Why Are Rural Educational Systems Seriously Neglected In Sri Lanka?

Due to a thorough research conducted, I found that the rural children are in the fields with their parents at young ages, usually before they begin attending school at age five. The children help parents with plugging out the harvest, weeding the grass, fertilizing, and watering the farm using buckets added to which sometimes is  metal crushing, fishing in nearby streams all of which help transfer skills to children at young ages. Though parents like to see their children pursue education to the highest level, they also believe that agriculture should be sustained, such being their source of sole income. Parents are accustomed to this pattern, as it has continued through generations.

A teacher who serves in a rural community school in the North Central Province explained that all most all the students in her class do not attend school during the tobacco harvesting season. People select tobacco harvesting over rice cultivation due to the high income earning potential despite the hazardous health conditions that the former brings about. A considerable population working in tobacco fields experience heart diseases such as breathing difficulty, fluctuations in blood pressure or heart rate, and increased perspiration and salivation. Despite such, parents encourage children to work in tobacco fields over attending school.

A youngster who followed this pattern (who worked in the fields with her parents after school like any other kid in the neighborhood) is now a university graduate teacher. She was the only student who passed the G.C.E Ordinary Level Examination after seven years in that rural school and was able to balance her farm work and education at immense sacrifice, to accomplish her goal of working for the government sector. However, most school aged children do not have success stories. Financial difficulties in households force children to be employed in fields, full time. This is a significant factor resulting in high percentages of under educated youth from rural communities.

A household thus makes a sacrifice to send a child to school continuously at the loss of a supplementary income to the family. It is a hard choice between investing in education for the future, versus surviving each day from hunger. The rulers have not implemented policies to support the school aged children in ultra-poor rural communities. Short term decision making, of keeping children at home for supplemental income through unskilled labor (later these employments will be the main stream income) do not contribute towards up lifting the standards of life which also results in adverse macro-economic development of the nation.

On the other hand, paucity in infrastructure development is another significant factor contributing towards under developed rural communities. A school principal whom I interviewed stated, “The teachers under my administration (Only three in the school) live from 15 Kilo Meters to 40 Kilo Meters far from the school. They selected the school, because its location was close to their home town” (Ranasignhe, personal Interview, February 02, 2015). However the selection is not without difficulty, due to lessened infrastructure facilities.

One of the teachers walks 2-3 Kilo Meters (1.25-1.87 miles) from his home to board a bus. After the bus ride of 4 Kilo Meters (2.5 miles), he walks another 3 Kilo Meters (1.87 miles) to the school. The teacher spends an hour to one and a half hours each way, a total of around 3 hours, for a productive teaching time of six hours (school hours being 7.30am -1.30 pm.).

The final 3 Kilo Meters (1.87 miles) to school was walked by all his staff members, students and parents due to the lack of a motorable road. He intentionally walks the first 2-3 Kilo Meters (1.25-1.87 miles) to school, because he could save SLR 500 ($3.50) a month. School teachers who serve in such deprived areas are entitled to an extra monthly allowance of SLR 1500 (US$ 10.60). This extra allowance becomes insignificant for teachers who live far from the school. The government subsidized monthly season ticket to ride on the state owned bus service becomes irrelevant as they do not operate in a timely fashion. Instead, extra money is spent on traveling in private buses.

Reward structures for teachers between rural and city schools are not comparable due to such poor infrastructure facilities. The specialized teachers, college graduates, and skilled teachers turn away from rural schools due to lack of amenities. Rural school teachers are not provided with housing facilities and have to be satisfied with whatever provided by the villagers. These have no running water, inadequate bathroom/toilet facilities, and are temporary structures. Access to nutritious food or desired meals is a luxury.

Besides such, the fear of wild animal attacks is another major concern. A teacher from the North Central Province mentioned that, “both students and teachers do not attend school when wild elephants are around” (Dulanjali, personal interview, March 03, 2015). No actions have been taken to tackle down these issues.

Consequently, the lack of infrastructure led to teacher shortage in deprived communities. For instance, one school has only a single appointed teacher. He is the principal as well as the teacher of all four grades. The second school has four teachers including the principal for five grades. A parent mentioned, “My daughter is good at dancing, there is no teacher to improve her skill” (Ranjini, personal interview, February 15, 2015). Though much importance is attached to English as a second language, parents complain that there is a severe dearth of teachers in rural areas. The government’s monthly incentive of SLR 1500 (US $ 10.60), has in no way induced teachers to take appointments and stay for long, under rural conditions.

In considering the above, it is apparent that authorities seem to be intentionally side stepping the issues of rural communities. Policy makers at all levels (national, provincial and local), lack servant leadership. Not only do they exercise lack of empathy to nurture the electors, they extend the same apathy towards the government machinery and those who man the system. The country is not able to tap the vast potential from the rural sector due to extremely poor educational resources allocated to them, resulting in producing an un-educated populace.

Source: Sunday Leader.