Education for social cohesion

Project description

Title: Education for social cohesion
Commissioned by: German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ)
Country: Sri Lanka
Lead executing agency: Ministry of Education
Overall term: 2016 to 2019

Context

Sri Lanka has largely achieved international education targets. The school enrolment rate for children and teenagers of school age (five to fourteen) is 98.8 per cent, with equal numbers of girls and boys attending primary and secondary schools. However, this success is juxtaposed with deficits in the quality of education and with the lack of equal opportunities for children from certain sections of the population and regions. Furthermore, even after the end of the long civil war, an acute potential for violence and conflict still exists in the country. To date the underlying structural conflict between the Sinhalese majority and the Tamil minority has not been alleviated. The reconciliation process in Sri Lanka is still in its infancy.

Education plays an important role both in the reconciliation process and in the creation of a new, non-violent society in Sri Lanka. By developing a policy for social cohesion and peace, the Ministry of Education has put in place an important prerequisite for a process of reconciliation between the ethnic groups, but the policy has yet to be implemented comprehensively.

Objective

Schoolchildren learn to live together peacefully – in Sri Lanka’s multi-religious, multi-ethnic and multilingual society.

Approach

The project’s work concentrates on five northern and eastern provinces out of a total of nine provinces in the country. The project team advises the Ministry of Education, the downstream education authorities in the provinces, and the National Institute of Education on refining and implementing the national strategy entitled Education for Social Cohesion and Peace, drawing on previous projects and the successful work with 200 pilot schools.

The project works closely with the relevant staff in the authorities to enable them to improve the coordination of their staff deployment, curricula and equipment in schools across the country. New organisational structures, clear responsibilities and roles, and specialist training seminars give the employees the skills they need to carry out their duties more effectively.

Only well-trained teachers can teach well. The project therefore trains lecturers at teacher training colleges and second language teachers.

Education for social cohesion and peace places specific demands on the curricula and the teachers. For this reason, the project team and its partners are extending the range of courses on offer at schools for learning a second language – the Tamils learn Sinhalese and the Sinhalese learn Tamil. In addition, the project supports the growth of methodological skills in peace education and psychosocial care for traumatised children.

Results

A national strategy on education for social cohesion and peace has been developed. To put this strategy into practice, the partners in the previous project assisted 200 pilot schools and trained 343 trainers, around 2,900 teachers, 1,300 head teachers and 512 lecturers at teacher training colleges in five out of the country’s nine provinces.

Peace education has now been adopted as an integral component in the curricula and textbooks for grades 6 to 10. Student exchange programmes between Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim schools are a recognised part of peace education and are in increasing demand from schools and the education administration. Student theatres bring together children with different ethnic, religious and social backgrounds. In addition, school parliaments have been set up at most of the pilot schools. They give the children more responsibility and enable them to experience democratic rules in their own lives.

The pilot schools have developed materials for teaching and learning the second language and have trained 60 specialist teachers, who in turn have trained nearly 2,000 teachers. A large proportion of the 200 pilot schools in the former conflict zones and the poor plantation areas now have qualified teachers for psychosocial care at school level. Together with the 125 trainers, these counselling teachers form a network that is used for sharing experiences, providing mutual support and for in-service training.

During the last ten years, the conflict-sensitive promotion of education, adapted to the particular situation, has made an important contribution to conflict transformation in Sri Lanka. Due to the current focus on 200 pilot schools in the five provinces, however, dissemination of the innovations has been limited. The present challenges in promoting education are to secure a broad-based impact of the measure and to contribute to the national reconciliation process.