Focus/Spotlight

Covid-19 pandemic – Education sector grappling to adapt

Mental wellbeing deeply affected

By Sarah Hannan

Another week of holidays for schools as well as tertiary and private education institutes is now setting the timelines of Sri Lanka’s education sector as all stakeholders involved struggle to follow a proper plan on how teachers could continue their now irregular teaching practices as they are torn between online education and in-class education.

While some children are too oblivious to the impending impact on their education, some are truly taking in the heat as the Advanced Level (A/L) and Ordinary Level (O/L) exam dates draw closer, and the Grade Five Scholarship exam too is still a go for September.

Parents and children

Now burdened with completing the school assignments shared on WhatsApp groups by class teachers in the more tech-savvy suburban and metropolitan households are parents and children. However, what we must understand is that this too is only afforded to a fraction of schoolchildren and university students who have the privilege of affording a computer, laptop, or smartphone and internet access.

In last week’s article, we highlighted the challenges and observations shared by parents and teachers alike on how they were adapting to this change that was presented by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. This week we spoke to a specialist in the field of child and adolescent mental health, psychologist Niluka Wickramasingha, on the short and long-term implications it would have on children.

“We are faced with a pandemic and it is prompting us to adapt on a daily basis. We are all feeling a little anxious about what would happen the next day, and with the spike in positive Covid-19 cases recorded over the previous week, the students and teachers are forced to take a step back again,” Wickramasingha told The Sunday Morning.

She noted that this change of setting can in the long term affect the mental wellbeing of children who are forced into staying indoors, having to follow lessons over a Zoom session or Skype call, or understand the assignments and complete them with or without the assistance of their parents.

“I think even the parents are finding it a little challenging as they are now going back to work and would have a very short window of time to spend with their children, during which time they have to assist the kids with their school homework. They too must be facing some level of anxiety as they grapple with finding the work-life balance and patience to sit with their children for homework,” she said.

Wickramasingha elaborated that some families would have already figured this out by having a schedule planned out for the entire family and their time managed neatly. However, the majority of them, especially those in the service industry, must be finding it difficult as they work long hours and have little to no time to spend with the children.

Right to education deprived

Meanwhile, Ceylon Teachers’ Union General Secretary Joseph Stalin said that even two weeks after schools reopened, there seems to be no solid plan on how classes should be conducted.

“The majority of schoolchildren are deprived of their basic rights to be educated and with the Ministry of Education bringing in the technological aspect and promoting online and electronic media education methods, there is a big gap being created. Only the children who have access to any type of technology have the ability to be educated,” he said.

When asked about the measures in place to deliver lessons to children who have no access to a television, radio, or smartphone with a good data connection, Stalin said that the Ministry as well as Department of Education officials have failed to assist these less fortunate children.

“They promised many things and said that if all else fails, they would post the lessons to children. That has not happened to date and there is no plan on how the lessons would be repeated for the bigger portion of schoolchildren. Even the teachers are now struggling to conduct lessons, as one week they are required to work from home and the next they are required to attend school,” Stalin noted.

No decision on way forward

Ministry of Education Secretary N.H.M. Chithrananda, speaking to The Sunday Morning on Thursday (16), said that on Friday (17) the Ministry and the Department of Education were to decide on whether children should be asked to attend school.

“There was a compromise and now many schoolchildren, especially from the Rajanganaya area, are required to self-quarantine and some have been tested positive for Covid-19. Assessing the situation at hand, we will also need to have a discussion with the health authorities on how we could continue with the lessons for these children,” he said.

Chithrananda also noted that a decision would be taken in consultation with the Department of Examinations on the dates for the upcoming Grade Five Scholarship examination as well as the GCE A/L and O/L examinations, should the risk of community spread spark in the coming days.