Poverty- A Main Factor Influencing School Dropouts in Sri Lanka


Nilanka Jayasooriya
Nilanka Jayasooriya

*Nilanka Jayasooriya.

A  year ago,   Quaden Bayles, a nine-year-old Australian boy  drew the attention of the whole world in one night . This boy is known to bear everything while being teased by other children at school because of his condition and he was ready to be dropped out from school.  At one point in time , a video of this child crying uncontrollably  went viral and   It didn’t take long for the Australian rugby team to turn their attention to Quaden who once had dreams about becoming a rugby player, and the fate of ‘Quaden’ became a hot topic in Sri Lanka too.

But what many  people did not know was there are many children like Quaden in Sri Lanka , who become  School Dropouts   due to  mental harassment, physical punishment ,verbal-abuse  etc.

Under compulsory education, children between the ages of 6 to 14  must  enroll in school education. To ensure the  rights  of education  to all children   even legal action was taken against parents who did not send their children to schools .

Although educational reforms in our country  introduced  various of  methodologies to  enhance educational  standards from time to time, it doesn’t mean  that  we   need not  to worry about the problem of  school drop outs  considering   the number of school dropouts  remains at an insignificant level.

Years ago, we often heard about school dropouts in remote   and rural areas. But today, there are reports about irregular school attendance by  children living in areas nearer or within Colombo too,  which causes them to be dropped out of schools while Disapamok” (teachers) are being isolated in  schools.

Recently we had the opportunity to conduct a survey  about  children who dropped  out   the school. What made this survey  more crucial  was  the fact that we were able to  discuss some of  the vital issues that led the children to  not attend schools continually   with the children who dropped out as well as their parents and their  teachers too .

Poverty  was a main factor influencing school dropouts.

If we eat today, our parents will not be able to feed us tomorrow. So how could they  spend money on books and shoes? ”   Pradeepan’s father earns a barely sufficient income by repairing shoes and  he has a habit of spending  his income on liquor  almost every day. Hence, almost all of Pradeepan’s family consisted of  rice and  one vegetable.

In the school,  the teacher often reminded   Kasun to bring a mathematical instrument box   .  once during the math’s period  teachers found that kasun seated in the back row  and  he was trying to hide himself .    “ Look …. Even today  you haven’t  brought the mathematical instrument box. You Better  go out  and kneel down until the lesson is over. ”   The teacher, who was punished for kasun , began to teach the other children. Suddenly, the principal was passing the classroom and saw a child kneeling on the floor outside the classroom and stared blankly at the teacher who started  making accusations against him in front of the principal  a few times .

“Why didn’t you bring a mathematical instrument box ? “  the principal inquired from the child and he could  see that the child started to burst into tears  My  father died last week. My mother told me that I would sell the uniform material   I got at school to get a mathematical instrument box. But since there was no way to give alms (offerings)  after seven days of the death of my father ,  My mother sold both mine  and my brother’s uniform materials  to make offerings for my father. ”  kasun started sobbing uncontrollably .

Some teachers do not understand the difficulties faced by their students ,  one teacher had asked a an utterly repulsive question from a child who had  failed to bring the hundred rupees he was supposed to bring for school needs. “If your parents can’t meet your needs, what made them to give  a birth to you?” .The teacher ‘s unexpected question was more painful than a slap in the face , and  it was a reason for the child to  stop schooling.

There are many reasons which cause children to drop out from schools such as   the lack of attention given to them  by teachers due to a large number of children present  in the classroom, favoritism towards some children by teachers  , corporal punishment, and harsh words etc. Also the education  in our country is focused on  a ‘result’ oriented examination system. Accordingly, the ‘result’ is expected from the children from the day they enroll  to the school.

Corporal punishment by teachers  is still common in schools. There are some  children who are so frightened and oppressed that they are tempted to cut classes  because of physical abuse such as slapping , pulling of hair, hitting  , etc by teachers .

since I was unable to buy a new book for math’s , I was doing math in my  text book. “Don’t your parents have  fifty rupees to buy a book for you. what a useless  parent? … I was very angry when  the teacher shouted this at me  Infront of everyone in  the class . After that incident I lost all my respect towards him, and I was disgusted to even refer him as  “sir

‘Vijith’ who was expecting to sit for the GCE (O / L) examination stopped going to school out of hatred towards the teacher.

“Don’t  punish the children” Voices on child protection are often the subject of ridicule and anger from such ‘arbitrary’ teachers.”… “ there is a  saying  The child who grew up without being chastised  is like a curry cooked  without stirring  ”  “when we were children our teachers used  the cane to discipline us ‘’    some  teachers do not hesitate to justify their punishments  by telling such things  .     It is unfortunate that none of these teachers have realized that there won’t   be any inmates  in  prisons , if the development of a child’s behavior and qualities can be done through punishing.

Lack of adequate toilet facilities in schools is a special reason for the breakdown of girls’ education,      One of the two toilets in one school  situated in  a remote area  was overflowing with water and the girls did not come to school for three or four days when their menstrual period had started. This is due to the fact that there is no way to dispose of sanitary napkins and to clean the rags’ used by some girls during menstruation. Also, in some schools, the girls were instructed  not to dispose of used sanitary napkins at school and discard them after carrying  home .

Due to the prevailing system ,people who were employed in the field of teaching have  to work while facing various sorts of problems . since teachers struggle to cover a vast curriculum , it is very difficult to  allocate quality time with individual students in the classroom  to  understand them better.  Hence,  the end result can be that of a  disastrous one.

Although the facts are as follows; there are also some teachers who  are very kind to the children and care for them

One   teacher shared his experience  that  he learnt his very first day  as a teacher “The very first day as a teacher  went to the  class, I taught them while being close to and paying attention  to each of the   children .  Later it became a habit to spend quality time with my students  . One day  some  students in my class said  to me  Sir, the teachers who came for before you  taught in the front row  and never spent time with us.     ‟ I could not put into words how I felt. The family backgrounds of the children who come to school were very different. But really all those kids only wanted  the same thing from anyone who taught them . That was love … It didn’t take me long to realize that ‘love’ can  do miracles  that a cane  cannot do ”

Even though he is an inexperienced individual to the teaching profession ,the children who learn from  are likely to never  become school dropouts .**

*Nilanka Jayasooriya is a Senior Journalist, Author & Social Activists from Sri Lanka. Worked for many leading newspapers of Sri Lanka, living in Colombo.She has also worked for many leading NGO’s of Sri Lanka for Child protection and Urban Community Development programs. She is representing  Sri Lanka as an Ambassador for UNWPA   (United Nation World Peace Org.)

She holds degree (B.A) of Sociology and Social Anthropology, Post Graduate Diploma in Criminology & also degree holds of Learning For Transformation from the University of GULL.(Global University Of Lifelong Learning)

She is currently working at LEADS Humanitarian Org. LEADS is a Sri Lankan agency dedicated to creating safer spaces and brighter futures for  children. 





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