Connect with us


Academics call for ‘real groundwork’ to reopen schools immediately



By Sanath Nanayakkare

Education Forum Sri Lanka headed by co-founders Dr. Tara de Mel and Dr. Sujata Gamage along with more than 20 signatories have written to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse, Education Minister Dinesh Gunewardene, Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa and Ministerial Consultative Committee Members on Education, urging them to take meaningful steps without delay so that school can reopen no sooner than the current wave of the pandemic is on the wane.

This letter followed a similar letter written to the authorities in July 2021.

“We write to draw your attention to the serious situation faced by the 4.3 million student population in this country since March 2020 when the pandemic first hit the country. There has not been any education for them in the last 15 months except for a few weeks when schools opened briefly, with a ‘facade’ of online education received by a few at other times,” they say.

They point out that with a teacher strike or not, schools in Sri Lanka have been closed for over 18 months now due to the ongoing pandemic.

“Even those students who had access to Internet-based education through their teachers constituted only half of the student population. We have also seen the multiple dangers faced by students in remote areas in trying to access the Internet, and we are aware of the risks students may face due to long screen hours. The mental health and emotional issues faced by locked in students compound all above.” they say.

“Opening schools is the only equitable and effective solution for this. All global agencies responsible for education such as UNICEF, UNESCO have recommended that schools should be kept open because of the grave consequences of depriving students of physical education for a painfully long time. A number of countries in the world kept their schools open with multiple safeguards in place, even during dangerous waves of the pandemic. Most remain open even at present. Today there are only about 15 countries where schools are shut. Sri Lanka is one of them.” they say.

“Therefore, we urge to you attend to the following without delay so that school will be ready to open no sooner than the current wave of the pandemic is on the wane.”

“Please expedite double-dose vaccination of all teachers, principals, and school administrators, Initiate vaccination of students between 12 and 18 immediately and order self-test antigen kits.”

“The price of an antigen kit in Britain with seven tests is about two to three pounds, In India, it is reported to be much cheaper. Also, in the UK and several other countries, teachers and children use the self-test a few days a week prior to attending school. If they test positive, they self-isolate.”

“Please do not have the same policy for all schools. Empower provincial, zonal, divisional officers to work with health sector authorities to reopen and keep smaller schools open. This can be done on a staggered basis starting with a few classes at a time.”

“Please use this opportunity to identify essential learning outcomes in the curriculum so that a leaner and less stressful curriculum suitable for the prevailing conditions are in place as soon as possible.”

“Let Sri Lanka not make the mistake of overestimating the usefulness of closing schools and underestimate the socio-economic fallout of closing schools.” they say.

Meanwhile, in their previous letter to the

authorities titled ‘ The Covid Education Crisis’ written in all three languages, they had listed some of the grave consequences of long-term school closures.

“Due to an undue reliance on online education, more than half of the children are left out of contact with their schools. Left without guidance, teachers have adopted social media such as WhatsApp to send out notes and assignments connecting with whoever they could, even though the Census Department reported in 2019 that only 29% of the population had access to the Internet. Further, a survey of teachers representing large and small schools across all 25 districts carried out by the Education Forum Sri Lanka in November 2020 revealed that on average teachers were able to give a real-time classroom experience using software such as Zoom to only 5% of their students and another 40% were contacted via social media, leaving 55% without any contact. Some schools used adhoc methods to share printed material with their students.”

“With no instructions to manage a heavy curriculum under these extraordinary conditions, teachers are rushing to cover the syllabus. Zoom fatigue is causing even the small percentage of children who are online to switch off from any learning, making online education a mere facade.”

“All children face loss of learning and mental, physical, and emotional issues after being isolated for 15 months and more.”

