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Intermediate English student Mary Joylene presenting to Mannar English students online. (Kathleen Ambre — Jesuit Refugee Service South Asia)

(Washington, D.C.) April 26, 2016 — While Sri Lanka’s decades-long civil war ended seven years ago, educational opportunities remain a lingering and devastating casualty. But thanks to a Jesuit Refugee Service sponsored program in the island nation’s war-torn north, youth in the region now have greater access to quality tertiary level education.

The Loyola Campus, a joint project of JRS, Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins (JC:HEM) and the Sri Lanka Jesuit Province, became operational in January, 2015, in the northern Sri Lankan town of Mannar. 

The onsite/online learning center, embraced by the region’s educators and officials, was an instant success and spurred the establishment of the first Loyola Campus center last September in Vavuniya, about 50 miles away.

Further centers are being considered elsewhere on the island.

The Vavuniya center held its first graduation ceremony on March 12, for 70 students – 40 who completed pre-intermediate English as a second language, 19 who graduated from intermediate English and 11 students who finished studies in computer applications. The center currently has about 100 students studying English, computer applications and photojournalism and videography.

Student Dina Nirushana said she was grateful for her English language training at the Vavuniya center because she aspires to be a radio disc jockey. 

“They have very many good methods to teach the students,” she said. “It’s very good to improve our language skills so we can catch the English language easily.”

A day earlier, graduation ceremonies were held at the Loyola Campus center in Mannar, where this year 80 students took English courses while 55 studied computer training. 

Thivera Murukananthan, who participated in the pre–intermediate level English course in Mannar, said classes are never boring.

 “All the teachers are such excellent, fabulous, talented teachers with a lot of good things,”
 she said. “I would like to thank Loyola campus; they taught me lots of things and made me successful in English.”

JRS International Director Fr. Tom Smolich, S.J., JRS South Asia Regional Director Fr. Stan Fernandes S.J. and other dignitaries attended both graduation ceremonies. 

Although Loyola Campus is accessible to a large number of students, those from remote villages aren’t able to attend classes due to lack of public transport and security issues. To address this issue, students, as part of their practicum, are asked to give back to their community by teaching their own peers in distant villages and schools.

“This has turned out to be a very enriching experience for us as an institution but for also the students,” said Thiranjala Weerasinghe, Vavuniya site coordinator. “There has been a great transformation of their own lives, the way they look at others, the way they look at simple social problems in their own societies. There has been a great contribution through this involvement.”

Longstanding ethnic conflicts have taken a harsh toll on the education prospects of Sri Lanka’s Tamil community. In Tamil areas in the north, east and north-central provinces, only 12 percent of the student population studies at the university level, and the rest essentially have no access to higher education aside from Sri Lanka’s Open University and technical colleges.

Complicating matters is the Sri Lankan university system’s all-English curriculum, putting Tamil-speaking students at a great disadvantage. With many employers on the island and abroad also demanding their employees speak English, the country’s Jesuit community realized that English language and computer training were essential for the region to move forward.

“It makes a lot of difference if you know English and can speak very well, and along with that some computer skills,” said JC:HEM’s Sri Lanka director Fr. Joe Victor, S.J. “In these four-month courses, you learn a lot and have exposure to whatever the modern things that are available in education.” 

Weerasinghe said the Vavuniya center offers an excellent example of the Jesuit’s rich traditional education. 

“More than just in the classroom setting, more than books, more than just mere following a syllabus, (the center is) forming individuals who are more sensitive, who are more attune to the needs of society today,” he said.

by Sean Lengell
Jesuit Refugee Service/USA Communications Officer

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