|Tuesday, 17 September 2002|
Rekindling education in the North-East
by Manjula Fernando
Before the war, education played a very important role in life of Northern people, especially for the Jaffna folk. They had a head start with English education and even during the 'troubled days' educational statistics of Jaffna students remained impressively high.
With the on set of war many teachers left the area due to fear and displacement. The military occupied some of the schools and the buildings were heavily destroyed in the cross fire.
All governments, despite the bitter war, continued their assistance and therefore, free text books, uniform material reached even uncleared areas with the help of non-governmental organisations like the ICRC.
Amid fear and uncertainty children from refugee camps and displaced homes in isolated and abandoned areas peddled or walked to schools, which sometimes meant a tree-shade or a temporary hut. The student population which stood at 290,000 in 1990 dropped drastically in the coming years and was only 130,000 in 2000.
And now, with increasing hope for lasting peace in exchange of the 'bloody war, rehabilitation work has already got under way. Among the other areas, Education sector seems to be a major constraint facing the development officers.
Even though the Army has already vacated most of the school buildings, there still remains a lot to be done. Teacher shortage, rehabilitation of war torn buildings, provision of drinking water, sanitation facilities and physical resources to name a few.
Bradman Weerakoon Secretary to the Prime Minister and the Director General of the Relief, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Program explained the current situation in the education sector development in the war torn areas:
"Although it was too early to expect major improvements we have seen a steady development in the education sector during the past six months," he said.
"Our team has already begun identifying the priority areas and a list of damaged structures throughout North and East has now been completed. We now know where the damaged buildings are and what particular repairs need to be done," the Secretary said.
Vacation of schools by military personnel in keeping with the MoU has already been completed excluding a few in the High security zone. But government forces still remain in the nearby buildings, this is one of the technical problems they have not found a solution to yet. "If there is more hope for stable peace in the country the Government will be able to find better solutions for these issues," he said.
De-mining around schools is another major constraint both the government and the LTTE have focused upon at present. During the war LTTE and the Government forces had laid a large number of land mines even in areas where schools used to be. Mr. Weerakoon said that they must ensure these places are cleared and safe for the schools to re-open or any development work to commence.
"Restarting the education system has meant addressing all these issues, but right now our major problem is the shortage of funds. It is estimated that over Rs. 1.16 billion is needed to revive the entire education sector of the North and East. The Provincial administration is in a crisis at present and the Education Ministry is in no shape to shoulder all the needs."
"We have appealed for donor assistance and there had been a very encouraging response from several major donor agencies and countries like Japan and Netherlands, he said.
"The Asian Development Bank has provided Rs. 25 million for several development activities under its North East Community Restoration and Development Project. It covers the area's, water supply and electricity as well as school development. The GTZ had always been involved in the development projects in this area right throughout and the World Bank and UNICEF has also pledged support.
According to Mr. Weerakoon some of the problems at the implementation level are yet to be addressed though. Certain schools in the area come under the provincial administration while the national schools are managed by the Education Ministry. "This obstructs efficient and effective implementation of development projects."
When asked about the LTTE response to the development of this sector he said that they were as keen as the Government to uplift the standards of education in the North and East. He said although there were charges of child recruitment, it is known that the LTTE has always encouraged the high flyers to remain in school.
Meanwhile, the Government has devised short term solutions to address the emergency needs. Arrangements have been made to call retired teachers back in service to redress the acute shortage. There is a dearth of about 5000 teachers in the NE province at present and the number of unfilled vacancies for English teachers is around 700. Additionally unemployed graduates who fulfil basic requirements and the volunteer teachers in the NE province will be recruited or absorbed into the permanent cadre.
Mr. Weerakoon said restoration of the North and East which had been battered by a brutal war for the past 18 years is not going to be an easy task. "But, peace will bring about its own solutions to many of the problems which were existent in this sector for the past many years," he concluded.
Produced by Lake House