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Academics call for ‘real groundwork’ to reopen schools immediately

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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



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Post-war reconciliation: Lanka ready to accept support of int’l partners

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UN-Prez tells UNGA

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa yesterday (22) declared his readiness to engage all domestic stakeholders, and to obtain the support of international partners and the United Nations, in the post-war reconciliation process.

Addressing the 76th UNGA, President Rajapaksa said that it was his government’s firm intention to build a prosperous, stable and secure future for all Sri Lankans, regardless of ethnicity, religion, or gender. “However, history has shown that lasting results can only be achieved through home-grown institutions reflecting the aspirations of the people.

The following is the full text of President’s speech: “The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on humanity. I sympathise deeply with all who have lost their loved ones during the pandemic. I thank frontline healthcare and essential workers around the world for their dedication and commend the World Health Organisation for its crisis response.

I also greatly appreciate the rapid advances made by the scientific and medical communities in devising vaccines and treatment protocols to combat the virus.

At the same time, we must recognise that the challenges surrounding production, distribution, deployment and acceptance of vaccines must be overcome urgently if the spread of dangerous new virus strains is to be prevented.

Ensuring that everyone, everywhere, is vaccinated is the best way out of the pandemic.

Although still a developing nation, Sri Lanka has been very successful in its vaccination programme.

We have already fully vaccinated nearly all those above the age of 30.

Everyone over the age of 20 will be fully vaccinated by the end of October.

We will start vaccinating children over 15 years of age in the near future.

The rapid progress of vaccinations was enabled by coordinated efforts between healthcare workers, Armed Forces and Police personnel, Government servants, and elected officials.

In collaboration with the WHO, Sri Lanka is establishing a Regional Knowledge Hub to facilitate exchange of lessons learnt from COVID-19 and support countries to recover better.

Sri Lanka also benefitted greatly from financial and material support provided by bilateral and multilateral donors to manage the pandemic.

I thank these nations and institutions for their generosity.

The increased global cooperation visible during this ongoing crisis is greatly encouraging.

However, there is still more to be done.

Mr. President,

The economic impact of the pandemic has been especially severe on developing countries.

This has placed the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals at considerable risk.

It is vital that more initiatives including development financing and debt relief be adopted through international mechanisms to support developing nations and help them emerge from this uncertain situation.

Sri Lanka too has suffered greatly due to the pandemic.

In addition to the tragic loss of life, our economy has been deeply affected.

The lockdowns, together with general movement restrictions, reduced international travel, and slower global growth have affected nearly all sectors of our economy.

Tourism, one of Sri Lanka’s highest foreign exchange earners and a sector that supports nearly 14% of the population, has been devastated.

This industry, together with small and medium businesses in many other sectors, received Government support through interest moratoriums and other financial sector interventions.

Daily wage earners and low-income groups were also supported through grants of cash and dry rations during lockdowns, adding significantly to state expenditure.

In addition to their immediate impact, these economic repercussions of the pandemic have limited the fiscal space available to implement our development programmes.

Mr. President,

As devastating as the consequences of the pandemic have been to humanity, the world faces the even greater challenge of climate change in the decades to come.

As emphasised in the recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the unprecedented effect of human activity on the health of the planet is deeply worrying.

Addressing the grave threats posed by climate change and the loss of biodiversity requires decisive and urgent multilateral action.

As a climate-vulnerable country, Sri Lanka is deeply aware of the dangers of climate change.

Sri Lanka’s philosophical heritage, deeply rooted in Lord Buddha’s teachings, also emphasises the vitality of preserving environmental integrity.

It is in these contexts that Sri Lanka is a Commonwealth Blue Charter Champion and leads the Action Group on Mangrove Restoration.

Through the adoption of the Colombo Declaration on Sustainable Nitrogen Management, which seeks to halve nitrogen waste by 2030, Sri Lanka has also contributed to global efforts to reduce environmental pollution.

Having participated virtually in the Pre-Summit held in April, I trust that the United Nations Food Summit later this month will result in actionable outcomes to promote healthier, more sustainable, and equitable food systems globally.

Such outcomes will be crucial to human health as well as to the health of our planet.

Sustainability is a cornerstone of Sri Lanka’s national policy framework.

Because of its impact on soil fertility, biodiversity, waterways and health, my Government completely banned the use of chemical fertilisers, pesticides, and weedicides earlier this year.

Production and adoption of organic fertiliser, as well as investments into organic agriculture, are being incentivised.

I appreciate the encouragement received from many global institutions and nations for our efforts to create a more sustainable agriculture in Sri Lanka.

The conservation of our environment is one of our key national priorities.

We aim to increase forest cover significantly in the coming decades.

We are also working to clean and restore over 100 rivers countrywide, and to combat river and maritime pollution.

We have also banned single use plastics to support ecological conservation.

Sri Lanka recognises the urgent need to reduce use of fossil fuels and support decarbonisation.

Our energy policy seeks to increase the contribution of renewable sources such as solar, wind and hydropower to 70% of our national energy needs by 2030.

Mr. President,

Sri Lanka welcomes the support of the international community as it engages in the task of reviving its economy and carrying out its national development programme.

We intend to make full use of geostrategic location and our robust institutions, strong social infrastructure, and skilled workforce, to attract investment and broaden trade relationships.

