WHITHER EDUCATION REFORMS IN SECONDARY CONTEXT OF SRI LANKA (PART 1)
Posted on June 19th, 2018

BY EDWARD THEOPHILUS

The free education system in Sri Lanka was successfully initiated by Mr. CWW Kannangara who represented the State Council in the colonial era, animated education of the country with a view to developing as an asset of common people. Currently, education in Sri Lanka has translated to a way, which supports human resource development empowering disadvantaged people as John Dewy stated in How to Think.  The literacy rate of Sri Lanka compared to other Asian nations seems to be significantly higher or parallel to emerging nations and parents of the country also highly motivated to educate children as they have better understanding that education would be an asset that kids could be given by parents.  A traditional saying of Sri Lanka also expresses that the monumental wealth that children are supposed to be given by parents is education, which would lead kids to be in a prime place in the society of educated people. Practically, Mr. Kannanga’s strategic initiatives effectively worked in Sri Lanka’s society as successfully educated people have become richer than non-educated people. It was visibly accepted by the community to motivate for educating kids.

Historical evidence confirms that a reasonably organized education system had been managed in Sri Lanka since Anuradhapura era, which existed 2000 years ago. Universities were also a part of the education system in that society although they were not named as universities.  Recent research articles published in Sri Lanka expressed that there were universities in Anuradhapura era which offered a range of courses, such as religion, languages, law, arts, medicine and many other to students. Faxian’s report clearly articulated about Abhayagiri University and confirmed the historical existence of universities in Sri Lanka.

The offering of education in the history was either a role of religious institutions or a role of private business of educated individuals. It is quite correct if we assume that privately owned education system was operated in the country.   No recorded evidence so far found that the government had been playing a vital role in education distribution or was active in developing education policies to the country as an essential service to the community. Educating people under the administration of kings/queens was either a private or corporate activity without any influences from the government.  The historical evidence also confirms that the general public did not object to the way education distributed or public was apathetic on education policy had been in the country. The attitudes of political administrators showed that the distribution of education was not a concerned matter for them. Sometimes, it encouraged to assume that education was operated as an opportunity to privileged class than a common service to everybody. Feudalistic society in Sri Lanka under the leadership of Kings and Queens seriously marginalized the rights of poor or lower-class people.

However, the State Council under the colonial rule encouraged the government to make national-level policies for the structuring of educational programs in diverse contexts because the offering of education and the policy-making process were individually done by schools owned by religious or any other groups before Kannangara’s policy come into light. The stories about various prominent people such as poets and authors point out that they attended to schools, which were managed by Buddhist temples and the house of teacher (Guru Gedara).   The policy decisions of individual organizations were strongly based on the philosophy of such organizations, which were offering education to the community and they did not represent or support the requirements of the society and a national uniformity of offered education was not being in the system. There were contradictory objectives of school administrators on the purpose of education, which was inconsistent with required education quality and the development needs and the process of the country which demanded skillful people.  The other vital concern of the colonial administration was that the widening gap between educated and uneducated people, which might cause to create an unrest in the country.

The traditional education system in Sri Lanka seemed to be inclined to divide the society as educated and uneducated people and in the society without caste dictions educated individuals attracted wide respect from the community. It is also difficult to determine whether the concept of equal opportunity was applied in that society as the story in relation to Saliya and Asoka Mala in the history leads us to assume that there were caste dictions, which influenced on the day to day life of people. Therefore, I could reasonably conclude that caste dictions highly influenced education distribution in the history and also it influenced to determine who were the right people to obtain an education.

Mr. Kannangara enacted the policy for free education in the country considering many factors with a view to making justice to everyone and established central colleges in each electorate providing a reasonable opportunity and facilities for education to common people.  It was a strong and remarkable policy initiative to equally distribute education for both rich and poor and to commonly provide education in English medium for rich and poor too.  This was how rural people learn an international language, which had been used in workplaces.

Although the free education from kindergarten to the university allowed to a wider participation for education distribution, which was based on the state council policy on education, the strategic policy developments for implementation at school level was at seriously snail’s pace because of the role was not motivated by the political level. It was a responsibility of administration level, which encountered tremendous difficulties as the administrators in education at school level or district education offices were not adequately experienced personnel with a good understanding of education strategies and policies. Their knowledge and skills relating to curriculum, teaching and education policy developments were not commensurate to play a successful and effective role in the country.

The evolution of curriculum and teaching in the world has radically been changed over the time considering psychological aspects of students and contextual requirements of education levels.  The strategies in relation to curriculum and teaching have changed as a result of scientific and technological innovations in different educational contexts such as early childhood education, primary education, secondary education, TVET and the university education.  In all education contexts, curriculum development and teaching methods were based on learning objectives for a long period, in which students were supposed to achieve learning objectives through participation in learning activities.  Curriculum documents or syllabi were considered as legally valid instructions for teachers to develop a variety of objectives, which were based on topics and sub-topics of the subject. Consistent with curriculum documents or syllabi, teachers were required to plan and prepare lessons and present lessons in classrooms and evaluate lessons after the presentation and assess students consistent with curriculum objectives.  In most of the western countries, educational strategies were based on general objectives and teachers were supposed to plan and organize teaching focusing on objectives, but it was involved in a serious constraint to determine what level students achieve objectives or quantify the achievements. Teachers training and textbooks writing were congruous with the objectives-based curriculum documents.

