| by Hana Ibrahim
( January 8, 2013, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) While we start work this year with renewed zest and determination, it is necessary to mindfully reflect whether we are on track and are not living in a fool’s paradise, while recognizing the important debates underway on judicial independence, media freedom, good governance, supremacy of the people and the legislation and so on. It is not possible to forget the importance of crafting and resourcing a robust educational system.
The ‘free education system’ has served the country well. But one may question if it had made the necessary changes required to produce competent citizens to work, lead and live in a multicultural society. Have we made best of the bounties of nature and the opportunities provided by a rapidly improving world of commerce, technology, ICT, arts, literature and a global knowledge base that is growing at an exponential speed? Are we in line with universal values that make us more cultured, compassionate, peaceful, respectful of others, less violent and more tolerant? Do we provide adequate space and opportunity for human ingenuity so that no matter what one’s ethnicity, caste, gender, economic status, language, religion, family background is, we can feel that we have equal opportunity to attain the maximum human potential?
The answer is a resounding no.
The modern education system developed in the wake of the industrial revolution of the West. Schools were designed like factories. Batches of same age students come in and they leave, having completed their education at the end of the training to be employed by the ‘world of work’. This industrial model of education has been challenged and is shown to be not in line with the human spirit. Rabindranath Tagore’s Santiniketan was modelled in keeping with the true ideals of education; to search and discover. This model, although not a dominant one, is adopted by many innovative educational institutions the world over but not in our dominant, monolithic, public education system.
There is much being done by well-minded and committed Sri Lankans. But the effort must be multiplied and the effort must be in all our classrooms in schools, colleges and universities, both public and private. The next generation must have, in adequate proportions, the competencies that the National Education Commission (NEC) has identified as requirements for a citizen of Sri Lanka.
Speaking to a group of new students at a private university, Flagler College, St. Augustine, Florida, United States, in September 2011, Richard Kahlenberg summarized the purpose of university education. These ideas are of relevance to us in Sri Lanka.
Why are there gaps in ‘walking the talk’? The purpose of education is well-known, the need for reform in education is well-recognized and the many policy documents in the public domain stand testimony to this fact. The failure to change the real learning environment in the education system lies in a complex web of interrelated factors not well understood and acted upon by those at policymaking or programme design levels.
In a study undertaken by Prof. Sasanka Perera, violence, increase in competitiveness, and the dismantling of imagination are identified as three key features that characterize our education system and have serious impact on the quality of education. The corruption that is rampant during school admission time, the rise of the culture of giving expensive gifts to teachers, numerous schools with inadequate teachers while some are overstaffed, absenteeism, continuity of corporal punishments, violence among students, ragging, leaking exam papers, teachers on strike, rise of tuition culture, school leavers and graduates not having required competencies and skills to face the challenges of the world of work, community or homes, and so on, are only symptomatic of the maladies that affect the education system.
The root causes of the malaise of the education system are contextual and reflect the status of our society. High levels of tolerance for violence, corruption, nepotism and mediocrity need to be eradicated. Training of teaching and management staff need to be contextualized and innovative approaches adopted that are based on a good understanding of the root causes of the inherent problems. A concerted effort at understanding the problems by well-designed research with policy outcomes are required. Such efforts must be followed up with effective interventions to ensure meaningful change. This will be possible only with the engagement of an enlightened and well-informed public. Mobilizing public support for required improvements is the responsibility of concerned professionals of the education sector. If not ‘the miracle of Asia’ and other slogans will remain only rhetorical.
( The writer is the Editor of the Ceylon Today, a daily based in Colombo, where this piece was originally appeared. )