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.
BBS Rep / October 9, 2015
I agree with most of what you say. Our education system is corrupt, teachers are inept and the principles are only interested in building funds for obvious reasons.
No wonder our poorly educated public keep electing rogues and outright liers to parliament. Their level of education is so poor that they can’t think that life could be better beyond the liers of UNP or liers of SLFP.
Hamlet / October 9, 2015
What is the Solution to this Problem?
The Current Teachers are themselves Products of the System.
Where can we find Teachers who are able to make their Pupils Think?
What they are doing now is creating young Men and Women who can pass the Examinations compiled by the System; Not Citizens who can Challenge and Question, and Change the Current Way of Following the Perceived Leaders..
salam / October 9, 2015
Any change in education to catch up with the developed world as target calls for synchronizing with job opportunities at Lanka itself or you will find brain drain on the increase. The worse scenario would be the formation of sinhala buddhist JVP style terror or ltte tamil terror when the job opportunity does not exist. Nigeria is a classic case of the educated who are now smugglers and bank fraud via internet.
Its not that the west are racist but it also has problems with housing, employment, schooling that the public don’t want cultural shock. Pay check or Getting the work done to western standards??
Be careful what you wish for as it falls within city planning.
See how LKY conceived it.
After 48 the civil servants and politicians have stolen almost all scholarships like the way they get their kids to royal college etc.
There needs to be a degree of honesty but the buruvas are a protesting, contended lot with bad logic living like bigots embracing an Hindian god of fiction for the bestality breed sinhala.
BBS Rep / October 9, 2015
I have no answer to Sri Lanka’s ills – your suggestion is as good as mine.
My3 on who we placed so much hope is turning out to be an MR in diguise. Even the monks who we so readily worship are turning out to be thugs disguised in saffron robes.
Genetic cloning may perhaps arrest the rot.
nimal fernando / October 9, 2015
First of all I must confess that when it comes to education I am totally uneducated. Sure, I have been in some fancy universities but I mostly learned what not to learn. I have encountered some of the biggest humbugs in these places; if one wanted to be intellectually honest there was very few you could learn from, or look up to. The only person I had any regard for was a young handicapped professor – he looked sort of a leaner version of Danny DeVito . The handicap didn’t hold him back; he would hit on the most beautiful girls and the girls would go with him for his sheer chutzpah. To hell with the fancy education that’s one education that came in handy.
I guess in many countries people mistake “education” for learning a trade. But there is an “education” for education itself. Is learning a trade like Medicine, Engineering, Law …. education? Or is there something more? I have encountered highly trained, very skilled doctors, engineers, ……. and especially lawyers who are frighteningly uneducated. Is there room, like in the olden days, to go and learn – for example Philosophy, Theology, Classics, History etc – something that has no job attached to it at the end of one’s learning?
In a free world people are free to chose the “education” they want but I feel educationists must do us plebeians all a favour and first define what they mean by “education.” It’s not an easy task.
I am fascinated by 15th – 20th century Germanic (for a lack of a better collective word; the borders have changed so many times) people; their contributions to human culture in any field you care to name. What compelled them to go out and explore the outer reaches of their chosen fields? Was there a job/livelihood attached to it or did they do just for the love of it? Or was it the sauerkraut in their diet?
I look at 21st century Sri Lanka and there is no one in sight who can come close to do what the Germanic people did in the 18th century. Sure, there is grand mimicry/aping of the White-man in dress, mannerisms and especially language but why are we so incapable of grasping their other attributes? We put on a grand 21st century facade in dress, mannerisms, language, cloaking a prehistoric Sinhalese-Buddhist/Tamil-Hindu mindset.
Sure, we all need good basics of “education” at least to go on and be “self-thought” – Jimi Hendrix never had a guitar lesson, Einstein failed the entrance test to enter collage – but beyond that what?
Dr. Rajasingham Narendran / October 9, 2015
You have raised a very valid and pertinent issue. Is schooling to acquire knowledge and skills, education? We are I think
confounding schooling with education.
Dr. Rajasingham Narendran
Just saying / October 9, 2015
Will you at least once try to write and article without the proverbial snake? On this occasion it seems that it has slithered through the degree documents of THREE universities before falling on to the the brand new washing machine.
s.dayal / October 9, 2015
we want a paradigm shift and transformation in education, and a system to maintain international standards in education but we pay a small sum to teachers and we expect a great service from them. it is well known that only those who could not get good jobs and those who would like to have lot of holidays, are becoming teachers with no supervision and less accountability even with less pay. in SL the system is not attracting bright candidates. they are recruited without any basic understanding of teaching or students. they get used to a particular way of teaching that after training they do not change and training do not make any impact on them.state takes the attitude that ‘less pay-no monitoring’ and teachers are given a free hand. if they try to impose any rational control the joseph stalins are there to relax it.
as for smart students questioning the teachers, it is already happening. some teachers are assis5ted by teachers when it comes to using the computer and cell phone.some students are very good in english, very much better than their teachers.
