Not so ordinary

Monday, 26 September 2016 00:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Ordinary Levels have made it to the endangered list as the Government contemplates abolishing them in 2018 and allowing students to pick any stream for their Advance Level. The move has sparked little debate so far but needs to be carefully looked at in terms of how it will impact the future employability, social mobility and indeed happiness of children. 

Sri Lanka’s education system requires a deep overhaul, which is about the only thing most people linked to it can agree on. How and when these reforms should take place has been long debated and a few steps have been taken but little has been done that should infiltrate the entire system. Currently students are on a conveyor belt of sorts where they are taught eight basic subjects till their Ordinary Level and dependent on their performance they are allowed to pick one of four streams for their Advanced Level exam.

Currently there is little career counselling and mentoring to enable Ordinary Level students to better judge what paths of study or employment they would prefer. A lucky few, because of instinct or overbearing parents, might have their careers mapped out for them but the majority simply go through the motions and end up attempting to get into university. On the surface there is a concern that doing away with the O/L system could result in an even stronger bottleneck into university where thousands of students either have to seek universities abroad or sign up for alternative qualifications.

If the O/L system is to be disposed of then the move has to be linked with a broader reform network that will provide viable and recognised options for students, which would include vocation training on par with degrees. They need to be given career guidance while they are teenagers to choose and understand a profession that would be best suited for their talents and they have to be supported to pursue those dreams. 

Right now only a tiny fraction of students who make it as internal students of public universities are given significant financial support. The rest, including external students, are left to fend for themselves. If this system is not changed then more and more students will simply stay on the conveyor belt and not necessarily be trained for the job market. Given that technology is changing the employment landscape at breakneck speed, many of the jobs that this generation is familiar with could be obsolete ten years from now, making it essential for not just reform driven education but evolving education to be at the core of human development. 

Several countries such as Germany have such fluid systems where powerful business chambers work closely with the Government to formulate education programs where internship and a mix of vocational and university education is encouraged. Companies hire students and they learn and work in tandem, often living in-house. Creativity and sports are also encouraged as essential components of this network. This is how students are trained in extremely technical skills that drive their knowledge economy. 

The Government often says it is driving the economy towards a service-centric knowledge economy but the crucial link with education is often lost or at times non-existent.