In a village near the town of Nawagattegama in the Puttalam district, a group of children climb to the highest point in the area daily – a 60-foot water tank, to study. Armed with cellphones and books, the children are using the tall tank to get a clear signal on their phones to follow online [...]

Business Times

‘Instant’ education


In a village near the town of Nawagattegama in the Puttalam district, a group of children climb to the highest point in the area daily – a 60-foot water tank, to study.

Armed with cellphones and books, the children are using the tall tank to get a clear signal on their phones to follow online classes, according to a report this week in our sister paper, the Daily Mirror, which adds that the signal is weak in the rest of the village.

The children are atop the water tower the whole day, studying online but return to their homes before dark to avoid wild animals including elephants roaming on the road. They are forced to follow this form of study due to erratic school sessions and tuition classes being conducted online.

I was reminded of this story when I heard the trio conversing under the margosa tree on Wednesday morning. “Naraka kaalayak, ape iskola lamunta, visheshayenma gam wala inna ayata (What a terrible period for school children particularly in the village),” said Kussi Amma Sera.

Den adyapana lokko, pariganaka panthi thiyana hinda, eka eka pradesha huda-kala karala thiyena kale, computer saha harihaman pone nethi adu adayam pavul wala lamaita, loku prashnayaka (With education authorities conducting some classes online during lockdown periods, these children – without computers and proper phones – are a disadvantaged lot),” noted Serapina.

Mage game, samaharawita, okkoma lamai eka gedarakata enawa, eh gedara smart-pone ekak thiyena hinda, paadam ahanna (In my village, sometimes the children will gather in one house where there is a smartphone and jointly follow the online classes),” added Mabel Rasthiyadu.

The plight of children, particularly from disadvantaged backgrounds, is unfortunate and they would be among a group of children who would be left behind if the authorities fail to provide them with the tools that privileged kids have, making it easy to follow online education.

With the COVID-19 pandemic here to stay for at least another year, education authorities should (with funds drawn from other ministries transferred to the education budget, if necessary) provide more facilities to create online teaching even through state television channels. Cable TV can also help by having a single-location site – as a CSR initiative – where children can gather and study online.

As I pondered over these issues, the phone rang. It was ‘Karapincha’ Perera, the ‘tea-kade’ gossip on the line.

“Hello, how have you been,” he asked. “Fine, fine, I was just wondering about the state of education during the COVID-19 pandemic,” I said.

“In trouble, noh! Children are suffering without proper education. Eventually, it’s the children in the village who would be left behind,” he said.

“I was thinking on the same lines. The government needs to find a mechanism to ensure children from smaller schools get the same opportunity as children from more privileged backgrounds,” I said. We then went into a long conversation about the pandemic and its impact on daily life with no end in sight.

On the topic of online education, I was drawn to an article titled ‘I don’t need to go to school, I have Google’ by an educationist which appears elsewhere in the Business Times section. Her argument is different – that online learning will not provide a wholesome education nor mould a child with values, discipline and interactive education – a point of view that is very current and timely.

Here are some extracts from her argument:

“Has the younger generation become unruly today? Are they ahead of the teacher in the use of technology? Is the time ripe to promote online learning? It’s no secret that teenagers have access to social network sites such as Facebook and Instagram. They have mastered the art of digitalisation and use it to share their feelings openly as well as to explore the world and things forbidden for them.

“In this background, the question that automatically comes to mind is: ‘Will the children use it to learn or misuse the opportunity? Will they find an easier way merely to pass exams, copy-pasting notes from Google? Are they capable of distinguishing right from wrong among the things they see on the computer screen?’

“At the international book fair at the BMICH last September I was amazed to see one area flocked by schoolchildren; the area was loaded with bundles of ‘short notes’ prepared for various subjects, meant for schoolchildren of all ages. Publishers who are so keen on promoting reading habits and educating young minds are instead promoting short-cuts to make student lives easier.

“Why do I say so? Children will buy short notes and make shorter notes, cram and pour back on the exam paper, will pass the exam, go to the university and end up as dons of universities, at least a few of them. The process will continue. Where are we heading? Where are we taking our children? We are fast becoming a generation inclined to instant things; instant food, instant success, instant marriages and instant divorces.”

This also reminded me of advertisements that I saw on social media where certain professional groups are offering to undertake project writing, MBA classroom exercises, dissertations – all for a fee. These ‘unethical’ businesses are virtually offering instant MBA and other degrees where project work is the key to get a degree and you get a degree for a project that is not yours. That’s downright cheating but in today’s world of commercialised education, it’s profits that matter, not ethics or honesty.

Coming back to the topic of online education, with the pandemic likely to continue for the whole of 2021, chances are that schools will get disrupted on-and-off whenever there are third, fourth and fifth waves of COVID-19. While there is good news of a vaccine being available in first or second quarter of 2021, when Sri Lanka would have access to this vaccine in large quantities to cover the entire population is anybody’s guess.

With possibly another year ahead in which education is likely to get disrupted, online teaching might be the only tool available to ensure teaching continues without a break. In this context, it’s imperative that education authorities consider novel methods and create the necessary infrastructure to help village students to access online classes.

As I welcomed a second mug of tea from Kussi Amma Sera, she looked at the sky and said, “Sir, wahinna yanne (Sir, it’s going to rain).” I nodded and wondered about the group of children who had to clamber atop the water tower. Rain would dash all their hopes and aspirations.

Share This Post


Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.