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Korean support to quality education boosts school attendance for vulnerable children

By Suzanne Davey
BATTICALOA DISTRICT, Sri Lanka, 31 January 2013

©  UNICEF Sri Lanka/2013/Savani Jayasooriya
A child in Batticaloa, the East Coast of Sri Lanka, going home at the end of the school day.

Life in the East Coast of Sri Lanka, a land once affected by 30 years of conflict, the Boxing Day Tsunami and intermittent floods, is slowly picking up. Families have resettled and gradually re-building their lives. Education remains a key priority for the community especially the vulnerable who want their children to go to school and get a better start in life.

Lakitha, an unemployed single mum, speaks about the difficulties of raising her three children. "My husband died in a car accident a few years ago" she says. Since then, she has been overwhelmed with the responsibilities of feeding, clothing and caring for her children and is dependent on her own ageing parents to provide for some of their most basic needs.

"I really want my children to study and have a better chance in life" she says. Lakitha has just enrolled her youngest daughter, Yakshana, at a Child Friendly model school 'Periyakallar Vidyalya' supported by KOICA through UNICEF.

With KOICA support, children receive quality learning

"I did not want to send her to just any school, but a place that would give her a quality learning experience," says Lakitha, who also sent her two older children to the same school.

"The teachers are attentive to the needs of the children and do lots of activities? she says.

© UNICEF Sri Lanka/2013/Suzanne Davey
Lakitha with her youngest daughter Yakshana, who has just enrolled at a Child Friendly model school, Periyakallar Vidyalaya, supported by KOICA.

The Periyakallar school provides education for 130 girls and boys in the Kalumani region. Known for its Child Friendly Approach, there's heavy demand by parents to get their children into the school. "We received 55 new applications this year, but could only take 45 students" said the school's principal, Mr. Chandrasegaram.

Teacher training and other support through KOICA, has helped improve the quality of teaching and learning. "We have moved from traditional methods of teaching to a more activity based approach" says Chandrasegaram.

© UNICEF Sri Lanka/2013/Suzanne Davey
A group of children play during the morning break. Playground equipment has been provided as part of the KOICA support through UNICEF.

Importantly for single unemployed mothers like Lakitha, the school provides extra classes after-hours at zero cost. "I cannot afford to pay for tuition and really happy that my children get extra help with their lessons" she says.

The equity challenge in conflict affected regions

There are significant regional disparities in education performance across Sri Lanka, especially in the Northern and Eastern Provinces where schools and communities continue to recover from conflict. Nationally, approximately one in seven children drop out of school before completing the compulsory nine year cycle. A 2010 UNICEF supported assessment of students learning competencies found that a displaced child attending a regular school is roughly 1.5 grades behind a typical learner who has not suffered displacement. Furthermore, a child who is still displaced or has only recently restarted school, is roughly three grades behind. This situation puts large numbers of children in resettled areas at increased risk of dropping out of school.

The KOICA-UNICEF partnership seeks to address these regional disparities by supporting access to quality education for children, like Yakshana, in 24 schools across the Northern and Eastern Provinces of Sri Lanka.

These initiatives will help overcome barriers to quality education for vulnerable children and will help create pathways to promising futures for them.

"I want to be a teacher" says Yakshana, as she begin s her school years hoping to achieve her dream someday.

© UNICEF Sri Lanka 2013/Suzanne Davey
Six-year-old Yakshana, adorned in a garland made of fresh flowers and a ‘welcome to grade one’ badge. The Periyakallar school community held a special ceremony to welcome the new batch of students.



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