My Government is focusing on extensive legal, regulatory, administrative and educational reforms to facilitate this, and to deliver prosperity to all our people.

Sri Lanka has enjoyed universal adult franchise since pre-Independence.

The democratic tradition is an integral part of our way of life.

My election in 2019 and the Parliamentary election in 2020 saw Sri Lankan voters grant an emphatic mandate to my Government to build a prosperous and stable country, and uphold national security and sovereignty.

In 2019, Sri Lanka experienced the devastation wrought by extremist religious terrorists in the Easter Sunday attacks.

Before that, until 2009, it had suffered from a separatist terrorist war for 30 years.

Terrorism is a global challenge that requires international cooperation, especially on matters such as intelligence sharing, if it is to be overcome.

Violence robbed Sri Lanka of thousands of lives and decades of prosperity in the past half century.

My Government is committed to ensuring that such violence never takes place in Sri Lanka again.

We are therefore acting to address the core issues behind it.

Fostering greater accountability, restorative justice, and meaningful reconciliation through domestic institutions is essential to achieve lasting peace.

So too is ensuring more equitable participation in the fruits of economic development.

It is my Government’s firm intention to build a prosperous, stable and secure future for all Sri Lankans, regardless of ethnicity, religion, or gender.

We are ready to engage with all domestic stakeholders, and to obtain the support of our international partners and the United Nations, in this process.

However, history has shown that lasting results can only be achieved through home-grown institutions reflecting the aspirations of the people.

Sri Lanka’s Parliament, Judiciary and its range of independent statutory bodies should have unrestricted scope to exercise their functions and responsibilities.

Mr. President, Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates.

If, in keeping with the theme of our General Debate today, we are to truly build resilience through hope, we must all strive towards the common good.

It is the role of the United Nations to facilitate this by treating all sovereign states, irrespective of size or strength, equitably, and with due respect for their institutions and their heritage.

I request the United Nations and the international community to ensure the protection of the Buddhist heritage of Afghanistan.

I call on the member states of this august Assembly to work together in a spirit of true cooperation, generosity, goodwill, and mutual respect to foster a better and more sustainable future for all humanity.”

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Sri Lanka a dumping ground for toxic burnt oil from ship engines !

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By Ifham Nizam

Environment Minister Mahinda Amaraweera has questioned some Central Environmental Authority (CEA) officials for permitting more than 20 individuals to collect waste burnt out oil from ships without having facilities to purify it.

However, it was claimed that most of those individuals were backed by some senior politicians and the Authority didn’t have any say.

The Minister has decided to conduct a comprehensive investigation into the toxic waste oil racket through the Presidential Special Investigation Division.

Amaraweera said the racket had been going on for a long time. “This racket is causing a huge amount of foreign exchange loss to the country and causing huge environmental damage,” he added.

Accordingly, steps would be taken by the Presidential Investigation Division to stop the racket and investigate the huge amount of money that has changed hands, the Minister said.

“After the President returns from his visit to New York, I will hold discussions with him and submit a factual report on the amount of money lost to the country in dollars through this racket,” Minister Amaraweera said.

The CEA has so far issued 27 permits for the disposal of waste fuel oil. However, only four companies have the facility to refine it. About 20,000 to 25,000 tonnes of burnt out waste oil are shipped into the country annually. But the country has capacity to refine only 4,800 tonnes a year by licensed companies. It is not clear what happens to the remaining 15,200 tons of waste oil.

The Minister said that issuing licences to companies and individuals who did not have fuel refining facilities was wrong.

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Acquisition of Yugadanavi power plant and right to build new LNG terminal: US firm says agreement finalised

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US based energy firm, New Fortress Energy Inc. on Tuesday (21) announced that it had executed a definitive agreement with the Sri Lankan government for New Fortress’ investment in West Coast Power Limited, the owner of the 310 MW Yugadanavi Power Plant based in Colombo, along with the rights to develop a new LNG Terminal off the coast of Colombo.

Issuing a press release, New Fortress Energy Inc., said as a part of the transaction, New Fortress will have gas supply rights to the Kerawalapitya Power Complex, where 310 MW of power is operational and an additional 700 MW scheduled to be built, of which 350 MW is scheduled to be operational by 2023.

Given below is the statement: “New Fortress will acquire a 40% ownership stake in WCP and plans to build an offshore liquified natural gas (LNG) receiving, storage and regasification terminal located off the coast of Colombo. New Fortress will initially provide the equivalent of an estimated 1.2 million gallons of LNG (~35,000 MMBtu) per day to the GOSL, with the expectation of significant growth as new power plants become operational.

“The 310 MW Yugadanavi Power Plant currently has a long-term power purchase agreement to provide electricity to the national grid that extends through 2035. This power plant consists of General Electric turbines and is configured to run on natural gas in a combined cycle.

“”This is a significant milestone for Sri Lanka’s transition to cleaner fuels and more reliable, affordable power,” said Wes Edens, Chairman and CEO of New Fortress Energy. “We are pleased to partner with Sri Lanka by investing in modern energy infrastructure that will support sustainable economic development and environmental gains.”

“The Kerawalapitya Power Complex is the foundation of the baseload power that serves the country’s population of 22 million people. Delivering cleaner and cheaper fuels to Sri Lanka will support the country’s growth for years to come.”

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