The debate has raged recently, especially after the results were announced on 1st October, 2013 or World Children’s Day, that this test should be abolished or at least deferred to a point where the kids are a lot older.
The facts are that 90% of those who sat th4e Grade 5 exam DID NOT get their district pass mark. Hence those children who will always remember their mark till they go to their graves, feel that they have not made it, in being able to get to a better school which required the higher cut off mark. (mind you the school of your choice is still not achievable despite the higher mark due to other considerations at that school, where they may not have sufficient places to fill the demand!)
In any case the Minister of Education as is always the case made a hash of it by announcing publicly that henceforth the results will always be announced on World Children’s Day so as to demoralize 90% of those who sit the exam!!! What a total buffoon he made of himself nationally making that announcement at Subharathai Mahamathya Vidyalaya, in Godagama on that day. I believe just yesterday he made another inappropriate comment. Namely at a function at Dharmapala Vidyalaya in Pannipitiya that, though it was currently the largest school in the Country with both male and female pupils, that he was going to make Mahinda Rajapakse Vidyalaya Homagama, the largest co-ed school in the country. Of course it did not go down well in Pannipitiya, but in any case biggest is not always best, though this Minister obviously is obsessed with size.
Getting back to the main topic, it was announced by the head of the Human Rights Commission, the not independent Mr Mahanamahewa, that he had called the heads of 35 state and public bodies in relevant fields to comment on the Shishyathwaya exam and to make recommendations, which resulted in the headline in today’s Ada newspaper (www.ada.lk of 11th October 2013) namely to have it at Grade 8.
I have long advocated that it was a violation of the Human rights of the child to force them to study and sit for this competitive exam at such an early stage of their lives. Whilst we celebrate those who performed well, they are the exceptional students of our country, who may or may not excel in life in their chosen field, and who have an equal chance of entering University along with those who do not get the district pass mark, which proves the uselessness of the exam.
Further the minister of education has for the first time started a campaign that confuses students even further by telling that the pass mark was 70 and that 90% of the students achieved this pass mark!! So having district cut off marks and pass marks confuse students even more, and the pressure that parents put on their offspring to perform well at these exams takes a toll especially on the average child to which most of us will fall into as a rule.
So where do we go from here. It is used in practice to further deny officially for kids to get into better schools as they did not achieve the required mark. Many schools that have 1st Grade still continue to have a huge demand for entry, as even if the child fails the exam they can remain in the same school, even if it is an elite school, and so parents first try everything in their power to get them in at Grade 1 by even resorting to pay huge amounts as bribes or to Building Funds.
Of course there are some schools that only begin at Grade 6 which if they are in the elite pool, will require the minimum mark for that school for entry into their classes. This is in addition to other entrance criteria that the school may have.
When one takes the Mahinda Rajapakse Vidyalaya in Homagama, as an example, it is a brand new school which has been allocated a huge budget that includes all kinds of facilities like swimming pools and air-conditioned class rooms and it is in the electorate of the present Education Minister who is determined that it be the largest and best in the Island. Well if the equivalent funds that go to 1000 schools is only spent on one school it is hardly a surprise, but is also exceedingly inequitable in a state sector so to do, whilst denying basic facilities to so many schools as a result.
All this argument amounts to a hill of beans unless of course the quality of teaching in all schools is improved by leaps and bounds by training our teachers to a different level, and then paying them commensurate salaries to keep them motivated and committed to their professions.
In my opinion this 5th grade or any grade exam, is the wrong approach, as it just gives rise to a tuition culture at a very early age, that benefits outside earnings for teachers, and poorer teaching commitments by them at schools. If we abolish the exam completely, and instead concentrate on getting a much higher standard of teacher, both by training them to a higher level and then paying them for performance it would completely change our education, especially at the provincial level, in turning out educated citizens who are thinkers and not rote learners, who will enjoy their studies as much as obtain the best in their creative minds, that will in turn truly build a nation of productive citizens who use their innate intelligence to find rewarding employment and in turn build the nation, as one to be envied.