“Students who have been stuck at home for long without physical interaction with friends and the simplest of activities at school face emotional problems, mental health issues, and even depression. These anxieties are compounded by the fear of facing national examinations, which are competitive and highly stressful. Also, not all home environments are safe for children. For some children, school is often the place where they find a respite. Isolated due to Covid-19, children have no escape from family conflicts and even violence, and some cases they suffer physical, emotional, and sexual abuse,” they say.

In this context, they urge the authorities to consider the above proposals with the seriousness it deserves and to implement the measures with urgency.

The signatories to the letter were Ms. Angela Wijesinghe, President, All Ceylon Union of Teachers, Ms. Ramanie Jayaweera, All Ceylon Union of English Teachers, Wasantha Dharmasiri, Association of Education Professionals, Prof. Shyama Banneheka, President – Federation of University Teachers’ Associations (FUTA), Somabandu Kodikara, Principal, D.S.Senanayake College, Colombo (Former), Ms. Hiranya Fernando, Principal, Methodist College, Rev. Marc Billimoria, Warden St. Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia, Andrew Fowler-Watt, Principal, Trinity College (former), Ms. Shanthi Dias, Principal, Methodist College (former), Ms Shanthi Wijesinghe, Director, Seekers Pre-School, Ms Kumudini Nanayakkara, Director, Training Centre for Montessori Teachers, Rev. S. Philip.Nesakumar, Headmaster, St Thomas’ College, Gurutalawa, Lakshman Nonis, Science Educator, Murtaza Esufally, Co-founder, Learn for Life Lanka, Heminda Jayaweera, Cofounder, Venture Frontier Lanka, Murtaza Jafferjee, Chairman, Advocata Institute, Prof. Rohan Samarajiva, Chairman, LIRNEasia, Ms. Samadanie Kiriwandeniya, Managing Director, Sanasa International, Amar Goonatileka, CEO, Marga Institute, Rev. Duleep de Chickera, Anglican Bishop, Colombo (former), Ms. Ruwanthie de Chickera, Playwright and Theatre Director, Raga Alphonsus, Activist, Mannar, Anushka Wijesinghe, Economist, Dr. Januka Attanayake, Research Fellow, U of Melbourne, Ms. Kavindya Tennekoon, Social-Emotional Learning Researcher; Founder, Without Borders, Ms. Evan Shanthini Ekanayake, Psychologist, H.D.Gunawardena, Retired Company Chairman & Eisenhower Fellow, Ms. Dilani Alagaratnam, Attorney-at-law, Dr. Ajith Amarasinghe, Consultant Paediatrician,Dr Susie Perera, DDG, Ministry of Health and Eisenhower Fellow, Dr Ruvaiz Haniffa, President of the Sri Lanka Medical Association (former) ,Dr. D. C. Ambalavanar, Faculty of Medicine, Jaffna, Dr. Mahim Mendis, Open University Sri Lanka, Prof. Saumya Liyanage, University of Visual and Performing Arts, Colombo , Prof. Priyan Dias, University of Moratuwa , Dr. Thaiyamuthu Thanaraj, Professor, OUSL (former) , Prof. Shamala Kumar, University of Peradeniya, Sulakshana de Mel, Governing Council, Women’s Education and Research Centre

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Outgoing BASL chief asks lawyers to continue struggle to safeguard rule of law, democracy, judicial independence



Saliya Peiris

Outgoing President of the BAR Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) Saliya Peiris, PC has urged his colleagues to continue their struggle to counter threats to the rule of law and judicial independence.

“The BASL was able to play a pivotal role in the nation’s struggle to safeguard the rule of law, democracy, and human rights. In doing so, we were together able to make our profession relevant to the lives of the people and help enhance its credibility and public acceptance,” Saliya Peiris, PC said in a statement to mark the completion of his tenure as BASL President.

Peiris has said that in these two years, the BASL took up strong positions on many issues and where necessary sought recourse to the courts to protect the rights of the people.

“In the coming months, the Bar will need to continue to stand for the principles which are at the core of our profession and to protect the rights described in the Constitution as the intangible heritage of the people,” he said.

