The government had already announced that schools in some areas would close for one week, but the closures were extended on Monday. School principals and provincial education authorities are to decide how lessons are delivered to students with schools closed. Schools in other locations will function at the discretion of school heads and education officials.
Save the Children said it was deeply concerned about the impact that the fourth school closure this year will have on Sri Lanka’s 4.2 million children whose education has already been impacted by years of disruptions due to COVID-19. Free school meals are also a lifeline for one million of the country’s most vulnerable children.
Sri Lanka is facing its worst economic crisis since independence, with food security, agriculture, livelihoods, and access to health particularly affected. Many schools in Sri Lanka were closed for one and a half years during the height of the pandemic, but since they re-opened at the start of 2022, they have closed multiple times as a result of the current crisis.
A recent needs assessment by Save the Children showed that children from 2 out of 5 households were not able to continue their online learning with families unable to afford data. Many children also don’t have access to the internet with households on average only owning one mobile phone.
Ranjan Weththasinghe, Save the Children’s Director of Programs in Sri Lanka, said it was time for the international community to show solidarity with the people of Sri Lanka:
“Closing schools not only locks children out of education but often also robs them of the only decent meal they get each day.
“We know that 50% of families are really struggling to support their children’s education and some children are already dropping out of school and going hungry daily. Parents should not have to choose between buying data for online classes or buying food.
“We’re at risk of taking a huge step backwards on child nutrition and education in Sri Lanka, which would be an absolute tragedy.
“This worsening economic crisis could impact Sri Lanka’s children for possibly years to come. Children are the future and their needs must be the priority.”
The UN and humanitarian organisations are calling on donors to urgently provide life-saving assistance to the women, men, and children most affected by the crisis to prevent the humanitarian situation deteriorating in the country.
Save the Children Sri Lanka is implementing a ‘food for education’ program across 887 schools in seven districts in the country, many of which will be impacted by the latest closures. The project complements the government’s school meal program to improve children’s nutrition and reduce the dropout rate from schools across the country.