The first part of this article appeared last week 6. Proposed sector wide interventions to address present issues Early Child Cared Education (ECCE): Early childhood is typically considered as the period from birth to age 6 or 7 years. Early child care is an important aspect in the growth of a child and even nutrition [...]

Sunday Times 2

Quality education for all in Sri Lanka


The first part of this article appeared last week
6. Proposed sector wide interventions to address present issues
Early Child Cared Education (ECCE):
Early childhood is typically considered as the period from birth to age 6 or 7 years.
Early child care is an important aspect in the growth of a child and even nutrition from the time of pregnancy of the mother to the birth and growth thereafter, impacts on the later development of a child. Some 85% of brain development occurs by the time a child is 5 years old. Investment in early childhood development is considered one of the best investments in human development with high yields. Therefore, there should be close links between the Ministry of Education and those in charge of Child Development and Pre-schools Develop-ment. The Ministry of Education, whilst not being directly responsible for early child care and education, must play a role in setting policy guidelines and in monitoring of their implementation in order to ensure that the children entering the primary schools, have had adequate early care education, so that there will be equity in the children entering the schools systems. To this end, the following should be ensured;

Strengthen policy guidelines for ECCE and monitor their implementation by ensuring close cooperation between the Ministry of Education and the Department of Child Development.

Continue with the programme of financial assistance to pregnant mothers who are deemed to be below the poverty line and to continue with such assistance, until the child reaches the stage of primary education.

Continue with the provision of a midday meal for those children who are deemed below poverty line.

Ensure that ECCE schools (Montessori and Pre-schools) are available for all, particularly in remote and poorer areas, by providing subventions to ECCE Centres in remote and poor areas including guidelines on early childhood teaching. Their progress must be monitored regularly.

Emphasis must be given to both intellectual and social/emotional development, as well as for independence in basic and necessary life habits for children.

Access to pre-schools at age 4-5 must be made compulsory, to better prepare for entry to Primary Education and at the same time, the quality of the pre-schools must be ensured.
Basic, Primary and Secondary Education:

Although Sri Lanka boasts of a near 93% basic literacy rate, this situation has been almost stagnant for well over a decade and the possibility of achieving almost full literacy still seems remote. There are also dropouts at the junior secondary and senior secondary levels, which results in school going rates of around 84% and 67% respectively, who would continue schooling beyond the basic literacy level. Of the nearly 220,000 students who sit the GCE A/L examinations, only around 17% gain entrance to universities, to continue with higher education.

Given the above situation, there should be strong links established in education between pre-school education, basic, primary, secondary and higher education with a view to providing a right set of educational opportunities from childhood to the world of work and thereby promoting functional literacy. The increased outlays on education and full devolution of the operations and management of National Schools to the provinces, shall lay emphasis on;

Provision of an equitable distribution of better quality schools to the peripheries, by way of infrastructure and good quality teaching personnel.

Provision of adequate trained teachers for the core subjects of Science, Mathematics, IT and Languages, particularly English, to peripheral schools, thereby ensuring equity and quality education for all. Teacher training and development of teachers in these core subjects need to be stepped up on an urgent basis.

Provision of adequate facilities for teachers by way of good quality living quarters in remote and impoverished areas, for their families and good schooling in the areas for their own children.

Each district should therefore be provided with an adequate good quality school or schools, as per their populations, including playgrounds and qualified teaching staff. A minimum standard for infrastructure, including toilet facilities, shall be ensured for all schools.

Inclusion of the differently abled, slow learners and those below the poverty line in the general system of education, should be given enhanced attention.

Provision of technical and vocational streams for those who are unable to continue beyond the GCE A/L stream, or for those who wish to change to other vocations, should be made available in the schools, based on the requirements of the country.

Teacher Policies and Schools Leadership to deliver quality education for all:
Quality of education depends on the quality of the live wire of the system. “No education system can rise above the quality of its teachers” Further, in the poorest of countries and in countries affected by conflict or disaster, “Recovery must begin with teachers”.

Therefore, the new government must place increased focus on teacher development, based on a scientifically designed and objective system, in order to deliver quality education for all. At present, there is little opportunity for continuous professional development of the teachers in Sri Lanka. The core values that will be ensured for teacher development shall comprise the following;

Only persons with the desire and commitment to be teachers will be recruited and appointed to right jobs and places of teaching. Teaching must become a profession of choice. Entry standards must be raised and enforced.

Teacher development courses and initiatives will be made relevant and challenging and effectiveness of pre-service training enhanced.

Teachers who continuously develop their competencies, must be duly recognized and appropriately remunerated.

Remuneration should be comparable to those of other public private sector professionals of similar standing.

The application of the competencies of teachers must be regularly monitored and measured for an agreed purpose.

Exciting new career pathways that support fast tracking based on performance and competencies along with opportunities for redeployment for consistent under performance.

