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Children go back to school in Sri Lanka

The government’s goal is to send children from the five districts of Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Mannar, Vavuniya and Mullaitivu back to school by the end of April and to have all the schools rebuilt by the middle of the year. Thousands of schools across the north of the island were destroyed in the 30-year-long civil war between Sri Lanka's government troops and Tamil tiger rebels, which ended in May 2009. Thousands of families left their homes in the area to flee the fighting.

Some £15.5million is needed to repair or rehabilitate more than 300 schools in the north, many of which lack basic essentials such as furniture, and teaching and learning equipment, say education authorities. Most of the schools were looted for materials such as wood and roof tiles, or were damaged by fighting. More than 48,000 schoolchildren, most of whom were living in camps for homeless people, have now gone back to their areas in the Northern Province, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said yesterday.

Sri Lanka’s school year began on 5 January and as yet, 43,469 students aged between five and 18 have enrolled. But thousands more are still out of school, the agency says. “Restoring full access to education remains a key priority for children,” UNICEF Sri Lanka Representative, Philippe Duamelle, told the United Nations news service, IRIN. Schools need to be renovated and furniture and supplies delivered. The quality of education is also critical – both teacher training and the lack of teachers also need to be addressed,” Mr Duamelle added.

Sri Lanka’s education ministry and National Institute of Education, with backing from UNICEF, are setting up a fast-track learning programme as part of the efforts to het the whole region’s education system back on its feet. The accelerated learning programme is aimed at about 100,000 children, uprooted by the conflict in the northern and eastern provinces, who missed out on as many as two years of school. Teachers in these areas will work to cram two years of the curriculum into one, to help these children catch up. But a lack of teachers, who were also uprooted by the fighting, is a major obstacle in restoring schooling.  “There is instability and deprivation of all kinds and all levels. The same applies to schools,” said Kumuduni Padmasekeran, a voluntary teacher at a school in Kilinochchi, which lacks teachers.

By Hayley Jarvis for SOS Children