Excerpts of the statement:

“As I conclude my term as President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL), I write to thank you for the support given to me during my tenure and for placing confidence in me. It has been my privilege to have led the Bar during this momentous period in our history.

“With your support and drawing from your strength, the BASL was able to play a pivotal role in this nation’s struggle for the rule of law, democracy, and human rights. In doing so we were together able to make our profession relevant to the lives of the people and help enhance its credibility and public acceptance.

“In these two years the BASL took up strong positions on many issues and where necessary sought recourse to the courts to secure the rights of the people. The BASL was the first amongst the professional bodies to publicly express its view on the looming economic crisis and the need to address the same.”

“Amidst these difficult times, the BASL continued to support the membership in their professional development and welfare. Through seminars, symposiums, workshops, webinars as well as through its social and welfare work during the pandemic and thereafter, the BASL was able to reach out to thousands of members, including the junior members of the Bar. The BASL also reached out to the branches in the outstations in an unprecedented manner. The BASL formed the Members Benevolent Society, and it is our expectation that the Society will grow to benefit the members in the years to come.

“As I write, we see new threats emerging to the rule of law and a concerted effort being made to undermine the independence of the judiciary. In the coming months the Bar will need to continue to fiercely stand for the principles which are at the core of our profession and to protect the rights described in the Constitution as the tangible heritage of the people.

“I take this opportunity to thank His Lordship the Chief Justice, all the members of the judiciary, the Hon. Attorney General, the Solicitor General and the members of the official Bar for the support and co-operation extended towards me as the President of the BASL.

“A special worn of thanks also to the Chairpersons of the Standing Committees as well as the Co-Chairs and Convenors for their immense contribution towards the BASL.

“I must record my deep appreciation for the unwavering strength demonstrated by the Bar Council the Executive Committee and the office bearers of the BASL, namely the Deputy President Mr. Anura Meddegoda PC, the Secretary of the BASL Mr. lsuru Balapatabendi, the Treasurer Mr. Rajindh Perera and the Assistant Secretary Mr. Mehran Careem as well as the former Secretary Mr. Rajeev Amarasuriya and the former Assistant Secretary Mr. Pasindu Silva for their unstinted support and co-operation given to me.

“I am indebted to the senior members of the profession to whom I turned to, for their wise counsel and words of encouragement.

“I have striven at all times to act according to the cherished values of our profession and to act in its best interests, mindful of the trust and confidence you placed in me on 24 February 2021. As I leave office, I trust that I have performed the duties of this office in accordance with your expectations. I have at all times drawn strength and been inspired by your goodwill towards me.

“I extend my best wishes to the incoming President Mr. Kaushalya Navaratne and the new office bearers and members of the Executive Committee.

“It is my sincere hope that the BASL will remain a strong and vibrant institution, inspiring confidence among the people of the nation, dedicated towards upholding the rule of law, democracy, the independence of the judiciary and the rights of the people and the community whilst safeguarding and promoting the welfare and interests of the members of the Bar.”

Continue Reading


SC summons IGP for disregarding court order



C. D. Wickramaratne

by AJA Abeynayake

The Supreme Court (SC), on Friday, summoned IGP C. D. Wickramaratne to appear in court on 03 April for disregarding a court order.The SC issued the summons when a fundamental rights petition was called before a bench comprising Justices S. Thurairajah, A. H. M.D. Nawaz and Achala Vengappuli.

The IGP has been ordered by the Supreme Court to prepare a set of guidelines to prevent the deaths of suspects in police custody taken out for various investigations.The SC judges pointed out that the IG had not abided by the order and expressed displeasure.

Justice Thurairajah said that despite the fact that the Supreme Court itself had given many judgments regarding the police, there had been no progress in the police department.The Justice said the police had a separate legal department and money should be allocated and training imparted to the police personnel through that section.

