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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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GL follows up Udaya’s initiative, negotiates concessionary crude oil supplies with UAE



Balance-of-payment crisis continues to stagger govt.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The United Arab Emirates (UAD) has agreed to discuss a possible arrangement to provide Sri Lanka crude oil on concessionary terms in the face of the country experiencing a severe balance-of-payments crisis, according to the Foreign Ministry.

Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris took up the matter with UAE Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology Dr. Sultan Al Jaber, on the sidelines of the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York. Prof. Peiris is on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s delegation to the UNGA.

In late August, Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila sought the intervention of the Acting Head of the UAE Embassy in Sri Lanka, Saif Alanofy. Minister Gammanpila also met the Iranian Ambassador in Colombo in a bid to explore the possibility of obtaining oil from Iran on concessionary arrangements.

The Foreign Ministry statement on Prof. Peiris meeting with the UAE Minister dealt with the financial crisis experienced by the country. “Foreign Minister Peiris explained the challenges Sri Lanka is experiencing in respect of its external budget, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Prof. Peiris focused in particular on the country’s requirement for oil and requested concessionary arrangements from the UAE.”

The Foreign Ministry quoted Minister Al Jaber as having said that the UAE would be happy to assist and proposed the establishment of a strategic framework to take the process forward.”

The ministry stressed that both sides agreed to follow-up rapidly.

Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila earlier told The Island that concessionary arrangements were required to procure oil as part of an overall strategy to overcome the developing crisis.

Pivithuru Hela Urumaya (PHU) leader and Attorney-at-law Gammanpila said that increase in fuel prices in the second week of June this year was only a part of the government’s response to heavy pressure on foreign reserves. Minister Gammanpila said that the decision was taken close on the heels of dire warning from the Central Bank.

Minister Gammanpila said that in spite of foreign currency crisis, the government ensured an uninterrupted supply of fuel. According to him, Sri Lanka spent as much as USD 3.5 to 5 bn annually on oil imports depending on the world market prices.

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President attends 9/11 commemoration in NY



President Gotabaya Rajapaksa yesterday attended the special commemorative event near the Manhattan Memorial in the United States to mark the 20th anniversary of terrorist attacks in Washington and New York.

The terrorist attacks took place on September 11, 2001, targeting the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon, the headquarters of the United States Department of Defence.

Coinciding with the 76th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, the United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism and the 9/11 Memorial Museum jointly organised the event. Other Heads of State and government representatives, who were in New York to attend the UN General Assembly, were also present at the event to pay tribute to those who lost their lives in those attacks.

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FSP calls on govt. allies not to pretend to oppose adverse deal with US firm



By Anuradha Hiripitiyage

Due to the secret agreement signed with US firm New Fortress Energy, Sri Lanka would soon face a situation akin to the one already faced by Ukraine, the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP) predicted yesterday.

“Sri Lanka is trying to reduce its dependency on coal and switch over to LNG. With this in mind, several coal and diesel power plants are to be converted into LNG in the coming decade. Now, we will entirely depend on the US to provide us with LNG to power these plants. Given that the US intends to control the seas in which Sri Lanka is placed strategically, they will not let us off the hook once they establish their foothold here. We are in deep trouble,” FSP Propaganda Secretary, Duminda Nagamuwa said.

Nagamuwa said that some constituents of the government were pretending that they opposed the transfer of government’s shares in the Yugadanavi Power Plant to New Fortress Energy. “But this is not the time for theatrics but for concrete action”, he said.

Nagamuwa said that the agreement between the government and US Company New Fortress Energy to construct a new offshore liquefied natural gas (LNG) receiving, storage and regasification terminal at Kerawalapitiya as well as the transfer of government’s shares in the Yugadanavi Power Plant had to be scrapped.

“Even government ministers agree that the agreement was not discussed with them. Several affiliates of the government are trying to convince the people that they are fighting this decision from inside. However, past experience has shown that when push comes to shove they will stay with the government. They must show the leaders of the government that they are not puppets,” he said.

Nagamuwa said that if those affiliated to the government were serious in their opposition to undermining Sri Lanka’s energy security they should show their commitment by doing something concrete.

The Yugadanavi Power Station at Kerawalapitiya already produced 300 MWs of energy and there was a plan to build another 350 MW plant there. The US Company had now been allowed to build an offshore LNG receiving, storage, and regasification terminal and to provide LNG to the existing Power Station and the new 350 MW power plant to be built, he said.

“Now we are under the power of the US. We will soon be facing the plight of Ukraine,” he said.

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