The crucible of GFSE
Posted on October 8th, 2018

The Editorial Courtesy The Island

The Grade Five Scholarship Examination (GFSE) results have been released. The best performers and their parents are walking on air while others are sulking. This, we see year in, year out. Some parents even mete out cruel punishment to their unfortunate progeny who fail to score enough marks. Numerous shocking incidents have been reported, where low-scoring students were beaten mercilessly or even burned with heated spoons, etc. by their frustrated parents.

President Maithripala Sirisena has recently told the parents of schoolgoing children some home truths. Speaking at a school function in Kandy, on Friday, when the GFSE results were released, the President urged parents not to cause untold suffering to their children in the name of examinations. He pointed out that the percentage of outstanding performers at the GFSE, doing equally well later and entering university, was woefully low.

One cannot but agree with President Sirisena, who deserves praise for having refrained from making a political speech at a school event and addressed an issue that affects children, their parents and teachers. It is hoped that he will continue to do so and other political leaders will follow suit. However, one should not lose sight of the fact that the Education Ministry itself has recognised some seats of learning as popular schools while doing precious little to develop others. This situation has, more or less, remained unchanged under successive governments. Students who fail to gain Grade One admission to privileged schools are left with no alternative but to sit the fiendishly difficult GFSE; they and their families are put through the hoop as a result.

Politicians have, in a bid to cover up their failure to develop the education sector, characterised by a glaring urban bias in resource allocation, have coined an attractive slogan: ‘The nearest school is the best school’. But how many MPs and ministers who represent rural areas send their children to schools in those far-flung corners of the country?

Why the ordinary people sans the wherewithal and political connections are so desperate to see their children perform exceptionally well at the GFSE is understandable. What attracts children to popular schools is not education per se. More opportunities are available to students in elitist urban schools than their less fortunate counterparts elsewhere, as is public knowledge. Products of the popular schools, therefore, get a head start over others in many fields, where the latter have to work their fingers to the bone in a bid to succeed in life. Besides educational qualifications and skills, social class and the old school tie do matter in the local job market.

Examination results are not the only yardstick of student’s performance, much less his or her intelligence, as the President has rightly said. But unfortunately, in this country, they are the sole means of separating the sheep from the goats, so to speak. (Perhaps, the only field where it is not applied is politics.) This is the reason for parents’ desperation to ensure that his or her child scores very high marks at examinations even at the expense of the latter’s mental wellbeing. No wonder those who undergo tremendous suffering owing to examinations in their formative years are not at peace with either the world or themselves when they grow up.

The yahapalana leaders, in the run-up to the 2015 regime change, promised to allocate as much as 6% of the GDP for education if they were voted into office. They are now ensconced in power, but their pledge has turned out to be yet another Machiavellian promise. Most state-run schools remain backward. The ever increasing number of private educational institutions to cater to the children who drop out of the race for popular schools is an indictment on the government.

Nothing is said to be given so freely as advice. No amount of exhortation is going to prevent ordinary parents from dragooning, if not coercing, their children into studying extremely hard with a view to clearing the GFSE hurdle and gaining admission to popular schools. If this undesirable practice is to be brought to an end, underprivileged people should be provided with an alternative, which is to develop the existing schools and build new ones with necessary facilities as a matter of national priority. Else, children will continue to face the crucible of GFSE with wily politicians shedding copious tears for them in public from time to time.

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