Whether it’s going to school or learning online, it’s an all-out struggle | Print edition

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By Nadia Fazlulhaq

Municipal school closures, the start of online education and the conduct of physical schools in remote stations have not alleviated the difficulties faced by teachers, parents and students this week due to the crisis fuel, power outages and financial hardship.

In the villages, limited public transport and the unavailability of fuel for bicycles and three-wheelers have affected teachers who travel several kilometers to reach their respective schools.

With fewer buses on the roads, schoolchildren walk to school. Photo by Hiran Priyankara

“I used to take a bus and then spend around Rs. 300 for a three-wheeler trip to school,” said a teacher from Embilipitiya. bus, I end up standing for hours for a three-wheeler and paying around Rs. 500-800 for a trip.

TMS Karunasena, headmistress of Sirisumana MV at Hingurugamuwa in Badulla district, said a majority of her school’s 700 students live nearby. Attendance was as usual. However, they struggled with fewer teachers as they were not located nearby. “Some were queuing to get gas for their bikes and many couldn’t find alternative transport,” he said. “We have told teachers, especially those teaching primary grades, to report to work for at least two days. Primary student attendance was high due to the midday meal provided at school.

Piyasiri Fernando, a school principal from Puttalam, said it was difficult to continue school activities with low teacher attendance. Several courses have therefore been combined and taught this week.

General secretary of the Ceylon Teachers’ Union, Joseph Stalin, said some teachers had been ordered to show up during the day and give online lessons in the evening for students who could not attend.

“The ministry wants to hide programs and maintain school days,” he said. “But there are a lot of practical problems. Teachers and parents worry about fuel and the cost of living. With taxation, data expenses are also high.

“Some teachers end up paying more than 1,000 rupees a day to get to school,” said Mahinda Jayasinghe of Ceylon Teacher Services Union. “In some schools, only one teacher is nearby while all live several kilometers away. Online education is still impractical due to poor signals, exorbitant prices of cell phones with video facilities, and data costs. »

Urban and suburban children were rushing to the nearest communication centers in search of data cards. “Online courses on Zoom and Microsoft Teams require a lot of data,” said Madusha Dilrukshi, a grade 11 student from Rajagiriya. “Compared to the COVID period, online courses now require more data for courses.”

Power cuts were a burden on students and teachers who struggled to organize evening classes. Parents fear the current fuel crisis will continue to haunt them even if schools reopen next week, mainly due to transport problems.

Parents also claimed that despite having a week off, many school bus services charged for the whole month.

“School van fees have gradually increased from Rs. 6,000 to 8,000 and Rs 10,000 per month,” said Anoushka, whose son travels from Moratuwa to Colombo to attend a private school. “Parents are struggling to pay school fees, increased food and other expenses.” Save the Children said this week that a needs assessment showed 50% of families are struggling to support their children’s education and some are already dropping out of school.

“Parents have to decide whether they want to buy data to access online lessons or use that money for food,” said Ranjan Weththasinghe, director of programs for Save the Children in Sri Lanka. “This economic crisis is making things worse. Not only are schools closing again, but families have even fewer resources at their disposal to continue learning than before the pandemic.

“The education of 4.8 million children is at stake,” UNICEF Country Representative Christian Skoog said at the launch of the Humanitarian Action for Children. “UNICEF teams on the ground have reported that school attendance has dropped significantly, especially in low-income areas. This is due to transport difficulties for teachers and children, power cuts, lack of stationery, among others.

Education Minister Susil Premajayantha said average teacher attendance was 67% this week, while student attendance was 64%. Missed school days will be made up by reducing the length of August and December holidays. In July, primary and advanced level teachers will receive special training to cover essential curriculum content, he said.

The Ministry of Education said this week, in view of requests from teachers, that arrangements have been made to offer temporary service internships (effective only until December 31) to neighboring schools with several conditions.

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