Hamlet / October 9, 2015
“…when it comes to using the computer and cell phone.some students are very good in english, very much better than their teachers.”
Dayal:- Those poor students, are then at the receiving end of their Teachers sarcasm, who make fun of them saying ‘Oya Kaduven Apey Bella Kapanna enna Epa’
Lasantha Pethiyagoda / October 9, 2015
The writer of the article does not seem very familiar with the social environment within which the education system works in Sri Lanka.
He cannot realistically expect good ethical conduct from educationists or any other professional as the politically imposed set of social values is utterly corrupt to the core.
Morality and virtuous values do not bring personal benefits in such a system. Hence everybody seems to practice dishonourable means of achieving their goals.
While this is a misguided notion that returns zilch to the collective community, it is largely illusive when one considers the disastrous effect it has on all of Sri Lankan society. Hence, research interests aside, it is a bottomless black hole that our children and future generations are heading towards.
Abimanasigham Sitthawatthai Uthayakumar / October 11, 2015
The Aim of education should be to assist the school and University students to maximize their Analyzing power and knowledge. This only helps to produce RELIABLE citizens in the country.
It is unfortunate our educationists do not know how to teach arts and other subjects in such a way to maximize the analyzing power and knowledge of the students.
Let us take the National flag and politics based on our National flag. We have our national flag with green and maroon stripes to represent the Muslims and Tamils. All have accepted that the flag of the Kandyan Kingdom with a lion holding a sword by its right fore-paw placed at the centre of a rectangle with pinnacles at the corners represents the Sinhalese People.
Do our Historians and Archaeologists know:
1) What a lion could symbolize?
2) What a sword could symbolize?
3) What a rectangle with four identical pinnacles placed at the corners could symbolize?
4) What a lion holding a sword placed at the centre of a rectangle with pinnacles placed in the corners could symbolize?
To my knowledge none of the archaeologists and historians has conducted a scientific study on Symbolization and Symbolization of Buddha and Buddhism etc.
But they have come to a conclusion that this particular lion symbolizes the Sinhalese People!
The lion holding a sword placed at the centre of a rectangle with pinnacles (or four similar objects like Boa leaf etc.) placed at the corners symbolizes Lord Buddha!
From ancient time Buddha had been symbolized with the four animals Lion. Elephant, Horse and Bull. That was the reason in the “Lion Capital” of Sarnath these four animals roll the Chakras symbolizing Lord Buddha rolling the Dharma Chakra!
A pair of foot had also been used to symbolize Lord Buddha. A number of “a pair of foot” made out of wood and stone were discovered in Tamil Nadu, Kanadarodai, Thiruvadinilai in the Jaffna Peninsula, Kilinocchi, Anuradhapura etc. The ancient Tamil epic “Manimeekalai” mentions the worship of a pair of foot in Tamil Nadu!
Sword has nothing to do with the animals. The Tamil word for sword id “VaaL” (வாள்). In Tamil “VaaL” means a sword, light etc.
Thus the lion in the Kandyan flag is not an animal lion that kills and eats other animals.
It is an Enlightened Lion, Lord Buddha!!
It is further confirmed by placing this Lion at the centre of the rectangle having pinnacles at the corners.
A rectangle with pinnacles at the corners symbolizes a group of FOUR equally important things. Here it could symbolize “the Four Noble Truths” of Buddhism!
Likewise our archaeologists and historians have “studied” thousands of the archaeological finds in Lanka and come to some conclusions that inevitably ended in the formulation of the Doctrine Sinhala – Sinhalese- Theeravaada Buddhism – Lanka with one to one correspondence and utilized this in politics!
Our country reaps the fruits of our failed teaching of the arts subjects history and archaeology!
Likewise we face similar problems in the study of languages, literature and therefore culture. religion.society. fine arts etc. also.
Even if our educational system helps the students of maths and natural science subjects to maximize their analyzing power and knowledge, politics and administration of our country will be determined by those who studied the arts subjects!
However, we have to ask the question whether maths and natural science subjects are taught in such a way to assist the students to maximize their analyzing power and knowledge.
Therefore, we have to change the whole educational set up in such a way to assist the students to maximize their analyzing power and knowledge.
Will our “Educationists” and politicians agree to make the necessary changes?
The answer will be NO!!
Therefore, not only Muthri-Ramil group, any group could come to power in our Lanka, but the people of our country will continue to suffer and our country will have to be a puppet of foreign powers!!