Yureshya Perera

On this second International Day of Education, 24 January, the need for significant attention, better focus, and improved investment in education has never been greater. The theme as suggested  by UNESCO is  – Learning for People, the Planet, Prosperity and Peace. Education is indeed the cornerstone of all the Sustainable Development Goals, and as a signatory to the declaration Sri Lanka too has major responsibility. Moreover we have the responsibility to ensure equitability in good quality education, to modernize curricula & train teachers so that we are geared to face the challenges of the fourth industrial revolution. Sri Lanka needs a novel approach in the delivery of education, a system that’s student-centered and one which will empower young people with new skill-sets and lateral thinking, so that they will be capable of functioning with competence on the global stage.
According to media reports, the government has announced and the Cabinet has approved a Proposal to increase the the number of students in each class from this year. Increasing student numbers from the current 35-40 in popular urban schools, can seriously hamper the learning environment for students and cause anxiety and stress, for teachers. EFSL will publish a Policy Brief on this topic soon. Meanwhile its worth reading the OECD perspective on this, in the link below. https://gpseducation.
With the new decade before us its time to ask if the Sri Lankan education system is ready to meet the FIR (Fourth Industrial Revolution), and its attendant multiple challenges. The World Economic Forum article below explains how education systems in the world are preparing themselves for the FIR.According to the 2017 School Census just about 10% of all schools (total 10,000) offer science education. Even so,  the number of students in those 1000 schools is dismally small. Only about 36,500 qualify for Advance Level Science education.
There is a number of reasons, such as : State-funded Sri Lankan universities are poor in resources. Just few universities generate an additional income to augment state funds, and yet the total costs needed to manage a top-end higher education institute, in keeping with globally completive standards, cannot be matched.  Recruitment and ability to retain academic ‘stars’ with excellent teaching and research credentials are next to impossible.  Potential for research, necessary laboratory & other infrastructure, essential resources (financial & other) are hardly adequate. High quality research on topical areas in the sciences and humanities is therefore not forthcoming.
The Sri Lankan education system went through reforms during the years 1999 to 2004. The series of changes, from Grades 1 to 12 as recommended by the Presidential Task Force on Education and the National Education Commission during that period, included  Advanced Level reforms, i.e reducing the number of subjects offered from four to three, introducing Biology instead of  Zoology & Botany and a new formula, Z score, for university admission selection was introduced. This came into being due to the disadvantages of taking the aggregate/total raw marks of different subjects to select students to universities.Due to the disparities amongst subjects, students who chose certain subjects would be likely to score higher marks.