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Public webinar on helping children to ‘navigate’ during the lockdown



‘Children in Lockdown’ was a public webinar organized by the Colombo Branch of the Trinity College Kandy OBA.

The topic of discussion was ‘remote learning, the arts and the importance of looking after the mental and physical well-being of children in lockdown’.

The discussion was moderated by Shehan Gunawardene and was viewed by more than 200 people through Zoom and the Facebook Livestream. A recording of the webinar is also available on the Trinity College Kandy Youtube page.

The first speaker, Dr Miyuru Chandradasa, Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist of the Ragama Teaching Hospital and Senior Lecturer at the University of Kelaniya, spoke about children, school and their psychological well-being and how it has changed drastically during the COVID-19 pandemic.

He explained that a child’s development encompasses cognitive intelligence, emotional intelligence, character and personality. Mood regulation is a fundamental characteristic of emotional intelligence and relates to how an individual reacts to certain events and situations.

An improved emotional awareness is helpful in stabilizing and reducing the extremes of mood regulation, especially in children.

Dr. Chandradasa further said that due to the virtualisation of education, students are experiencing even higher levels of stress. He explained the importance of having the right amount of stress in order to ensure sufficient levels of productivity and performance in any activity. Excess stress levels often lead to physical and emotional symptoms such as neuroticism, perfectionism, teeth grinding, skin irritation and stomach problems. Mental side effects also include the development of depression, anxiety and other such mental illnesses.

Former tennis champion, Renouk Wijemanne highlighted the importance of exposing children to athletic skills as it increases versatility, prevents burnout and reduces the chances of injury

He spoke about the importance of relaxation activities such as deep breathing and muscle relaxation among others.

The second panelist was Ruwanthie de Chickera, a playwright, screenwriter and theatre director. She is also the founder and artistic director of Stages Theatre Group, the co-curator of ‘Children in Lockdown’; a commissioning project supporting artists to work with the challenges of the pandemic, or helping adults understand what children are going through. Additionally, she is an Eisenhower Fellow.

She creatively analogized the education systems of the world to different types of vehicles travelling on a road, with that of Sri Lanka being a bus heading in the wrong direction, wheezing and on the brink of falling apart. In this analogy, the pandemic took the form of a massive car crash which affected all ‘vehicles’ on the road and caused the bus to be blindsided.

As a result of the accident, the bus was rendered helpless with the children it was carrying suffering shell-shock and injuries. Despite the extent of harm suffered by the children, the authorities were more focused on the derelict, forcing the disoriented children to push it along the road.

Ruwanthie also noted that schools had been stripped of its elements such as playtime and socializing. Thus, children were forced to sit in front of a screen for hours on end as teachers conducted the tasks of continuing classes, completing syllabi and preparing the students for examinations just as they had done before the coronavirus.

She highlighted the fact that authority figures such as teachers and government officials had prioritized old fashioned views of how the education system should be run instead of directing their attention and efforts towards the negatively affected children and how they might actually support them through a national crisis.

The virtualisation of education has negatively affected a majority of the children resulting in increased mental illness and a lack of purpose and entrapment as they are constantly called to engage in a situation towards which they are unable to respond, she said.

Ruwanthie articulated that the first rule in a crisis is to ‘do no harm’, suggesting that authority figures should have helped students through the many negative effects of the pandemic, instead of adhering to the current system of education.

Renouk Wijemanne, former National Tennis Champion, with a Double Major in Math and Economics who discussed the importance of sports and physical activity, especially when everyone was stuck at home with very little to do. He divided children into three different age groups with specific needs.

The first group consisting of three to seven year olds, also known as the adventurers, was instrumental in the development and acquisition of motor skills such as walking and jumping. The skills acquired at this age can be categorized into coordination, rhythm, balance, orientation and differentiation.

Wijemanne explained that such skills should be taught through a game-based approach, emphasizing that adults should be aware of differences in the chronological and developmental ages of children in this group.

The second group was that of eight to 12 year olds, or the explorers for whom the focus is on flexibility and athletic skills. It is important to expose these children to athletic skill as it increases versatility, prevents burnout and reduces the chances of injury.

The third group comprised children between the ages of 13 and 18 who can be categorised into competitive and recreational athletes. Competitive athletes, also known as achievers, mainly focus on strength training and sports specific skills. 

