Success or failure at Sri Lanka’s national examinations, but are we gearing the next generation to face the school of life and overcome the challenges and pressures which are invariably a part of it?
This is the question on the minds of concerned educationists, parents and even doctors as reports filtered in that soon after the Ordinary Level (OL) results were released on Monday, some children were not equipped to face the downs which come with an examination.
For Kamani* living at Kalutara, the expectations were not the best results but to pass with a certain number of credits to enable her to follow her dream of doing nursing.
Having got caught to the tsunami, life was not too bad now because she and her mother had been given a nice little home in a community where everyone looked out for each other. Her mother was toiling as a domestic help to meet the daily needs of the two of them.
When the OL results came on Monday, Kamani found that she had secured only four passes out of the nine subjects and only one credit.
“The pressure built up when the phone calls came from my classmates, a majority of whom had passed,” says Kamani. However, there was also reassurance that she should get-together with those who had not secured what they hoped for and re-sit the examination.
Her mother was at work and she was alone, grappling with that pressure. It was then that she felt that there was no point. Fortunately for Kamani, the neighbours realized that something was amiss and rushed her to hospital.
Now she is back home, not only saved from the usual irrevocable ending of a moment of foolishness but also happy to be alive. Another girl in Norwood was not so lucky. “This is why we need to look very closely and very quickly at the education system in Sri Lanka,” stressed Consultant Paediatrician Dr. Ajith Amarasinghe, urging that changes should be brought in to pre-empt this type of attitude and action on the part of “our greatest asset – the children”.
The education system is totally examination-centred and children who don’t achieve at not only the OL and the Advanced Level but also the Grade 5 Scholarship Examination feel there is no future, he pointed out, explaining that sadly this misconception is held by society as a whole including principals, teachers, parents and the children themselves.
Getting through these examinations seems to be the one and only option for them, the Sunday Times understands, a view echoed by a cross-section of people. Many felt that the children and even the parents and schools are caught in a trap from which there is no escape.
Education authorities, however, saw no flaw in the system which was pushing some children to the brink of despair and counter-argued that hundreds of thousands were passing the examination. It must be a problem with each individual and their environments. There is no overload and no issues with wide syllabi, assured a source in the education sector, pointing out that they had taken into account concerns with regard to the Science and Math subjects for the AL and remedied that.
“There is lack of interaction and support in many cases and the children can’t discuss with their parents or teachers their fears. Most of these children do not take part in any extracurricular activity but spend most of their time buried in books,” said Dr. Amarasinghe who along with several like-minded doctors mobilised a campaign back in August 2010 to bring about changes in the education system.
The focus of their campaign is a change in the education system as currently children are unnecessarily loaded with too many subjects while the syllabi are large, meandering and intensive.
The child is judged on the grasp of this wide and mostly unnecessary detail at examinations which last a few hours. Do we check the true potential of the child, queried Dr. Amarasinghe, explaining that the educational authorities whom they lobbied agreed that the textbooks are substandard and the material too heavy.
Do children need all these facts and figures? Shouldn’t they be taught how to acquire knowledge and life-skills, committing to memory only the essentials rather than memorising each and every fact which is not needed, asked an educationist.
Looking at education as a whole, Consultant Neurologist Dr. Nilupul Perera says that the system in this country only attempts to develop the cognitive abilities of the children, ignoring other vital aspects such as physical, aesthetic, emotional, social and spiritual development.
All this is needed to become a “well-rounded” or “holistic” adult later on in life, he says, adding that even the cognitive development under this system is flawed as the method used is to get them to memorise a heap of facts and re-gurgitate them at exams. What is needed is to make them skilled to gather knowledge and develop their intelligence.
“I fear for all these children who have lost out on their childhood, burying their heads in their books and come out as adults with no life-skills,” lamented Dr. Perera.
Another issue that aggravates the problem is that exam results become the talking point for a few days, with high-scorers being placed in the limelight. Exams should be considered a part of life, nothing special, a few hurdles that have to be overcome. Has anyone checked what has happened to the high-scorers later on in life, because the bottom line is whether they have become responsible adults who contribute to the development of their family, society, nation and the world, he asked.
Criticising the education system in which the exam achievers lose a sense of reality and think that they are the be all and end all of their circle while the non-achievers lose all hope and hit the depths of despair, he said the authorities who draw up the syllabi, hold the examinations and mark the papers do not seem to have any idea of the damage done to the whole group – achievers and non-achievers alike.
A well-grounded parent also stressed the need for parents to “unconditionally” love their children without making their love dependent on academic achievements.
“As part of the huge rat-race we are in, parents ladle out their love on the basis of the marks, the position in class or the prizes that our children secure,” she said, disclosing the vicious grip that parents are not only promoting but also perpetuating.
The education system should not be about passing exams with flying colours but more necessarily about giving the boys and girls who go through it essential life-skills.
Coping with life, facing triumph and defeat with equanimity, should be the main subject imparted through the education system. How to accept triumph but not lose one’s head and how to deal with defeat, taking it as a minor setback and moving on, should be the certificate they come out with.
(* Name changed to protect her
Changes coming soon
A major change in the education system is on the cards for next year, with children going into Grade 10 (the first year of the OL) being able to take up the stream of their choice, the Director-General of the National Institute of Education, Prof. W.M. Abeyratne Banda told the Sunday Times.
From 2013, children can get into the stream they wish to pursue such as science, commerce, arts etc., he said.
Currently, children study nine subjects, the core or compulsory six subjects being a mix of both science and arts. The six core subjects are Mathematics, Science, History, Religion, First Language (Sinhala or Tamil) and English.
Meanwhile, Prof. Bandara also said that the syllabi for subjects from Grade 1 are being reviewed and the new syllabi would come into effect in 2016.
He requested anyone who has done concrete research in this area to get in touch with the NIE.