Guest post by Alan Elliott
San Francisco Bay Area native Alan Elliott is taking time out from his master’s degree studies at the University of California San Diego School of International Relations and Pacific Studies to pursue a 10-week internship in ChildFund’s Sri Lanka office. He will be regularly blogging about his experiences.
What initially drew me to ChildFund was the premium that the organization places on local solutions (i.e., through the creation of parent federations), as well as long-term commitments. My day-to-day tasks consist of learning about the specific faces and root causes of poverty in each area. Then, in consultation with the local parent federations, which are partnered with ChildFund Sri Lanka, I identify the cases that best show ChildFund’s successes. My overall goal is to not only shed light on the fantastic work that ChildFund is doing but also to piece together a coherent picture of what challenges children and their families face, both locally and in Sri Lanka as a whole.
On my first field visit, to Postholamulla School, I was shocked at the amazing contrast between conditions before ChildFund arrived and the situation afterward.
In Sri Lanka, computer and information technology skills are in dire need of improvement. The Ordinary Level exam, taken in grade 11 of secondary school as a graduation requirement, is a critical milestone for Sri Lankan children, as passing the exam is a gateway to advanced- and university-level education and often determines the direction of future careers. But island-wide, only about 50 percent of Sri Lanka’s secondary school students who elect to take the exam actually pass it. Two key factors that contribute to this problem are the lack of resources for learning and a low quality of education in poorer areas. Two years ago, the students at the Pustholamula School in Kirinda, Hambantota, were no exception.
According to the IT teacher, Mr. Rohana, the IT lab had only 10 computers and could only offer 40 minutes of class time per week. Not having enough time to learn as well as having to share computers created a situation that made acquiring strong IT skills nearly impossible.
Especially in Hambantota area, ChildFund and the local parent federation, Ruhunu Wellassa (RWAF), have identified dropping out of secondary school or not passing the exam as a root cause of poverty. Not only does it prevent bright and enthusiastic children from pursuing more education, but it also has a devastating effect on their job opportunities. Access to quality educators is also a problem here, where the best teachers are unwilling to accept lower pay or work in locations with fewer resources.
To combat this growing problem, ChildFund and RWAF began offering supplementary evening IT classes at Pustholamulla, increasing total available class time to more than four hours per week. To increase the quality of education, ChildFund conducted training for the IT teachers at schools in the area, as well as management training for the principal.
“At the College of Education, we don’t receive comprehensive training regarding computer hardware,” says Mr. Rohana, “so ChildFund’s training programs have given us a deeper knowledge of IT.”
ChildFund also provided a stipend for teachers to ease the burden of transportation to and from school. On top of this, ChildFund provided assistance with spare parts, electricity bills and maintenance costs to ensure that the students had access to reliable and fully functioning equipment.
Last year, three students chose to take IT as one of their elective exams. All three passed—a 100 percent pass rate. Says one student, “The supplementary IT courses offered by ChildFund and RWAF gave us sufficient time to study IT and the necessary edge to pass the exam.” Now all three are attending advanced-level school and excelling in their subjects.