An item analysis carried out by the Department of Examinations indicates 15% could not get a simple subtraction right in the first question of the mathematics paper at the GCE O/L examination last year.
Even the number of students who got nine straight As has dropped to 2,038 (0.75%) in 2009 when compared to 2008 which had 2,075, explained Commissioner-General Edirisinghe.
Such results should shake the Education Ministry to take a deep and hard look at what has gone wrong, educationists stressed.
When asked, Mr. Edirisinghe agreeing says that the authorities need to take a look at the syllabi, the textbooks and also teacher training.
Explaining that the government is giving so much for education such as free schooling, free textbooks, free uniform materials and even free meals in some schools, with 2.9% of the GDP being spent on this crucial sector, he says there seems to be a need for a drastic change at the periphery as 4/5th of the schools come under the provincial councils.
The classroom needs to get back to the position it held in the past - a place where the child not only receives knowledge but also develops a well-rounded character. Now knowledge, just one component of a rounded child, is being provided at tuition classes. "School and not the tuition class must be made important with the teachers not just doing a job but a respected vocation," he said.
Referring to the wide and vast syllabi of all subjects the students have to grapple with, the Commissioner-General recommends that as the OL is a basic examination, they should be cut at least by one third or even one half.
Another progressive step would be to identify the varying talents and capabilities of students around Grade 7 or 8 and develop those through vocational training so that these children will have a skill to get employment, Mr. Edirisinghe said.
Otherwise, children who are good at singing, art, debating, electrical work, masonry, carpentry, etc. have no way to develop such abilities. Automatic promotions in schools push them up and up whether or not they can manage other subjects such as mathematics and language and once they sit for their OLs they are stranded with a "certificate" showing huge failure, the Sunday Times understands.
If, Idiri Dekama under the Mahinda Chinthanaya is to succeed, vocational training and alternative lessons must be introduced, adds Mr. Edirisinghe.
Father allegedly answers
The incidents of malpractice during the O/L examination held in December 2009 have hit 1,600, about 600 more than last year, the Sunday Times learns.
Such incidents range from copying, bringing study notes into the examination hall, impersonation, use of bogus identity cards to assault, intimidation and harassment of other students and wilfully ignoring the supervisors.
Around 1,000 have already been dealt with but 600 may require sterner action such as cancelling the results of the miscreants and barring them from sitting the OL for a few years or even blacklisting them forever, Commissioner-General Anura Edirisinghe says.
There have also been investigations against 15 examinations staff, it is understood.
Citing one involving not only a student, but her father who is a teacher and principal, Mr. Edirisinghe says the department had not experienced such a "conspiracy" to allegedly cheat at the exam before.
Three months before the examination, on the pretext of teacher harassment, the student who was in a well-known girls' school in Colombo had faked a suicide attempt. Then her father had appealed for a change in the centre, to one closer to her home. The request had been granted on humanitarian grounds.
Without the knowledge of the Exams Department, the girl had then sat the exam at the centre where allegedly her father's friend was the supervisor with her father too wearing an "official" badge moving in and out of the exam hall, taking the question paper out, answering it and bringing it back to his daughter.
On a tip-off, the Investigations Unit of the department had rushed there to initiate inquires.
go either way
Nine percent of the students usually apply for re-scrutiny of their answer scripts, it is learnt.
Dispelling speculation that only the marks are re-added, the Commissioner General explains that the purpose of re-scrutiny is to evaluate answers or parts of answers not evaluated properly and to correct any errors in computation.
However, he cautions that after re-scrutiny, the result of the student may see "either an upward revision or a downward revision of marks and grades".