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Jumana Mohamedally: In pursuit of inclusive education in Sri Lanka

Posted: 21 March 2024

Sri Lanka, Inclusion, Linkages, Scholar,

Jumana Mohamedally from Sri Lanka began studying a Master of Inclusive and Specialised Education at Flinders University in 2022 with the support of an Australia Awards Scholarship.

Jumana was featured as ‘the face of’ the Australia Awards – Sri Lanka promotions for study commencing in 2025. We recently caught up with her to ask about her Scholarship journey, how it has affected her personal and career growth, and what advice she has for prospective applicants.

Why did you apply for an Australia Awards Scholarship?

I have long been curious about the diversity of the human condition—interested in understanding it and in getting to know different people, their strengths and their challenges. As I began to work in education and in the area of disability, especially ‘hidden’ disability, my passion for cultivating awareness, understanding and acceptance of this diversity grew. I came to see the extent of awareness that is required in our country, and the skills we require to ensure that we give all students a fair chance in life. This includes knowing how to communicate with people with autism spectrum disorder, how to enhance comprehension among people who do not always understand verbal language, teaching literacy and numeracy in evidence-based ways, and increasing opportunities for neurodiverse young adults to contribute to the workplace, economy and community. I began to see first-hand the connection between quality intervention and positive life outcomes / quality of life. I knew that if I really wanted to make a difference, I needed to know more and to be able to share what I learn with other people. This is what motivated me to do a master’s degree and to learn from different communities. By providing opportunities for fully funded master’s degrees, Australia Awards seemed like a potential pathway for me to pursue this.

Jumana attending the Scholars Symposium in Adeliade.

How has your Australia Awards Scholarship contributed to your personal and professional growth?

The degree has given me a significant knowledge base. I also had the opportunity to learn more about specific areas of interest, such as various learning disabilities that often go unseen in classrooms, and more complex forms of disability. Moreover, I have learnt a lot about inclusion—both through my degree and simply through being immersed in Australian culture. On both a personal and professional level, I have come to realise that accepting a person and seeking to understand them is one of the most significant steps in creating a more just, accepting and inclusive world. This journey has also opened my eyes to different cultures. Australia is a multicultural country and Australia Awards brings together people from different parts of the world. The opportunity to meet mid-career professionals who all have different backgrounds and stories has been deeply enriching. The travel, extracurricular activities, conferences, leadership seminars, volunteering and part-time work are all opportunities that I have embraced on this journey.

How has life been in Australia so far outside of university?

I am keen to share what I have learnt with other teachers, and for us to be able to develop our skills collaboratively in order to provide each student with the education they deserve. Professional development programs will be a component of this. As more people gain skills and understanding, I hope that we will be able to bring change to areas beyond urban Colombo. It is also so important that older students are able to find work and obtain the training required to contribute to communities. Being able to create change in this area will help address a plethora of issues. It will enhance self-esteem and create a sense of purpose for people with disability and their families; it will help break down cultural barriers that have deemed people with disability lesser and therefore unable to work; and it will lead to less financial dependence, which has a significant impact on the mental health and quality of life of family members of people with disability. Overall, we may also begin to see a more inclusive and accepting culture.

Jumana (far left) with other Sri Lankan and Nepali scholars at a networking event in Adelaide.

What advice would you give to anyone thinking of applying for an Australia Awards Scholarship?

This is a wonderful opportunity to embrace. The program has a lot to offer. Travel opens our minds in ways we cannot imagine. I think it is important to be authentic in your journey. However, everyone’s experience will be different, and what we want from this experience will be unique. That is okay. Australia Awards Program Coordinators and the nominated people at your university will be extremely helpful in providing information and answering questions. Do seek them out, and research as much as possible. Connect with people who may have embarked on a similar experience, or who live in the city to which you are travelling, if you can. I think it is also important to understand that, like any chapter in our lives, there will be ups and downs. No matter what, the learning will be tremendous.