Looking beyond O/Ls

Friday, 18 March 2011 01:49 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

DECIDING whether the cup is half full or half empty is a difficult task. As nearly one million voters go to polls, many are the issues that get pushed aside in the election furore. Few paid attention to the numbers of students who failed the Ordinary Level exam, but it is another symptom of a serious problem that Sri Lanka will have to solve in order to be become a developed nation.

The positive point is that 195,112 students have passed with sufficient results to complete their Advanced Levels – this is 62% of the total number that sat for the examination. The Examinations Commissioner has disclosed that this number is about 10% higher than previous pass rates and credits it to changes in the curriculum and study aids in the form of seminars that were held countrywide in crucial subjects such as maths, science and English.

Pass rates in individual subjects have increased as well and Education Minister Bandula Gunawardene is upbeat about planned reforms, which include increasing of school hours and infusing new subjects such as IT, English and entrepreneurship into the curriculum. Exams serve a purpose beyond evaluating students. It evaluates the system at the same time and determines whether the education given to students develops them to handle the challenges of a modern world in reality.

The sad part in this is that Sri Lanka still has a highly-pressurised exam-oriented education system that does not take the child’s overall wellbeing into account. The practical use of the knowledge that they are regularly forced to cram is not considered and adjustments in the system have so far not addressed this issue. A question that still remains to be answered is whether the children are sufficiently allowed to maximise their potential though practical application of education.

Another dimension of this complex problem is of course the lack of options for the 38% that failed the O/Ls. Technical training colleges are still below the line in terms of recognition and acceptance as a viable alternative. These places are not only for students who are termed ‘weak,’ but need to attract students with top grades as well. Only if this happens at a wide level will these technical colleges be recognised to become a popular option. Moreover, other countries have successfully incorporated technical training courses into their standard curriculum so that students vying for the convention university education can gain multiple skills – a model that Sri Lanka should seriously consider.

Ironically perhaps the 62% that passed are heading to an even more murky future. The new Higher Education Act is before cabinet and if it is passed in Parliament then private universities will be allowed into Sri Lanka. While this provides greater options for these students who will be university-ready in a couple of years, the future is by no means secure. Unless the Government equips the public universities, there is a possibility that university education will be a lopsided field with unregulated universities granting unrecognised degrees to hapless students after commanding massive fees from their parents. The situation has come to pass in several countries including neighbour India, where strict monitoring was legalised through an act in Parliament last year.

With these challenges in view, strong decisions need to be taken with understanding of the multiple needs of students if Sri Lanka is to benefit from the potential of its next generation.