Monday, December 5, 2011

National Education Policy! – Is there one? – Mohan Lal Grero seems to think there is!

In an interview in the Sunday Observer of 4th December, Mr Grero who just crossed over from the UNP seemed to give as his main reason, the fact he could be of positive use to the Current Administration, in implementing the National Education Policy, which according to him is similar to the proposal he had made to the UNP. He as a member of the Education Select Committee in Parliament had helped to refine the NEP after taking into account numerous experts’ advice.

I do not believe that the Policy they have come up with is correct and should be followed. He mentions the 5000 primary feeder schools into the 1000 secondary schools, which mean that each Divisional Secretariat area in the country will have about 3 secondary schools of a certain grade, so that parents will not have to compete to send kids to other more competitive schools. This is further reinforced by the US$100M World Bank Concessionary Loan program for this same plan, which in its current form will be completely wasted.

The approach is from the wrong end. They appear to have asked why the take up rate for vocational training has been so pathetic in Sri Lanka. I can vouch for that fact, where in my area the well equipped Technical Training College in Godagama, is almost empty and hardly used. However the answer is not to get kids at 13 or 14 to decide on the vocation they are to adopt and get secondary schools to prepare them for following specific technical courses if the A level route is not for them. We must go back to basics to understand the problem provide a possible reason!

I do not believe schools must take over parenting. We must however, understand that there are severe problems in parenting, which have not equipped students with any direction in life. One parent households are now the rule in Sri Lanka, if you include alcoholic households on the one hand and those where one parent has gone overseas to work. One must remember that in many households the bread winner does not live in the family home, as he is working in a job that requires him to live in close proximity to work. They then only come home once or twice a month.

It is therefore imperative that values and achievable goals are built at the Primary stage. We concentrate on teacher training for Secondary Schools, not realizing that the Primary stage is equally as important, and tools that teachers need to instill discipline and a work ethic are different. Just throwing unemployed graduates to the Primary school sector is wrong, as those graduates are also products of a failed system, following courses in the unemployable sector, not equipping them with the skills needed. Their worst ideas handed to their charges, who continue the cycle.
The problem in this NEP(National Education Policy) is that it has been devised by educators only, without reference to the raw material (students) themselves, looking at their backgrounds and the expectations that have been made for them.

The project is likely to result in a further deterioration in the standard of Education. Without reference to overseas examples, we should concentrate on Public Free Education up to Secondary Level. Some arguments are similar to that of the Public Health Sector, where the considerable resources that go into the training at huge State expense are lost to the Private and Overseas Sector. The dynamic, quality and innovative teachers feel the public sector fails them, with politically motivated transfers, including unqualified Principals demoralizing the ambitious teachers.

The structure of politicization must change first, before we are able to get the best into the Teaching Profession. When a school dropout can join the forces at age 16 and receive at least Rs20,000 a month and be fed and housed to beat, where his whole wage goes into his bank account, when compared with a trained graduate teacher who at best gets the same but at age 30 after a 4 year degree and a further 2 years at teacher training, all of which he would have to find subsistence for, who would opt for the latter? Worse still this teacher would be assigned to a rural school with no facilities and difficult to reach, where the teacher would have to find accommodation, usually of a poor quality far from home. The incentive to teach therefore is secondary to wanting to go home to the kids each weekend!

Real life issues do not get an airing in Parliament Select Committee by Experts, who are cozily unaware of the ground situation in their ivory towers. Until wage anomalies are solved and the profession gains respect, much in the way it was over 50 years ago, nothing positive can come about. The recent budget highlighted the fact that the real wages of teachers have fallen the most, over 4% in the last year. The forces were given a 10% wage hike along with other government servants, which does not apply to teachers. It is true the quantity of teachers makes the teacher student ratio 20:1 which is excellent by any criteria, but it hides many ills, which are swept under the carpet just as the 95% literacy rate hides even more ills of the system. No person of ability wants to go into teaching under this background

We must face facts that the quality of Education in Sri Lanka has fallen to a new low and no amount of tinkering can raise it until the fundamental problems are even addressed let alone solved. I cannot see any solution in sight, and therefore I can only sadly conclude that Mr Grero the “Greate Educator” that he is, is falling into the same trap of convenience and opportunism, where he could have better fought the good fight for change from without, rather than from within.

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