF has begun discussions with government and NGO partners to strengthen provincial and district level mechanisms to review and mainstream menstrual hygiene management (MHM) in schools.
Capacity building of teachers was an important part of the initiative, and introducing the child friendly approach to education was key. Teachers took part in visits to model Child Friendly Schools in different parts of the country. “We observed both the primary and secondary schools,” states Kokila Selvanayagam, the grade 2 teacher. “One important aspect we learnt was about making teaching tools more interesting to the students using local resources. We also learnt not to prescribe things too much, to encourage children to use their imagination. We have become more sensitive to children’s emotional aspects. We have a better understanding of child psychology. Every month we rearrange the classroom – all the children are asked for their opinions. They have a sense of ownership.”
EU-SDDP has enabled over 30,000 children have benefited from improved learning environments through the renovations of nearly 100 schools and over 1,000 school officials have gained skills in school planning, improving student learning and attendance promotion in seven districts in Sri Lanka.
WHAT HAS CHANGED
- The introduction of the Child Friendly School concept is facilitating the recovery of education in conflict-affected areas.
- Schools are combining infrastructure development with the promotion of hygiene practices.
- Effective dropout prevention mechanisms have been put in place and children who have already dropped out are reintegrated.
- Teachers acquire skills and resources to meet the particular learning needs of children affected physically, psychologically and economically by the violent conflict.
- Slow learners and slow achievers from vulnerable communities gain momentum in their classroom education.
- Parents have become an important part of school planning, management and development.
The European Union Support to District Development Programme (EU-SDDP) is a Euro 60 million partnership between the European Union, the Sri Lankan government, UNICEF and other UN agencies to create greater access to social infrastructure and services for vulnerable communities in the districts of Ampara, Batticaloa, Mannar, Vavuniya and border villages in the districts of Puttalam, Anuradhapura and Monaragala.