IPS Research Fellow Nisha Arunatilake presenting findings of the study while IPS Research Officer Ashani Abayasekara looks on
Pic by Damith Wickramasinghe
By Shabiya Ali Ahlam
Sri Lanka’s free education system that is expected to be the foundation in bridging the expanding talent dearth is far from reaching its goal due to poor teacher recruitment policies set and executed by the government, an in-depth research by a leading economic think-tank revealed.
A report launched by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) yesterday highlighted that ad-hoc recruitment practices coupled with poor planning on education spend, despite allocations, is said to have hampered the academic performance at school level, mainly at the General Certificate in Education (GCE) Ordinary Level (O/L) examinations.
Although Sri Lanka has achieved commendable school enrollment and literacy rates, it is noted that concerns continue to mount on the quality of education, which is reflected in poor academic achievements. In 2015, approximately 45 percent of students either failed or only conditionally passed the GCE O/L, a pre-requisite for most further education courses, including the GCE Advanced Level (A/L). According to 2016 data from the Ministry of Education (MOE), the drop in pass rates was attributed to majority of students having failed in mathematics.
Key findings of the study revealed that O/L performance is significantly lower in smaller schools—schools that offer either or only Commerce and Art streams, and schools that have classes up to grade 11.
According to IPS Research Fellow Nisha Arunatilake, this suggests that lower performance is not just due to difference in ability, and requires special attention if the overall pass rate is to improve nationally.
“Schools that report the best O/L results have more than the adequate number of mathematics teachers, while very poor performing schools face teacher shortages. Further, about 44 percent of teachers are both in-field and experienced in better performing schools, but non-in-field and inexperienced in inferior schools,” shared Arunatilake. Highlighted was that the share of in-field and inexperienced mathematics teachers are representatives of recent graduates with required qualification but little or no experience.
It was recommended that measures must therefore be taken to reduce the number of both— non-in-field and in-field inexperienced teachers— while alongside raising the shares of in-field and experienced teachers.
The IPS suggests that the government’s target must be to increase the share of qualified and experienced teachers to at least 80 percent from the current 40 percent.
“The systematic training and recruitment of teachers into ‘teacher service’ is important in this regard,” the report stated.
Furthermore, while it is observed that the largest surplus of teachers is available for English language, with 3,055 teachers morethan required, the worst shortage is experienced for mathematics, followed by science subjects.
This shortage is apparent in all provincial schools. However, a scarcity of English teachers is seen in Northern, Eastern, North Central, Uva, and Sabragamuwa provinces.
While the proposed budget allocations for improving teacher training was commended, it was stressed that the allocations should not only be made for improving training facilities for English teachers, but should give due emphasis on mathematics and science as well.
“This is especially necessary given the emphasis in the budget for improving science, mathematics, and technology training in the country,” Arunatilake said.