Hero Students: Coping with COVID19 challenges

Hero Students: Coping with COVID19 challenges

UNICEF
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Chameera Laknath
02 December 2020

Our Lady’s Upper School is home to more than 700 children from Grades 6 to 11 (ages please). Although the school is a Catholic School, it is attended by children belonging to all religions, ethnicities and social backgrounds. Two young students shared  their experiences of schooling during the curfew  and their efforts to keep learning in challenging times.

We spoke with Ms. Uthmini Ashinsa Sanchiarachchi, a 16 year old girl who is studying for her O-levels who had just been made a school Prefect before curfew came into effect.

“I love school. I love to learn and I love to hang out with my friends and see my teachers. I love creative writing, music, film and the arts. I would like to become a teacher when I grow up and maybe even work in music and film” she says, beaming.

She recalls the day that school was abruptly cancelled.

“We got the news suddenly in class. To be honest, on that first day we were happy. It felt like a holiday! We also felt like we would have some extra time to catch up on work. But then we started to think about our exams getting delayed and our higher studies getting delayed and then our lives getting stalled.”

A classmate, Ramuditha, who is studying for his O-Levels and loves Maths and Commerce, remembers that day well.

School was going on as normal. Then suddenly, a teacher came into class and said we would have holidays from tomorrow. We are O-level students and we have exams. We were worried because we didn't know when school might start again. Our parents were also concerned. They felt that our studies would be affected without being at school with our teachers."

Ramuditha, O-Level Student, Our Lady’s Upper School, Nuwara Eliya District, Central Province
Chameera Laknath
Ramuditha, O-Level Student, Our Lady’s Upper School, Nuwara Eliya District, Central Province

Both students are enthusiastic  in their praise for their teachers and are very grateful for the system of remote learning that was so quickly put into place.

Ramudhitha points out that “For about 4 to 5 days we treated it like a holiday. But starting from the very next Monday after we closed, our class teachers created whatsapp groups and we started learning from home. The system worked really well for us. We were able to do our work without any problems.”

Uthmini agrees with Ramudhitha but she is also quick to point out the challenges of remote learning.

“Our teachers created a really good system for us to work well from home. They would send us work over whatsapp and also the new website. We had been set a target of working 10 hours a day as a goal. But doing all this work without our friends around was boring and quite difficult”.

Working online and staying motivated is a challenge for most people in any situation. The diligence of these young boys and girls is to be commended.

Still, there were more challenges to overcome.

Uthmini goes on to explain that “Lots of children had phones and facilities but some didn’t. Some kids couldn’t work during the day because they didn’t have smartphones - they had to wait till their parents got home before they could start work.”

To overcome these challenges, students turned to one another for help.

“For us, as O-Level students, it was not as easy to study from home without interacting with our teachers. At school we can meet our teachers and learn better.So we also got help from our friends and neighbours. We shared with each other”, Uthmini says.

Students help each other to learn and thrive during the pandemic
Chameera Laknath
Students help each other to learn and thrive during the pandemic

Now that schools have restarted, children are very happy and seem to have adjusted well to the new normal.

Uthmini comments that “Although this is a new situation for us, I am really happy that we are back at school. There are kids who struggled with remote learning so it is especially good for them that we are back at school. There are also lots of only children who would have been so lonely at home for so many months. Those children are so happy now to be back at school.”

Ramuditha agrees. “I was so happy when we restarted. During curfew I dreamt of the day school would start again. It is much easier to learn when we can interact with our teachers.

It’s not just me. My friends also feel happy that we are back to school. I also have all the support of my parents as well.”

He is also quick to point out that safety is an important priority and that each student has a role to play. “It is really important that we have reopened school but especially because we now have proper guidelines to keep us safe. Our Principal, our teachers and our prefects are working well together to make sure that everyone sticks to these guidelines. Personally, I always remind myself and my friends to stick to the new rules”.

As a Prefect, Uthmini has extra responsibilities now that safety and health is such a high priority. “Now I have some new duties as well. We have to make sure that all our friends wear masks, use sanitizers and practice physical distancing. It is up to all of us to enforce these rules and I get a lot of support from my friends”.

She continues to detail her duties. “We now have Health Committees for each class. We have a Health President, Secretary and two other members. They report on temperature checks, keep attendance and health logs, ensure that classrooms are cleaned and sanitized and ensure that group sizes are within guidelines.”

Looking around as masked students head back and forth from pristine classrooms in orderly fashion, it is clear that a system is in place and that it is functioning well.

Ramuditha, Uthmini and their friends are happy again. They have always loved school but now they do not take anything for granted.

Back to school, happy and safe.
Chameera Laknath
Back to school, happy and safe.

Ramuditha has a message for children like him around the world.

I think around the world, in places where there is still lockdown, kids might have forgotten about their studies. As long as the proper safety regulations are in place I think it is really important to get back to school. You can do it!”.

Our Lady’s Upper School has shown that it is possible to work together and keep learning no matter what the challenge.

UNICEF continues to support communities across Sri Lanka during the pandemic. Interventions, so far, have focused on identifying and assisting underserved students and families who face particular challenges when it comes to distance learning. To address these needs, UNICEF has provided curricular content for blended learning,  carried out competency-assessments to identify and address learning gaps, and rolled out an awareness campaign at all levels to promote knowledge of IPC guidelines and instil confidence in a safe return to school.