15th February 1998


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Here a school, there a school-so what's the problem?

By Kshalini Nonis

International Schools have been around for more than a decade, but in recent times, there has been a proliferation of them in every part of the country with many claiming to offer a 'good education' to the students by preparing them for examinations conducted by foreign universities. Indeed, one has to merely glance at the newspapers to see the numerous advertisements. But the entrance requirements for such schools are generally mediocre and a common criticism is that it is often the 'drop outs' of local schools who gain admission to them.

The questions regarding the setting up of these new 'International' Schools are many. Are there any rules and standards that these International Schools have to adhere to? Is there a regulatory body that overlooks these schools and conducts periodic checks on them? More importantly do the parents get value for their money? Do the students get what they deserve? The list continues............

According to recent newspaper reports the President had requested that there should be some form of regulation to monitor the international schools.

Informed sources said a couple of months ago, International schools had been asked to fill in questionnaires, regarding the facilities they provide, the number of students, examination results, even details such as the dimensions of the schools and many other criteria. After the questionnaires were handed in, there was a meeting with a cross section of Principals of these schools, students, teachers etc. together with members of the National Education Commission (NEC).

Many heads of the established International schools welcomed this move. Principal of Stafford International School (SIS) Ms. Noreen Welikala said that it is good to let the government know that the school is providing a service to the students with all the money coming into the school being 'ploughed' back to provide the best for the students.

Indeed the relevant authorities are quite rightly of the opinion that many International Schools are not providing a good deal to the students. Some parents have no choice but to send their children to International Schools due to the limited number of vacancies in local schools.

Often the number of applications for local schools, greatly exceed the number of places available for many classes. However the fact remains that it is not merely the elite who send their children to these schools as is often believed. For some parents it involves many sacrifices as some of the established schools charge fees in excess of Rs 30,000 per academic term in addition to registration fees. However, some of the newer 'International Schools' charge fees that are far below this but claim to provide an excellent education.

The established International Schools we spoke to adhere to the legal requirements of setting up such educational institutions. An official of the Board of Investment (BOI) said that International Schools do not directly come under their purview and they become involved only when it comes to foreign investment.

Schools like Stafford International School (SIS), Colombo International School (CIS) and Wycherly International School(WIS) are registered with the Registrar of Companies.

But the same cannot be said of the newer International Schools some of which did not even wish to talk to us. Ironically, some 'International Schools' prepared the students for local exams in the English stream and according to them their aim is not to make poverty a drawback when it comes to education.

However, the facilities in some of the schools, the student to teacher ratio etc. are not on par with the established International Schools and leaves much to be desired.

Many of the class-rooms in these schools are over-crowded. Moreover qualifications of the staff in these schools are also questionable as some of the teachers could barely speak English, which is ironically the medium of instruction at International Schools.

Principals of leading International schools have formed an International School Principals Association (ISPA) which meets regularly. According to sources certain criteria have to be met to belong to this Association and when an International School applies to be a member of this association, members of the ISPA visit the schools and monitor them to ensure that they adhere to the stipulated standards.

According to informed sources, some of these new 'International Schools' had applied to be members of the ISPA but have yet to be admitted. Indeed, the move to have such an association is wise. This is due to the fact that there is no proper authority that carries out periodic checks on these schools. Thus it is evident that some of the Principals have taken it upon themselves to ensure that some sort of regulations and standards are adhered to.

Principal of Wycherly International School (WIS) one of the pioneering International Schools in the country Mr. Kingsley Jayasinghe said that the school has over 1000 students, whilst the staff comprised about 80 teachers.

Meanwhile students who wish to gain admission to the school have to sit an entrance test in English and Mathematics though not at all levels. To gain admission to the A/L classes the students must have good passes in their O/L's, as well as sit an entrance examination.

Indeed the examination results of a school speak for itself, and Jayasinghe said that at the A/L's there are almost 100% passes, whilst at the O/L's the results are also very good.

Jayasinghe added that 60-70% of the students enter universities in the United Kingdom, such as the Colleges of the University of London whilst the others pursue their higher education in the United States of America, Australia, India etc.

Whilst good examination results are important, the Principals of established International Schools The Sunday Times spoke to stressed the importance of extracurricular activities which they said are vital as they help to enhance the personalities of the students.

Principal of Stafford International School (SIS) Ms. Noreen Welikala said that they have 700 students in the school with approximately 80 teachers. "95% of the students are local and we want to keep the classes small so that the children will have access to all the facilities and get an 'all round education'. We do not hope to increase the number of students above 800. All the money is put back into the school," she said.

When asked about the examination results Ms. Welikala said that they have always been very good and many of the students proceed to Universities overseas in the United Kingdom, United States of America, and Australia including prestigious Universities such as Oxford and Cambridge etc.

Entrance requirements, Ms. Welikala said, are fairly flexible for the students and Stafford does not only admit the highly academic students. However there is an entrance test at most levels.

Principal of the Colombo International School (CIS), Mr. David Sanders said that the academic record of the school is much better than many of the leading public schools in England. "The curriculum is demanding and we have excellent results at the London O/L's and A/L's. The pass rate at the A/L is about 96%. The pass rate at the O/L's is also very high and last year 1997 we had 539 subject entries. Of this 40% obtained 'A' grades," he said.

The Principals we spoke to however, emphasised the importance of regulations and the imposition of standards on the new 'International Schools'. Indeed, a child's education is of utmost importance to the parents. Hence it is the duty of the authorities concerned to ensure that the parents and students are not taken for a ride, at the hands of individuals who merely want to earn a fast buck.

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