After the blast: Schools re-open for second term tomorrow | Sunday Observer

After the blast: Schools re-open for second term tomorrow

A priest prays with the family of a seven-year-old victim of a bomb blast
A priest prays with the family of a seven-year-old victim of a bomb blast

A decade of peace! It has been ten quiet years where no sound of a bomb blast was heard throughout the country.

It was in 2009 the gruesome civil war between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) ended. Hopes were high since then, that the younger generations will be freed of such violence and bloodshed. Many efforts were under-way promoting reconciliation, peace and harmony. Yet, unfortunately, terror struck again on April 21, 2019, killing more than 250 people of which police reports stated approximately 50 were children.

Today, two weeks after the Easter Sunday bomb blasts, people are slowly trying to get their lives back to normalcy, but the physical and psychological scars of the victimised still remain unhealed. Especially children under the age of 10 had never heard or seen bomb explosions, deaths and experienced curfew.

The government has decided to re-open the schools for the second academic term tomorrow, Monday, May 6. Back to school, children will have to adhere to the old war regime - security checkups, books in clear bags, and many more safeguards implemented for their own safety.

How ready are our schools to implement these safety measures? How could we support a generation of students who have been thrust suddenly into this war against terror? The Sunday Observer explores.

The Ministry of Education has decided to re-open schools island wide tomorrow (May 6, 2019) for the second academic year after the attacks. “Schools will re-open with increased security in compliance with government instructions. A comprehensive security plan will be in force in and around schools when schools reopen to ensure the safety of students, teachers and the non-academic staff.

“We discussed with the defence authorities to ensure the security of schools around the country before the commencement of the second term. Every school will be thoroughly inspected before the resumption of academic activities and every school will have at least one security personnel,” Education Minister, Akila Viraj Kariyawasam told a media briefing at Temple Trees.

The Education Ministry has issued a special circular which aims at assuring the safety of school children and the school community at large. A security committee has been set up in all schools focusing attention on 18 matters including ensuring the safety of students when they enter and leave school, checking students’ bags, confirming the identity of students, ensuring hostel security, adopting appropriate communication methods to inform the school community in any eventuality and methods to ensure communication between parents and teachers.

Safety guidelines for students

  •  Be vigilant. Inform a teacher and/or parent if you see any strangers or unfamiliar things happening in and around school
  • Inform of suspicious parcels/packages/bags to teachers and/or parents
  • In case a suspicious item is found - do not approach touch or move it. Do not gather near the item. Do call security/an adult
  • Do not gather in groups/crowds near the school gates or in the school surroundings.

The Minister added that principals, teachers, students, parents and alumni have a responsibility to be alert on the prevalent danger. “The decision to reopen schools was taken after extensive discussions with defence authorities and on the advice of intelligence agencies. There is no point in closing schools any further as the security forces have taken measures to provide tight security. The security in all schools and the surrounding areas will be further strengthened to ensure the safety of students and staff members,” he said.

“However, Catholic schools will re-open after further discussions between the security forces and the school authorities of these schools. The August school vacation will be shortened to cover the class syllabus due to the delay in the commencement of the second term. The Traffic Police will pay special attention to school vans as well. School vans will not be allowed to be parked near schools. Legal action will be taken against drivers if they carry more than the permitted number of children,” he added.

The minister said that the Art of Living Organisation in India together with local authorities will implement a special counselling program for children affected by disasters. “They will provide material and counselling programs for the affected children. The Suraksha insurance scheme implemented by the Education Ministry will also provide compensation for the affected children,” he said.

Principal, Sri Jayewardenepura Maha Vidyalaya, Kotte, Major D.A.D. Wanaguru said that with the guidelines of the Education Ministry, a security committee was appointed. “The current situation prevailing in the country is really pathetic and parents fear to send children to school. We do not know how and in which form the terrorists will attack in future so it creates a lot of fear in parents and children. Some parents have volunteered to stand outside the school for the safety of the children and categorised into three groups with each parent allocated specific times for duty,” he said.

School principals islandwide should be made aware on security and safety measures. “The tri-forces in Sri Lanka have been doing a good job. They have so far found many terrorists responsible for the attack. The Western Province Secretariat has appointed police and army personnel for the protection of schools. The Mirihana police have been giving emergency and security training for the parents who volunteered to stand outside schools. We cannot fear and stay forever inside homes. We must go about our daily life routine,” he added.

The General Secretary of the Educational Non-academic Employees Union, Ajith. K. Thilakaratne said that the government has not appointed enough security guards to protect approximately 42 lakhs of students and resources in schools. “The government gives less priority in recruiting security guards compared to other vacancies. Around 2000 provincial schools do not have security guards. Around 95 percent of schools do not have walls or fences for protection. This can permit outsiders to attack schools. Even schools with large land areas have only one guard. Most of them lack uniforms and safety equipment. Sometimes the police officers have difficulties in identifying the guards. This is a very sad situation. We request the government to recruit security guards in proportion to the number of students and resources in each school. They should also deploy at least two security guards in schools at night,” he said.

“I fear to send my children to school. As my children go to a Roman Catholic school, I fear that the terrorists might suddenly attack the school. We do not know how and when the terrorists will strike. The government has implemented strict security measures in schools but still I fear to send my children to school. We faced this issue of protection during the 1986 insurrection in Sri Lanka. Those difficult days have dawned again. These attacks are new to our children as they have not heard about bombings and curfews before. I hope things will be back to normal and we all will be safe to live in this island very soon,” said a parent whose child attends St. Lawrence’s Convent, Colombo.

Vice Principal of Ladies’ College, Colombo Deepika Dassanaike said that tight security and safety measures have been implemented in school. “We have uploaded the safety and security guidelines on the school website for parents and students to adhere them. In the present extenuating circumstances, the safety and well-being of our students and staff are paramount. To this end, with the advice and the recommendation of the authorities, we have endeavoured to put in place extensive security and safety and prepared a set of safety and security guidelines to enable the smooth management of day-to-day operations in the present context,” she said.

These attacks have been completely a new thing for the younger generation who have not experienced such a tragedy before. Most victimised children and those that were witnesses have been affected mentally. Dr. N. Kumaranayake, Psychiatrist at the Base Hospital, Kiribathgoda spoke to the Sunday Observer about the reaction of children after disaster, on how to deal with a victimised child and to help him recover from trauma.

“In childhood traumatic grief, the interaction between trauma and grief symptoms is such that any thoughts or reminders, even happy ones, about the person who died can lead to frightening thoughts, images, or memories of how the person died.

Traumatic reactions can include a variety of responses, such as intense and ongoing emotional upset, depressive symptoms or anxiety, behavioural changes, difficulties with self-regulation, problems relating to others or forming attachments, regression or loss of previously acquired skills, attention and academic difficulties, nightmares, difficulty in sleeping and eating, and physical symptoms, such as aches and pains. Older children may use drugs or alcohol, behave in risky ways, or engage in unhealthy sexual activity,” Dr. Kumaranayake said.