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The Need To Feed And Invest In The Future Of Our School children

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By Sanjeewa Jayaweera

Undoubtedly, children, particularly from low-income families, have borne the most significant hardships due to the unprecedented economic crisis that has beset our country. The single biggest challenge has been the skyrocketing food prices of even essentials, resulting in many families adopting coping strategies from reducing the number of meals consumed to eating less preferred meals lacking nutrition. As a result, the impact on schoolchildren has been a double whammy from constant hunger to skipping school, thus impacting their education.

The WFP situation report in October 2022 said, ” Even before the economic crisis and the pandemic, malnutrition rates across Sri Lanka were already high. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Sri Lankan women and children suffered from far higher rates of malnutrition than most other middle-income countries: 17 per cent of children aged under five were too short because of stunting, and 15 per cent were too thin for their height (wasted). The current economic crisis will likely aggravate this further.”

However, the statement made in September 2022 by the SLPP Anuradhapura District Parliamentarian K.P.S Kumarasiri in parliament that he had received reports of instances where 20 students fainted in three schools at the Vilachchiya Divisional Secretariat division caused a media storm and highlighted the problem. He went on to name the schools where the fainting of the students had occurred. He also highlighted media reports of a student bringing coconut kernels as her midday meal to the school in Minuwangoda.

True to form, Health Minister Keheliya Rambukwella said he was unaware of such incidents in Vilachchiya. However, he assured that he would look into the matter and denied the occurrence in Minuwangoda. Chief Governmen Whip Prassana Ranatunga, also got into the act by saying that Minuwangoga was his electorate. Having inquired from the principal about the media reports, Ranatunga attributed them to lies fabricated to instigate people!

The government reacted to continued social media posts citing incidents of schoolchildren fainting by extending a ban on public servants speaking to journalists to include social media posts. In addition, the order said, “Expressing opinions on social media by a public officer shall constitute an offense that leads to disciplinary action.” This was after certain provincial health officials, and teachers claimed students were fainting in schools because of a lack of food. The government also suspended the former Hambantota Regional Director of Health, Dr Chamal Sanjeewa, charging him with “causing inconvenience to the government” by presenting “false” information to a media briefing about child malnutrition in Sri Lanka. One hopes that he has now been reinstated and an apology tendered to him.

Why the government denied the existence of the problem is a mystery because several months before that, the World Food Programme (WFP), the world’s largest humanitarian organization, stated in a release, “An estimated 4.9 million people – 22 per cent of the population – are currently food-insecure and require humanitarian assistance. Reduced domestic agricultural production, scarcity of foreign exchange reserves and depreciation of the local currency have caused food shortages and a spike in the cost of living, limiting people’s access to healthy and affordable meals. The economic crisis will push families into hunger and poverty – some for the first time – adding to the half a million people who the World Bank estimates have fallen below the poverty line because of the pandemic. The latest WFP assessment reveals that 86 per cent of families are buying cheaper, less nutritious food, eating less and, in some cases, skipping meals altogether.

Similarly, in its 2022 report, UNICEF said, “Children are disproportionately affected by the rapidly unfolding economic crisis in Sri Lanka. Rising food and fuel prices, frequent power cuts, and shortages of life-saving medicines are particularly impacting the poorest and most marginalized. More than 5.7 million people, including 2.3 million children, require humanitarian assistance. Sri Lanka is among the top ten countries with the highest number of malnourished children, and the numbers are expected to rise further.”

Save the Children Sri Lanka released in March 2023 their “Rapid Needs Assessment Report – Phase 2,” a comprehensive report based on a country-wide survey done in December 2022. Some of the critical findings were:

Food was a significant contributor to household expenses, which increased by five percent from 44% in June 2022 to 49% in December 2022.

33% of households reported they still cannot meet their food needs.

30% of households could not provide adequate nutritious food for their children, and six percent could not provide any nutritious food.

50% of households have reduced the quantity of food consumed

74% of households are eating less preferred food.

