Going West in education

Wednesday, 8 December 2010 00:08 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Brain drain. This is a situation we don’t fear in our country. The media does not write about it, our policymakers don’t talk about it and our families don’t think about it.

It’s probably because as Asians we are in some way gearing ourselves to go West. Sri Lankan families are somewhat happy when their children go abroad – “They went abroad for their betterment no… What can you get in this country anyway?” would be the standard answer.

Of late I have been examining the international school culture here in Sri Lanka. In my view, it’s a system that is gearing our children from day one to go West, which leads us to examine what it really is – this system that a lot of the elite in this country believe to be the only way to educate their children.

In all probability, sending a child to an international school, for some, does not happen by choice; especially considering the demand for public schools and given that the rules that surround admission to them are stringent to say the least, the easiest way would be to pay the price and pick the next best international school.

Having said that, have we really examined the best practices of such an institution? Given the fact that these schools are also viable business ventures that are controlled by boards of directors and CEOs who are bound to look into profits and all the la-di-dah of the commercial world, my question, is are we really handing over our kids to institutions that absolutely don’t have any connection to the ethos of this country’s education system?

Especially taking into consideration that education has been a high priority in post independence Sri Lanka, and that we boast of the highest literacy rates in the region as well as being a nation that values primary education as a right to every citizen vis-à-vis our free education system.

I must admit my understanding of the rules that govern international schools is not clear and I stand to be corrected, but from my investigations I find that international school kids don’t come under compulsory subjects like public school kids. For example, religion is not a compulsory subject. In a country that places religious matters at its highest level, with ministries dedicated for each religion, international schools do not appear to consider it important in their curriculum.

So the question whether education in international schools is holistic is a matter for debate. Education by itself may have different objectives, but as adults who hold the responsibility of shaping our children into becoming the future citizens of Sri Lanka, it is of utmost importance to work out the components which would make them fit into the societies of our future.

For me, I see international school education as a system that is very centric on the development of the child, in exclusion of the environment that he or she lives in (and if there are any examples to the contrary I would very much like to hear it). From Year 1, children are in a mad dash to get across that line that would take them to university level and beyond.  It’s not that I am totally against this focused, child centric form of education system which indeed works towards the betterment of the child, but it is also necessary to understand that children don’t live in isolation; they have to live amongst society and within their own communities. The ingraining of basic values which nurture fundamental feelings like loyalty, patriotism and respect for community, culture and traditions are important factors in the development of a child, which are difficult to inculcate within the home environment alone.

The mere standing to attention to the national anthem or saluting the national flag is not enough. I believe that international school kids need to be taught local history, local culture, religion, civics etcetera and this must be done in the formative years of their lives or we may stand to lose year by year, generations of our most intelligent citizens who are really the future of our country.

Every year hundreds of these kids leave our shores to study abroad because the higher education system in this country is not geared to handle them. Once they do their stint abroad most opt for careers in those societies, probably because they don’t see opportunity in the local job market.

Human resource management in the corporate sector has now become an important component in the overall workings of its success. But how much are corporates thinking about this massive brain drain that is going on right under their noses. Executives in these companies are very probably encouraging their own children to leave Sri Lanka.

Is Sri Lanka only going to be a retirement country? Where one works abroad and comes home to rest ones bones, or are we planning for the future? If we are, the first step would be to find a way to contain this situation and find opportunity and value for our children who are our future generation beginning with their education.

In conclusion I would like to clarify that I am not against Western education or so called first world systems. What is not acceptable is when we cannot or are unwilling to tweak it to incorporate local knowledge and know how.

(The writer, a PR consultant and head of Media360, was previously a mainstream journalist in print and electronic media. He also edits a new media website.)

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