A ten-year old child finishes school at 1.30 pm. Then he/she takes a bite from his/her lunch and gets ready for the after school class slated for Grade 5 students. That class goes on till 3.30 pm. Afterwards the mother picks him/her and takes to a tuition class that starts at 4.30 pm.
There’s no time to go home and change his/her uniform. So in his/her uniform the bleary-eyed, exhausted, stressed up child studies till 9.00 pm in the class. Picked up by a tired father who has returned home after work, by the time the child goes back home, bathes and sleeps its way past 10.00 pm.
Another batch of such harassed children, some 300,000 will sit for the Grade 5 Scholarship Exam on August 5 this year as well. On their little heads is the weight of sky high expectations of parents’ and teachers’. Enough and more has already been written about this torturous lifestyle of a Grade 5 student in Sri Lanka.
The race now starts in Grade 3 with a pattern already set with parents picking the eight-year olds after school and rushing for tuition class to groom the child for the grade 5 Exam. There’s hardly any time for the child to play or interact with siblings or grandparents at home or neighbours. The child has become a machine that should be on the go at the push of a button by parents and teachers.
Psychiatrists in Sri Lanka have already protested against the Scholarship Exam which more often than not is the only way a bright rural child can get into an elite school in the district capital or in Colombo before the Ordinary Level exam. They argue that besides the strain of preparing for the exam for three years, the post exam blues of the students who fail to get the cut off marks, who form nearly 90% of those who sit, badly affect the personality of the child. Failure after such strenuous sustained effort is not something that the children at that tender age are capable of coping with.
Three years ago, Education Minister Akila Viraj Kariyawasam conceded that not only Grade 5 scholarship exam even the GCE Ordinary Level Examination added too much strain on students.
“Several countries in the world have done away with challenging exams such as GCE O/L and Grade-five scholarship exams which impose a mental pressure on the students and parents as well. We have still not decided on anything yet, but a decision will be taken on the two exams after speaking to educationists,” the minister was quoted as saying.
The world is moving more and more towards informal education with special emphasis on outdoor activities for primary students. Here in Sri Lanka, where the system is yet to gear towards such a trend, the solution is to improve the quality of education in outstation schools so that there would not be such a rush to enter city schools.
In the absence of a nation-wide campaign to reach that goal due to financial and other constraints the government it appears is yet to make up its mind to scrap Grade 5 Scholarship Exam forthwith. Of late, Minister Kariyawasam has been saying that he would make the decision around 2019. However the decision is still pending. After all scrapping the exam outright without an alternative for the rural student is likely to earn the wrath of the parents.
On the other hand since already there are tuition classes for the exam starting at grade three, at the rate that the parents and teachers are pushing the students in another year or two we may hear about such classes starting from grade two. One may not be surprised if we hear about kindergarten students attending Grade 5 scholarship preparatory classes in another five years or so.
Surely we need to do something immediately to put an end to this harassment meted out to our children in the name of education.