27% of households have reduced the frequency of food intake (three times to twice or once)

25% of adults skipped food

Almost 90% of households adopted some coping strategy to meet their daily food demand. The most cited report of coping strategies adopted was relying on less preferred and less expensive food.

The manual on the School Nutrition Program published in 2020 by the Ministry of Education states, “Many surveys reveal that school-going children’s physical, physiological and nutritional status directly or indirectly impacts the students’ attendance, participation in learning and performances. Therefore, improving the nutritional level of children of school-going age is essential”.

The Observations of a Medical Consultant

I reached out to Dr B. J. C. Perera, Specialist Consultant Paediatrician, for his observations on the importance of nutrition for children. He sent me a short note “It is abundantly clear that optimal nutrition is of seminal importance for children and adolescents. Right from the time the baby is in the womb, where adequate nutrition for the foetus is provided by the mother, to the time after birth, where the golden elixir of mother’s milk provides all necessary nutrients to the baby during the first six months of life on earth and then afterwards to the time during early and late childhood as well as adolescence where a well-balanced diet provides adequate nutrition, the young ones of our land are totally dependent on the parents for the provision of optimal nourishment. All essential nutrients such as proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals have to be provided for children and adolescents for physical and mental growth. Physical growth in stature leading to satisfactory weight gain and an increase in height depends to a great extent on the provision of adequate food.

On the other hand, the inadequacy of essential nutrients leads to a reduction in height or stunting and poor weight gain, leading to different types of malnutrition states. Moreover, the inadequacy of certain essential nutrients leads to the development of well-documented diseases and increases the susceptibility of malnourished children to catch various infectious diseases. Many believe that the inadequacy of food leads only to disturbances in physical growth. However, it must be pointed out that optimal nutrition is also crucial for cognitive and mental development. There is accumulating evidence from research studies that inadequate nutrition has significant effects on intelligence as well as the proper development of all types of mental skills”.

Who is Doing What?

The Sri Lankan government has funded a school meal programme for several decades. According to the Ministry of Education manual on school nutrition, in 2017, a total of 1,105,605 students of 7,871 schools benefited from the meal programme while 112,088 students of 414 schools benefited from the programme of providing fresh milk.” But unfortunately, one of the economic crisis’s consequences was the reduction in the 2022 budget allocated for the school meal programme. Nevertheless, according to recent media reports, the cabinet has approved a proposal by the President to extend the school meal program to benefit an additional one million students, resulting in nearly 50% of school children benefiting from the program.

Several international organizations have come forward to help with the school meal program. For example, the October 2022 WFP report stated that 556,929 schoolchildren had received school meals prepared with rice supported by WFP. In addition, through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and in partnership with Save the Children, the United States donated 3,000 tons of food to nourish school children across Sri Lanka. The U.S. Ambassador Julie Chang said, “This donation from the American people targets the most vulnerable Sri Lankans – children – and enables them to focus on their schooling rather than on their hunger.” Furthermore, UNICEF was planning to raise U.S. $ 28.3 million for various initiatives in the country, including providing nutrition to children.

The Chinese government donated 8,862,990 metres of cloth to the Education Ministry as school uniform material for the 2023 academic year. The donation amounts to 70% of the country’s school uniform material required for this year.

Several charitable organizations and corporates have also gotten involved in supporting the school’s meal program. For example, my former employer, the John Keells group, has taken 12 schools and seven preschools under their wing, supporting 2,415 children with daily meals under their “Pasal Diriya” program. The supermarket arm of the group is also supporting an initiative to feed 1,000 preschool kids aged between 2.5 and five years for over six months. The customers of Keells Super primarily fund this program contributing 80% of the cost and the company the balance. I have also read media reports of a donor-funded project called ” Rise Up School Meals”, supporting 12,000+ children in 81 schools with meals and a glass of milk. The Roshan Mahanama Trust of the former Sri Lankan cricketer too is doing excellent service helping children with school books, among many other initiatives. No doubt, many other organizations and charities are doing their bit.

