Policy Dialogues | Budget 2021 | Reopening of Schools | Grade 5 Scholarship and G.C.E. A/L Examinations Held | G.C.E. O/L Examination Postponed to January | Lessons on TV: Gov’s Proposed Distance Learning Solution | Teacher Shortages and Teacher Dissatisfaction | Private Tertiary Education Institutions | Early Childhood Education
Education Forum Sri Lanka a held a policy dialogue on November 21, 2020, via Zoom reviewing the report of Presidential Task Force on Educational Affairs. As the panelists and participants observed, the education reform plan of the Presidential Task Force is visionary and comprehensive, but it does not address (1) Strategies for effective implementation (2) Limitations such as political interference (3) Capacity deficiencies in management & administration (4) Lack of empowerment of teachers and (5) Reality of insufficient funding. A more strategic approach identifying a few pivotal strategies and how they can be implemented is needed. EFSL will present a brief on such a strategic approach using the inputs from this dialogue.
The 2021 Budget Proposals’ allocation of funds to the education and higher education sectors include: Rs.3 billion towards developing distance education; Rs.3 billion towards developing Vocational Education; Rs.1 billion towards expanding university facilities (and towards this end, setting up a nonresident City University per District), and Rs.3 billion towards developing sporting facilities and infrastructure (with mention of develop 10 sports schools with synthetic race tracts). The total education allocation is Rs.163 billion.
Reopening of Schools
The third term of government schools was scheduled to resume on Nov 9. However, due to COVID-related health-concerns, schools remained closed until Nov 23, when Grade 6 – 13 classes resumed everywhere except in the Western Province and in Police Divisions declared isolated areas in any province. However, the Education Ministry permitted school authorities to decide on the re-opening of schools, with certain schools choosing to remain closed. There appeared to be confusion about directives to limit movement which conflicted with directives to open schools.
Grade 5 Scholarship Exam & G.C.E A/L Examinations Held
On Oct 11, 326,264 students sat for the Grade 5 Scholarship Exam. Candidates included three students who were quarantined, two students who were infected with COVID-19 and three students from Apeksha Cancer Hospital. The results were released on Nov 16 revealing that 200 students scored full marks and 20,250 students were eligible for scholarships.
From Oct 12 – Nov 6, 362,824 students sat for the A/L exams with 27 students having done so from the IDH and 568 having done so under quarantine. With controversy over the old and new A/L syllabi, reported to have been the cause of unjust admission of students to universities, Minister of Education, G.L. Peiris, stated that he has instructed the University Grants Commission to submit a report regarding University admission of students who sat for exams under each syllabus.
G.C.E O/L Examinations Postponed to January
With an estimated 700,000 students set to sit for their O/L examinations, the exam was postponed from its usual December schedule to January 18, 2021. Due to COVID-related education disruptions in schools, the Education Ministry called for feedback from teachers on the extent of the O/L syllabi covered. Minister of Education, G.L. Peiris, stated that exam papers would be flexibly prepared depending on how much of the syllabi had been covered.
Lessons on TV: Gov’s Proposed Distance Learning Solution
The inability of students to access online learning due to a lack of internet connectivity, signal, devices, data and mobile phone connections was highlighted as a growing problem, impeding students’ learning and widening the digital divide. The National Institute of Education has been telecasting lessons in Sinhala, Tamil and English on the state-run Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation’s Eye and Nethra channels since May 22, but a Cabinet a decision on November 3 signals a more concerted effort to broadcast such lessons. With nearly 50% of students estimated to be cut off from distance education due to a lack of access to the Internet, the Cabinets’ approval to use TV programs for such purposes is a welcome move. The government’s budget proposal for 2021 also includes an allocation of Rs.3 billion to provide TV sets to schools in difficult areas to ensure that the ‘Guru Gedara’ education channel is available to all students.
Teacher Shortages and Teacher Dissatisfaction
With teacher shortages reported in the Southern province as well as in over 100 national schools across the country, the Education Ministry has called for applications from select categories of officers from the Sri Lanka Education Administrative Service (SLEAS) and the Sri Lanka Principal Service (SLPS). Addressing the issue of teacher shortages in rural and non-national schools, the Prime Minister noted that the ‘Guru Gedara’ education channel should be made available to all students by providing television sets to schools in difficult areas.
Despite the teacher shortages in the country, around 4000 College of Education teacher trainees are still awaiting teaching appointments. Not only are teachers dissatisfied with this situation, but also with the failure of the 2021 Budget Proposal to review salary anomalies for teachers and principals.
Private Tertiary Education Institutions
Amidst the challenges facing the Government, several private education institutions appear to be faring well under the present circumstances. With plans to expand high-quality higher education opportunities in Sri Lanka, SLIIT was reported to have released plans to launch their new ‘SLIIT International Campus’ in Colombo during the first quarter of 2021, and AOD introduced Master of Arts (MA) programmes in Design Innovation, Design Management & Entrepreneurship and Contour Fashion via De Montfort University Partnership.
Early Childhood Education
Access, affordability and quality of early education and childcare was reported as a significant challenge, primarily due to the involvement of multiple stakeholders and the lack of clarity in administrative structures in this sector. It was noted that the Government provides free access to compulsory primary and secondary education, but not to preschool education, which is not mandatory. Enrolment rates were 56.6% in 2016 for preschool children between 3-5 years of age. 70.8% of preschools and 78% of day care centers were reported as being privately operated and levying fees, thus reducing access and affordability for a sizeable segment of the population.
The government was reported to have appointed a nine-member committee chaired by Ven. Prof. Medagoda Abhayatissa Thero to study a draft prepared by experts in the field of primary education, and to make a final decision on the amendments to be made.