To provide opportunities for the Continuous Professional Development of Teachers, the “South Asian Centre for Teacher Development” in Meepe, has been set up with UNESCO recognition for its conceptual framework. It must be given due focus to provide for the following functions;

Continuous Professional Development of Teacher Educators/ Counsellors/ Advisors/ Mentors, who would in turn, train the trainers of teachers.

Research and Development in Teacher Education.

Curriculum Development, Design, Teaching and Learning Material Development.

Integration of electronic media into the online education delivery process.

Incubation and piloting of inclusive education models and modules, as also, incubation and piloting of models and modules on Education for Peace and Sustainable Development, already developed by global institutions like UNESCO and other like minded agencies and organizations and which are being implemented in other countries.

Skills to address students and teachers own aspirations, involving ethics and spirituality, leadership skills, pride in national identity, language proficiency, thinking skills and knowledge, should become a part of teacher training and development.

All of the above have been deemed by UNESCO, a global leader in education, to be important for the professionalization of teachers. This Center, which has received UNESCO recognition for its conceptual framework, shall not only help enhance the educational quality in Sri Lanka, but also, cater to the other South Asian Countries who have already given support to its concept, thus enabling Sri Lanka to become a recognised hub for Teacher Development in the region. Therefore, the Centre should receive the priority it deserves from the new government. However, although a South Asian Education Ministers Meeting held in Sri Lanka in October 2012 to discuss the way forward for the center recommended needs assessments to be carried out in the respective countries with their collaboration, no action has been taken to date in this regard. This must be expedited as a matter of priority.

Schools Leadership:
Good teachers alone are not good enough. Strong schools leadership without political influence and control is also required to produce significant improvements in student achievement. Good Schools Principals are not only good administrators, but are also instructional leaders who focus on improving the quality of teaching and learning in their schools. The Ministry must, therefore, ensure that every school will have a high quality principal, supporting a leadership team to provide instructional leadership and drive overall school performance, Measures must include, refining selection criteria, building a team of potential school leaders, improving preparatory and continuing professional development and introducing a performance and competences based performance management approach.

Technical and Vocational Education:
n It is imperative to find out and simplify the streaming of technical subjects which were already available in the GCE A-level curriculum as recommended by the National Education Commission in 2009, which were deemed acceptable as suitable for entry into several faculties in the university system. However, many teaching programmes in the Technical and Vocational stream were not implemented, but instead an Advanced Technology stream without sufficient resources has been introduced, giving all the senior secondary students false expectations to be able to enter Engineering and Technology Degree Programmes. A suitable practicable alternative will have to be worked out without any delay or disruption.

n This discipline must receive enhanced attention, in order to contribute towards the needs of the economy. Needs assessments studies should be carried out to ascertain the various fields of Technical and Vocational Education in demand in the country, to cater to the various industries. An advisory body comprising the Chancellor, Vice Chancellor. UNIVOTEC, the DDG/ TVEC in the Ministry in charge of the subject of Vocational Training and Skills development and also those involved in TVE from the private sector, should be formed as a matter of Urgency, to study this issue further and provide advise.

n Basics of technical and vocational education should be introduced in the junior secondary levels and technical subjects streamlined in advanced courses, post GCE O/L in senior secondary levels to enable those with aptitudes to enhance such skills. These students involved in TVE will then be able to move into the diploma through the National Vocational Qualifications to obtain Vocational Technology degrees at UNIVOTEC and degree awarding institutes in TVE to obtain requisite recognition and qualifications.

Universities should also open up opportunities for those who have obtained diplomas/ degrees in TVE to enter into the academic fields in other subject areas of their interests, as per the current Sri Lanka Qualification Framework (SLQF).

Links between schools, TVE institutes and universities should be encouraged and enhanced.

Even those who do not, qualify for the science stream post GCE “O Level, should be encouraged to enhance their technical a vocational skills through appropriate learning, as per their interests and to pursue studies in diploma awarding institutes and technical colleges.

Higher Education:
Investment in higher education in the case of individuals brings about better productivity, better employment prospects, higher salaries and greater abilities to save and invest, better health and better quality of life. Governments on the other hand can benefit from the higher education sector, towards keeping up with scientific and technological advancement to help in economic development. Therefore, improving quality of higher education is of utmost importance. Now that war has been dispensed with, Sri Lanka can afford to base its development on smart investments in human capital and innovation to fuel economic progress. To do so, the following initiatives should be taken;

Increase public investment in the higher education sector based on the needs of the country and on evidence of successful interventions in other countries.

Introduce professionalism into the system.

Attract and retain the best minds in the country for the universities by making academic salaries and benefits competitive, to enable them to contribute through high quality research, innovation and teaching.

Develop, operate and maintain an adequate stock of modern higher education physical assets and facilities in Universities and Higher Education Institutes, especially for equipment and facilities in information technology, engineering, medicine and the sciences.

