Thursday, June 1, 2017

Teacher shortages are a universal, but particularly acute in Sri Lanka

SO what must we do about it? Firstly, we MUST identify that there is a severe problem of the lack of teachers in ALL our schools. Some subjects are worse than others. What we need to do first is to identify by school what the shortages are, for what subject, what grade and what school. Does the Department of Education have a detailed list of this that is current, and is it kept updated in REAL TIME? It is estimated that the numbers exceed 50,000.

It is worth reading the link above about the problems that the UK encounters, to get an idea of looming issues here in Sri Lanka and means to avoid them.

A worse problem is looming,   and that has NOT been addressed, due to the shortage, and that is incompetent (not ill-qualified) teachers litter, the state education system. To be fair, the private sector at least recruit based on ability and experience and offer remuneration accordingly, and are therefore willing to pay for both, and OFTEN attract competent teachers from the state sector, who have resigned their teaching positions due to many reasons, but in my experience from talking to some of the better ones, is that they have been transferred after their period in a school as is the rule to a school that is beyond easy reach and so they OPT to leave and join a private school that pays more and is easier to get to.

As a matter of GOVT POLICY, it is obvious – “in order to be able to compete globally, our youth leaving schools MUST be competent in the skills required in today’s employment marketplace and not yesterday’s” this is therefore an additional issue that needs to be dealt with.

Without trying to put the cart before the horse, I feel the tried and tested means of filling this gap is of NO RELEVANCE today. We must think completely anew. We must identify the employment regimen in the next 50 years and then train people as teachers who are competent in teaching students to be able to take the jobs that are in demand in the next 50 years. AS SIMPLE AS THAT.

We MUST NOT look at the shortage list as is done today, and try and fill it with newly minted Education Graduates, be they Diploma Holders or University Graduates. For example, the majority of students in schools with less facilities, in rural areas offer Political Science, Buddhist Civilization and Sinhala for their A levels. 

These students, even if they obtain As are simply unemployable, or are NOT suited to employment in 2018. In my experience I have even looked for competent students who can type and write well in Sinhala amongst this pool, and they cannot even do that, so what are they good for? To teach those subjects on some poor unsuspecting student in future! NO WAY it is a disservice as it relegates that student to a lifetime of unemployability.


The newly released proposals by the National Institute of Education for the education policy for the future is already out of date, and NOT relevant as they have NOT identified the skills required for the next 50 years, which is the period our students who leave school from 2025 need to have. They are the backbone of our society, and of our economy, and if they cannot do the jobs they will be useless and we cannot blame them if we teach them the wrong subjects or direct them in the wrong direction. They will curse us for many years after we have passed on.

What I believe and can be summarized in a few words, is that the world requires thinkers, problem solvers, those willing to change careers, flexibility of thought and a belief that one may have 15 jobs in a working life, as well as the knowledge that male and female alike would be expected to be in the workforce till they are 75, and that there IS NO retirement pension, except the one they have saved for in their lifetime, and not something that the state provides.

No country has the resources to pay pensioners from 2035, and we will be dreaming in Technicolor if we think Sri Lanka will be an exception to the rule!

Obviously everything has to be done in a logical manner so we achieve our desired National Objective. So the most important is to identify the necessary skills, train SUITABLE people (not anyone who may apply) to teach those skills, and as less than 50% of the budget allocated for education was spent last year, (the education administrators are simply incompetent, and merely turning up to be paid and NOT to be productive) we must apply the resources already allocated to this task. It will take on average 4 to 5 years to get the first batch of trained teachers and 20 years at least to get the needed students. THERE IS NO QUICK FIX.

We must return to a work ethic that is NON-existent in our culture. To do that sensibly we lets begin with pre-school and use the examples of countries like, Japan, Korea and Finland, to train competent Montessori Teachers as a first step, and turn out kids with a purpose, with inquiring minds, disciplined, where time is spent on their growth and a value system such as 5S instilled in them as well of teamwork and shared responsibilities without gender stereotypes emerging, that sets the foundation for ONLY 11 more years of quality free education.


Anonymous said...

First you say list all shortages, but then you say don't fill them in the usual method but instead ascertain the future requirements for employment and then train the teachers for those requirements instead of current vacancies!

