By Kirthi Tennakone –
On release of fifth grade scholarship examination scores, our society trembles. It is an escalating annually periodic disruption of a buildup social pressure. Parents of kids who have earned marks above the cut-off point, celebrate and publicize the achievement. Yet the worries continue until the child is admitted to a best school of their choice. Teachers and tutors claim that their effort, paved way for students to succeed.
The larger percentage of fifth graders unsuccessful in reaching the required level are considered second class, imposing a feeling of inferiority and incapability in their minds. Parents blame and mourn, adding to the negative mindset of the child. Seeking alternatives sometimes destabilize the functions of a family. The gross damage caused by the scheme seems to outweigh the intended merit.
Performance and intellectual potential of a child cannot be judged solely by a stereotype repetitive style examination. Here, practice and keeping information at fingertips contribute more than analytical skills, creativity and innovativeness. The latter are the attributes which needs to be identified and nurtured to enable children undertake future challenges. Play, enjoyment, reading beyond exam agenda, improvising toys and imagining things and attempting to make them realties are activities that greatly tune a young mind, fostering curiosity. Persons with such childhood experiences turn into scientific discoverers, inventors, entrepreneurs, writers and other achievers, the society desires. Children pushed, starting from kindergarten or first grade to take-up the scholarship exam, have no time to engage in such activities which parents generally discourage, diverting them to tuition.
Definitely, the aim of mass education is not only to deliver highest level achievers, but a system inclined towards this goal, produces rationally thinking responsible citizens – an effective way of curbing social evils.
Striving for fifth grade scholarship is to gain entry to so-called popular schools. Today, the public determines the popularity of a school, largely by the number of students who had entered medical and engineering streams in universities in the recent years. Reason is most parents wish to qualify their sons and daughters as doctors or engineers aiming to secure their financial future. Science, humanities and arts and languages are considered as less profitable options. Frequently, parents decide what the sons and daughters should pursue, ignoring their talent and interest.
Sri Lanka’s continued political will to support education has delivered its goods effectively to the extent of supplying a work force to do the routine services. We have competent officials, good doctors engineers and teachers. However, we are badly short of discoverers, inventors, entrepreneurs, productive famers and radical thinkers. It is this category that advances the society forward, intellectually and economically. An education system based on strict examination rankings, kills necessary qualities in the filtration process , discarding a residue full of ‘jewels’ as ‘gravel’.
The grade five scholarship exam was commissioned with good intension of providing an opportunity for the unprivileged student. Now it has gone to extremes with aggravating adverse consequences. The school admission system necessitates reformation, eliminating the present evaluation system and redefining the concept of the popular school?
Popular schools are believed to possess better infrastructure facilities and teachers. It may be true that their buildings are spacious and science laboratories have sophisticated equipment locked-up in cupboards. It could also be true that students in popular schools spend more time in tuition kiosks than in the school class room, library, laboratory or the playground. In reality, the popular schools have evolved as a tradition of students mastering the state-of-art in passing competitive exams or excelling in sports. The trend continues through overlapping of student generations, unless interrupted by a bad administration. The ‘quality’ of students the popular schools enroll, provide broader and diverse exposure to the avenues of success. A significant percentage brilliant students catalytically influence the whole school. Nonetheless, popular schools in present form seems to resemble centers that collect an ‘over refined product’ and ‘dilute’ it in processing to deliver a ‘marketable commodity’. Unfortunately refinement as well as dilution greatly lower the concentration of the ‘good essence ‘.
As costly infrastructure facilities are not a strong factor constraining excellence in education, at least up to the upper school level, it would not be impossible to elevate schools in less privileged areas via a thoughtfully revised policy.