Stories

Photo: Mrs Vijeraja has been teaching at a rural school in Batticaloa, Sri Lanka, over the last six years

There was a time when Mrs Vijeraja questioned her decision to take up a teaching post at Navakkadanamahal Vidyalayam, a rural school in Sri Lanka’s Batticaloa District. But that all changed after she attended ChildFund’s Child-Friendly Schools training.

“I have felt the change in myself after the training program,” she says.

Thanks to ChildFund’s Child-Friendly Schools program, Mrs Vijeraja’s teaching methods have been transformed. The training encourages teachers to think about new ways of teaching students – including the benefits of interactive and creative activities, such as debates, role-play, and the use of felt pens and board paper, and the importance of meeting the needs of slow learners – to make sure they don’t fall further behind.

“I found their teaching methods to be very effective,” she says.

“I used to be irritated and short tempered with students. They were often dirty and had body odour because they hadn’t bathed and wouldn’t wear shoes. In order to manage the chaotic classroom, I often raised my voice to be heard.

“But the training has helped me to see things differently – to control my frustration, have more empathy, and be more enthusiastic about what I do.”

Mrs Vijeraja is even happier to see positive changes in her students.

 

Mrs Vijeraja

Photo: As a result of ChildFund’s Child-Friendly Schools training, Mrs Vijeraja is incredibly happy to see positive changes in her students, as well as in herself

They are more active and engaged, reading skills are improving, and there is growing leadership and interest in keeping the environment clean.

“I usually come to school early and am the first to pick up the broom and sweep the classroom. My students see this, and they now take initiative in tidying up the classroom and often beat me to it,” she says with a smile.

The performance of children in exams has also improved.

“When I started teaching at Navakkadanamahal Vidyalayam, no student had passed Sri Lanka’s Grade 5 Scholarship Exam in 20 years,” says Mrs Vijeraja.

“I was determined to work hard and ensure that at least 2-3 students made it through.”

After two years of hard work, two students passed the exam. The following year, four more students passed. For these children living in rural communities, it has given them the opportunity to attend prominent national schools – a milestone of which Mrs Vijeraja is extremely proud.

She says: “While sitting under a tree or a sheet of tarpaulin and teaching a class, I used to think we needed more infrastructure to improve our education. Now, I feel that it’s not just about the facilities, but the manner in which we teach that will foster creative and happy learning in children.”

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.”