National Education Commission (NEC) Chairman Lakshman Jayatilaka said last week that the NEC would recommend to President Mahinda Rajapaksa to introduce a mechanism whereby school teachers would provide private tuition to students after school hours. Explaining the rationale behind the idea, Prof. Jayatilaka had said it was a well-known fact that most tuition masters who conducted classes for GCE O/L and A/L students did not even have O/L and A/L qualifications, while teachers who take these classes at state schools must necessarily be trained graduates.
According to a news item, what the NEC is to recommend is that school teachers conduct classes after normal school hours for a monthly fee of about Rs.200 for a subject instead of Rs.500, as charged by private tuition masters. Professor Jayatilake said in this way students could go home early while the school could charge a fee of Rs.50 for the use of its resources.
As he had predicted, this move would definitely stir a hornet’s nest as it comes at a time when almost every action by the education system authorities is seen by the trade unions of the education sector as a subtle attempt to privatize the education system of the country. Also although NEC Chairman’s recommendation overtly seems to be a good move, a hasty final decision on this issue might be counter-productive.
The claim that many tuition masters do not possess the necessary educational qualifications to teach is no doubt a very serious matter to be taken up at the highest level, since almost all students preparing for GCE O/L and A/L examinations attend these tuition classes. But at the same time the same education authorities not only employed volunteer teachers to serve at the government schools but also continued to do so while repeatedly rejecting the applications of some of them on the premise that they are not up to the mark, until recently.
On the other hand, many school teachers are already engaged in running tuition classes, creating a serious conflict of interests. What the NEC suggests is to legalise that situation. Also several practical problems too would arise if this suggestion is to be implemented. The NEC Chairman recommends that school teachers conduct classes after normal school hours while claiming that the children should remain in the school under the supervision of their own teachers during tuition hours. To see these things in real the authorities must have an assurance that the teachers would volunteer to take to school tuition as suggested by the NEC, and if they make it compulsory for teachers, should the latter not accept the mechanism, then it would tantamount to extending school hours, which would be another issue for the trade unions.
The basic question that arises here is as to whether this very recommendation points to the acceptance by the authorities that the school education has failed to prepare the students for the GCE O/L and A/L examinations on its own. Hence, it is prudent to go for a serious public discourse before implementing such a mechanism with possible far reaching implications.