Throwing a lifeline online | Sunday Observer

Throwing a lifeline online

12 June, 2021

As online education becomes the order of the day, students, teachers and parents grapple with all kinds of issues while trying to adjust to the new realities and concerns.

Teachers face many challenges to provide the material through online platforms that they are unfamiliar with. It is a learning curve for all them especially for the older teachers who are not technology savvy as the younger ones. Most of the time, they need someone else’s support to operate.

On the other hand, online learning takes a toll on the children as they are confined to their homes without opportunity to meet friends and do fun activities. Some of the Principals of leading schools in Colombo voiced their experiences and concerns of online learning, and about the new approaches they have adapted to make online learning a better experience for students.

No alternative

Ananda College Principal S. M. Keerthirathne said online learning is not the best option for children but they are left with no other alternative.

“Education is not about pouring information into students’ heads. Rather, it is about overall development that includes sports, participation in societies and socialising. Even during the pandemic, we provided other experiences to our children, such as online Sil program, online workshops, Vesak lanterns exhibition and conducting society meetings. Older students also had exams via Google.”

He added that the teaching profession is one of the most challenged in modern times. “Earlier, children were used to a daily schedule. But now, life has become disorganised and the burden of disciplining the children now lies completely in the hands of parents. So parents are pressured and they live in frustration, trying to balance their children’s education, work from home responsibilities, and looking after the elderly parents apart from their general household duties. Household bills and cost of living have gone up. Many have to deal with the loss of family members to Covid-19 and there is grief and trauma to deal with on top of that,” the Principal said.

He added that many things should have been considered before moving on to online education. Infrastructure is a dire need. “When we started online lessons last year, the teachers and students were not prepared. There were no devices for a majority of students and teachers. The devices are expensive. It is true that we are a leading school in the country.

But people don’t realise that most of our students entered this school through the scholarship examination and they come from all over the island. Now with the pandemic, they are back in their home and are compelled to join online. Many such students lacked the devices and internet connections. Sometimes, they live in remote areas with no signals. Even in Colombo, there are students who face financial issues and unable to spend for devices when the economy has taken a nose dive,” the Principal said.

Long term solutions

Principal Keerthirathne added that online lessons would probably continue for the rest of the year and stressed the need for long term solutions. “A tax free system should be introduced to purchase devices at low rates.” He also stressed on the need for a mechanism to monitor students during online lessons. “Some children need extra attention. For some, online education is the ideal way to slack. Learning is completely in the hands of the students and most students take advantage of the system,” he added.

Principal of Visakha Vidyalaya, Colombo Sandamali Aviruppola stressed that islandwide schools should get on board online education and it should be improved so that it compensates for the loss of social interactions among children. She said online education would be successful only if all students have equal access to it.

Evolving roles

“In Sri Lanka, we have very good teachers all over the country with meticulously prepared education material. All students get the same examination paper for national examinations no matter where they are. Therefore, when online education becomes the standard system, all students should have the opportunity to access it. Otherwise, there would be divisions in education in this country,” Principal Aviruppola said.

She added that teachers at Visakha had to evolve from their traditional teaching methods. “Teachers who hadn’t even looked at a computer somehow managed to get onboard, learning from their children, from the neighbour or friends. This pandemic has become a blessing in disguise in that sense.

She listed out several things that parents could do to help the school conduct online classes successfully.

“Parents must ensure to provide their children with the proper tools, which does not necessarily mean the technological devices. They should also provide a peaceful environment for the children while giving them the motivation. Parents should remember the online schedules and make sure that their children don’t miss classes. They should also help the students obtain the material for the lessons and talk to their children about the lesson after each class to make sure that they are following lessons. If necessary, they should also discuss with teachers about any issue,” said the Principal.

She added that during free times, parents should allow their children to engage in aesthetic activities, let them enjoy their free time with what they like to do, instead of filling their schedules with more online classes outside of school and pressuring them to study all the time.

Principal of Dharmapala Vidyalaya, Pannipitiya K. G. Wimalasena explained how teaching was carried out during the pandemic.

“We sent lessons to students via WhatsApp in the beginning when the pandemic broke out and later we made videos by bringing teachers to school and recording lessons. These videos were aired on YouTube. Later, we obtained zoom licences and started classes for all grades.

We gave different time slots for each section to avoid inconvenience to parents who may have more than one child in different grades studying in the school. We also made sure not to have long hours for lessons as we saw the students getting tired and loosing attention,” he said.

He added that classes usually run for about six hours including breaks of about one and a-half hours in between. For the primary level, the lesson times are shorter.


“We have identified that students are psychologically affected staying at home with pressures from parents and online lessons without room for social interactions. So we conduct motivational programs such as musical evenings by bringing an orchestra, mental health awareness programs. via Zoom organised by our past pupils association. We have to do this kind of aesthetic programs at least once in three months so that our children can enjoy other things in life like appreciating a song, apart from lessons.

We also have parents meetings where they pose questions and issues they face in online education. We make adjustments with their suggestions. We ask children who do not have devices to go to a relative’s house and join lessons. We also record the lessons and send via WhatsApp to those who missed.”

The Principal added that some teachers are not familiar with online teaching and making presentations. “It would be extremely helpful if the National Institute of Education could make presentations and videos available for purchase so that it could ease the burden on our teachers. Participation is a little low in the A/L classes because students participate in online tuition classes as well.

So we conduct motivation sessions to attract them to the school and break the monotony.”

Among the many dynamics of online education, one aspect that the educationists spoke with one voice was to let children be children. More than anything else, while protecting the young generation from Covid-19, the important thing is to ensure their general well-being and avoid unnecessary burdens so that Sri Lanka’s future generation is healthy, accomplished and happy.