24 October, 2017

Scrapping Grade Five Scholarship Examination: The Poor As Cannon Fodder

By Dhammika Herath

Dr. Dhammika Herath

Dr. Dhammika Herath

The word ‘free’ in the term ‘free education’ is misleading.  Education in Sri Lanka has never been free.  In face there is no country in the world where education is free of charge.That is not simply possible as funds are necessary to pay teachers, lecturers and academics, not to mention the other support staff. The much needed money is generated via direct and indirect taxation as well as international aid. This is the stark reality in the face of mounting pressure to preserve this so-called  free education.

What we were actually discussing over the last thirty years was obtaining some privileges for underprivileged children considered deserving on account of superior intellect and skills, irrespective of the parameters that are used to measure them, which obviously have their fair share of flaws.

This has helped many in the wider, underprivileged sections of  Sri Lankan society to improve their socio-economic standing irrespective of caste, creed, religion and ethnicity.

Over the course of thirty years there were many blows to this process including the White Paper of Education (1982), the establishment of private medical colleges and private universities. Sri Lankan universities are private properties of some academics, but that is  another story.

The recent blow to the so called free education came from the government which states ironically that it represents the majority who are  poor and underprivileged.  There is truth in the claim, though; in fact the poor voted for the current government en masse. The interesting fact is that doing away with Grade V Scholarship exam has several ramifications, the most obvious one is that it hinders some of the brightest students an opportunity to study in more prestigious schools.

Some of the great clinicians I know immensely benefited from this exam and their excellent achievements testify to the invaluable nature of the exam itself.  I personally did not change my school since i passed this exam more thank 35 years ago, but the financial incentives greatly benefitted me in acquiring necessary books and dealing with transport costs.

The education system in Sri Lanka is not free, let me repeat; parents have to bear enormous cost to send the children to school, provide them with food, transport, and meet other expenses including fees and other charges that are levied. All this is in addition to paying taxes.

The rise in the cost of living impacts everything.  The poor cannot provide basic necessities for their children such as food, clothing and shelter.  Therefore they can become disillusioned and start to leave the schools early.  This is quite apparent over the last ten years.There is ample evidence that class movement in Sri Lanka has come to a grinding halt and is in fact reversing since the end of war.

The government’s current policy is based on a concern about “…stress the children are placed due to this exam”.  This is baseless and not based on evidence. children who cannot bear the brunt of that stress are highly unlikely to bear the stresses of ever increasing societal pressures, peer pressures as well as pressures exerted by other life challenging obstacles.  What is really needed is better stress management and skills development than scrapping of scholarship exam.This new found  policy is preventing social and class movement, fulfilling the agenda of the privileged and in the end keeping slaves as slaves forever. This is only to provide cannon fodder for future wars and uprisings directly resulting from these kinds of short sighted  policies.

*Dhammika Herath, Consultant Psychiatrist, Queensland Health ( formerly Ministry of Health, Sri Lanka)

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  • 3
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    First step is take politics out of education

    • 1
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      The GCE A Level and O Level exams which are far more stressful for school children should also be scrapped.
      Corrupt Madhind Rajapaksa and his brothers, sons and cronies who are robbing the poor to make the rich richer should be HUNG, DRAWN and QUARTERED. The filthy and corrupt Rajapakse family by taxing food and essential commodities while CHOGM circus contractors and Colombo night races to entertain the Jarapassa family and cronies NEW RICH class pay no taxes, and EPF and ETF monies of workers are invested in shell companies of Rajapaksa brothers, sons and cronies which are listed on the tanking Colombo Stock Exchange.
      Carleton sports outfit of Namal Jarapassa and the corrupt crook who is minister of sports should be tried in open court for looting the people of Lanka. !
      The trade Unions, civil society and workers and students and parents should unite to get rid of this cursed Jarapassa family and its cronies and save Lanka since the UNP opposition under Ranil Wickramsinghe and Sajtin the moron is collaborating with the corrupt regime..

  • 1
    2

    There is a wide spread consensus among educated that pressuring children to study hard when they are very young will never work better for the child. That would create only ANTI-SOCIAL and WEIRD INDIVIDUALS WHEN THEY ARE ADULTS.

    A GRADE five scholarship mean parents pressure children to study hard when they actually should play a lot with other children and should learn other skills that make them complete adults when they are grown up.

    At that age, more than the subject education learning of life skills relating to interact with other humans are very important.

    One study at Harvard, long ago, had determined how all those rich, very intelligent and motivated kids would perform once they finished their degrees. Results had been disappointing.