In addition, in a personal capacity, many assist with meals and purchasing school books, bags and shoes for school children individually or as a group coordinating with school principals and teachers.

All these initiatives are genuinely commendable, and no doubt go some way towards helping children, particularly from low-income families. The smile that you get from a child after providing a wholesome meal is indeed something that will make one happy and fulfilled. However, whilst international organizations, corporates, charitable organizations, and well-intentioned individuals can support the initiative to feed a child for some time, the primary responsibility lies with the government.

Therefore, it is incumbent on the government to allocate the necessary funds and ensure the program’s success. It should not remain only a slogan. UNICEF, in their release, stated, ” In tackling the current crisis in Sri Lanka, put children first. As the situation evolves, Government efforts must include closely monitoring the impact on Sri Lanka’s youngest citizens—the future of the country, but currently the most vulnerable.” No one can disagree with that.



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Pernicious, ubiquitous strikes

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Railway strike

Local news on most TV channels is almost wholly about on-going strikes and preparations plus controversy on the to-be-held presidential election come October.

Political news is centered on this election. Chief protagonist, the present Prez, has said the election will be held at the correct time this year. UNP side-kicks and a maverick have countered this by saying it need not be held since at the present juncture it is best to postpone change by two years. The present incumbent has a further one year to serve according to the Constitution said the bright spark, who filed an application in the Supreme Court was roundly dismissed by it, with an implied but unsaid upbraiding for wasting the time of the Apex Court.

People surmised filing a case was with the approval of the Prez or his Secretariat if not actual promotion, but RW dismissed that suspicion; “I firmly believe that the President’s term is five years, and I support the Election Commission’s steps to hold the Presidential Election in 2024.”  So there! Three cheers! The Prez is on the side of the people who want an election. It is correct constitutionally too.

Political platforms are raucous with praise of their chosen candidates, with photographs of VIPs who have recently changed loyalties in the forefront, some giving shocks to viewers. They seem to have turned 180 degrees or even 360, now championing a candidate they tore into with sharp barbs of ridicule and criticism. To serve themselves to continue in the most lucrative job in the island, they will turn cartwheels and leapfrog from one party to another. Such are most visible in the meetings held to promote Ranil W, as our next president.

Karadara kara strikes

Strikes of varied nature and kinds are rampant so much so that half the time news is telecast we see crowds marching or standing around with police facing them. These strikers are three quarter responsible for the chaos the country is in at this juncture when all should be contributing their might to pull the country out of the morass it was pushed into by its leaders. Cass has so many epithets to express her revulsion at these spectacles that are a shame to the country at large. Don’t those sick note presenters, continuously striking non academics, utterly disgraceful and unethical, nay immoral, teachers know the country is still in the economic doldrums and unless everyone pulls his/her weight we will remain down in the sludge of bankruptcy, notwithstanding IMF assistance and nations having shown leniency in our debt restricting process.

The trade unions demand monthly increases of Rs 25,000 and even more. Don’t they have an iota of sensibility in them to know this is no time for strikes whose demands cannot be met and the strikes making worse the parlous state of the country with lost man hours? Many a striker deliberately loses man hours of work when  supposedly working in their jobs: teachers sit chatting in staff rooms, tea breaks are more than an hour long; leave is taken at their whim and fancy, never mind completion of syllabuses or school exams; least of all consideration of the students in their hands.

Cass heard of students who had completed their university degrees not being able to get their certificates due to the prolonged strike of non-academic staff. Thus, employment and even accepting scholarships from overseas universities have been thwarted.

Train strikes came unannounced. Wednesday morning Cass received a call from weekly domestic help: “No trains running and so I cannot come.” She was expecting very urgent financial help. She wakes up on these days of work at 4.00 am; cooks for her family; walks a mile; boards the train and is in my flat at 7.30 am sharp. Now she is never sure whether she will have to turn back with no trains running. When health sector workers strike, and even doctors of the recent past have resorted to this deplorable ruse, it is a matter of life or death to some. A person called Mudalige was seen smilingly distributing leaflets while protest marching, the cause of which Cass could not catch nor fathom. He thinks himself a saviour; he is a destroyer.

