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International Schools a hard Act to follow

2013-03-11 18:30:10
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International schools represented just that in the 1970s; they catered to the growing expatriate community who wished for education provision through a curriculum which was transferable. International schools have now grown to provide for many who wanted to access the local curriculum in English or those who wished to avail of international access routes to higher education

Many of the schools were set up as businesses registered through the Companies Act and with the Board of Investment. A few were committed to a more service oriented model and are not for profit organisations. They were set up as trusts with boards of governors who monitor progress and seek accountability. Registration with IB World Schools is mandatory and so conforms to IB standards, engage their staff with CPD and are expected to follow a defined set of rules and regulations which also feature a complaints procedure.

However, a vast majority of international schools in Sri Lanka are defined by two alternative categories; ones which are providers of international examinations and others which deliver the local curriculum in English. Those in the latter category are associated with The Association of International Schools in Sri Lanka (AISSL) and others under the recently launched ‘The International Schools of Sri Lanka’ (TISSL)

The Association of International Schools in Sri Lanka (AISSL) with a membership of 51 schools features on it’s website that ‘a handful of International Schools in Colombo cater only to a limited elite crowd who have an enormous amount of wealth and power at their disposal. They only offer international examinations to their student population and  have little concern about the inculcation of moral, cultural and traditional values which are the basic foundations of Sri Lankan Society. The pupils who come out of the above mentioned institutions are being labelled to a certain extent as aliens who pay least concern to our rich culture and traditions. We often see most of them ridicule our values. AISSL features themselves as the ‘other set of International Schools’ who are ‘set up to cater to the middle class families who reside in the provinces who have lost faith in mainstream education offered in Sri Lanka and aspire for English medium education with Sri Lankan flavour. Their main request is for their sons and daughters to educate themselves in an environment which has a rich religious and cultural background while receiving a sound English education’. The website also features that there are ‘51 schools from different provinces which have become its members. All member schools are offering the Sri Lanka National Curriculum from grade one to thirteen and the member schools are using English medium books published in Sri Lanka by the private sector and those that are imported from India’.www.aislanka.org

The alternative set of schools which subscribe to international examinations is an organization which has been in existence since 1987 with 23 member schools, has decided recently to formally identify themselves as The International Schools of Sri Lanka (TISSL). TISSL comprises institutions that have a clearly stated philosophy and programme for academic, co-curricular and extra-curricular activities. They are indeed largely Colombo based schools offering a choice of international examinations and often featuring unrivalled access to renowned universities worldwide. The organisation is said to have a constitution, aims to provide world class education in a Sri Lankan context, to provide students with an internationally recognised education whilst promoting and upholding the values and culture of Sri Lanka through the close cooperation and association of member schools. The mandate of the organisation is to maintain good relationships among members and to contribute towards the development of international education. Most recent news of an Act for international schools has perhaps resulted in a formal constitution, a logo, a website, awarding membership plaques to promote brand identity and to also provide students of all member schools with a valid identification card.
However what is at stake and warrants discussion is more than an association and re-branding. In addition there is a clear divide between the two sets of international schools which is not just driven by curriculum but through perceptions and opinion. It is also apparent that international schools are creating a subculture within the education sector and in terms of the numbers that subscribe to either one of the international school schemes in operation, and given that education is beyond being a mere commodity, it is fair that some regulation, review and overview should be in place.

International schools are indeed a symbol of globalisation and are representative of participation in a global education culture. However, when the subscribers are represented by demonstrable numbers, and more so when we speak of something as close to our hearts as education, we need more accountability, regulation and rigour. It is guessed that there are nearly 40,000 pupils who subscribe to international schools and a fraction of these are members of any association and so function independently. The fact that there are no accurate figures of how many children there are who actually subscribe to an ‘international education’ is even more worrying. It is also clear that membership of some of the associations is by invitation, perhaps the criteria being a British curriculum,so many institutions are falling between the cracks as they may not have the initiative to qualify for membership of an organisation.  The guidelines and parameters of international schools are too gray and too ill-defined, so there does appear to be a need to set up a regulatory body which will look at key deliverables, provision and facilities. In many instances, facilities for recreation need to be reviewed, where a car park is clearly inadequate, provision needs to be addressed where a time-table which has more than its fair allocation for religious studies is not in accordance with curricular guidelines, where teacher qualifications need to be considered in view of clear deliverables, be it academic standards.