    SO what is important is Intelligence – Quotient, it is the EMOTIONAL-QUOTIENT. check and see what it is.

  • 0
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    Correction.

    SO what is important is NOT Intelligence – Quotient, it is the EMOTIONAL-QUOTIENT. Check and see what it is.

  • 0
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    You talk about better Stress management skills. but, you don’t talk about the few who drops through those loop holes in the system and become anti-social sociapaths.

    As a Psychiatrist you know it better.

  • 0
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    A very good expose. There have many bright persons from poor backgrounds who had benefitted from this scholarship and got into prestigious schools and done very well. Now many like them have been denied this opportunity. Not all students enjoy the privileges of having access to telephones, the internet and the patronage of their examiners while they are in the examination hall answering their papers. Bensen

  • 0
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    dear Jimsofty, thank you for the feedback, however, there are no clinical evidence to suggest ,confirm your assertions, these are assertions made by general public or public perceptions. there is definitely truth in your assertion that EIQ is important determinant in living a fuller life, but that too based on IQ and they cannot be taken and discussed separately. The common assertion that psychopaths and antisocial individuals are a product of study pressures is plainly misleading. when you say psychopaths and anti socials, what means by these terms needs to be understood because they are have clinical and everyday meanings, which could be quite different when taken out of the context. cheers

  • 0
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    Rather than all students sitting for one scholarship exam, schools should be asked to nominate a limited number of their best students for an all island exam based on their yearly performance. Fixed number of seats should be available for talented students in all National Grade 1 Schools.

    A full scholarship including living and travelling expenses upto A’level should be given for the poorer students from remote areas after ascertaining their family income levels. Talented students should be given a place in Grade 1 schools irrespective of income levels.

    Admission of students on political and other chit systems should be banned.

  • 2
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    The problem seems that the available places in Top schools like Royal have already been taken by the chit system. There is no place for new students to come through the grade 5 examination.Therefore no grade 5 exam.Its a very pathetic way of looking at things.

  • 3
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    Dr Herath is perfectly right. As he points out, it is ironically benefit for the poor that is cited as the reason for abolishing the Grade V examination.We have an exact parallel in the abandonment of English as the medium of instruction half a century ago, on the argument that masses of “the people” would benefit if the medium were changed to Sinhala and Tamil.

    The reality is that English is the key to social mobility. The medium of instruction made it possible for all students proceeding beyond grade 5 to learn English, facilitated by an island wide system of Central Schools. That is, the removal of English as the medium of instruction took away the one mechanism through which the children of the poor could get exposure to English. The rich on the other hand spoke English at home, and their progeny picked it up.

    Instruction in Sinhala and Tamil divided the school going children into their respective ethnic groups, and contributed to ethnic disharmony. Lack of proficiency in English led to a severe narrowing of reading material, and adversely affected the quality of education. The University of Ceylon’s high standards were compromised, and its successor universities have tumbled to the bottom in international ratings.

    Had English remained the medium of instruction, Sri Lanka today would be a happy and prosperous nation. We would be exporting not illiterate labourers but qualified professionals, like teachers, doctors, engineers, accountants. We would also be free of paranoid theories of the whole world conspiring against “the motherland”.

    Even worse than economic ruin, the eclipse of English closed the doors to modernity of thought and outlook and bred bizarre feudal ideologies like Jatika Cintanaya, and extremisms like the Bodu Bala Sena.

    It is laughable that the government is worried about childres’s stress, when it is causing a lot more than stress to the country as a whole by its corruption, nepotism, waste, militarism, abductions and killings, and the dismantling of the country’s well established tradition of democracy.

    • 0
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      Scott,

      If I may add to what you have commented that, ‘Instruction in Sinhala and Tamil divided the school going children into their respective ethnic groups, and contributed to ethnic disharmony, it further created a sense of mistrust between the two communities. The Sinhalese who espoused Vernacular Education thought they had the upper hand over the Tamils to see a larger number of Sinhalese qualifying compared to Tamils. Hence the Gampaha District was created as the new Education Hub in the country then. To their dismay they found the Tamils too continued to qualify in large numbers competing with the Sinhalese and entering Universities. Then the Sinhalese entertained suspicion that the Tamils were favouring Tamils by being lenient in marking answer scripts. A campaign was led by Cyril Mathew and the matter ended up in Courts and nothing could be proved. The issue was the majority Sinhalese were not competent to read and understand Tamil, whereas earlier when the medium was English, there was no such issue as the answer scripts could have been checked and rechecked by either party. This mistrust led Tamils being restrained entry to Universities through a system of standardization, according to the Ethnic ratio, where some of the students who gained entry to the Universities in 1970 earlier were shut off after the Act came in to operation after the Kitchen brains Govt of Mrs. B. This was the foundation that led to the birth of the LTTE.