However, before educational legislation in the State Council education strategies in the country were not clear whether they were focused on achievable objectives, but it is possible to assume that it might have focused on educational and learning objectives in relation to content knowledge rather than the applicability of knowledge in the real environment.  Teachers training and textbooks writing were not aligned to objective based education and many teachers of Sri Lanka were/ are really confused about the achievements of educational objectives and many teachers did not plan lessons, present lessons, evaluate lessons and assess students consistent with objectives as they were conjectured to do.

Internationally objective based educational strategies encountered many issues and criticisms on the measurement of objectives achievement. Many educationists were of confused that how to measure the achievement of objectives and evaluate the accountability of educators in relation to the achievement of objectives by students.  Objectives mean some kind of expectations in relation to teaching and learning but the achievement of such expectations might not definite or, quantify or it led to questioning whether students have gained the valid knowledge and skills through the learning process. It may have been a 50 to 50 gamble. The education environment of Sri Lanka found that a large volume of student failures in grade 10 and 12 exams, which meant that students did not achieve learning objectives.  The logical answer to failures could be regarded either student have not achieved objectives or teachers failed to evaluate the achievement of objectives using the right strategy.

When students failed from competitive exams such as grade 10 and 12, parents and students in Sri Lanka used to a habit of blaming teachers thinking that education was a teacher-centred activity. It is an issue that when students failed from exams, would it be right to blame teachers. On what ground such false generalizations be justified?  There is no argument that many teachers in public schools in Sri Lanka habitually failed to play the right roles in discharging the duties. The accountability for this failure is taken to light in education administration process in the country.  In this environment, many parents sent their kids to private tuition classes and it seems that private tuition masters also are not properly trained teachers but talkative individuals in the classrooms rather than directing students for student-centred education. Parents and students in many third-world countries have a false assumption that if the teacher was loudly talked in the classroom he/she was an effective teacher.  The teacher’s effectiveness is determined in modern era, how he /she played the role as a facilitator and mentor to students, which helps students to achieve learning outcomes.

Western countries were able to develop more successful strategies in place of objectives-based education in which the strategy focuses on developing educational outcomes in advanced and assessing the achievement of outcomes after the learning process.  The strategic policy development was underpinned by philosophical, sociological and psychological aspects and the best achievement in the 19th century was called a generation of outcome-based education, which has been extended to many countries.

The outcome-based education was tested in some Pacific countries with the support of Australian government but it was not successful due to training and resources related issues and when education policymakers and implementation of micro-level educators have no right training for content knowledge, teaching methods, and student assessment, the strategic policies would not succeed as expected.  However, UNESCO recognizes that Outcome-based education and competency-based training are highly successful in Australia.

Sri Lanka has been attempted to reform primary and secondary contexts since 1965 as the Mr. IMRA Irriyagolla, the minister of education had a keen interest in reforms and he was admonished by good advisors.  The effort was not successful as the politics in the country involved to create problems with a view to destroying the effort.  People of Sri Lanka could easily mislead using bogus information and this situation is continuing in the country.  The education reforms began in 1965 focused on diversification of education system giving a reasonable weight to skills requirement of the country and it should have commenced from primary and secondary contexts.

The traditional education in the country focused on literacy as well as skills requirements of the different industry and new reforms needed to stress on the employment growth and the productivity in workplaces.  The education strategies used under the reforming objectives didn’t go along with the prime aims of reforms and later the government attempted to change the strategy from teacher-centred education to student-centred learning.  When compared to many developing countries and even developed countries, Sri Lanka has a strong capacity to implement the new system as students are generally intelligent and capable of understanding the applicability of educational outcomes.  However, education information in the country indicates that outcome-based education has not successfully implemented in the country due to several reasons.

The major issue in relation to the implementation of outcome-based education involves the administration level, which has no highly skilled administrators to develop a practical policy for curriculum developing for a variety of subjects consistent with students’ psychological abilities to cope with outcomes. Current administrators were trained under the old education strategy and the changing of them to new strategy invites offering effective training to the new system.  This is a quite costly exercise and the government needs allocating sufficient funds to retrain education administrators.

Once policy-makers trained to develop right policy, teachers at micro level need to train for the policy implementation. This means that teachers need radically changing their teaching methods, evaluation, and assessment strategies consistent with educational outcomes.  It seems that retraining of teachers for new strategies would be critical aspect because attitudes of students, teachers, and parent in relation to the strategy is a challenge.

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