By Ayomi Irugalbandara –
The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in new challenges, new situations, and new uncertainties in different ways. It has highlighted the need for some urgent changes in approaches to schooling in Sri Lanka because more than ever before students in Sri Lanka are facing change and complexity following this outbreak. I am mainly concerned about social responsibility skills, which are essential for thinking and learning as well as a way of behaving for people to focus beyond themselves and to act with a caring attitude towards their environment. Considering the Sri Lankan education system, there are enough findings that confirm a mismatch between human capital development and the enhancement of national economic and social development. As we know, we are very good and successful at the level of basic education skills, but we have not been preparing students for 21st-century demands, especially social responsibility skills.
Education researchers believe that education is a social process; thus, the goals of pedagogical approaches have to be considered in the context of social processes. Educators across the globe believe that teachers and parents are the gatekeepers for the development of students’ values and morals regarding social behaviour. For example, family socialisation has been measured as an important factor for students’ psychosocial wellbeing. In order to adjust and adapt behaviours within society, the teaching/learning process could foster personal and social responsibility in the classroom. However, in Sri Lanka, we always encourage our students to hold a positive vision (white colour jobs) of the future; unfortunately, our guidance is not helpful or appropriate. We always demand high expectations of the development of their selves academically. For example, we teach them to pass examinations and we have forgotten to teach them social skills for their everyday practice; a gap still lies between how students need to be taught and practiced at schools. Social responsibility could take various forms: the responsibility for himself/herself; responsibility for himself/herself and family; responsibility for himself/herself and family, and society. Therefore, we can say that social responsibility is based on values because it is shaped by value orientations that govern individual behaviour. As said earlier, the set of values is engrained by the family and society (school). Social responsibility includes empathy, cooperation, conflict resolution, recognising the right of others, opportunities for investment in the community, understanding of real-life events, information gathering and analysis, critical thinking, organisational skills, problem-solving skills, and the ability to find a common solution. Now, we have a problem: how we can teach these skills through our narrow curriculum? Is the chalk-talk approach sufficient?
Therefore, educators are expected to be responsible for educating students for adjusting to face new situations and challenges. As we know, our general system of education is highly stereotyped and standardised. The teaching/learning process is defined by set textbooks, standard school subjects, classroom-based and teacher-centred learning approaches, which have failed to keep up with rapid global changes in society and technology. Currently, teaching remains predominantly didactic, with little recognition of the continually changing environments students live in; and auditory learners are advantaged. Unfortunately, the Sri Lankan Government has yet to identify the best preparation in response to this call. It is clearly essential to remember, however, that education is not only about creating effective workforces; it must also aim to develop well-rounded people, prepared with the skills needed to live a happy, healthy and well-adjusted life. In the Education 2030 Report (OECD, 2019) a case is made for education arrangements that develop a broad set of knowledges, skills, attitudes and values in order to empower students of the future to take on these tasks.
I believe learning is a recall of thinking, which could be ‘transferred’ for different phenomena, rather than a series of facts recalled for an examination. Being able ‘to think’ means students can apply wise judgment or produce a logical critique. The goal of teaching is to prepare students to be wise by guiding them towards how to make sound decisions and exercise logical judgment. The skills students need to be taught to do this include the ability to: judge the reliability of a source; identify expectations, generalisations and bias; identify implication in language use; understand the purpose of a written or spoken text; identify the audience; make critical judgments about the relative effectiveness of various strategies used to meet the purpose of the text. In this context, new approaches to teaching and learning are needed; different platforms from which students can create their own knowledge, make their own meaning, always exploring and reviewing their knowledge. It is vital, therefore, to continue the dialogue to which this discussion contributes, not only in relation to refining and supporting students’ skills but also in putting pressure on the Sri Lankan government to build an education system that is fit for the twenty-first century and beyond.
*The author is a doctoral candidate at the Queensland University of Technology, Australia and a senior lecturer in the Open University of Sri Lanka.