Continue Reading


Opposition slams govt. for move to undermine judiciary



The Opposition has strongly condemned what it calls a move by the Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa government to undermine the Supreme Court (SC).The Opposition has, in a joint statement issued over the weekend, urged the government to refrain from being hostile towards the apex court.

Among the signatories to the statement are Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa, Dullas Alahapperuma, Prof. G. L. Peiris, Wimal Weerawansa, Gevindu Cumaratunga, Dr. Harini Amarasuriya, Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, M.A. Sumanthiran and Udaya Gammanpila.

“The country is facing an unprecedented crisis in respect of the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary,” the Opposition has said.

“Basic principles and values we had all taken for granted, are now being directly and strenuously challenged.

“Now, for the first time, a criterion fraught with the gravest consequences for the very survival of representative democracy, is sought to be laid down that election can be held only if and when the Head of State is subjectively satisfied that the economic condition of the country warrants the allocation of resources for the conduct of an election at a particular time.

“The alarming corollary is a vicious onslaught on the Supreme Court in the exercise of its inalienable jurisdiction to uphold and implement the provisions of the highest law, the Constitution of the Republic.

“The country has been treated to the ignominious spectacle of the apex court being derided and reviled in parliament.

“The interim order by the court, directing the Minister of Finance and the Secretary to the Ministry of Finance to refrain from preventing the release, to the Election Commission, of financial resources allocated by parliament in the annual budget for the conduct of the Local Government election, has been contemptuously disregarded.

“In a flagrant violation of a binding decision by the Supreme Court, the Government Printer and other relevant authorities are being deprived of funds required for the performance of essential functions in this regard.

“Urgent appeals by the Election Commission, addressed to the Finance Secretary, continue to be simply ignored.

“Refusal by the Executive to give effect to imperative directions by the Supreme Court represents, of itself, a deliberate erosion of the foundations of our constitutional system, based as it is on the clearly demarcated separation of powers among the organs of government.

“It expresses, in our view, undisguised contempt for cherished constitutional values which form the bedrock of freedom and stability in our country.

“Tragically, not even this seems to satisfy the appetite of an unelected administration to arrogate to itself authoritarian powers incompatible with the rudiments of a functioning democracy.

“The government has brazenly invaded the province of the judiciary by means of a wholly distended, and entirely illegitimate, recourse to the concept of parliamentary privilege to assail the independence and integrity of the judiciary.

“We are aghast at the purported initiative by the Privileges Committee of Parliament directing the Supreme Court to forward to parliament the interim order which has already been impugned with egregious disregard for sound principle and policy.

“There were strident calls in parliament for the discontinuation of proceedings property in progress before the Supreme Court : these were complimented by demands for the cessation of all judicial action in respect of pending proceedings , until parliamentary processes with regard to privileges are exhausted : to cap it all, cynically infringing express provision contained in the Standing Orders of Parliament, there was explicit criticism of a judgment of the Supreme Court and indeed, of propriety of the behavior of a judge , in the absence of substantive motion before the House.

“In keeping with established precedents across the civilized world, these actions constitute, cumulatively, contempt of the Supreme Court in uniquely aggravating circumstances.

“We find very disquieting the arrogant and dismissive attitude which the government, embarked on its dangerous frolic, has adopted to the emphatic appeals by religious leaders, including the Venerable Theras of the Malwatte and Asgiriya Chapters and his Eminence the Archbishop of Colombo.

“The sense of frivolity and flippancy underpinning the government’s approach to issues which define our political system and our way of life, presents to this nation and the world a spectacle of which we can hardly be proud.

“Representing all parties and groups in the Opposition in the parliament, we wish to express our profound respect for the judiciary –an indispensable pillar and, indeed, the final bulwark for the enjoyment of individual and collective liberties enshrined in the Constitution –and our firm resolve to resist, by all means at our disposal within a democratic framework, every attempt to undermine the prestige and stature of our country’s judiciary.”

Continue Reading