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Education of thousands disrupted by fighting

Thousands of young students in Sri Lanka’s war-torn north have been displaced; UNICEF has helped them continue their studies.
(Amantha Perera/IRIN)

The national authorities, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and local authorities in Sri Lanka’s northern districts are pooling resources to enable thousands of displaced students to continue their education despite disruption by the conflict.

Clashes between Sri Lankan government forces and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have escalated recently in the four northern districts of Mannar, Vavuniya, Kilinochchi and Mulaitivu, forcing tens of thousands to flee their homes, including thousands of students, some of whom were preparing to take their government exams this month.

Twelve thousand students were among those who have been displaced by recent fighting in Mannar and Vavuniya districts alone, the Inter Agency Standing Committee (IASC) said in a situation report on 18 August.

“UNICEF reports 7,500 children in Madhu education zone, and 4,500 children from Vavuniya north zone, have been displaced,” the report said. “Educational materials have been lost due to multiple displacements and the quantity of materials is insufficient for the upcoming term.”

Temporary learning places

UNICEF officials in the capital, Colombo, told IRIN that the agency had been working with government authorities to ensure the displaced students could continue their education.


Photo: Amantha Perera/IRIN
Many students were only able to take their exams at temporary centres. Teachers need to be redeployed to where they are most needed; damaged schools need to be repaired; and students need to be given books and stationery

“In 2008, 35 temporary learning spaces have been constructed for displaced schools in Vavuniya and Mannar [districts],” James Elder, UNICEF spokesperson in Sri Lanka, told IRIN. “Support provided also includes provision of student kits, teacher kits, blackboards, recreational kits and tarpaulins.”

Large-scale displacements were recorded after 20 July in the northern regions of Mannar District and at least 12,000 families relocated closer to Kilinochchi town, 300km from Colombo and under the control of the Tamil Tigers. In August, two important public exams were successfully held - the Year Five scholarship exam and the national university entrance exam.

“Many students who faced a lack of shelter were not in a sound position to prepare for their exams, others were unable to attend,” Elder said. “However, the Ministry of Education mobilised resources and ensured most children could sit exams in alternative centres.”

Exam centres relocated

Several examination centres that were close to areas of fighting had to be relocated to Kilinochchi for the safety of the students, government officials said.

According to the government agent in Kilinochchi, Nagalingam Vedanayagam, 350 students sitting for the Year Five exam, and an additional 70 who were sitting for the university entrance exam, were among those who had fled the fighting in late July.

Arrangements had initially been made for these students to sit for the exams at government schools, close to Kilinochchi. “The students ended up taking the exams at Kilinochchi Central College,” Vedanayagam told IRIN.

The government agent told IRIN that at least 22 schools in Kilinochchi District were being used to provide shelter for the displaced. “When the new term starts in September, we will have more issues to deal with.”

UNICEF spokesperson Elder told IRIN that plans were in hand to enable displaced children to continue their education, and for training to continue for teachers.

The next stage, said the UNICEF spokesperson, is to redeploy teachers to where they are needed, prepare schools that are not damaged so they can host students who have been displaced by the conflict, and distribute vitally needed books and stationery.

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This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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