A silver lining appeared. Cass watched on TV news Prez Ranil chairing a meeting with financial secretaries. They expressed their opinion strongly and clearly that salary increases were impossible to give and money printing was now taboo with the IMF overseeing matters financially. And the Prez concluded that it was not possible to give in to strikers. That gladdened the heart immensely. We hope he will be of the same opinion regarding MPs’ demand for tax free luxury limos and life-long insurance for them and theirs in addition to the pensions they now receive after just five years of warming comfortable chairs in the Chamber.

The Editor of The Island of Wednesday July 10, has in his style of sharp and spot-on comment, criticism, blame laying and solutions to be taken dealt with this common bane of Sri Lankan existence. (We don’t ‘live’ now, the word connoting security, justified happiness and fairness to all; rather do we merely exist). He writes under the title Strikes, demand and harsh reality and points out the fact that there are about 1.5 million public employees, working out to about one state worker for every 14 citizens. Preposterous! Only possible in SL, a land like no other where politicians and their chits are to be mostly blamed for this imbalance. Culling or weaning of public servants should be started. Then strikers will not go by instigators of strikes who plan to destabilize the country, but cling to their paying jobs.

How the Iron Lady broke the back of strikes

Cass recollected how newly appointed Conservative PM, Margaret Thatcher, manoeuvered to stop strikes of coal miners and earned the hypocoristic of ‘Iron Lady’.

Cass surfed the Internet to refresh her memory. In 1884 –85, UK coal miners’ strike was a major industrial action in an attempt to stop closure of pits that the government deemed uneconomic; the coal industry having been nationalised in 1947. Arthur Scargill was a name remembered as instigator and leader of strike action. Some minors worked and so, starting in Yorkshire and Midland, the back of the year long strike was shaken and the Conservative government went to work and allowed closure of most British collieries.  Margaret Thatcher was credited with breaking up the ‘most bitter industrial dispute in British history.’ The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) strategy was to cause a severe energy shortage that had won victory in the 1972 strike. Thatcher’s strategy was to build ample stocks of coal; to retain as many minors as possible; and to get the police to break up strikes, which were ruled illegal in September 1984; they ended a year later. Miners suffered but the country gained.

It was heartening to hear that the railway has been made an essential service. Station masters said they would go on striking. Drastic measures have to be adopted to stop such anti-national activities.

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Why human capital development is essential for Sri Lanka

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by S. D. Gamini Jayasooriya
Wayamba University
gaminij2025@gmail.com


The development of human capital is of immense importance for the economic development of Sri Lanka. Thus, investing in education and skills training raises the overall productivity and effectiveness of personnel, spurring innovation and economic growth. Analysing the current situation in Sri Lanka, human capital development can be seen to be of particular importance for creating a competitive economy.

Levels of Human Capital Development

Human capital development in Sri Lanka can be categorised into three main levels: school-leaving level, higher education, and tertiary levels.

School Level: The primary and secondary level of education are indispensable at the basic level. Promoting quality education for children creates a pool of educated human capital in society. Special attention should be paid to raising the level of education, revising curricula, and integrating the use of new technologies in education processes.

Higher Education: In particular, specific skills and knowledge are cultivated at universities and colleges. Improving funding, research and industry linkages in higher education institutions help to produce ready-made graduates to suit the global market demand.

Tertiary Level: Vocational training and technical education are crucial in preparation of people for the job market with relevant skills. Thus, increasing and enhancing vocational training centers would provide solutions for skill deficiencies in different sectors, making the population fit for the actual needs of the economy.

