Sri Lanka continues to disrupt education in Tamil areas

[TamilNet, Friday, 27 June 1997, 23:59 GMT]
The Sri Lankan government's embargo on the Tamil homelands has starved Tamil schools of books and equipment for many years. Recently UNICEF attempted to alleviate the situation by supplying 3,000 floor mats for the Tamil school children to sit on during lessons. According to reports from Vavuniya, the Sri Lankan government has also stopped these from being delivered, continuing the systematic disruption of Tamil youngsters' education.

The halting of UNICEF's gift to the Tamil schools is another aspect of the Sri Lankan government's blatant racial discrimination. The government has not only disrupted the education system in the Tamil areas, it is not willing to let independent aid agencies assist the schools either. UNICEF has also allocated funds to build temporary school buildings for Tamil school children in the Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi districts, but the Sri Lankan government has blocked the work since last year.

Education is cherished in Tamil culture. Tamil parents will bear exceptional hardship to ensure their children are educated to the highest standard possible. This traditional aspect of Tamil culture enabled Tamils to do well under British colonial rule, and successive post-independence Sinhalese governments have deliberately disrupted the education mechanisms in the Tamil homelands.

Tamil schools in the Vanni are suffering heavily under the Sri Lankan government's economic embargo. Tamil schools in the east of the island, whilst not under the same absolute ban on supplies, have been deliberately starved of funds, with many schools running out of equipment, books and even chalk.

Before the Jaffna peninsula was captured by Sri Lankan troops, the peninsula's schools ran out of supplies, and the LTTE civil administration organised the local manufacture of basic stationary, and supplied some equipment, including a small computers purchased abroad or donated by the expatriate Tamil community.

In addition to starving them of equipment, Tamil schools have been bombed and shelled. In some cases, artillery bombardments have been directed at school premises as classes were being conducted. Typically, after a brief pause, in which time anxious parents would have rushed to the area, a few more salvos are fired to inflict more Tamil civilian casualties.

On 22 of September 1995, a Sri Lankan aircraft flew over a Tamil school at Nagerkoil in the Jaffna peninsula. As the Tamil children in their clearly identifiable white uniforms scattered in panic, the aircraft dropped a series of anti -personnel bombs, killing 45 and seriously injuring others.

Doctors from Medecins Sans Frontiers helped to treat the wounded. According to local aid workers, many children died in agony as the Sri Lankan government's embargo had prevented the supply of medicine, including pain killers.

Countless other Tamil schools have been destroyed by Sri Lankan shelling and bombing and in many parts of the Vanni, the classes are being held in the shade of large trees.

When Tamil areas are captured by the Sri Lankan army, new military bases are built in and around the schools thereby cutting of the education of the local Tamil population at a stroke. Many Jaffna schools have been converted into Sri Lankan army barracks.

The foreign media has been banned from the Tamil homelands for nearly two years, and even from Tamil areas the Sri Lankan government claims to have 'liberated'.

Despite the hardships, Tamil school children typically go to extra-ordinary lengths to continue their studies. Private tuition has been a thriving industry for decades in the Tamil areas. Tamil children have continued to sit and do well in the Sri Lankan government administered GCE 'O' and 'A' level examinations.

The LTTE civil administration encourages and assists the education process as much as it can. In addition to winning hearts and minds amongst the Tamil populace, the educated Tamil youth will prove a potent recruitment source in the future.

As in many other countries where racial discrimination has been the fuel for an armed struggle, the most talented Tamil youngsters will find their sole route to success blocked by the Sri Lankan government's discrimination and will turn to the LTTE.

In the 1977 elections, the Tamil people of the island voted overwhelmingly for parties supporting independence from Sri Lanka.


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