The Dailymirror sat with National Education Commission (NEC) Chairman Prof. Lakshman Jayathilaka to discuss the General Education Reforms following the presentation of NEC’s final report to President Maithripala Sirisena recently. Excerpts:
Q What is the solution to thousands of school leavers joining the job market?
The school system is responsible for the development of every child who enters it. Education should enable students to charter their future in an increasingly competitive world. School leavers should be an important concern of the school and the education system, and every school leaver should be well-advised about career prospects and after-school choices before they go through general guidelines. The NEC’s proposal for a national policy on general education contains principals on how students should be treated by schools. Schools will be declared by the government to be the education service providers to their respective communities.
Q Many educational psychologists claim the grade five scholarship exam is too much for a ten-year-old. What do you think?
The matter needs serious reviewing and the child should be relieved from the pressure of competition. The purpose of the scholarship examination is to enable capable and talented students from relatively disadvantaged schools to join school with better resources. The idea of having disadvantaged schools in our system is certainly obnoxious and should be discontinued. The focus should be on that aspect. Parental, school and media pressure on children should be eliminated.
Q Have you drawn attention to the competition among parents and students to pass the scholarship exam with higher marks?
Yes. It is a very unhealthy state of affairs that hinders the emotional development of the child.
Q How can we end the competition among parents to admit their children in so-called prestigious schools?
Restricting classes and school population to internationally accepted norms. Supporting less-popular schools and developing new ones to serve the need of the local populace. Schools should be in easily accessible locations. So-called prestigious schools are not many when compared to the total number, and the education system they follow is not much different from that of what ordinary schools follow. As in the other schools, students have to depend on private tuition to prepare themselves for public examinations. With many of the students having to travel in school vans, there is a high probability of them being adversely affected, both physically and mentally.
Q People believe a child must excel in at least one foreign language and IT to become successful. Do you agree?
This is a wrong approach. Although knowing a foreign language, especially English, and being tech-savvy are beneficial, they are not central to learning. These skills should be provided at every school at appropriate levels, rather than compulsion to excel. Learning should be through motivation and most importantly a happy experience for the child.
Q Private tuition has become a multi-billion rupee business today. Despite 4 out of 4.5 million students attending tuition classes, there is no monitoring mechanism for this big business. Why?
There is very little social resistance to the growth of private tuition. The immediate task is to ensure that the tutories are made responsible for the protection of the child. Until excessive competition in solely examination-based assessment is eliminated from procedures for admission to higher learning, people will resort to means of improving examination performance. There is much for the education system and student assessment system to do, and for the parents to learn about the purpose of education.
Q What is NEC’s policy on international schools?
They will remain as long as there is demand. The NEC’s task is to seek ways to ensure that private schools provide proper education and guidance to children. The only possible approach at present is to bring private schools under the wing of the national education system. A regulatory mechanism should be put in place.
Q What reforms would you suggest for grade five, GCE O/L and A/L curricula?
The pressure on students to perform should be eased. Extensive recommendations have been made in connection with syllabi and other aspects of curricula. Policy Proposal 93 contains specific recommendations in this respect.
Q What are the reforms needed in the sports sector of a school?
There is a need to develop extra-curricular activities. It should be made mandatory for students to engage in two or more extra-curricular activities. The school should be provided with human and material resources. Sports should be for enjoyment and should be accessible to all. Policy Proposal 94 is specific about encouragement of students with aptitude for sports and other extra-curricular interests.
Q At GCE A/L classes, teachers have to deal with adults. What are your thoughts?
The duration of schooling could be curtailed by up to two years and there are proposals to that effect. The problem of adolescence has always existed even with much younger students. The only way forward for any school is for the teacher and pupil to build good social relations so that it would instill faith and confidence on both sides.
However, the NEC report on general education and its recommendations are accessible to the public via the website nec.gov.lk. We encourage public comment on every aspect of the report and the proposals.