Back to school after Easter bombings | Sunday Observer

Back to school after Easter bombings

While attendance reaches normal levels in schools island wide after the assurance of the Army Commander, Lieutenant General Mahesh Senanayake, Minister of Education, Akila Viraj Kariyawasam pledged to install CCTV cameras in Government schools throughout the island and reiterated that the Ministry at present has no plans to postpone the exams scheduled for the next few months.

“The Examinations’ Department will have to hold a number of examinations in the coming months and we have no intention of postponing these exams only because parents refuse to send their children to schools. CCTV cameras are to be set up at all government schools island-wide in order to strengthen the security system. The Government would bear the project’s expenses,” said Kariyawasam speaking to the Sunday Observer last week. He expected that due to security measures taken jointly with the armed forces, Police and civilian School Security Committees (SSC), that 100 percent attendance will be achieved within the week itself.

The Ministry had issued clear instructions to school principals, to local, zonal, provincial and national education authorities and the local government authorities on ensuring the security of students, teachers and school property, and of action to be taken in an emergency. While the SSCs are tasked with the responsibility of checking those entering school, and surveillance of class rooms and school premises no circular was issued from the Ministry stopping children from bringing usual bags to school or ordering transparent bags to be brought therein, said the Minister.

“Children need not necessarily buy them although school principals order to bring them. This action has been taken in several Provincial Schools as a result of the authority given to Principals to take appropriate action in their particular schools to ensure the security of students and teachers,” said Kariyawasam. He advised parents not to fall into the traps laid by anti-government elements and trade unions to keep the national education disrupted forever and called for them to send children to school without fear.

Additional Secretary, Ministry of Education, Hemantha Premathilake confirmed that there is an increase in the attendance of students after schools started on May 21. “According to reports received from schools, island wide, it is clear that 85 – 90 percent of the students are back in school this week. Schools are back to normal.” The academic term both in schools and at higher education institutions returned to normalcy last week with the Catholic Schools, Universities and other tertiary education institutions reopening for the term on Tuesday, May 21.

Parents, principles and trade unions alike praised the Army Commander’s statement about strengthening the security of schools and encouraging parents to send their children to school. Noting that since the second school term started and the security forces are deployed with all security measures in place for students to attend schools many parents trusting unconfirmed stories, rumours and gossip are still reluctant to send their children to schools, Army Commander, Lt. Gen. Senanayeka said “At this juncture, I emphasise that since members of the Armed Forces and the Police on a priority basis have taken all necessary steps to ensure security arrangements for all schools, parents should now send their children to schools without resorting to irrational fears as such.”

The Principal of Sri Jayawardenepura Maha Vidyalaya Kotte, Major D.A.D. Wanaguru said that although schools started on May 6, 2019, the student turnout was low but now it’s back to normal due to tight security measures and the statement made by Army Commander. “We send children into the schools after a thorough check making sure that the school premises are safe for students. The armed forces and parents supported us very much on this task,” he said. He questioned the rationality of keeping the children at home, when all security measures are already in place in schools. “This is foolish. For how long are parents going to keep children away from schools due to fear?” he asked.

Dammika Perera, a parent whose child attends Ananda College, Colombo noted the increase in student turn- out throughout the week. “My son said that most of his classmates had attended school this week. The statement of Army Commander gave us more confidence to send our children back to school,” Perera said.

Ranjan Ramakrishnan, a parent from Kandy criticised the Government for deploying parents to check the students’ school bags. “Parents generally do not have training or proper knowledge on checking bags. They cannot do such a job without any training”. This is a wrong decision by the Ministry,” he said.

A parent whose child attends St. Lawrence’s Convent, Colombo said that she still fears sending her daughter to school although it has been said that safety measures have been taken. “We cannot take the risk of losing our children although the Government and the Education Ministry assured us about the safety and security measures implemented.

The schools have ordered students to bring see-through school bags. Terrorism cannot be stopped or solved by changing school bags. Checking school bags early morning is futile. It cannot detect 100 percent if a child’s bag has weapons hidden inside. Why cannot the Government install some metal detectors in schools island wide to assure 100 percent safety?” she said.

An anonymous parent said that her son was denied entrance to school when he went with his normal school bag. “He was told to take his books and other stuff out and leave his school bag on the floor at the entrance of the school just because he did not carry a transparent bag.

Terrorists will not send bombs in school bags today like the LTTE did long ago. This is a foolish decision taken by some school principals.

The Ceylon Teachers Union (CTU), General Secretary, Joseph Stalin was in agreement. “Some schools have insisted that only transparent bags be allowed inside. Most parents buy school bags in the first semester and having to buy a second bag later creates difficulties for them. According to Joseph, while student attendance was limited to about 30 percent island wide during the first two weeks but had returned to normal since May 21, after the Wesak holidays and Army Commander’s assurance of safety.

Joseph cautioned parents and urged the government to regulate the collection of money from parents by certain school administrators on the pretext of purchasing security equipment. “We have heard that some schools are collecting money from students to buy CCTV cameras. If the Government had permitted the installation of CCTV cameras inside schools, it should take steps to do that using money allocated to the Ministry or provincial ministries,” he said.

According to Education Ministry sources the Ministry Secretary, Nihal Ranasinghe, is looking into complaints received by the Ministry in this regard. At the Minister’s request.

Meanwhile, UNICEF Sri Lanka runs a communication campaign entitled #BacktoSchoolSL highlighting that it is time for children to go back to school and begin studying. The campaign is currently running across TV, Radio, Print and Digital Media. Communication Officer, UNICEF Sri Lanka, Suzanne Wooster Prematilaka said that UNICEF believes that every child has the right to education, even during emergencies.

“Schools are not just about learning and books. Schools are places where friendships are built. They are also a place where children get to play, share and connect with their peers. Children deserve their childhood so that they can survive, grow, learn and develop to their fullest potential. Getting children back to school is in the best interest of all children and all of Sri Lanka,” she said.

Nivendra Uduman, Counselling Psychologist at Samutthana - The King’s College London Resource Centre for Trauma, Displacement and Mental Health spoke to the Sunday Observer on why parents fear sending children back to school and how to overcome this condition.

The absence of threat and violence and reassurance from higher ups are not always parameters to help people feel calm after an event which really shook the entire nation. Trust needs to be rebuilt, wounds require healing, and people, even though they may not have been directly affected, need time and space to grieve. There are no quick fixes, and we really need to understand and accept this as a fact,” stressed Uduman

“Easter Sunday’s event, has left a great deal of difficult emotions for people to deal with. These emotions may include fear, shame, guilt and sadness. Fear and uncertainty are what most people might feel including parents due to the security situation in the country. We are now aware that the situation has gradually subsided but there is still doubt, uncertainty and anxiety about sending children to school,” he says.

“ It might also be difficult for parents to trust what the authorities say and do due to existing gaping lapses in security and safety. I believe that tightening security and constant reassurance from the authorities are insufficient.

Schools and other relevant authorities must work with parents to address their insecurity and fear and most importantly to acknowledge it. There is also prejudice and a racial element to this situation, where certain parents might not be comfortable with their children having classmates from ‘certain communities”.

He further says that children themselves can be apprehensive. “The fear of discrimination, harassment and bullying can also keep children away from school.

This situation needs to be addressed on a deeper level, addressing bias, prejudice, stereotyping and most importantly inter-cultural understanding must take place even at the school level. 

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