Sri Lankan Labor Market Overview 2023

The Sri Lankan labor market in 2023 has strengths and weaknesses as discussed below. Currently, unemployment trends are still elevated, especially within the youth bracket, while skills supply does not match the skills demand in the market. There is a lack of qualified workers in a number of fields including the IT, healthcare, and manufacturing industries.

A major part of the population is engaged in the informal economy and most of them may be in the low wage employment. This state of affairs requires proper human capital development policies and the enhancement of skill and formalization of the labor market.

Importance of a Skilled Workforce in Economic Development

Skilled workforce is one of the prerequisites for developing the economy of a particular country. Employment of specialized personnel leads to increased output, creativity, and effectiveness in many sectors. They can respond better to innovations in technology and fluctuations in the market thus promoting more economic growth and competition.

Human capital is also an element that enriches the stream of foreign investment. They are likely to be established in places where human capital is readily available to them in terms of skills. This can lead to the generation of employment, technology distribution and enhancement of the economy on a whole.

Recommendations

To enhance human capital development in Sri Lanka, several strategies should be implemented:

1. Improve Educational Infrastructure: Make sure that there is infrastructure development in schools, adequate provision for the needy student, and teachers are in a position to teach.

2. Strengthen Higher Education: Encourage partnerships between universities and industries to ensure the delivered curricula align with the market needs. Contribute towards the improvement of research and development.

3. Expand Vocational Training: Increase the number of vocational training centers and adjust the offered programs to suit the current employment market. Promote the actualization of vocational education as a worthwhile career.

4. Promote Lifelong Learning: Encourage continued learning through offered adult education and online classes.

5. Government and Private Sector Collaboration: Encourage government and private sector to work together and identify the areas that require skills and come up with relevant training needs.

Conclusion

That is why human capital investment must become a priority in Sri Lanka. Investing in education and skills training of the people at all levels will enable the development of a competent and versatile human resource pool. This will help spur economic development, encourage foreign direct investment, and build a stronger and more competitive economy. It is for this reason that the management of human capital should be done strategically to foster the future growth and stability of Sri Lanka.

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Sixty-five years after entry to university of Ceylon, Peradeniya

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University of Peradeniya

by HM NISSANKA WARAKAULLE

It was sixty five years ago, and that is very long time ago, on 29 June 1959 that a batch of 378 students from all parts of Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) entered the portals of the most beautiful university at that time, the University of Ceylon, situated in the salubrious surroundings in Peradeniya, just four miles from the historic city of Kandy, after having successfully passed the then University Entrance examination conducted by the university itself, to read for our varied degrees in Arts, Oriental Languages, Law, etc.

The atmosphere was filled with excitement and sometimes with dismal and gloomy feelings, varied feelings produced from a sense of uncertainty and new-found freedom. The drive through the campus from the Galaha Road junction through the picturesque setting, well maintained lawns and well-laid out flower beds (Sir Ivor Jennings and Mr. Shirley De Alwis together had done the selection of the trees and shrubs very meticulously to bring out the blending of colours), the imposing architectural marvels of Jayathilaka and Arunachalam Halls, the Arts Theatre, the Senate building, and Hilda Obeysekera Hall and the tree sheltered kissing bend and up the winding road to Marcus Fernando Hall( Mr. Shirley De Alwis had planned out the general scheme, landscaping which was his favourite and all other details), brought thoughts to one’s mind which were mixed with perplexity, bewilderment and abandonment. One was entering a make-believe land, very artificial but, at the same time, very fascinating.

There were two significant things in respect of our batch of 1959. Ours was the last all- English medium batch to enter the university. The second important thing is our batch was the first batch where all the students were admitted directly without a viva voce, as up to the previous batch the students were selected both directly and some after facing a viva voce.

Though sixty-five years have gone by, we have not forgotten the best experience we had during the three or four years we spent in the beautiful campus. It is sad that many of our batch mates are not with us now having left us and moved into another world and not being with us to reminisce the glorious time we spent as residential undergraduates.

