Monday, November 7, 2011

We have to start from the beginning in terms of Education - we are not as literate as you think!

In the series of blog entries on Education, I have concentrated on the Primary and Secondary sectors as I believe that until we revamp the basics, we cannot hope to aim higher. All the talk is of getting a technologically savvy workforce conversant in English. We can only do this if the foundations of Mathematics and English are laid, and this is done as early as the Primary levels. It is actually quite easy to use new teaching methods and even use new technology in places where there is a dearth of teachers to interest our youngsters in these two basics. There are so many computer techniques where children in catchment areas can be directed to with these computer facilities when English and Maths teachers are at a premium.

There has really been NO investigation into this possibility, even though many schools have computer labs, that tend to teach computer studies to the older students, before teaching video based instructions of the subjects I referred to earlier. I was at a function in Badalgama yesterday at the northern edge of the Gampaha district, where we presented 5, 120page exercise books each to 150 disadvantaged children, accompanied by their parents. Remember their text books are provided FREE by the state. At that gathering one of the speakers reminded these youngsters aged between 7 and 14 that even A levels were insufficient, and that they would have to get degrees if they were to find employment.

The reality is far different. In this sample of 150, disadvantaged kids, in that their parents are not financially particularly well off, I would hazard a guess and say that possibly 2 or 3 will go into University. It is primarily due to the lack of facilities and also when they get to University age, the openings in the Arts Faculties for those with good grades in the usual subjects taken by them would be even fewer.

The basic grounding in the three R’s is also lacking, so all effort should be to improve those skills first. The advanced students in such schools do not amount to more than 10%, and can be fast tracked into the best schools in the District, whilst the rest get a good basic education. The aptitude of students is what is important.

Though the country boasts of a very high literacy rate, it is shameful to rest on such mistaken laurels, as it does not mean a thing. The attention received by these kids is so abysmal that in this area, students at 14 can barely read or do their sums, and we expect them to choose A level subjects. It is as if the management of education does not know the ground situation. They almost exclusively base their decisions on the Colombo school sector, which is on a different plane as compared with the outlying areas even in the Western Province which the schools are in.
With the decentralization of schools, there is utter confusion about which are centrally managed and which are managed at Provincial Levels, and with the 1000 schools program whose intentions are honorable, but implementations disjointed, the confusion is exacerbated. I am for the management of education centrally where the subject can be looked into holistically, as the decentralized provincial mentality is not suitable to setting policy and implementing it due to the lack of trained personnel and the waste of good teaching staff in the administration of Education, which they are hopeless at.

If Education is managed centrally and only action plans delegated to individual Districts with goals set for each district as far as minimum standards are concerned they can then be measured objectively and corrective action taken with the resources available to the Central Government. One very important aspect is the lack of a clear understanding in Education by the education departments subsequently to their being managed by the Provincial Councils. There are no education experts in the Provincial Councils, and it is incumbent of the Central Government to supply the skills needed to identify weaknesses and implement corrective action.

In earlier blogs, I referred to the need for the closure of a few thousand schools due to few students and the costs per student being high, whilst basic facilities were not available there. If this were done, resources can be released to implement the proposals. I will not delve here on the teacher and skill shortage, as I have dealt with it at length earlier, but I reiterate this gap as one that has to be independently filled while the education policy is being discussed and revamped. The increasing intake of teachers will only come into the sector in four years at best and so the other aspects of identifying the capabilities of students, and setting realistic goals for them in their respective schools bearing in mind their resources will go a long way in making sure that the time of the students in schools is optimized.

Sri Lanka is fortunate in that unlike in Western Countries where parental interference in their children’s education is driving teachers away, it is internal politics that is doing the same thing in Sri Lanka, which can be minimized. When transfers, promotions, and expectations are transparent, then favoritism, witch hunts and unfair treatment become less of a problem.

I know there is a very dedicated carder of Teachers who must be encouraged, properly recognized and examples made of for others to follow. We can then reach some of the goals we set, minimal at first but ambitious later to give our students a truly complete education to take responsibility for their future and well being.

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