UNICEF program for children in NE inaugurated

[TamilNet, Thursday, 09 January 2003, 18:13 GMT]
The UNICEF on Thursday marked the start of a program specially formulated for the children of the war-torn North-East province, the ‘Every Child in School Programme,’ with an inaugural speech by the Sri Lankan government’s minister for human resources development, education and cultural affairs, Mr. Karunasena Kodithuwakku, at the St. Mary’s college in Trincomalee.

Every child in school programme.
UNICEF resident representative Ted Chaipan distributes UNICEF school kits to a Muslim Grade One student at Trincomalee Zahira Muslim Maha Vidyalayam.
Mr. Kodithuwakku, whose speech in English at the event was translated into Tamil by Mr. Thillai Nadarajah, additional secretary to the ministry, said at the event that the ‘unfortunate’ events of the past decades have pushed behind the educational development of the children of the North-East province, and about 65,000 children who should be in school are not attending schools.

Sources in the Department of Education said that more than 300,000 children were enrolled in Grade one Thursday in other parts of the country, and in the North-East alone, about 75,000 children were enrolled.

Mr. Ted Chaiban, the UNICEF’s Sri Lanka representative, said at the event, " UNICEF's commitment is to ensure that all children receive a good quality basic education with primary education level as a minimum. To achieve this goal, the Ministry of Education as well as individual schools and communities will deliberately seek out children not in school. Such children would include those in welfare centres, those in previously inaccessible areas, those in the remote and rural areas of the ‘borders’ of districts, working children, children in institutions and children with special needs and disabilities."

Ms. Penny Thorpe, first secretary to the British High Commission in Colombo, Dr.G.B.Gunawardene, Director General of the National Institute of Education, Ms. Indrani Kariyawasam, Additional Secretary to the Ministry of Education and Mr.S.Rangaraja, Chief Secretary of the NEPC, also participated at the event.

Karunasena Kodituwakku.
Minister Karunasena Kodituwakku speaking at the function.
St. Mary’s is one of the national schools in Trincomalee. Minister Kodithuwakku distributed school kits to children from Grade one at the school, and later attended similar inaugural functions at the Sinhala Madya MahaVidyalayam and the Zahira Maha Vidyalayam, all in Trincomalee.

According to Mr. Kodithuwakku, the dropout rate for students in the North-East has reached an staggering 16 percent, while the national average stood at 4 percent. Many schools in the North-East lack trained teachers, buildings, laboratories and sanitary facilities. "We are happy that with the assistance of the World Bank, we have been able to earmark 1 billion rupees for the rehabilitation of the school system in the province," Mr. Kodithuwakku said.

Mr. Kodithuwakku continued: "We have not had events of this nature all over the country for the past few decades. This manifests the emerging unity amongst ourselves and the shedding of petty thinking that led to the disowning of the future for these children and to all of us.

"This is indeed an unusual and extraordinary event. A national function is held in Trincomalee, the capital of North-East, marking a year of peace in the country after a few decades of destruction. Trincomalee may not have been the ideal site for a function of this nature a year ago. But today it is one of the most ideal locations with the peace process gaining momentum. Trincomalee in is a city of our country where all three communities live in harmony.

"It is partly the separation of communities in education and many other short sighted policies that led to the building of distrust and hatred between communities, and finally a destructive civil war. The holding of this function in Trincomalee in many respects, I hope, will boost the peace building process.

" This function symbolizes the beginning of the new era. The children who begin schooling today represent and actually are our future. As adults, we would now be able to stand in their presence and tell them that we are sincere in our commitment to dawning them a bright future. A future that is peaceful in which they can live like true human beings. We do not have to feel shy and guilty any more. The efforts made by all of us have enabled us to move towards bringing peace for them and to us all.

Every child in school programme.
Grade One Tamil students enrolled Thursday at Trincomalee St Mary's College where Minister Kodithuwakku participated.

"Dreadful decades of fighting are now behind us. Guns have been silenced. No more does the fear stalk us. Thus the creation of a new era has begun. The promotion of a Sri Lankan identity from their childhood is very important. The cosmopolitan city of Trincomalee is the ideal centre to begin the promotion of Sri Lankan identity from their childhood.

"The holding of this function in the North-East is yet more significant. It symbolizes our commitment to rebuild the entire North-East and the conflict affected adjoining districts for the future of these provinces and for us. The rebuilding process is now on."

Every child in school programme.
Grade One Muslim students enrolled Thursday at Trincomalee Zahira Muslim Maha Vidyalayam where Minister Kodithuwakku participated.


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