Fixing the School Culture
25 Aug 2015 by Raveen Ubeysekera
Today, you and I are part of the 23.2%. 14 years ago, we were part of the 26.8%.
less of you and me today; Sri Lanka’s youth population has decreased in number,
but our challenges continue to grow. A lack of quality education at primary and
second upper levels of education that isn’t accessible to all youth of the
island is a major issue that needs to be addressed. Asia is blessed with some
of the world’s leading educational systems, and it is important that Sri Lanka
too tries to adopt such strategies.
Education is the key to solving many development issues, such as poverty, unemployment and even violence. So, we need to make sure that the youth is aware of this fact. The National Youth Survey (NYS) 2013 revealed that 23% of respondents said that they dropped out, as they didn’t find school useful. This mentality among the youth of a country is a clear obstacle for development.
I had the opportunity to study in a government school in Colombo. I remember talking to new students when I was in grade 6, who were freshly transferred to my school after the scholarship exam. They said that they were happy to be able to come to a “good” school environment. Shouldn’t this “good” schooling environment be enjoyed by all students from all parts of the country? There are vast differences in terms of provision of infrastructure, tools available to teachers and the curriculum across a country. Many rural schools are short of each of these elements. This provides an incentive for many students to move to schools, with better facilities, usually in urban areas. The Grade 5 scholarship exam has become the best opportunity for students to transfer to these schools. This creates a highly competitive working environment in schools, with parents and students fighting for ‘every mark’. Competition is good, but too much of it among children of this age may restrict values of collaboration, team work and cohesion in classrooms. The provision of more equal facilities in rural schools could avoid this, and enable a more stable education system.
Competition plays a significant role in schools, even in the higher grades of the Sri Lankan education system. I remember that when I was schooling, there were a few arguments among some friends of mine regarding which private tuition class was better to enrol in. Yes, I still feel that it’s a silly topic to argue over, but such extra tuition classes are becoming a vital part of a child’s education. The NYS 2013 stated that 56% of youth respondents participated in these extra classes, with 33% of such students taking these classes during school hours. It has become such a commonly accepted fact that even teachers in schools depend on the children going for extra classes.
I often wonder how children in rural areas survive with this trend in schooling. Merely enrolling a child in school is not enough. Parents are facing the burden of earning more for tuition and children are often under pressure to get good grades, mainly to transfer to a better school. Those who are left behind are outperformed by students in urban areas. Evidence from the National Human Development Report (NHDR) 2014 on Youth and Development: Towards a More Inclusive Future indicates that the Western Province accounts for 60% of the pass rate for Mathematics in the GCE Ordinary Level examinations, while the Uva and North Central Provinces had pass rates of around 42% in 2009. Similarly, a report from a private media corporation revealed that more than 50% of students failed English island-wide during last year’s GCE Ordinary Level examination, with the best pass rate being from the Western Province. We need a system that minimizes these rural-urban differences.
There are many other fault lines in our educational system. I do not believe that stating all of them at once would be as effective; similarly, I believe that trying to address many issues at once is not effective. Enrolment rates in universities, efficiency in the state university system, quotas allocated for fields such as Biological Sciences and Vocational Training for students who haven’t qualified for university entrance are some other issues worth addressing. But I will stop here.
I have focused on some main issues that shadow our schooling culture. It is important that we take steps to change these trends as a developing country and, mainly, as a society that values education, because the quality of and access to education should be equal to every student in our country.
Picture source: http://thelearningcurve.pearson.com/2014-report-summary/