The enhanced investments proposed in the secondary education streams under the general system of education in subjects like IT, Sciences, Mathematics and English by way of more qualified teachers for such subjects and particularly in the peripheral areas of the country, will enable the increase of students taking up the sciences and technology streams and reducing the humanities streams, there by paving the way for job orientation and employability of graduates in the universities system towards a knowledge economy. Thus, poorer sections of society and those from peripheral areas, will get opportunities to advance towards job oriented studies including in the science and Technology fields.

Scale up engagement in research and innovation in the universities, for which greater public financing will be required.

Proper streamlining of the applications and evaluations for “degree awarding status” should be available for both the State and Non State sector in a transparent manner.

Encourage and promote networking and closer cooperation amongst Universities, Degree awarding Institutes, Centres and Foundations involved in Science and Advanced Technology Institutes, as also, Agriculture and Environmental Institutes, with a view to pooling resources and building each others capacities.

Encourage and improve University, Industry cooperation and partnerships to enhance transfer of technical knowledge and innovation, as also, to enable aspiring graduates to meet challenges in the real work environment.

Provide support to University students, including in the Arts and Humanities fields, to engage with communities, including in the remote areas, to carry out research on problems that beset the communities, to identify the real potential of the future of the country and as a society to collectively support each other to help address problems faced by the communities.

Planning and coordination of University Education must be strengthened through the Universities Grants Commission. Regular updates should be examined of the status of faculties of each university, including the Open University System, their quality assurance, rankings, standards and regulations. To this end, the maintenance and analyses of statistical data as also, research and development, should be given priority and enhanced.

Incentives for significant funding should be provided to those universities that offer the highest quality of study programmes, or are showing up as constantly improving on quality.
Improvements to Liberal Arts (Social Sciences, Humanities and Visual Arts)

A sound education in liberal arts, is a pre-requisite for educating young minds for future leadership in the diverse fields of history, culture, social and cultural anthropology, languages, visual and creative arts, philosophy and critical theory, heritage, museology and archaeology. A nation that fails in producing a mass of “critical thinking minds” in these fields is deemed to fail in its developmental aspirations and in creating national harmony. A liberal arts education must also empower the students with communication, critical and reflective reading skills, data analysis and problem solving skills, organization and time management skills, questioning and research skills, cross cultural knowledge, self confidence, self understanding and team work skills.

But, the University Education in Liberal Arts in Sri Lanka (Humanities, Social Sciences and Visual Arts Education) has failed mainly due to the lack of trained university teachers and due to the hiring of poorly trained graduates as university teachers, who are usually monolingual (sinhala only), with outmoded curricula and lecture centric teaching methods. In addition, the traditional universities producing undergraduates have their issues in teaching and student politics, particularly in the social sciences and humanities and therefore have lost vision and focus in post graduate training. These inadequacies have further compounded the situation. To address this situation, the University lecturers in liberal arts should be required to teach in English and have a minimum level of ILTs or TOEFL for confirmation and promotion, particularly given that a majority of books in archeology, art history, museology and heritage worthy of reading at post graduate levels, are published in the English language.

Disciplines such as Archaeology, History, Aesthetics (Visual Art), Museology and Anthropology form the National Consciousness of the Country. Unfortunately, these areas lack the due focus they deserve. Therefore it is suggested that an Institute such as the Post Graduate Institute of Archeology and Research (PGIAR), which has already specialised in these subjects and been in existence for nearly 3 decades, be strengthened and upgraded with the required autonomy. Appropriate funding should be provided as a matter of urgency. Further, with this up gradation and autonomy, the conversion of this Institute to a Degree Awarding Liberal Arts Institute for Archaeology and related subjects, should be given serious consideration. An endowment of a minimum of Rs. 200 million should be given by the Treasury, together with donations from the public, private sector, with a view to safeguarding the important aspect of the National Consciousness of the country, so that the Associate and Visiting Staff of the PGIAR could be funded from the interest to be received from the endowment funds. The permanent cadre positions and regular teaching staff will have to be financed by Treasury Grants, like in other Universities, One of the main functions of the Director should be fund raising and national/ International outreach, with a view to self financing some of the programs of the Institute.

Monitoring and Coordination of the Sector Wide approach in Education
The growing inequalities in the education sector in the country must be addressed without delay, with education being a vitally important sector in national development. As highlighted under the rationale towards ensuring delivery of quality education for all, it is to be re-iterated that given the bifurcation of the education sector in Sri Lanka, there needs to be a well established special Monitoring and Coordination Unit under the purview of the Prime Minister or the Minister in Charge of Policy Planning, in order to ensure timely action, highlighting gaps and remedial actions for improvements to education, sector wide in Sri Lanka, through a strategic and holistic approach.

(The writer has been long associated with UNESCO at international levels and was a former Secretary General of the Sri Lanka National Commission for UNESCO. He is a member of the Governing Council of the University of Kelaniya and a Consultant to the Universities Grants Commission.)

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