Reverend Fr. Araliya Jayasundara, OSB, the Principal of Trinity College, Kandy, was the final panelist to address the participants of the webinar. He is an Allumnus of Trinity College and has more than 15 years of experience as an educator. He also holds a Masters in Philosophy, Degrees in Theology, a Master of Science Degree in HR Management. He is a Senior Fulbright Scholar of the University of California.

He addressed the chaos caused to the local education system, comparing it to a cacophony, and stressed the importance of the role parents play in their children’s lives where they are now both the primary and secondary source of socialisation.

He also identified how they were even more vulnerable being stuck at home and may suffer domestic abuse from which they have no escape.

Rev Jayasundara pointed out that education is currently curricular based, conformist, linear and relies on standardization. Like pouring new wine into an old skin, those in authority were attempting to solve a novel problem with outdated methodology which resulted in a ruptured system, exposing its many weaknesses.

He emphasized the importance of parental involvement in the education system and urged the listeners to move away from the fallacy that online education is the virtual equivalent of attending classes at school, and to keep in mind that each child is different, with different levels of imagination and creativity.

This webinar was an insightful discussion into the many drawbacks of the Sri Lankan education system and just how greatly it has suffered since the onset of the pandemic. The importance of education needs no explanation, and the panelists effectively highlighted the need for immediate changes to the current system of education so that children receive a holistic schooling experience which better prepares them for life and the challenges that may lay ahead of them.

Kiyara de Silva

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Central Bank urged to save collapsing local industries



The National Freedom Front (NFF) has requested the immediate intervention of the Governor of the Central Bank Ajith Nivard Cabraal to save micro, small and medium scale industries badly affected by the current economic downturn caused by the Covid-19.

The NFF parliamentary group comprises six members, including one National List.

Industries Minister Wimal Weerawansa, on behalf of the SLPP constituent parties, has warned of steep increase in unemployment, drop in the contribution made by small and medium scale industries to the national economy and the further widening of the gap between the rich and poor.

Party sources told The Island that the NFF had decided to take up the urgent matter because, in spite of repeated promises, those who had been severely affected were yet to receive assistance. Minister Weerawansa has urged the Central Bank to restructure loans obtained by affected industries and also extend the moratorium.

Weerawansa has in a letter dated Oct.18, told Cabraal that according to a survey conducted by the Industrial Development Board, micro, small and medium enterprises suffered serious setbacks. However, of the loans made available through the banking sector, a substantial segment had been disbursed among major players, the Minister said, while pointing out that in other countries in the region more than 50 percent of total loans were made available to micro, small and medium industries.

Unfortunately, here in Sri Lanka they received approximately 15 percent of the total given as loans, the minister said.

Minister Weerawansa said that though industries suffered, almost all state and private banks had recorded much improved performances with significant profits.

The Minister said that following his intervention with the cabinet of ministers, the government agreed on a plan of action to deal with the situation. It would be the responsibility of the Central Bank to implement the agreed proposals, he said.


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So far no side effects among Pfizer vaccinated 15,000 A/L students



By Rathindra Kuruwita

Over 15,000 GCE AL students had been vaccinated with Pfizer and there had not been any side effects, Colombo District Director of Health Dr. Dilip Liyanage told the media yesterday.

He said that the Ministry of Education had given them a list of 20,688 that needed to be vaccinated.

“We would like to assure parents that there is no need to worry. Over 15,000 children have been vaccinated and there have been no problems so far. Trust the health professionals and vaccinate your child at the first opportunity you get,” he said.

Dr. Liyanage added that children who missed their chance to get vaccinated on weekdays, can get vaccinated at the MOH office near their home.

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Govt. approves prohibition of cattle slaughter



The government has approved the prohibition of cattle slaughter. The decision was announced at the weekly Cabinet meeting at the Information Department yesterday (19). The government said the relevant laws and regulations, including those passed by Local Government authorities would be amended for that purpse.

The Legal Draftsman has drafted Bills to amend the following acts and ordinances.

• Authority 272 of the Cattle Slaughter Ordinance No. 9 of 1893

• Act No. 29 of 1958 Concerning Animals

• Municipal Councils Ordinance – Section 252

• Section 255 of the Municipal Councils Ordinance

• Ordinance No. 15 of the Urban Council Act of 1987

The Attorney General has certified that the said Bills do not clash with the provisions of the Constitution.

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