COLOMBO, June 22, 2022 – Sri Lankan authorities announced over the weekend that state and government-sanctioned private schools across Colombo and surrounding regions will be closed over the coming week, in another blow to children’s education, already suffering from years of disruption due to COVID-19 is affected.
The move comes amid a worsening nationwide fuel shortage, which has left parents waiting in queues for up to two days – or over 50 hours – to fill up their cars. While parents are queuing to fill up, many children accompany them for hours or stay at home and worry about their parents’ well-being. Queuing for gas also keeps parents away from work, which puts further financial strain on families.
Without enough fuel for private vehicles and public transportation, many children across the country have no way of getting to school, even in regions where schools are officially open. Only 20% of public bus services across the country are operational and private transport services such as trishaws [motorised rickshaws]are also only partially utilized as drivers are stuck in long fuel queues.
Sri Lanka is facing its worst economic crisis since independence, with food security, agriculture, livelihoods and access to healthcare being particularly hard hit. Many schools in Sri Lanka were closed for a year and a half during the peak of the pandemic, but have been closed multiple times since reopening in early 2022 due to the current crisis.
This latest closure will further disrupt children’s education in major cities and communities and prevent children from accessing free school meals, a lifeline for the country’s most vulnerable children. A recent needs assessment by Save the Children found that 50% of families were struggling to support their children’s education as a result of the crisis, with some children already dropping out of school.
While the Sri Lankan government has urged schools across the country to reintroduce online learning systems that were in place during COVID-19, many children and families do not have the money to afford data. Children have also told Save the Children that in many rural areas they do not have access to the internet or share a device with multiple children.
Hasna*, 16, a student from Colombo, told Save the Children:
“The queue for kerosene oil made me very sad. We’ve never had to do anything like this, but now we have to go and there’s nothing to do. My mother has a headache and it scares me.
“Skipping the queues is a huge expense for us – the bus used to cost 30 rupees (8 cents USD) but now we have to pay 200 rupees (56 cents USD) so we all try to go together and the cost to share But now the situation with the trishaws [motorised rickshaw] It’s the same with buses – everyone is on strike and there are no buses. The only reason I was able to do my O level in a trishaw was because the driver knew us and was only willing to wait in line because we were. Otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to go.”
Ranjan Weththasinghe, Program Director of Save the Children in Sri Lanka said:
“A recent needs assessment by Save the Children shows that 50% of families are struggling to support their children’s education, and some children are already dropping out of school. Parents must decide whether to buy data to access online courses or use that money for groceries. Faced with such a decision, families make the life-saving decision. But at what cost?
“Children across Sri Lanka have had a terrifying two years in which COVID-related school closures completely impacted their ability to receive a basic education. This economic crisis is making things worse. Not only are schools closing again, but families have even fewer resources at their disposal to keep children from learning than they did before the pandemic.
“We are deeply concerned that this deepening economic crisis may hold Sri Lankan children back for years to come. Children are the future of the country. Your needs must come first. Now is the time for the international community to show solidarity with the people of Sri Lanka.”
The UN and humanitarian organizations are calling on donors to urgently provide life-saving assistance to the women, men and children most affected by the crisis to prevent the humanitarian situation in the country from deteriorating.
Save the Children Sri Lanka is rolling out a Food for Education program in 887 schools in seven districts across the country, many of which will be affected by the recent closures. The project complements the government’s school meals program to improve children’s nutrition and reduce school dropout rates across the country.
- Save the Children conducted a rapid needs assessment of a total of 2309 households in nine districts in Sri Lanka from May to June 2022.
- Save the Children Sri Lanka aims to help one million people through humanitarian assistance delivered to vulnerable communities in nine districts across the country. Save the Children’s response will meet the immediate food and nutrition needs of the most vulnerable populations and protect and diversify livelihoods. It will support children in small and resource-poor schools in both rural and urban areas to ensure they have uninterrupted access to education.
- Sri Lanka used to be an upper-middle income country but the 2020 pandemic resulted in the country being downgraded to lower-middle income status.
- The World Bank estimates that over 500,000 people in Sri Lanka may have been pushed into poverty as a result of the COVID-19 crisis and that number is now likely to rise.
- Sri Lanka made steady progress towards the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, particularly in relation to poverty reduction (SDG 1), reducing maternal, newborn and child mortality (SDG 3) and literacy, school enrollment and completion rates for primary and and secondary education ( SDG 4). However, the current economic crisis threatens to reverse many of these gains, including the peace dividends.
For further inquiries please contact:
Daphnee Cook, Daphnee.Cook@savethechildren.org;
Emily Wight, Emily.Wight@savethechildren.org;
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