What happens to the kids who don't have teachers and are just sent to tuition classes to fill this void? They may as well boycott school which most do anyway despite the 80% attendance rule that no one adheres to.

Sadly there is little education in State Schools, period. So why do we send kids to waste their time, in their most formative years?

All this is very important and timely, but there seems to be NO serious thinking going on to solve the needs of the day.

Anonymous said...

We have a million vacancies with NO one wanting to fill them or can fill them because they do not have the requisite basic ability.

I hope first that they look at the vacancies as determine why locals cannot fill them before offering them to foreign, namely Indian, Bangladeshi and Chinese labor.

If it is simply a case of laziness or the pay being too little for the effort required, there is a serious problem of being molly coddled into believing that Govt jobs where NO work is required are those people are prepared to do with political patronage.

Unless the culture (work ethic) changes we will become slaves to foreign masters, more so than we already are

Anonymous said...

This issue is the priority NO 1 for the Govt. today, nothing is as important, as this is the only route for survival for Sri Lanka after environment protection.

Time President prioritizes Education and Environment only under his purview and let the others go, so he can concentrate ONLY on that which is most important

Ratmale,Minneriya,Sri Lanka said...

Why I say 11 more years is that we provide 2 years pre-school and 11 years school for a total of 13 years free quality education. Those who even choose A levels have to pay for that, because most schools no one is taught at A level class anyway as they go for tuition, and the teachers moonlight instead, so why provide it free?

After that the Student is sufficiently empowered to pay for their future education, by scholarship for those good enough, and low interest loans for those from less well off families to pursue tertiary education in their chosen fields, NOT something they fall into due to their results like now, which are NOT valued and appreciated, and hence not pursued with vigor to obtain a job as it is free!

In 2018 and beyond free Tertiary Education is an anomaly we should do without if we are seriously to achieve the goals of employable workforce. (the unemployed graduates are the result of free education dynamics) If they had to pay they would be working as they have an investment they need to turn into income.

Anonymous said...

Correct, Sri Lanka does not have the resources to give a quality free education up to University and so giving a super education up to O level is the best alternative, instead of trying to spread limited resources right across.

After all the beneficiary of the free University Education has been the foreign Countries who have taken in our best talent from these universities and the people have paid for it. So when they give some minuscule aid when we have a flood when compared to the billions of dollars of HR aid we have given them, it makes me throw up! It does not even come close.

Whose fault is it? Ours for giving free education to people who then say tata bye and go laughing all the way to the bank, because the their colleagues in foreign countries are paying off their loans while our chaps are buying Benz cars thanks to our stupid policies that the JVP endorse! STILL

Nanda Wanninayaka said...

Being a former public school teacher, I see only one problem about the teacher shortages in Sri Lanka. Both the teachers and the Ministry of Education are the main culprits to this crime.
1. Even majority of the newly appointed young teachers who are appointed to schools of so-called rural areas do not take the challenge in teaching the students in those areas. In our days (in 90’s) and during the days of the teaches who taught us (before 90’s) took the challenges thrust upon them with scantily available resources in schools, less facilities to live in those villages and the ongoing war for a 30 long years and did a yeoman service to the country. But today, most of these new teachers seek politicians’ support and get transfers the new schools in comfortable areas leaving the students in rural villages in the lurch.

2. None of the previous governments and this one have no balls to dispatch the excess teachers in big schools and small schools in and around comfortable cities and towns to rural areas. They heed to the pressure thrust upon by those teachers through their political links and give transfers to those teachers in comfortable areas. Most of the teachers who are in elite schools do not go to the schools away from towns. I can remember this very well when a group of teachers who taught more than 5 years were transferred to village schools they came back to the same school using political links. A friend of mine who had come back to my school after completing a long time in rural areas told me “මචං මුන් හරියට ගේ ගෙම්බෝ වගේ. පයින් ගැහුවත් බිම වැටෙන්නේ ආපහු ගේ පැත්තට හැරිලා.” (These teachers are like house toads. When you kick them out they fall down with their heads turn to the house.)

If the government cannot do a simple thing like transferring a teacher, nothing much can be done to solve the teacher shortage in the country. Minister Akila Viraj too obviously has no balls to do this. This is just nice talks from him.