To all those who entered the Peradeniya campus before us and to our batch, that university will remain in our minds as the one and only university in then Ceylon as the University of Ceylon, which had been established by the Ordinance No. 20 of 1942 and situated in Colombo. It was in the early nineteen fifties that the campus of the University of Ceylon was established in Peradeniya.

The single university continued until 1959. It was only in 1959 that two other universities were created, namely the Vidyodaya University (now known as the University of Sri Jayewardenepura) and the Vidyalankara University (now known as the University of Kelaniya) which were established by the Vidyodaya University and Vidyalankara University Act No. 45 of 1958.These two universities were created by upgrading the two famous Pirivenas (Vidyodaya and Vidyalanakara) that were functioning at that time.

That period we spent at Peradeniya was one of the most unforgettable periods of our lives. The friendships that we cultivated while in Peradeniya remain and will not be erased from our minds.

It would be of interest to those who followed us much later to read for their degrees how the undergraduates were selected in our time. We sat the University Entrance examination conducted by the University of Ceylon in four centres, namely, Colombo, Kandy, Jaffna and Galle with the Department of Examinations having nothing to do with it. Thank God! However, if any candidate wanted to obtain the Higher School Certificate (HSC) such candidate had to sit the extra paper at the same examination and if successful received the HSC certificate from the Department of Education.

The results of the examination were not sent either to the schools or the candidates’ homes. The results were published in the daily newspapers. As such, the results of our batch were published in the The Ceylon Daily News of Wednesday March 11, 1959. Thereafter, after a lapse of a certain period of time, the successful candidates received letters from the university informing of the date of commencement of sessions of the academic year, the Hall of residence allotted and the date to report at the allotted Hall.

There was also a document indicating what we had to take, such as a raincoat and cape, etc. and the things that should not be done in which there was one item which stated that ceiling walking was prohibited. This was a little puzzling to us, but we understood what it meant later when we were on the campus. All undergraduates who were privileged to be in Peradeniya at the commencement of the campus and may be about four batches after ours had the best of time in a university in Sri Lanka.

During that time all undergraduates resided in the halls of residence throughout their undergraduate carrier, even if a person’s residence was abutting the campus premises. All those who entered from schools in and around Kandy could have easily travelled from home. But the university rules and regulations did not permit us to do so. Anyway, when reminiscing, we think that it was good that all had to be resident within the campus as we would never have got that experience otherwise.

On the occasion of the EFC Ludowyke Centenary at Peradeniya in 2006, Prof. Yasmin Gooneratne, a distinguished alumnus stated thus:

“Of the terms most frequently heard in connection with the life that we experienced there, one is “A Golden Age”’ another is “Arcadia”. 2It was a magical time” says one classmate.” It was idyllic” says another. Our companions-some of them husbands, wives, or children who did not share the Peradeniya experience, and who now have to hear us talk about it ad infinitum, look skeptical. They don’t believe us.”

“Peradeniya? Three years in Paradise” a classmate said once. “And at the end of it, they even gave us a degree”

“It was as if all the intellectual brilliance in our country had been concentrated in one spot. If the university had been a stage, we students would have been witnesses to the performances of a stellar cast”

During our time in Peradeniya the halls of residence for males were Arunachalam, Jayathilaka, Marrs, Ramanathan and Marcus Fernando. The female undergraduates had as their halls, James Peiris, Sangamitta and Hilda Obeysekera (with Mrs. Cooke, Dr. (Mrs.) Ram Aluvihare and Miss Mathiaparanam as the respective Wardens). During our final year in 1961-62(third year in the case of those who had opted to do a special degree course), a new hall was opened, which had been named after D.R. Wijewardena close to the Kandy-Colombo railway line. With this building being opened, there was a change in respect of occupants of some halls. Ramanathan was converted into a women’s hall and James Peris was made a hall for male undergraduates. The newly opened Wijewardena Hall became a men’s hall. With this change, the male undergraduates who were in Ramanathan Hall were transferred to James Peiris and Wijewardena Halls. (To be continued)

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