The Impact of Protracted Conflict on Secondary School Students: A Case Study from North and East Sri Lanka

The 20-year-old civil war between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) has seriously undermined the country's enormous development potential. Approximately 800,000 people, 1/3rd of who are children, have been displaced. Nearly 900,000 children live in areas most affected by the ethnic conflict; in addition there are 300,000 displaced children and 2,500 child recruits. The majority of the children in the North East have known nothing but conflict1. On 22 February 2002, the United National Front Government entered into a formal ceasefire agreement with the LTTE. The commencement of peace negotiations has increased humanitarian access to many areas in the conflict-affected North and East regions of the country. The impact of the Tsunami of December 2004 has added yet another dimension of complexity to the conflict areas of the East and North. This study utilized qualitative methods to examine the ongoing education process in six districts of protracted conflict in North East Sri Lanka. The research used an interpretive case study approach in which multiple methods included focus group discussions, semi-structured interviews, school visits and collection of documentary data. Questions were designed to explore the secondary students’ understanding, perceptions and attitudes to conflict, displacement, risk and vulnerability. The qualitative findings identified factors which influence the education process and make meaningful interpretations of background, culture and the situation in North East Sri Lanka. The constraints in the implementation of effective education were identified as an acute shortage of teachers, lack of security, lack of resources and limited finances.

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