Colombo Telegraph

Great Expectations From A Defective Education System

By Farweez Imamudeen

Farweez Imamudeen

The British rule in Sri Lanka ended with the birth of many dreams and aspirations. The much pursued freedom had finally arrived. Sri Lankans were hence looking forward to a series of promising years ahead; we could finally build a dreamland together in the paradise isle. The making of a splendid Ceylon had just begun.

Seventy years on and several generations later, here we stand on the graves of the butchered, murdered, gunned down, abducted, tortured and betrayed; on a blood soaked earth; the dreams had turned to nightmares and the aspirations to delusions. Our leaders promised to deliver and we believed them. Strangely they delivered everything but their promises; almost immediately the Tamil dissension was sowed with the arbitrary decision of the one official language proposal. Our leaders succeeded in successfully pounding a wedge between the Tamil minority and the Sinhala majority, which culminated in a bloody civil war that drove the nation into an economic, political and social paralysis. And the JVP insurgence, which broke out in the seventies and late eighties once again draped the nation with terror and panic. 

If we take a stroll through the phases of history since independence, besides the dead carcasses, severed heads, bullet riddled bodies and the stench of blood, we will see a finance minister who in 1953 denied the school students their free lunches, the bread queues which was the feat of our first female prime minister, a constitution that endorsed racism, an executive president who swapped his coconut estate for a lush state owned one, The Jaffna public library, One of South Asia’s biggest, torched down to ashes unapologetically with nearly 97,000 books, utterly corrupted chief justices, Cabinet Ministers lacking G.C.E.(O/L) qualification appointed as policy makers, a harbor and an airport which serves no purpose except to store paddy, entire cities granted on 99 year leases to our so called allies, an exchange rate that once stood at 11 USD plummeting up to 170 USD, a debt burden of Rs.417,000 strangling every Sri Lankan for no fault of his or her; a jump of over Rs.300,000 since 2005, and a country that has been artificially made poor. 

Our solution though has been simple; Change the leaders. We have repeated the same solution for the last seventy years expecting a new outcome despite its clear and utter failure. During elections the leaders ascend the stage and make promises; their campaigns are meticulously planned and organized to persuade and win the confidence of the audience. The gift of the gab and a good election strategy will ensure victory. Once power and authority has been transferred the general public is kicked out of the political equation. Instead personal and political benefits are prioritized. The public once again are disappointed. They show their wrath by electing a new leader; and thus futile hopes orbit the promising leaders. 

Therefore it begs the question; is it that we don’t have good leaders or we can’t have good leaders?

A good leader should be an avid reader, a seeker of general knowledge, and a man or woman who  possesses an in-depth and vast knowledge in his or her area of expertise, while also possessing an admirable personality, which includes primarily good ethics and morals,  and skills such as communication, decision making, problem solving, emotional intelligence and creative thinking.

The fundamental question is, do we have a mechanism to create such leaders? If the answer is our education system, then clearly and certainly it has failed.

Our education system is one that revolves primarily around examinations. Students are prepared to pass examinations, and their knowledge is measured by whatever score they obtain out of a hundred. However, there are several problems in this mechanism. For one, not all students like all subjects. Therefore the score they obtain cannot be measured in terms of their lack of knowledge, but lack of interest. For naturally man does not passionately get involved with anything that he lacks interest in. The system instead of catering to the students’ interests and potentials coerces the student, despite their plethora of talents and interests, to fit into a predefined system, and any student who refuses is labelled an absolute failure and misfit, although we now have abundant research that claims that each child has a different potential and a different intelligence. Howard Gardner in his book frames of mind discusses eight such intelligences.

And secondly how much of what the students learn help them to solve real life problems? Or how much of what they learn is relevant to their aspirations? Our school education is primarily based on text books. Rather than imparting knowledge what text books do is prepare the students for examinations. They have predefined answers to predefined questions, and the student is expected, with regards to majority of the subjects, answer as accurately as possible to match the text book answers. Such an approach does not only stun creativity but narrows down education to mere exam preparation.

Following is an extract from a study conducted by the National education commission on the evaluation and assessment in general education in Sri Lanka: 

“Teachers frequently spend a great deal of classroom time testing students through questions. It was revealed from teachers that they spend about a week on revision prior to the term tests and for marking another week after the tests. With formative assessments these two weeks could have been used effectively for student understanding. In fact, observations of teachers at all levels of education reveal that most spend more than 90% of their instructional time testing students through questioning. Most of the questions teachers ask are typically factual questions that rely on short-term memory and based on Lower-Order Thinking (LOT) abilities. Higher Order Thinking (HOT) is much neglected; As a result higher order thinking abilities that lead to creativity and meta-cognition are rarely included in tests and examinations.”

However, the fundamental flaw in our education system is not this, but the ethics that is imparted. The average student since joining school keeps hearing that success is scoring high in examinations, competing with others and winning in those competitions, and earning a lot of money and living a comfortable life. Herein lays the biggest danger. The child who is conditioned to believe that success is to win at all costs and earn a lot of money grows up as an extremely selfish being, putting him or herself before others. A child thus reaching adulthood lacks altruism and a fundamental leadership quality;

Empathy!

Daniel Goleman, the author of emotional intelligence argues that empathy is a primary requirement for leadership, but unfortunately it is a subject that is completely absent from our curriculum. According to Daniel Goleman developing emotional intelligence and empathy in particular is a practical process which consists of self-awareness, managing emotions, self-motivation, empathy and handling relationships. 

Related to the topic in discussion is the lack of personality development programs. As discussed previously, developing ethics and morals, and skills such as communication, decision making, problem solving, emotional intelligence and creative thinking are essential for leadership development. However our current education system has failed to effectively address this problem. 

Following is another extract from a study conducted by the National education commission on the evaluation and assessment in general education in Sri Lanka: 

“The heavy examination orientation has brought adverse effects on the total development of the student. The overall development of student personality is seriously neglected or ignored by students and parents as students forgo all other co-curricular activities, social activities at school, home and community to attend coaching classes. Further, examinations are loaded with cognitive material and the school system has failed to ensure the total development of the child as envisaged by its broad goals and objectives of the reforms introduced in 1997.”

Our education system neither inculcates knowledge nor does it develop a positive personality. It simply predominantly creates human beings whose primary goal is to pass exams for the purpose of attaining comfort, power or status. The system is a vicious cycle where it spews future leaders who are extremely selfish, and lack freedom of thought and critical thinking skills. These mal efficient and disabled leaders return to the system to create more mal efficient and disabled leaders. Unless we realize this and break this dangerous cycle and create an education system that is student centered and democratic, good leaders may only be a far fetched dream. 

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