Children take a dangerous climb for online school in Sri Lanka

BOHITIYAWA: Getting online school lessons for residents of a remote Sri Lankan village requires a trek through dense bushes sometimes visited by leopards and elephants.

The teachers and 45 schoolchildren in Bohitiwaya then climb more than three kilometres to the top of a rock to find an internet signal.

Information technology teacher Nimali Anuruddhika uses the signal to upload lessons for her students who haven’t been able to go to school because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The students who also live in the village make the same climb to download online lessons sent to them by their teachers.

Not all have mobile devices or laptops, with four or five children sharing one device.

Their parents, most of whom are farmers, often accompany their children. H.M. Pathmini Kumari, who accompanies his sixth-grade son, said the children climb the rock twice a day and their safety is a big concern for parents.

The village in the central-eastern part of the island country lacks basic amenities, and its children had been studying in a government school, now closed, that is about 16 kilometres away.

In the village of Lunugala, about 60 kilometres away, adults escort schoolchildren to a mountaintop treehouse in a forest reserve. It’s about 10 metres high and has internet access. They take turns uploading their homework and downloading lesson plans.

Schools in Sri Lanka have been closed for the most part since March 2020.

Authorities say they make every effort to provide all children access to education, but Joseph Stalin, who heads the Ceylon Teachers Union, says at most 40pc of the country’s 4.3 million students can participate in online classes. The majority lack access to devices or connectivity.

Sri Lanka’s government on Monday began a campaign to vaccinate all teachers with a view to reopening schools soon.