Teachers have been criticized for not being up to date with the times however, their grievances about the absence of a proper system to further their education has been repeatedly overlooked. The best way, in my view is to establish a separate university for teacher education.
This is significant for a number of reasons: a) declining teacher quality, b) absence of opportunities for teachers to further their education, c) the very low IQ level in our nation, d) lack of creativity among teachers in general, e) lack of in-service training for teachers, f) declining quality of textbooks, g) frequent fiascoes in textbook writing and paper setting, h) lack of formalized procedures for course/curriculum evaluation, i) lack of qualified, trained textbook writers and j) the demanding nature of today’s education, etc. The above are within the scope of the services provided by teachers at present. Above all, the salary issue makes the nobility of the profession a “throne of thorns”.
A separate university for teacher education will produce graduates specialized to be teachers from which teams of experts will emerge
Regional universities as examples
The provincial universities were established decades ago to cater to the needs the old, well-established universities could not. Such as the comparison of the mission statements of the Colombo University and the Sabaragamuwa University will reveal that the latter aims to equip the next generation with necessary skills for the world of work.
As a metropolitan national university with historic links to the First University College, the Colombo University’s Vision is to strive to be a centre of excellence of regional and international repute, creating new knowledge and sustain a culture of learning and critical inquiry, and fostering a spirit of service and commitment to national development and democratic values in a plural society. Its Mission is to be a centre of excellence in teaching and research, with commitment to producing men and women of high ethical standards and social responsibility and capable of creative, analytical and independent thinking, and facilitate the creation and dissemination of knowledge, and contribute to national development through partnerships between staff, students and relevant sectors of society. (University of Colombo Handbook, 2007)
The Sabaragamuwa University
Its Vision is to be an internationally acclaimed center of excellence in higher learning and research, producing dynamic managers [emphasis mine], leaders and nation builders to guide the destiny of Sri Lanka. And its Mission is to search for and disseminate knowledge and promote learning, research and training to produce men and women proficient in their respective disciplines possessing practical skills [emphasis mine] and positive attitudes enabling [them] to contribute towards sustainable development of the country. (Sabragamuwa University, Student Handbook, 2018/2019)
According to its Corporate Plan (1992–1996), Sabaragamuwa University still caters to one of the initial objectives of its establishment as one of the Affiliated University Colleges (AUC), i.e., to increase professionalization and vocationalization of university education. The AUCs were created to differ from the conventional universities mainly in the following respects: (a) they should first cater to the needs of the provinces in which they are located; (b) they should increasingly utilize the human and material resources available locally; (c) they are to be confined mainly to vocationalized and professionalized courses with relatively large scope for self-employment (Indraratne, 1995, p. 16).
Thus, we see a clear difference between the visions and missions of the new universities and the well-established old universities. The former, over the years, have produced a remarkable output of those contributing to national development in areas which were not catered to through the higher education system before. E.g.: Faculties of Applied Sciences with Food Technology cater to a very important need of the country which was not met by the old universities.
A nation with a low IQ level
The teaching profession is facing challenges from all quarters, most recently e-learning, adding to the examination-dominated system that does not encourage critical thinking. Added to that is an unbearable syllabus to cover within a year and having to teach classes of 50+ students at one extreme to classes of just five students at the other. The International IQ ranking shows that the average IQ level of Sri Lankans is 79, falling into the category of “Borderline” in the IQ Classifications in Educational Use (Wechsler, David. Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale-Third edition. Psychological Corporation, 1997) while coming under “Borderline Intellectual Functioning” in the IQ Classifications in Psychiatric Use (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV) American Psychiatric Association).
Even though one can cast doubt on this claim by stating that IQ ranking is not trustworthy or counter it with the highest literacy rate in the region, anyone who looks at the society and notes everyday experiences (such as a three-wheeler indicating right and turning left) would find one answer, “This is because our IQ is 79”, with a sigh of desperation.
With ever-increasing criticisms vis-à-vis areas listed and very feeble efforts to rectify them, have we ever pondered to what extent our teachers are equipped to face these challenges? This is where elevating the teacher education to university level becomes a must.
Teachers at a loose end
The largest teacher output is from the 19 National Colleges of Education (NCoE) that offer a diploma in education with no avenue to further their education. In comparison, any university graduate can immediately register for a Master’s or post-graduate diploma level programme. The NCoE teachers with a 3-year diploma and a solid teaching practicum must start from scratch to further their education: For a degree, she/he will have to register in a university and spend at least three more years to complete a degree, which most often is not related to the education profession. The very fact that these teachers must read for a basic degree while teaching itself makes it even more challenging with the numerous demands of teaching in a present-day classroom.
Currently only a few universities have Faculties of Education, one being the Colombo University. Some others only have a Department under the Faculty of Arts, e.g. the Peradeniya and Jaffna Universities. The number of students that can be enrolled into these is extremely limited. A few universities have special degree programmes such as Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL) to produce teachers of English only. Therefore, there are fewer graduates specialized to be teachers compared to other disciplines that produce graduate professionals, e.g., the Faculties of Engineering and Medicine.
With all these issues to discourage the teachers, how fair is it to expect teachers to perform well in the changing classroom?
We need to remember that we reap what we sow and if the quality of teachers is declining or stagnating, the physical resources we provide for upgrading schools will be an utter waste.
Why not a university for Teacher Education?
I propose a separate university for teacher education under the University Grants Commission as the best remedy. When we have separate universities for Fisheries, Visual and Performing Arts, Defence, etc., why cannot we have a university for the most noble profession on the planet? We should be ashamed that we have not prioritized university education for teachers before we considered establishing universities for other professions. It goes without saying that the key to education is teacher education, and the key to quality education is QUALITY TEACHER EDUCATION.
A separate university for teacher education will produce graduates specialized to be teachers from which teams of experts will emerge. University education, though undermined, is nearly everyone’s dream. Let us give our future teachers the chance to be educated in a fully-fledged university for Teacher Education. Mr. President, over to you!