Education is improving in Sri Lanka’s Northern Province, but there are few job opportunities
Sri Lanka’s war-battered Northern Province had reason to celebrate when the results of a countrywide exam were announced last December. Of the 16,604 students from the province who sat for the exam, 63.8 per cent secured the required marks for entry into prestigious national universities.
It was a spectacular performance for a region wrecked by three decades of sectarian conflict that ended in May 2009 with a military offensive.
“Education was always seen as a ladder to a better life in this region – even before the war. Once again people seem to be thinking about that,” explains Sivalingam Sathyaseelan, Secretary to the provincial Ministry of Education. However, as Sathyaseelan points out a good education does not mean a good job or even gainful employment in the province. “Lack of employment has forced graduates to either move out or settle for manual jobs.”
The country’s overall unemployment rate is around four per cent of the labour force, but the figures for the north are exceptionally high, almost double that of the national rate.
Rupavathi Keetheswaran, a government agent for Kilinochchi district, says that as post-war assistance reached an end and income levels suffered, many families either headed by women or with disabled family members have found it hard to make ends meet.
Ramalingam Sivaparasgam, a national coordinator with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) says children in secondary schools were most prone to being pulled out of school.“The primary reason is lack of livelihoods – the responsibility of earning falls on children,” he said.
Children mainly seek work in the construction sector or in agriculture. The two sectors have boomed in the province due to the construction of thousands of houses and roads as well as the traditional dependence on agriculture.
Education official Sathyaseelan says that when graduates and others with higher educational qualifications struggled to find jobs, it acts as a deterrent for younger students.
“When younger students see others struggling to get jobs, they find that education does not help much and want to quit,” he admits.
In a survey by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees released last year, an overwhelming majority of the war displaced who have returned to the Northern Province said they had no complaints on how the region’s education system has been revived. The survey of 997 households found that “87 per cent of the respondents are satisfied with the quality of education.”
But education – one of the fruits of peace – has not spelt prosperity for the Northern Province.
Says Sarvananthan: “Till date there is no targeted incentive scheme by the government for the private sector to invest and generate employment in the north.”