International schools under whichever scheme need to ensure that they offer the best service possible in line with fees charged. If a scheme of study is being subscribed to such as IB, that it would not be abandoned at short notice leaving their pupils which no options or choices, that they would ensure that they complete the stipulated curriculum in time for exams, that they would pledge to engage in CPD or attend regional conferences where they would see that some international schools in the region are striding ahead in a bid to prepare their pupils. We do acknowledge that the results are often good but again the scourge of tuition classes, unethical conduct such as paying for course work, may not reflect on how well we are actually doing. Many international school educators speak of preparing our youth to engage in the opportunity that the twenty-first century presents through exposure, but to engage in education within the twenty-first century would mean going beyond the 3 R’s and engaging in the learning innovation skills of 4Cs; critical thinking, collaboration, creativity and communication;

There is no doubt that the demand for an English education and international education is growing for a number of reasons such as restricted access to our own universities, a preference for alterative higher education or an education in English which would provide untold access such as the world wide web, wider information access or simply positioning oneself to be competitive in a growing knowledge hub.While we do acknowledge that a large sub-culture has been created within the education sector, we do hope that the initiative by policy makers would not be confined to a bid to create a nationalistic school culture through the introduction of history, religion and mother tongue as subjects. It would be disastrous if the recommendation is that the curriculum taught at these schools would be compatible with that taught at national schools.

Our own local curriculum needs a vast revamp as they lack analytical or critical thinking skills, the material for history is inward looking and it is questionable if such interference through a restricted curriculum would actually position us to be competitive within a global knowledge hub. Additionally,proper teacher recruitment has been alluded to but often teacher absenteeism is rife within the state sector and textbook-driven class room practice would be flawed benchmarks of standards to adhere to.

The government needs to focus on the providing some guidance on best practice for some, but to also ensure that it does not strangle some worthwhile initiatives. In an ideal world all provision would be equal, we would have a choice of languages in which we could study we would have access to unlimited resources and so state of the art facilities and resources, and a larger number of places at university to avail of.  Regrettably this is not so, and to achieve or come close to achieving the ideal we should emulate the Singapore model and spend as much as 20% of the national budget on education, and not indiscriminately but wisely on schemes such as Edusave, The Integrated Programme and Global Schoolhouse.

The Singapore model does have its merits as admired by many such as Michael Gove, Education Secretary for the UK for many reasons such as its positioning as a knowledge-based economy, perhaps more so as Singapore has constantly focussed on developing its main resource of human capital and manpower capability. With increasing non-nationals in Singapore accessing provision, education is a source of revenue and accounted for 3.6% of its economy with a growth aim of 5% in the ensuing years.

The Private Education Act, of Singapore is worth reviewing too. Under the Private Education Act, the Council for Private Education (CPE)functions as a statutory board empowered with the legislative power to regulate the private education sector. In addition to its role as the sectoral regulator of private education institutions, the Council facilitates and assists with uplifting standards in the local private education industry. Out of 308 private education institutes which applied for registration, less than a third were given the stamp of approval.  

Only 63 ERF applications have been evaluated by the CPE, of which 36 PEIs have been registered for a period of four years, and 26 PEIs have been registered for one year. The registration period awarded to a PEI is dependent on its degree of compliance with the Private Education Regulations.The guidelines may be too stringent and regulatory but it is after all education we are deliberating and it is perhaps a worthwhile benchmark to consider.

Education is more than a commodity; it is a basic human right and a catalyst for development. Under the mandate of Education for All there is a strengthened focus on equity and this should perhaps be our focus. Equity so that there is less of an emphasis on Shishyathwaya for the access it is perceived to provide. Equity, so that we don’t have a vast divide between national schools or 1C schools or even international schools.

Is it that international schools have mushroomed on account of a lack of confidence in state education? Let’s also hope that this particular sector of education which has remained independent and un-politicised, would be provided with a guidance template, an element of monitoring and accountability in close collusion with relevant stake holders.

However if this particular sector of education is politicised much like everything else, then we seek redress elsewhere.

It is commendable that some of the international schools are committed to filling some gaps within the state education by the provision of English classes through a gateway of English centres around the country, which are well supported and responsive, but I digress…


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