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Education is not a race


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The Government has announced an end to giving island rankings to students passing the Grade Five scholarship exams to reduce competition. The move is a positive one as it prevents children from being unnecessarily highlighted in the media and gives a larger number of students a sense of achievement. But clearly there is a need to make larger changes in the scholarship exam to prioritise holistic education.

It is certainly true that Sri Lanka’s education sphere has wide disparity levels. When the Government announced plans to spend about Rs. 5 billion on providing tabs to students, many detractors argued that public funds would be better spent in reducing the disparity between poorly-resourced schools and their more updated counterparts. Public schools, which make up the majority of Sri Lanka’s school system, are usually categorised into A, B, and C segments, with the A category being the most sought-after.

Unfortunately the reality is that Sri Lanka’s public expenditure simply does not have the resources, or even the vision, to ensure that all schools reach the A or at least B category before they are all scaled up to meet the dramatic changes happening globally in education. Everywhere in the world, there is a race to adapt and learn skills that will be needed for rapid, technology-driven employment opportunities that will be dominated by AI, automation, and data. 

More than 60% of students in schools today will need to be employed in jobs that have not even been imagined yet. In such a situation, practicality demands that the most prepared schools are fused into smart classrooms and smart learning, so that at least part of the student population is equipped for the future.

However, it is essential for the Government to formulate diverse policies so that schools with fewer resources are not left behind. Sri Lanka does not have to look too far to find education systems that have managed this, without forcing students to spend their childhood inside tuition classes. 

Singapore’s Primary School Leaving Examination is quite similar to Sri Lanka’s Grade Five exam, but it uses a range of criteria, including performance in sports, drama, dance, music, and other extracurricular activities to evaluate students. Including sports and artistic talents in evaluating students allows for the education system to produce well-rounded youth, who will perform better as citizens and professionals later in life.

This would also better meet the challenges of future jobs, which will depend more on creativity, initiative, interpersonal skills, and problem-solving capacity than rote learning. In a world where technology will demand reskilling and fast adaptation, teaching is more about equipping students to self-learn, usually throughout their lives. The era when one could depend on a standard education to see them through an entire career is coming to an end.

Singapore takes their policy a step further, and releases national examination results without highlighting top scorers. Schools are still allowed to recognise good performers, but this is more as a group rather than an individual, and teachers are motivated to celebrate the achievements of students who also show noticeable improvement, even though they may not have achieved top countrywide rankings. This considerate and practical way of using evaluation to promote capacity is an ideology that Sri Lanka would do well to consider and adopt.


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