    • 0
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      ” Had English remained the medium of instruction, Sri Lanka today would be a happy and prosperous nation.”

      English education while of definite benefit for all, is no panacea to the ethnic problem. Even with English being taught in all schools, Sinhalese will know they are Sinhalese and Tamils will know they are Tamils. English education hasn’t done away with ethnic or racial identities in America or elsewhere, so no reason to think it will be different in Sri Lanka.

  • 2
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    I agree with the observations of Dhammika and I would like to add the following observations as well.

    1. There are schools in Sri Lanka that have classes from grade six(e.g.: many madya maha vidyalaya’s,Devi Balika Vidyalaya, etc). What will be the admission criteria for those schools if scholarship exam is scrapped. Will it be the same corrupt grade 1 admission system?

    2. If we take international exams which compare the students in different countries (e.g.: TIMSS for mathematics) the levels of scholarship exam and those exams are almost similar in that age level. Scrapping of the scholarship exam means many students will not give due concentration to the subject matter and their aptitude will be below par. If we want to be a developed country we have to compete with other developed countries in the world to sell our products and services. Can we do that by diluting the education system?

    3. Scholarship exam should be an IQ and language test as early days. Recently the scholarship exam syllabus has been filled with many things to memorize and that has increased the pressure on student.

    3. I believe the scholarship exam is not for all the fifth graders because some have aptitude far below required. Problem arises when the parents want to push their child through this process irrespective of their aptitude and they do it by pushing their child through 2-3 private tuition classes.

  • 5
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    Grade 5 scholarship exam should never be scrapped. It has changed the lives of several thousand poeple and their families including mine. If you were poor and had passed this exam, you would know what I am talking about.
    No argument or comment can change my position.

  • 1
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    Grade 5 exam should not screpet at cause, minister traying his experminment. it affect the childran education, this exam is very good exam for young childran future education,minister must discussed with the secretary of education, then in parliament, then public opoiens, srilanka parent will not agreed for the minister of education decions

  • 0
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    When the crazy Jokers turned our peaceful democratic Sri Lanka to a corrupt lawless Banana Republic with jungle law they completely destroyed our Mother Lanka which included everything we built up over the years, including the Education. God save former democratic Sri Lanka.

  • 1
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    Saying Anti-social sociaopaths may be too extreme. Yet, pushing children into too much into learning from books certainly does not work. Instead, they have to interact socially and need learning lot of social skills.

  • 1
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    JimSofty, did you study past Grade 5? Your president didn’t even do his A/levels. :)

  • 0
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    Another perspective: the grade 5 scholarship allows students from vastly differing socio-economic backgrounds to meet and learn to work with each other. Such inter-class interactions are relatively rare in the highly stratified Sri Lankan society. I got in to Royal College from Mahanama along with other 11 year-olds from a variety of walks of life. Had that not happened I would not have had classmates who were from all ethnic and religious groups as well as family backgrounds. There were kids in my class whose parents were farmers from mahiyangana and there were kids whose families owned most of Colombo! While being in the same class does not make everyone tolerant and accepting of all, it does provide a critical opportunity for such. I, for one, thrived on getting to know kids who were different from me, something i would not have been able to do at Mahanama, which did not at the time have a Tamil or English stream. In addition to the language versatility, many more rungs of the socio-economic spectrum was represented at Royal College. Although today, it seems, the bigger difference might be between the “International” schools and the government-run schools. Although the claims about which schools provide a “better” education seems spurious (given that regional non-Colombo schools seem to be doing better in the A/L results), we in Colombo did have many more priviledge, if only in the quality of English instruction. This to me seems to be the critical issue. Whether we like it or not, learning proper English is imperative in today’s global job market. And the “prestigious” Colombo schools seem to be the best place to learn it properly. Depriving this opportunity to those very bright outstations students is such a pity not just for them, but for the rest of us who will grow up insulated from our rural brethren who increasingly make up the democratic majority of the country. I hope,we have learnt-after 30 years of war- the lesson on not having a shared language. Let us not make another mistake in removing one of the few remaining avenues for interaction among different socio-economic groups.

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