Sri Lanka should open schools, but reduce exam pressure: EducationForumSL

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka should open schools as soon as it is safe to do so, but students should not be subject to the same exam pressure as earlier, which is in case a flawed approach that leaves students without reasoning skills, an education policy group has said.

Sri Lanka schooling in case locked in a “covering the syllabus to prepare children for exams” approach, Education Forum SL, a policy group said.

“There seems to be no intention of seeking alternatives to the “covering the syllabus to prepare children for exams” approach to education,” the grouping co-ordinated by Sujata Gamage and Tara de Mel said.

“While we appreciate the government’s initiatives in the health front to reopen schools, we cannot be happy about the pedagogical aspects.

“Covering 20 months of missed work in distance mode or even in reopened schools is simply not possible, but examination pressures leave teachers with no other choice.”

Sri Lanka’s school curricula are “overloaded with content and teachers feed the same for regurgitation by children at term-tests three times a year and three national tests at Grade 5, 1, and 13,” the group said.

“Contrary to popular belief, our exams too are nothing to be proud of,” EducationForumSL said.

“They test concepts, procedures, and problem solving within a national examination bubble with a self-referential curriculum in the form of past papers.

“Studies show that when mathematics question papers, say, are set according to international standards such as TIMMS which require knowing, applying, and reasoning in a broader context, our students do poorly.”

There had also been concerns raised by other observers that Sri Lanka is suffering from the same effects as several East European nations where centralized syllabi of a state education system brainwashed generations with cherry picked history and nationalism.

Like many Eastern European state supported education came to Sri Lanka from initiatives of mainly British pedagogues.

In Eastern Europe, students learned to believe and not apply inquiry and critical thinking.

“Western Europe developed the system of obligatory public education,” economist and philosopher Ludwig von Mises who studied ethnic and linguistic strife in former states of the Austro-Hungarian Empire said.

“It came to Eastern Europe as an achievement of Western civilization. But in the linguistically mixed territories it turned into a dreadful weapon in the hands of governments determined to change the linguistic allegiance of their subjects.

“What the philanthropists and pedagogues of England who advocated public education did not foresee what waves of hatred and resentment would rise out of this institution.”

Many schools in Sri Lanka date back the 1834 Commission of Education and the later 1865 Morgan Commission which required a secular education in non-religious subjects analysts say. (Colombo/Sept25/2021)

The full statement is reproduced below:

Schools should reopen at the first opportunity, but with reduced examination pressures

The urgency of getting children back to school at the first opportunity is accepted worldwide, but Covid-19 has also brought three other issues to the fore internationally –

(1) Ethics of conducting competitive examinations when significant portions of the students have been left out of education

(2) Wisdom of continuing same old education when a full return to normalcy is not in sight

(3) The need for combining face-2-face and distance mode of teaching and learning as the new normal.

Meanwhile here in Sri Lanka, our Ministry of Education goes about as if it is business as usual. Dates for
exams are scheduled, postponed, and rescheduled.

There seems to be no intention of seeking alternatives to the “covering the syllabus to prepare children for exams” approach to education.

While we appreciate the government’s initiatives in the health front to reopen schools, we cannot be happy about the pedagogical aspects. Covering 20 months of missed work in distance mode or even in reopened schools is simply not possible, but examination pressures leave teachers with no other choice.

The ministry should not continue to act like the proverbial ostrich anymore. It must reduce the examination pressures on students and teachers after consulting a broad spectrum of stakeholders.

Our own work has revealed that Sri Lanka’s school curricula are overloaded with content and teachers feed the same for regurgitation by children at term-tests three times a year and three national tests at Grade 5, 1, and 13.

Contrary to popular belief, our exams too are nothing to be proud of. They test concepts, procedures, and problem solving within a national examination bubble with a self-referential curriculum in the form of past papers.

Studies show that when mathematics question papers, say, are set according to international standards such as TIMMS which require knowing, applying, and reasoning in a broader context, our
students do poorly.

It is not too late. If the central government does the right thing to reduce examination pressures, our
schools and local education authorities have the know-how to give our children a good education even
under the present trying circumstances.

Therefore, we urge the government to take the following actions:

MINISTRY OF EDUCATION

1. Schedule GCE A/L exam only after providing adequate catch-up opportunities to applicants

2. Postpone all other exams till August 2022

3. Expedite the health measures required for reopening of schools

4. Negotiate in good faith to bring teachers and principals back to work

PROVINCIAL/ZONAL/SCHOOL AUTHORITIES

1. Freed of examination constraints, reorient education to its true intent

2. Prepare for uncertainties by adopting hybrids of face-to-face and distance education modes

THE GCE A/L EXAMINATION is a defining milestone for our youth. Therefore, we urge the government to
take every effort to conduct the GCE A/L examination ensuring equality of opportunity to all first-time
applicants.

Schools should be opened at the earliest for A/L students and government TV channels or governmentsponsored private satellite TV channels should be dedicated to this exam. (The value of TV broadcasts for other grades is another matter that should be evaluated). The examination date should be set only after 3 months or more after such measures are in place.

THE GCE O/L EXAMINATION need not be a life-determining event. Government can provide a test bank of diagnostic tests for the three national languages and math for use by schools and individuals at end of years 5, 9, 11, if streaming students into various streams of study is necessary.

GRADE 5 SCHOLARSHIP EXAMINATION (G5SE): 2022 is not a good time to move children entering Grade 6 to schools away from home. The Grade 5 examination can be offered in 2022 August for children who are technically in Grade 5 and Grade 6 that year and admit them to popular schools in 2023 for Grade 6 and Grade 7, respectively.

TEACHERS’STRIKE: The education of our children is in the hands of teachers and principals who are closest to the children. Until the teachers’ strike, they have been doing their best to reach out to the children without any recognition or support from the Ministry of Education. It is the Ministry’s turn to give the teachers the respect and recognition they deserve.

REORIENTING THE TEACHING AND LEARNING PROCESS: Competencies defined in the curriculum say all the right things about what children should know and can do, but examination pressures have grossly distorted the teaching and learning process. The pandemic is an opportunity to reorient education to its intended purpose.

• Above all, focus on the social-emotional-physical development of children

• Help all students to get up to speed on language and math using diagnostic tests as guides

• Teach all other subjects through activity-based modules that are self-directed by students.

If our schools choose to free themselves from examinations in Grades 1-9 at least, children will not only
receive the benefits of a holistic education but do better at examinations in Grades 11 and 13, we have
reasons to believe.

HYBRID MODE AS THE NORM: It would be foolhardy to think that schools can be kept open as before. As
teachers and principals point out, it will be hard to keep children apart and strictly observe social distancing.

The direction of this pandemic is uncertain. It is best that each school community adopts a practice that
suits it best. Ministry of Education should follow their lead and provide resources as needed. Various hybrid modes of combining in-class learning with home-based learning must be tested.

These proposals are not just wishful thinking. Bold experiments are taking place. Stay tuned for more.
Meanwhile, ask your child’s school why they are continuing with business as usual.

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