Ministry and student unions on warpath

Test paper errors and other education sector shortcomings
By Chathuri Dissanayake

A number of serious shortcomings in the state education system remain unresolved, while authorities are cracking down on student union activists who are attempting to highlight these issues, in a move to cover up failures and inefficiency, the Inter University Students Union (IUSF) has charged.

But Education Ministry Secretary Nimal Bandara claims that the shortcomings were due to neglect and inadequacies on the part of provincial and school authorities and not that of the Ministry.

The blunders in the test papers of the recently concluded term tests in schools islandwide, were the latest of a series of shortcomings in the state education sector. The problem surfaced this year despite the Ministry promise to remedy a similar situation that had occurred in previous years.

University students taking part in a protest on Thursday

The latest allegation came from the Inter University Students’ Federation when it held a protest in Pettah on Thursday against the authorities for not taking action on a number of issues including that of the term test papers.

The Ministry of Education however, maintains that holding term tests does not come under its purview.Last year term tests were brought under the central ministry in a bid to avert many shortcomings that had occurred in previous years.

“There are two categories of testing, one, the exams that are held islandwide by the Ministry and the other, tests that come under provincial authorities. Term tests come under the latter category. We have given instructions and clear guidance on how these tests should be carried out, but these steps are not being followed. This time the problem has been that the papers had not been proof read properly,” Mr. Bandara said.

He said, the Ministry was now looking at the option of handing over the responsibility of term tests to individual schools, with each school having its own procedures. Meanwhile, the controversy over the disparity between the result sheet and re corrections issued for the 2008 Advance Level examination still remains unsolved.

The IUSF claims the problem occurred because of the high handed action by authorities when the teachers who were to mark the papers went on strike.

“The authorities used incompetent teachers to mark the papers, instead of addressing the grievances of the experienced teachers, who refused to mark the papers as a trade union action. The students had to suffer as a consequence, it charged. Many went by the first result sheet and were content they had obtained the required z-score to enter university. However, the second result sheet had different z scores, and those who had previously obtained the required amount realized their positions had changed. These students not only lost the opportunity of entering university but also the opportunity to sit for the 2009, A/Levels, that begins this month, because they had missed the deadline to reapply for the exam, president Maha Shishaya Sangamaya, Ruhuna University, S. M. Kumara said.

However, Mr. Bandara says students were not affected by the change of the z-scores. “We could have held back the z-scores and given it after the re-corrections, but we didn’t need to do so, as we had nothing to hide,” Mr. Bandara said.

Unions also charge that mistakes in text books have not been rectified, while some schools have not yet received text books for this year. According to the Education Ministry Secretary, the principals of the schools were responsible for this problem.

“The principals are supposed to send a list of the number of required copies of each text book. If they fail to do so it is not our fault. However, if there is any student who needs text books the Ministry can supply them,” he assured.

Arrest of student activist undemocratic: IUSF

The Inter University Students’ Federation has termed the arrest of Udul Premaratne, convener of the federation, as an attempt to curtail moves by the union to highlight the shortcomings of the state education sector.

Mr. Premaratne was arrested Thursday early morning along with another university student when they were putting up posters in the Colombo Seven area, about a protest that was to be staged later the same day.

He has been remanded till August 12, under charges of ‘exciting or attempting to excite disaffection against the President or the Government, unlawful gathering and mischief’.

“We regard this as a crackdown on those who are speaking out on behalf of the rights of students. If authorities consider highlighting and holding discussion on the weaknesses of the Government an anti- Government act, it shows that democracy itself is facing a threat in this country,” S. M. Kumara, president of the Maha Shishya Sangamaya of the University of Ruhuna said.

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