I am very pleased as an Academic and a member of FUTA that we initiated the “6% for education” march with a hundred days of protest which had finally materialized. I consider this as one of the most significant social issues that we had undertaken over the recent past. But getting that alone is not enough, but the educational system would have to utilize it for those activities which were blocked by the limitation of funds in a systematic and a rational approach so that the values of state education and free education are conserved, more realistically enhanced, for the benefit of the future of this country. This may not be the mandate of the FUTA though they would be happy to be part of the process as any academic.
I pen down my views and thinking on where and how the funds could be and should be utilized which is only an opinion, but an informed opinion.
In my list the priorities the salary of the Teacher is on top. How could anyone be content with his employment if it does not provide a reasonable means of income to manage his/her family ? This leads to the next step. Search for other means of income, legal or illegal, but either way utilizing time which eventually causes a mega strain on the person and the family concerned. Let us increase their salary to reasonable figures even if it is a raise of 100% as appropriate. We would have more persons of caliber entering the teaching profession with sincerity ( matha, pitha, guru is part of our tradition and has a high place for the teacher and respect). No other profession gives you the pleasure of being called ‘sir’ by the students even 50 years after leaving school, which is the best reward what a teacher gains, beyond all other claims. We could and should avoid political appointments ‘specially before elections’ making thousands of teachers at will with no interview or check on the ability or intention of the candidates. The system is saddled with those for the next few decades, some wrong choices may be destroying the system itself. Increase in salary does not come free but with assured responsibility of performance in class that needs to be periodically monitored and slowly dissuade the students from the need of TUITION CLASSES. Teachers who are engaged with tuition classes need to be cautioned for any violation on conflict of interest ( the same student being in class and tuition fro example ) and those offenders to be dealt by disciplinary procedure. No one would like to lose a teaching job if it pays well given its holidays and the end of term benefits that are in place. It is definite task that needs to be considered as priority, the levels and the terms associated could be discussed with those in the profession and trade unions as necessary.
Our students lack the facilities that are largely accepted internationally by the developing and the developed Nations. I would like to consider those that are directly concerned with teaching under a different category. Here I would like to concentrate on the extra curricular activities. Those of us in the late years of life remember the pleasant times in school not for the subjects that we learnt but the extra curricular activities that we shared viz sports, scouting, nature clubs, photography club, social interactions with Prisons and hospitals, indoor games, debates, dance, cultural events, religious events. I was fortunate to be in a school that had all communities and religions where we shared faith and practices, love and harmony. The values that had remained to date in me. These extra curricular activities make better students who contribute to society in their later life than those limited to books alone. It has been my experience that those who had excelled in life have also been those who had been active in some extra curricular activities in schools or university during their time. We need to encourage and develop that sector. If we spend SIX hours in school and if we could spend TWO hours of study a day at home that would be adequate for most. The time that an average student spends on tuition is around 4-6 hours a day. This in my opinion is time stolen from the ‘childhood’ of the children which is meant for other events. We should bring it back and give it to them. They need it. Very often the exams are quoted specially the Advance level as a monster. I have been examiner to that exam. What we seek is realistically lower than what an average student ‘learns’ at present. There is more irrelevant answers than the wrong answers. A student writing an answer for 10 minutes for a question that entails 1 mark, is same as wrong answer in effect, he loses on other questions having the same end result. We have to teach the students to learn and also learn objectively and also be part of the broader society, its issues and concerns. LET THE STDENTS HAVE THEIR CHILDHOOD to remember for life. If the A’level is a barrier remove the A’level as an entrance examination to the University but make other means for entrance to university having A level result as an important factor if necessary.
Grade 5 examinations should be reconsidered in effect. It had a wonderful principle behind it, to promote the students and provide an opportunity to those from rural, less privileged schools to gain admission to the ‘elite’/ privileged schools and also obtain financial assistance for the merit students. However what has happened in effect is the opposite. The exams have become a prestige symbol, and many from the urban/privileged schools participate in the exam and raise the ‘cut off’ mark, to recently as high as 157(78.5%) for any assistance. The rural suffer. Those who had taken the exam and obtained the high scores do not seek another school or finance for further study. What is the reason for the students of Royal College or Visaka (for example only) to take the exam? They would not benefit by the result than to say that they had a high score. It should be made that the exams are only for those in C grade schools( or another criteria) or those who take the exams would be FORCED to change schools if they qualify for such a facility. This would bar many students and school appearing for the examination, which is of no significance to them, but they destroy the opportunity for someone else, unintentionally. There are schools that allow only good students to the examination, which should not be the case as it is opportunity for all, not a measure of the school.
The lesser the pressure that the household faces with education the better their life would be and would lead to a better and a prosperous society, making a better country. More than 90% of the population are faced with the ‘pressure’ of the education of their children beyond all other pressures including ‘poverty’. Poverty alleviation may be better dealt by us sharing the pressure caused by education, leaving them with more time for other activities without WORRY IN MIND.
We need to concentrate on the teaching facility at the schools at all levels. Very often we have new concepts of education brought into the system without the adequate facilities associated with it and thus leads to failure or ineffectiveness. Thus the appropriate teaching facility is needed at each school and every level. I am not talking of having superfluous facility but the basics for the programme such as number per class, infrastructure, training and workload.
Number per class
Number of student per class is one of the most significant factors that affect the education in schools and university. 35 may be the maximum while 30 is ideal, in a class, if you need the attention of the teacher and his personal interaction with a student performance. If this is exceeded then the teacher loses the class and the student lose the subject. There needs to be this ratio balance in class for effectiveness. At present there are classes of much larger numbers of students some of whom may never get noticed. But what happens in the tutories with 200-500 students? There is no personal touch and it is not needed too because you often claim as a student of a school over long periods than of a tutory when you speak of your education.
