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When COVID brings us hard lessons in a teacup!

3 December 2020 01:36 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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 This year was one of the worst years for education in Sri Lanka. (Pic AFP)

What’s evident is that the state controls the speed at which knowledge flows to students 

A state would have it tough if people educate themselves in double quick time

Most regimes went slow in finding solutions to grievances of undergrads

There is also no allocation in the new Budget to settle teacher-related issues

 

School education coming to a standstill in Sri Lanka can be viewed from many angles. The word standstill can be too harsh for people supporting this government. But what other best word can describe a situation where students who are studying are told that exams are postponed indefinitely? This is the scenario with the Ordinary Level Examination, which was scheduled to begin on January 18, 2021. 


If one studies the education system in the country and how the government manages it, what’s evident is that the state controls the speed at which knowledge flows into the minds of the students and academics.  A state would have it tough if people educated themselves in double quick time. We say the internet is a useful tool to speed up education. But check the internet download speed offered by service providers, including the state-run Sri Lanka Telecom; it’s low as 16mbps and could drop even as low as 8mbps. This could look pathetic if a comparison is made with other internet using countries like Hong Kong (54.1), Taiwan (85.2), Singapore (70.86) and Japan (42.77). The figures here indicate internet speed. And you bring the internet speed offered in Sweden to the equation, which is 500mbps, you see a figure which blows away other service providers in Asia. 


There are days when university lectures are disrupted due to strikes. Most regimes ‘went slow’ in finding solutions to the grievances of undergraduates just to control them. 


And if you check the salary schemes of teachers and principals, what they earn is paltry compared to the salaries offered in other professions. We are made to think whether governments purposely keep the salaries of teachers very low to discourage ambitious, educated academics from entering this profession; just to have a control of the education system. 


The Teachers’ Association of Sri Lanka has shown concerns about the monies allocated for education through the present Budget for 2021 which shows an allocation which is less than Rs 41 billion compared to the previous budget. This is despite the Teachers’ Association maintaining that governments during the past failed to allocate 6% of GDP for maintaining the functioning of the education system in the country. There is also no allocation in the new budget to settle teacher-related issues, the Teachers’ Association affirms. 


This year was one of the worst years for education in Sri Lanka. According to the Teachers’ Association schools have not had more than five-and-a-half months of classroom sessions. As a result students were denied of a sound education; this is probably the reason why the GCE O’Level Examination was postponed indefinitely. 


The Government always encouraged online education during the pandemic. But not all schools had access to internet connections and computers. The education authorities in schools in general say that online education was a failure in Sri Lanka. There is a school of thought that when this electronic way of educating students was not providing the desired results, the regime decided to open most schools on November 23, against warnings by health experts. But attendance was poor; highlighting the fact that parents and students still didn’t have a trust in the Government’s plan to continue with classroom education during the pandemic. 


We always have had this lack of trust in the education the state offers our children. Though our lawmakers rate our university education high and try to increase the university intake each year, they opt for overseas university education for their offspring. 


Trust will play a big role in how we continue with education during this pandemic. We have read in newspapers how schools in areas like Ambalangoda, Kandy, Chilaw and Hatton were forced to close down again because children, whose loved ones at home were down with the coronavirus, had attended classroom sessions; exposing others to danger. If we don’t learn lessons of trust at school, where we spend most of the time during weekdays, where else can we learn it from?


On a parting note, elders and teachers in school also must play their roles and be more human during this challenging period. It was reported that when a schoolgirl had fainted (due to breathing difficulties) during morning assembly in a school in Embilipitiya no one from the academic institute had stepped forward to help her; for obvious reasons. This is a child, and the message she takes home is ‘don’t trust anyone in school during a problem’. 


If each individual is isolated during a challenging situation we’ll soon produce a selfish society; something which any government would love because it is easy to rule a divided nation. This is the time to remind ourselves of that great TV advertisement made for a popular brand of Sri Lankan tea. In the advertisement a wife convinces her husband to take a cup of tea to the next door neighbour who has returned home after being subject to a period of quarantine. We remember how the steaming cup of tea is placed at the neighbour’s door and the bell is rung afterwards.


Schools may be closed and politicians may not be doing much for us, but opportunties to learn from might come our way in subtle ways. We need to be alert!

 

 

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