Sri Lanka

For a new education system

Oct 3, 2017
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s declaration that the country’s education system will be modernized, in keeping with the 21st Century, will be welcomed by those who has the country’s future development at heart. This, coupled with his decision to make 13 years of schooling compulsory for every child, no doubt, augurs well for the collective well-being of the younger generation.
Speaking to students and teachers, after visiting Smart classroom at the Sri Jayawardenepura Maha Vidyalaya, the Premier said his government will manage the economy and pave the way for a technology-based education system, in line with the 21st Century.
Admittedly, the country’s education system, as it stands, is meandering along aimlessly, stuck as it is, in the old method. Too much of experimenting, too, by successive governments, has had a negative impact. Educationists and policymakers have failed to ring the necessary changes to fit in with the changing times. We have been producing worthless graduates from an inexhaustible assembly line. Students have been made to digest content from textbooks and regurgitate them at examinations.
Examination oriented education has failed to unravel the hidden capacity of the student, who may be endowed with a multiplicity of talents and capabilities. Mass learning has been the norm, leaving no room for creativity. Day in and day out, subjects are being taught which has no relevance to the demands in the employment market or capacity building of the student. The system has been structured in such a way so as to enslave the student to mere book knowledge, not preparing him for a vocation. It is time that a complete reappraisal is made of the school curriculum and subjects introduced that will make the student relish the time spent at school.
The present education system certainly needs a complete overhaul to match the modern demands and the challenges. Education by rote should be dispensed with and a fresh dynamism introduced to the experience of learning. Topics and subjects that are out of step with the radical transformations that have taken place should be replaced in the time tables. Teacher, pupil relationship too should undergo change and the classroom be made a congenial place, looked forward to by the pupil rather than a place to be shunned. Approach to teaching too should depart from the beaten track.
The whole matter of University education, also, should engage the attention of the authorities and policymakers. Here too, the subject content and the approach should undergo a radical change. Presently, the bulk of our university students are those following subjects in the arts stream and the humanities. Needless to say, they have little prospects for employment, once out in the world. It was revealed that the majority of students who joined the 1971 insurrection were arts graduates who could not seek gainful employment.
Which also begs the question if free education has brought about the expected dividends. Has the country’s free education system only succeeded in producing a young generation not equipped to gain from that education, productively? Is the massive amount of money invested to provide free education worth the effort, if no gain is accrued to the country, or the individual?
The Premier’s decision to make 13 years of compulsory schooling for each child, while commendable, should accompany the changes already mentioned. If not, we will only be adding to the army of unemployed in the country and the attended social problems. There is also the problem of infrastructure and the dearth of teachers. A large number of schools, particularly in the rural areas, are without teachers and most schools are in a deplorable state, some functioning without even the basic amenities, such as drinking water and toilets, as is being frequently reported.
There is also the question of school dropouts. In a majority of cases, economic reasons compel parents to cut short the education of their children, while poverty has also resulted in a considerable number of children not having seen the inside of a classroom. These matters, needless to say, have to be addressed first if the Prime Minister’s plan is to succeed. No doubt, the idea to allow 13 years of uninterrupted education for each child would result in the creation of a new generation of educated youth. It would also result in the arrest of the multifarious social ills such drugs, alcoholism and crime, which more often than not, is born out of ignorance. It would also add to the literacy rate, which Sri Lanka takes pride in.
However, mass education would also bring with it other issues such as providing employment. Hence, it is important that the economy is made sound and more and more investments brought into the country for the creation of job opportunities to cater to the new demand. The Premier also made the imported point that the education system should not be changed with the change of government. Since, both main parties were now in government he did not foresee this happening in the immediate future. Both parties, it must be said, have been tinkering with the education system in the past, sending it off direction. 
Daily News, October 3, 2017

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