Infrastructure, Instruments and equipment
This is very important. Not to be in shelves but for the use in class. I have seen many schools having them in shelves. Appropriate infrastructure is needed including toilet, canteen and sports, leisure facilities. Some schools have excess and most do not have them. It is essential that we provide them to the students, after all it is our investment into the future of the country.
There is the need for update of the teachers more than what is there at present. This makes the teacher better and also responsible. Each teacher should undergo training at least once in five years formally. The existing systems of training colleges, universities etc could be used for these on a regular programme. Special subjects where difficulties are seen like mathematics, may need more frequent help to improve the standards of it in class. Teachers should be granted leave for study, not part time but full time as a measure of career development but also confident building. More seminars and discussions for sharing knowledge should become part of the system.
Workload, administrative assistance
A teacher is also a student who have to prepare and update his/her knowledge. A time table of 100% occupancy ( all periods of teaching) for a teacher would not be effective under that frame of mind. Many say that the teachers use the notes from past five years and this that we wish to eliminate. Many teachers are seen to be overloaded with administrative work. It may be more productive to employ a few administrative Assistants that would make life easier for all, rather than recruiting all as teachers.
Nutrition- food in schools
This is a special feature that rides over the countries where a large population is under poverty and often they do not have three meals a day. May children in rural areas have been known to come to class without any food. It is essential that this is also considered where necessary. There would be a fraction of misuse but in the interest of our future generation we would be able to consider issue of mid day meals, cereals and milk, which may also serve as an attraction to children to attend schools in rural areas. An empty stomach does not make a healthy mind, that needs food too.
There are whole lot of other facilities that are needed for the support of education which is seen around the world. It ranges from bus pas, free entry to museums and educational houses which need to be followed. The students with identify cards must be allowed to travel at half rates so that they enjoy the country and the facility extended to guest houses / camp sites for students throughout the country. This would be encouraged as a support of the private sector towards national development. This would not only make students move around the country but would also bring national harmony more than many projects that speak of them. The funds for this would be from the Ministry of education which provides the subsidy.
Transport/ free buses for late hours
More buses would have to operate in rural areas to cover the school hours and later as appropriate. Bus passes for students not only to school but for their travel during off hours and weekends anywhere in the country to facilitate their visiting the country at large.
Many schools are unable to even meet the electricity bills in schools as they have no income but have expenses in the laboratory and otherwise. There has to be a mechanism to pay the electrical charges directly by the government or waive the charges or provide mechanism( subsidy ) so that the schools do not shy to use electricity for their utility.
Evening classes for young and old
Schools and Universities may have start thinking of evening classes to those who would like to study may be also working at different places. It provides an avenue for improved education for those who are unable to continue in school for whatever reason.
The same would be applicable to elders who wish to study various subjects specially languages for O level and A levels could be encouraged. Funds for such ventures could be utilized from the ministerial sources.
Already there had been a scheme for the development of technical colleges which could also consider evening classes for those who are employed but wish to further develop skills.
Levels of achievement
It is essential that when these facilities are provided there has to be also means of more objective assessments, ensuring that the student obtains a level of achievement. If that is not attained the student must be given special care to get them rather than making his way forward where he gets lost one day. This may be a topic of controversy but we need to deal with it. I do not see automatic promotions from year one to ten would make sense, and I am subject to correction. It is not worth having a student in grade 9 who cannot write a sentence in his own language. It may be useful to redirect him to a skill that would best suit him. We need to have more counseling at schools and such persons also should be trained adequately.
Work in Class and Work at Home
Students should have time to work in class most of their work including the assignments. Expectations should not be placed to have the parents to help for two reasons; parents may not be competent to help or they may not always have the time and this puts pressure on them. The tasks given to students should be those that can be and must be done on their own as far as possible. With a class of 30-35 students the teacher would have more time with the students and their needs.
Grade I Admission
The most pressing issue is the admission to Grade I in schools, good schools. It is impossible to accommodate all in these few schools that they request. The interviews and the marking schemes make the children of the uneducated parents at a disadvantage where it should be the other way. There are no easy options but the best I would endorse is to develop quality primary schools in each township / village as appropriate everywhere so that the parents could be freed from unnecessary pressure and operational logistics. Admission to alternate schools may be feasible at year six when the student can be assessed as necessary, if necessary.
This is another feature that has been haunting the education services since 1972. District quotas were developed following standardization in 1972 which had its consequences in history. Though it was stated that the disadvantaged regions would be developed over the next decade to equate with that of the advantaged, the divide has not reduced to this day in fact increased. There has to be a systematic policy to develop the regions with poor education to elevate them to the level of the other regions so one day we would not have to have district quota systems but merit alone. This needs to be done as we do not want to have disadvantaged region in any part of the country at least in education.
I am not an expert on education but had been involved with it for a very long time and the issues that had been raised by me are those discussed at various private, official, personal and community levels. There would be more views from experts in the field and society at large with their issues and solutions on the ground. These need to be taken into consideration.
However it is important that we stabilize our education system even if it costs more than the 6% (may be 10%) of our GDP as it is our investment in the future of our country, the children of Sri Lanka, and it is priceless. We also cannot delay as the opportunities for our children are being lost by each minute.
Let us provide a better education to our children, yet, retaining their childhood to cherish forever. 6% is the start.
*Thangamuthu Jayasingam, Senior Lecturer Eastern University