Teacher shortage adds to a tide of trauma

23rd December 2005 at 00:00
A year on from the devastation in Asia, Yojana Sharma reports on the victims' road to recovery

Despite a Herculean relief effort, things are far from normal in hard-hit Sri Lanka, where 3,372 schoolchildren died, 6,610 were disabled and almost 50,000 were displaced.

Save the Children has been documenting children's concerns 12 months after the tsunami. Officially, around 90 per cent of affected children are back in school. But new teachers have still not been appointed to replace the 126 staff who perished.

Another 1,670 teachers were displaced. Certain subjects still cannot be taught. A 15-year-old from Hambanthota district, one of the worst affected in Southern Sri Lanka, said last week: "We don't have teachers. Five of our teachers went with the tsunami - even our principal.

"The school has nine periods but we learn only for about four or five periods."

Nuwan, 18, said they were being shifted from place to place. "Our primary school was completely destroyed by the tsunami. Classes are still being held here and there."

According to government figures, 74 schools were destroyed, 108 damaged and 446 used as camps for the displaced. Reconstruction has begun in 37 schools.

But even where there are schools, many children are still not in proper housing and do not have the peace of mind to study at home. "We don't even have a table to keep our books on," said Dinithi, 15.

Dharshini Seneviratne of Save the Children said: "There are many indications that children are still traumatised and unable to study."

One girl said smoking among boys had increased "because there is no one now to advise them. The teachers who died in the tsunami were those who knew the school and the students well."

Many children are not in school, and many who are still find it difficult to think of a normal education.

Nirmal, 15, lost his mother and his home. He lives with an aunt. His school marks have dropped "because there was no one to teach".

"My sister is in Year 4," he said. "Every night she cries out for her mother. My elder sister passed her A-levels without a single notebook, but she missed getting into university by only a few marks."

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