Open up this changing world to children
Today with globalization, societies are complex and dynamic. This change in context does not allow a reactive approach to survive any longer. A proactive approach, which allows the demands of tomorrow to be identified and met well in advance, is much needed to prepare the young of the nation for the emerging future.
The answer to the question – why do children learn – has changed over time. This change requires answers to two other questions – what and how children learn – also to undergo relevant changes. Any curriculum reform has to take these paradigm shifts into consideration in preparing the young of the nation for a successful future. Keeping in line with this thinking, the first curriculum reform of the new millennium has introduced a number of subject-related and pedagogical changes to provide a new direction to school education.
The new reforms started implementation in January 2007, selecting grade 6 of the Junior Secondary Level (JSL) and grade 10 of the Senior Secondary Level (SSL) as the two entry points. The common curriculum introduced to the JSL requires each child in grades 6, 7, 8 and 9 to take 12 subjects that include Mother Tongue, English, Science, Mathematics, Aesthetics, Practical and Technical Skills, Religion, History, Geography, Life Competencies and Civics, Second National Language and Health and Physical Education.
The curriculum introduced for grades 10 and 11 or the GCE/OL of the SSL has a core component and an optional component. The core subjects that do not allow a choice to the children comprise Science, Mathematics, Mother Tongue, English, History and Religion. Science and Mathematics get six periods a week while it is five for Mother Tongue and English, three for History, and two for Religion. The optional curriculum consists of three subject groups classified as Arts and Commerce, Aesthetics and Technical. The children are expected to select just one subject from each of these groups for which they get only three periods a week.
The first subject group of the optional curriculum of the GCE (OL) includes Geography, Civics and Governance, Modern and Classical Languages, the Second National Language, and Entrepreneurial Studies. The last subject listed above is a commerce subject introduced anew to meet a pressing need of the nation. Business and Accounting Studies, a subject that has prevailed in the technical subject group for long, was also reintroduced in March 2007 as the sixth subject of the list.
The Subject Group 2 of the GCE (OL) consists of Aesthetic Subjects. In addition to the seven subjects identified under Art, Dance, Music and Drama and Theatre four Literature and Appreciation Subjects dealing with Sinhala, Tamil, English and Arabic Literature are also incorporated in the same group. Dance includes two subjects – Sinhala Dance and Bharatha Dance – while Music includes three subjects – Sinhala Music, Carnatic Music and Western Music.
The Subject Group 3 includes eight Technical Subjects along with Health and Physical Education (H&PE). Considering the many health problems faced by our children today, a need existed to introduce H&PE as a core subject of the curriculum. Yet to avoid a further increase in the total number of subjects a child had to offer for the GCE (OL), the school principals have been instructed to use at least one period of the unassigned time for health-related activities.
The Technical Subjects incorporated in subject group III are either new subjects or they are the existing subjects modified to suit the needs of the day. Home Economics that has existed in the curriculum for long has been modified to attract boys as well. This subject provides the foundation for the young people to get into hotel schools.
Electronic Documentation and Stenograhy has replaced the earlier Shorthand and Typing. This subject paying considerable attention to secretarial practice takes account of the work currently handled by typists and clerks. It also incorporates a number of other secretarial functions directly linked to meetings and other forms of communication, and public relations. Preparation of quality documents using word processing, spreadsheet and database packages, however, form the main component of the subject along with the basics of stenography, for which there is no practical test at the GCE (OL). Information Communication Technology (ICT) introduced as a subject of the GCE (OL) for the first time in year 2006 is upgraded in this reform to suit the requirements of the new competency – based curriculum. This subject is expected to move up to the GCE (AL) when the new reforms reach grade 12 in year 2009. Communication and Media Studies also a new subject in the technical subject group paves the way for the production of effective media personnel who can contribute much towards nation building.
Considering the difficulties of introducing a Technology Stream at the GCE (AL), the consent of the universities was obtained in 2005 to introduce six technical subjects for students in Arts and Commerce streams of the GCE (AL). Three of these subjects – Mechanical Technology, Civil Technology and Electrical and Electronic Technology – are classified under Hard Technology while the remainder – Agro Technology, Bio Resource Technology and Food Technology – are classified under Soft Technology.
With these subjects introduced to the school system in May 2005 on a limited basis, the technical subjects offered at the GCE (OL) had to be amalgamated to prepare students for technical education at the GCE (AL). The four subjects thus developed are Agro and Food Technology, Fisheries and Food Technology, Design and Technology, and Arts and Crafts. Agro and Food Technology integrates basic technology pertaining to agriculture, animal husbandry, horticulture and related food, while Fisheries and Food Technology integrates the technology pertaining to bio resources in the oceans and the inland waters, ornamental fish and related food items.
The subject Design and Technology with focus on design integrates the basics of mechanical, construction, and electrical and electronic technology while Arts and Crafts enables children to engage in pottery, weaving and painting, and undertake a variety of creative work. Soft toys for which there is a good market today provides one example of such creative work.
With more and more people qualifying for Arts, Science and Commerce, the job opportunities in these areas are getting scare day by day. Observing the rising importance of Technology in the world of work, the Technical Subject Group of the GCE (OL) optional curriculum was expanded and modernized to suit the needs of the day. Selecting Entrepreneurial Studies from Subject Group 1 with a Technical Subject from Subject Group 3 is expected to make the young successful in their own enterprise with no burden whatsoever to their parents and the state.
Practical and Technical Skills, an important subject of the JSL, lays the foundation for technology at the GCE (OL). The five components within this subject – agriculture, food, elementary technology, graphics, and business activities – linked to technical and commerce subjects offered at the GCE (OL), enable the children to be rational in selecting a technical subject from the Technical Subject Group when they reach grade 10 of the school system.
Reforms thus introduced to grade 6 of the JSL and grade 10 of the GCE (OL) will move up the ladder year by year to reach grades 7 and 11 in 2008, grades 8 and 12 in year 2009, and grades 9 and 13 in year 2010. The curricula introduced thus for grades 6 to 9 of the JSL and grades 10 to 13 of the SSL will cover the full grade span of the secondary school cycle by the end of year 2010.
The writer is Assistant Director General (Curriculum Development),
Faculty for Science and Technology,
National Institute of Education