In 1945, the system of free education was introduced into our country. Since then.
every child over the age of five, and not more than sixteen has been entitled to free education. As a result, by the mid 20th century, Sri Lanka was among the top literate countries in Asia
By 2016, the literacy rate in the country was 92.39%, however by 2020 the country’s adult literacy rate had fallen to 91.71% (‘Macrotrends.net’), a slight drop of approximately .68%.
To make matters worse from the first quarter of 2020, COVID-19 hit the country and by March last year, schools were forced to close down. After a three-month break schools re-opened but were forced to shut down when the second wave of the virus hit the country in the aftermath of a virus outbreak in the country’s garment sector. For reasons beyond the understanding of ordinary individuals, the factory owners let the virus which initially hit their companies spiral out of control.
Perhaps it was a search for profits which initially prevented these companies from taking effective action to halt the spread of the deadly virus within their work places. But today, it is the children of this country who are paying the price for the failure of big business.
To ensure that, the educational process did not completely grind to a halt, universities initiated programmes for virtual learning for their students.
Soon schools too adopted similar programmes. Almost immediately sections of the political establishment began crowing over the fact that they had been able to successfully tackle the problem faced by the education sector regarding the ‘recommencement’ of classes for school-goers via virtual education (computer programmes).
These virtual classes are still in their infancy. Parents, especially those of pre-school and primary school-aged children have pointed out many problems that beset them as highlighted in the ‘Life’ section of the Daily Mirror.
Sadly, many politicians in government seem to be blissfully unaware that large sections of our population have lost their income to the virus. According to statistics published, over 500,000 daily-paid wage earners have lost their jobs, large sections of workers in the mercantile sector are still receiving only half their wages. They cannot afford to purchase computers for their kids. Even worse it is mainly the poorer families who are hardest hit. They tend to have a larger number of children, making it impossible for many of these kids to follow virtual classes...
The ‘annual report of the Computer Literacy Statistics of the Census and Statistics Department 2019’, shows only one computer is available in 22.0% of households in the country. That is, only around one in five households owns either a desktop or a laptop computer. This percentage is 38.0 in the urban sector and Rural and Estate sectors show 19.7% and 4.6% respectively.
According to the Census and Statistics report of 2018 there were 10,175 government schools with a total student population of 4,214,772 in the census year. As we mentioned earlier, only one computer is available to 22% of the households in the country.
This in turn means over 75% or 3,161,079 children out of 4,214,772 students in government schools (and these are the schools where the poorer sections of our countrymen study) do not have private computer facilities. The first case of COVID-19 in our country was discovered on March 27, 2020 and schools were closed from March 2020. Schools were re-opened briefly. Since the second wave of the virus hit, schools have been closed from thence onwards.
What then is the future for the majority of the country’s children? During the initial stages of President Gotabaya’s term, we saw him successfully controlling the spread of the virus. Unfortunately, he and his government have not been able to bring the second wave under control. The main victims of this failure have been the country’s children.
Children are the future of this country, but, if government is not able to provide our children with a wholesome education, the next generation of our kids may end up as hewers of wood and drawers of water to international and local capitalists.