By Ranga Kalansooriya –
Professor Siri Hettige had a good analysis on our incumbent education system in his Daily Mirror column on this Monday which was ironically the World Teachers’ Day. I agree with his arguments on the poor quality of education and the urgent need to revise the system if we are to develop the country with quality human resources. We still boast of our high literacy rate compared to other Asian nations without realizing the fact that the high literacy rate means nothing when it comes to quality of education. No dispute, we need a thorough review and total restructuring of the entire system, both schools and universities.
I am not an educationist, but have studied at three internationally acclaimed universities and two local ones. It is heartening to see that our systems are far behind from those mechanisms. We have a long way to go, but yet to see any initiative in embarking on that path. As Prof Hettige correctly pointed out, if we are to develop as a strong nation in this technologically challenged global context, this is a high priority. His case study on the positioning of Sri Lanka on the global IQ level is a classic example to prove this point.
I was fortunate to listen to Dr Abdul Kalam when he delivered a lecture on education at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. “What is the most important period of student’s life when considering his education?” asked Dr Kalam from the audience where different responses came from different corners of the hall, but nothing satisfied him. “You are wrong. The most important period of education is the pre-school. That is the place where child’s entire future and personality is being molded. Therefore, if we need a strong, skillful generation, we must concentrate and strengthen our pre- school education,” stressed Dr Kalam. Then he elaborated the qualities of a pre-school teacher.
Needless to say that pre-schools are the least important segment within our systems. No regulation, no quality assurance and no vibrant system to produce good pre-school teachers. Thus, according to Dr. Kalam’s argument, could we expect a strong, skillful generation?
When talk about the quality of education, the standards of the teachers is of paramount importance. Ask any parent, they may have plenty of stories to say about the quality of our present day teachers – and the situations in Colombo leading schools are the worst. The same set of words that we use to criticize the governments – such as corruption, nepotism, arrogance – could be easily used on them as well.
If the teachers, too, get the label of corruption – what could be future of our society? There were teachers who demanded valuable gifts from their students to mark the Teachers’ Day. “Please don’t bring flowers, ha. Those are of no use. There are better gifts,” a teacher was quoted by one of my friends who had to look for a valuable gift for the teacher of his daughter. In some instances the teacher would indirectly indicate the preferred gift at the end of the year and these choices could include refrigerators, televisions, computers, expensive mobile phones etc.
Of course, favorism and nepotism go along with those who provide special treatment to the teacher. “It is not the best talented student but the student who provides the best gift will get the priority,” claimed the parent.
To my mind, the events like Teachers’ Days should be well utilized, not to bribe the teachers, but to conduct a thorough monitoring and evaluation process, or at least to make some effort to change their perceptions and attitudes.
Another friend of mine who returned from abroad to settle down in Sri Lanka got his son enrolled to a leading Colombo school and happily participated in the first parents meeting which was addressed by the high profile principal of the College. “I was expecting him to elaborate the education system of the school, the norms and practices for the students and some advice for the parents – nothing of that sort. His entire speech was about a new building project of the college and how parents could help it. It was all about money, nothing about the children and their upbringing. It appeared that he was not bothered about the children, but the buildings and money.” In fact, the entire agenda of this particular principal was on how to get a member of the former ruling family to the next College function and be closed to the “Royal Family.”
There could be plenty of such examples from all over the country that would depict the appalling status of the attitude and perception of teachers. To my mind the error is not with the individuals but with the system. We are still in the same conservative mindset of teacher centric education system whereas in other developed nations the systems become student centric. We need a total paradigm change in our education system, mainly with the teachers.
The entire system has become extensively corrupt at all levels. Can you get a child entered into a leading school without bribing the principal and others around him? How much one has to spend to doctor the necessary documents? How far do you have to lie as a parent, and most importantly how far you have to teach the kid to lie at the interviews? When you take it as a whole, is it a fair play? After all with all these efforts, aren’t we entering our kids into a highly corrupt and highly manipulated education system? Is it what expected by the concept of free education?
The present situation becomes more alarming when we think of the caliber of teachers we had during good old days, who carefully crafted our lives with utmost dedication and commitment. Not only did they provide text book education, but they brought up human beings, they shaped our lives with no commercial or otherwise expectations. With all due respect, these calibers still do exist but a minority, at least in Colombo and other leading schools, as per my judgment – may be I am wrong.
The university system is no different. Except for a few dedicated dons, do we see the expected academic output from our universities? The quantity has improved, not the quality.
Education is an exceptionally vital sector for the future of the country and it needs a total revamp at all levels. Teachers are the live-wire of this mechanism. In this highly techno-savvy society, kids are far ahead of teachers and their parents. Therefore, the education system, too, needs to catch up with this rapid development and update itself according to the technological expansion. In some developed systems, Tab or a smart phone has become a necessary item in the children’s school bag.
In a nutshell, as commented by Prof Hettige, the content of the education needs to be revisited and revised as an urgent need. Add to that, is a total change in the entire education system and its practitioners require a paradigm shift too. Only corrupt practitioners could survive in the present game, as I see it.
Most importantly, a change of perception and attitude among teachers is a cardinal necessity. The smart student will soon outsmart by questioning and challenging the teacher in the classroom. Thus, the teacher needs to be prepared and smarter than this highly techno-savvy student.