Rebuilding schools by responding to multiple challenges

CHANGING COURSE“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.

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