When personality gets buried in an avalanche of syllabi

Why do we want to educate our children? Is book-learning the be all and end all of education?
The answer is simple but not simplistic. Education should and is meant to produce a holistic person who has a “rounded” development- cognitive, physical, aesthetic, social, emotional and spiritual, the Sunday Times understands.

Such holistic education also develops the individual at different levels, the basic being personality, going on to community, society, national, worldwide and even beyond to the cosmos.

Look at our education system, says a member of the panel of doctors of different specialities which have put it under the microscope, pointing out that it has fostered only personality development.

Referring to one definition of personality development, Consultant Neurologist Dr. Nilupul Perera explains that this could be gauged from the behavioural patterns that follow the numerous thought processes that flow through a person’s mind.

Personality development while stemming from what one has got from one’s genes will also be moulded by environmental factors such as family, school and society. The most important part of personality development occurs during the school-going period, stresses Dr. Perera, adding that communications and interaction with family, peers and society are crucial as also play-time and spiritual time.

What is the situation our schoolchildren face? With their heads buried in their books not only during school-time but also after school, in this rat race called education, they know only the stereotypical questions and the stereotypical answers gathered from books, without real-life experiences.
Take the interaction they need to make them holistic individuals – most schoolchildren don’t attend family functions, go on trips, play with their neighbours, read a story book or even engage in extracurricular activity. This is because they just don’t have time to spare, away from their lessons and study books, says Dr. Perera.

The practical aspect of going on a trip, making on-the-spot decisions, dealing with a crisis and acquiring life skills is no more a part of their childhood because they are ensnared by their books. The “cream” of this group goes onto university, without the know-how of dealing with others who may have different views, go out of control, assault their lecturers and create havoc, he says. “The inability to make intelligent and logical decisions because they are ill-equipped to do so, make them fall easy prey to the machinations of certain forces who brainwash them and make them their pawns.”

The others left behind by the wayside after the Ordinary Level or the Advanced Level cannot branch out on their own but await jobs on a platter without any skills or knowledge. When no such jobs come their way, they too resort to anti-social behaviour, he adds.

We, or society, look down on both groups, judge them and paint them black without looking at the crux of the problem – the education system that has spawned them, a system we have foisted on them. In our myopic view we have forgotten that children in the school-going age have not been allowed to look-see beyond their books, says this Neurologist, adding that we also beat our breasts in despair at the “I and Me syndrome” that is engulfing our society instead of the “We thinking”. For all the values of generosity, caring for others etc have got lost somewhere in the overloaded syllabi, Dr. Perera adds.

A more holistic approach needed says Consultant Paediatrician:

I agree with Dr. Nilupul Perera, Consultant Neurologist that there is too much pressure on some children by their parents to score high marks even at the expense of their mental health.

But isn’t it because there are only a limited number of places in the universities that this pathetic situation has arisen? Our university administration is based purely on exam marks and nothing else. At present society perceives education, especially tertiary education as a licence to rise in the social ladder. Since a very limited number of places are available in universities, secondary education has become entirely exam and results-oriented.

We as a society should aim to develop children in a more holistic manner. Their emotional, social and life skills should be developed and they should be encouraged to become responsible members of society who are willing to serve more than to be served. We should move away from exam oriented assessments to other methods such as continuous assessments in the class by the teacher, project assignments etc. But in practice these methods are hard to implement in a country like ours, since they need to be done in a fair manner. That is easier said than done.

I disagree with Dr. Perera’s statement that children are presented with too much information. If Sri Lanka is to become a “knowledge based society" the solution is not to reduce the information but to present it in a more attractive manner. Hence improving the teaching methods with more time for practicals etc is important. I feel, not only does the curricula need to be updated but the quality of teaching should be improved.

Better training, better motivation and incentives to teachers to perform better is the key to improving children’s performance! In fact, it is the teacher who should feel the pressure to achieve high grades and pass rates in his /her students. The good teachers should be rewarded and competition encouraged among teachers so that eventually students do not have to go for extra tuition classes but have time for leisure and extra-curricular activities which should be made compulsory in school education.

Only when teaching as a profession is given its due place financially, will this be possible.

Dr. (Mrs) Priyanthi Molligoda

Scrap the Grade 5 scholarship exam:

Primary school education today has placed an unbearable weight on the children especially those in government schools. The main reason for this is the Grade 5 scholarship exam. It is sad and unpardonable to see children below the age of 11 years being prepared for this rat-race. They forego proper meals, rest, recreation and also their parents’ love and care from the day they get admitted to Grade 1.

The problem has arisen with the publicity and privileges provided for the high achievers. There is no harm in appreciation of good work but when it goes beyond suitable limits it becomes harmful.
The government, media (both electronic and print), politicians and now various other groups compete in giving these innocent heads an unnecessary boost, for their own gain.

The most important factors of primary education are sadly neglected in government schools. Rarely is a Physical Training Instructor appointed. The class teacher does all the subjects almost always, inside the classroom. How boring for the children. Even the P.T. period is taken by the class teacher and the children are left to play on their own.

A qualified PT Instructor is of vital importance, for these little brains to be refreshed. The basic training for sports should begin in the primary classes. Then only can their skills be spotted and nurtured.
Although the Department of Education issues the syllabi for all schools, the facilities and the standard of students differ. Teachers must be given the freedom to cover the work as is possible with their students.

In a Grade 3, class a teacher had taught the names of vegetables, fruits and clothes (it was cloths) during one English period. This really is impossible even in the mother tongue. The child had written in three columns, words spelt wrong and he couldn’t even read them looking at the book.

I felt very sad and took the child to my garden where I have grown a few vegetables. When I showed him a tomato plant with a small green fruit he at once said, “Ah!” But when I showed him the brinjal plants, he didn’t know the name.

We can’t blame the teachers for this, they have to bow down to the syllabus, but if during one period the teacher could have taken one topic, say vegetables and shown them to the children, they would remember.

I would like to suggest the following measures:

  • Tuition classes should be prohibited for all primary schoolchildren.
  • All primary schools must be given Physical Training Instructors, Music and Dancing teachers.
  • Tuition classes for higher grades should not be held on Sundays and Poya days so that children could be at home with their parents.
  • Teachers should not be allowed to give tuition to the students of their own schools. (This causes disciplinary problems)
  • No scholarship exam should be held until the students go to Grade 10. Children can be selected for A/L studies by any school on the basis of their O/L results.

Mrs. Wimala Ratnayake

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