Omniloquence

Global Conversations Beyond Discipline

Disaster Preparedness, Response and Recovery Education Approach in Sri Lanka

Cricket stadium restored after Tsunami. Image by Suren Ladd

During a recent field research trip to Sri Lanka (December 2014), I spoke to experts in the field of Disaster Preparedness, Response and Recovery Education, with a view to understand the shape of the sector a decade after the Indian Ocean Tsunami. It was a privilege speaking with Dr Godwin Kodituwakku, an expert in the field of educational research in Sri Lanka. Dr Kodituwakku worked at the National Institute of Education (NIE), as the director of Research and Development from 2005 to 2013.

I sat down with Dr Kodituwakku to discuss his views on the current state of the Disaster Preparedness, Response and Recovery Approach in Sri Lanka from an educational perspective. These are some of the excerpts of his thoughts.

 

Q: What are some of the needs from an educational perspective after a disaster for the community?

  • Dr Kodituwakku suggested that Mental Health & Psychosocial Support is important in the overall response to the approach in helping affected communities in the short and long term. Dr Kodituwakku also pointed out the importance of educating the parents, because he believes that parents’ ideas will help shape children’s behaviour positively. He suggested that this can be completed through the non-formal education methodologies.

Q: What do you believe are some of the strengths of the Disaster Preparedness, Response and Recovery Approach in Sri Lanka from an educational perspective?

  • Dr Kodituwakku pointed out that although there were some aspects of natural disasters in the curriculum before 2004, there had been an increase of disaster risk reduction topics in the curriculum, for example an increase in the questions at the ordinary level and advanced level exams. Dr Kodituwakku pointed out that some basic concepts are introduced from primary to secondary levels under subjects such as social science, science subjects and sometimes in the Sinhala lessons.
  • Dr Kodituwakku further pointed out that Sri Lanka has an institutional framework in place to assist with this. He suggested that the stakeholders can use this framework more efficiently to further the message and learning process for Disaster Preparedness, Response and Recovery Education. Dr Kodituwakku expressed that there are approximately 10,000 schools in the island and these schools can be geared to train the students to bring greater awareness in society.

Q: What do you believe are some of the challenges of the Disaster Preparedness, Response and Recovery Approach in Sri Lanka from an educational perspective?

  • “Community’s lives depend on their individual situations. Sometimes people live where disasters can occur. But people still live there as they do not have options in life. So this is a big challenge to the policy makers and the people. How do we develop options for the people? How can we guide the communities to live in more suitable areas and how can we give them better options?”
  • Dr Kodituwakku raised the question that, from an educational perspective, “how can we send out the message to children? How can we convey the real feelings of facing a tsunami, flood, earth slips etc?” He argued that, unfortunately, “we can give them the knowledge, but the real experience is hard to simulate. We can teach but we cannot give the reality. Even the teachers cannot teach it properly if they do not have any experience about these disasters. The severity is not translated to the community on disaster.”

Q: What do you believe are some of the threats for the Disaster Preparedness, Response and Recovery Approach in Sri Lanka from an educational perspective?

  • Dr Kodituwakku suggested that in the aftermath of a disaster, some children become orphans and they lose everything. Dr Kodituwakku believes that although stakeholders can intervene, he is doubtful that they can help them fully recover from that part of their life.
  • Dr Kodituwakku also highlighted that, “we believe in religions too much.” He pointed out that religions shape our inner being and will not come to anyone’s aid at the time of a disaster. His point is that blaming fate, karma, or disasters being the Will of God will not avoid or mitigate further destruction of such disasters, but that the community should have a scientific knowledge about disasters and that a knowledge based approach & scientific thinking process should be developed in Sri Lanka’s culture.

Q – What in your view are some of the best practices and lessons learnt that have been adopted into the curriculum for Disaster Preparedness, Response and Recovery?

  • Dr Kodituwakku is of the view that the best practice was the affected community’s quick recovery from the tsunami. The problem according to Dr Kodituwakku is that there is a lack of knowledge and methods to capture these lessons learnt and best practices for academic, educational development purposes. Dr Kodituwakku pointed out that, “we recovered from the tsunami very quickly but there are limited documents, research papers to document these accounts of the community, which is a weakness.”

Q: What areas would you like to see more focus on in the Disaster Risk Reduction Educational Approach in Sri Lanka?

  • Dr Kodituwakku is of the view that Mental Health & Psychosocial Support programs are implemented by training the teachers. He is of the view that, culturally, there is a challenge to implement programs from a Western perspective, i.e. having students in counselling is a challenge due to the shame, stigma in society. Dr Kodituwakku is of the view that education should be geared towards memorisation and examination results, and not the holistic development of children, which should be the methodology.
  • Dr Kodituwakku also pointed out that the media should not only focus on the disaster incidence but also play a wider role in educating the public on better choices of building homes, through Disaster Preparedness, Response and Recovery education. He points out that the media coverage only focuses on the disaster and the relief efforts and then they move on.

Finally, I asked Dr Kodituwakku what he thinks could be the optimal situation for Disaster Preparedness, Response and Recovery from an educational perspective in Sri Lanka?

  • His answer was really unique. He said, “[i]n our lives we get up in the morning, have breakfast and go to work and do all the daily activities, and only think of disasters when they occur, but if we can think that disaster is part and parcel of our life, that is the optimal situation.”




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