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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.
The Grade Five exam with its imperfections is still a useful mechanism to level the playing field in an inequitable education system which cannot be reformed anytime soon. Succeeding governments to their credit have made efforts, and continue to make efforts, to remove inequities through various initiatives, which are more or less similar but implemented under different names such as Navodya Schools, Isuru Schools, Thousand Schools and now as the Nearest School is the Best School. Education is not an island. It reflects inequities in society. Reforms take time.
During a debate on education budgetary allocation,  Aturaliye Ratana Thero, a Bhikku and Sri Lankan Parliamentarian,  has said: “If a child is given a primary education in a language other than their mother tongue, that child would not be a citizen of that country,” The essence of the good Thero’s argument is that pedagogically it is best to educate a child in his/her mother tongue, and if we don’t they will also not be able to participate effectively in the socio-cultural life of this country. While agreeing with the essence of Thero’s argument, I would object very much to a  violation of a parent’s fundamental right to decide which language should be the mother-tongue for their children. The Thero is falsely assuming that mother tongue of families in Sri Lanka has to be Sinhala or Tamil.   Many families of mixed parentage or else, choose to use English as the language spoken at home and in school. Typically these are families with well-educated parents in leadership positions in the private or non-governmental sector.
Inter-group Dialogue is an interactive and facilitated learning experience that brings together twelve to eighteen students from two or more social identity groups over a sustained period to explore commonalities and differences, examine the nature and consequences of systems of power and privilege, and find ways to work together to promote social justice (Zuniga et al. 2011). My interest as an advocate for Intergroup Dialogue grew specifically with experience as a facilitator for a dialogue on National Origin at an urban American University that is increasingly expanding its global presence. My curiosity about ethno/religious tensions that are perpetuated in ‘learning environments’ also made me look into educational methods that have a record of effectiveness. At first, one can be sceptical of the carefully planned structure and allocation of participants in groups, but it definitely made me a convert when I realized how liberating it was to talk about sensitive issues in a safe and open space.

What children really need to learn

Posted on October 1, 2014  /  2 Comments

(I wrote this article sometime back at the request of Ms. Chaya Hettige, head of Littel Angels pre-school in Nugegoda. I reproduce it here for parents of Grade V children who just received results of  the 2014 scholarship examination) What do our children really need to learn to be well and happy in an increasingly complex and competitive world? How we do we give them an early start? As parents, you already making a good effort by spending much time and energy getting your little ones to and from per-school, burning petrol, fighting  the traffic etc, but are we focusing on the important things?
  සිස්සත්වේ ජය ටැඹ වෙත ඇදගෙන ගිය      අම්මා තාත්තට බැන වදිමින් මට වද දුන්              අම්මා වෙල් එළියද ඇලද දොළද තහනම් කළ      අම්මා විඳින්න නොව විඳවන්නට මට හුරු කළ      අම්මා   නෑ මිතුරන්ගේ ඇසුරද මට නැති කළ          අම්මා පත්තරවල කට්ටලවල මා තනි කළ            අම්මා ළමා ලොවේ සුන්දර දේ වසන් කෙරුව       අම්මා අහිමිව ගිය ඒ ලෝකය දෙන්නකෝ මගේ   අම්මා   ටොකු ඇන ඇන මට වද දී තරඟ කරන       අම්මා ලඟින් සිටිය මගේ මිතුරන් දුරස් කෙරුව      අම්මා විභාගයේ දින ගනිමින් ජය පැන් බොන       අම්මා අගාදයේ දූරටුව ළඟ මා තනි වුනි                අම්මා   ප්‍රේමරත්න ගල්හේන  
(මෙම ලිපිය 2013 පෙබරවාරි -සැප්තැම්බර් කාලය තුල “අද” පත්‍රයේ පලවුන ලිපි මාලාවක් අන්තර්ජාලයට ගෙන ඒමේ අරමුණෙන් පලකෙරේ. මෙය වැඩි දියුණු කිරීම සදහා ඔබගේ අදහස්/ප්‍රශ්න  කරුණාකර කොමෙන්ටුවක් ලෙස එක් කරන්න.  අධ්‍යාපනය හෝ පුහුණුව සදහා ආයතන ලැයිස්තුවක් සදහා http://www.educationforum.lk/higher-education/බලන්න.
(මෙම ලිපිය 2013 පෙබරවාරි -සැප්තැම්බර් කාලය තුල “අද” පත්‍රයේ පලවුන ලිපි මාලාවක් අන්තර්ජාලයට ගෙන ඒමේ අරමුණෙන් පලකෙරේ. මෙය වැඩි දියුණු කිරීම සදහා ඔබගේ අදහස්/ප්‍රශ්න  කරුණාකර කොමෙන්ටුවක් ලෙස එක් කරන්න.  අධ්‍යාපනය හෝ පුහුණුව සදහා ආයතන ලැයිස්තුවක් සදහා www.educationforum.lk/higher-education/බලන්න.