Photo: Reading and writing do not come easy to 12-year-old Kala, who lives in rural Sri Lanka
Twelve-year-old Kala wipes the palms of her hands on her school uniform. The student seated two seats away from her has stood up to read to the class. Two more classmates to go, and then it will be her turn.
Kala dreads this moment, as she worries about stumbling through the words and sentences. She wishes she could read as well as Kartika, whose words flow from her Tamil text book like a small waterfall in the jungle.
While reading and writing do not come easy to Kala, she is not the only one in her class struggling with school. Many children want to learn, but achieving basic literacy remains a constant challenge.
Mr Sivakumar, a teacher at Kala’s school in Batticaloa, explains that most students get very little support at home: “Many parents have not been to school or have little education themselves – sometimes they don’t understand the importance of education.”
Kala’s mother is unable to read, so Kala’s older sister helps her.
In addition, Kala and many of her classmates have to walk several kilometres each day to and from school. In the early morning this isn’t too hard but, by the afternoon, the heat is at its peak. Rural roads in Sri Lanka are mostly untarred and dusty, and there are no large trees to provide shade, so the daily commute can be exhausting.
Most children don't own proper shoes and come to school in rubber slippers or barefoot. The difficulties children face in travelling to their local school results in high rates of absenteeism, and some children drop out permanently.
Nonetheless, Kala is aware of the importance education: “Reading is important. If anyone asks me to read something, I want to be able to read without fear.
“I need help with reading. Right now, this is what I need help with the most.”
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