Business Times

Lanka’s ‘Achcharu’ education system

The headline in the story on this page says it all. The story “Today’s complicated education system creates misfits in society” summarises an important discussion organised by the Sunday Times Business Club (STBC) on the state of education: more simply it was about the plight of school children and the struggle they have to go through at the Ordinary Level and Advanced Level examinations and preparing for these key examinations.

The panel of experts took part in a discourse that should be taken across the country otherwise every parent, educationist or administrator stands guilty of watching while a generation of students waste their time, collecting ‘paper’ qualifications and not being able to create, innovate and be ‘gems and diamonds’ in society.

The report on this page clearly explains the viewpoint that there is simply too much information for the child to acquire the knowledge required to be a productive citizen. One example: The London OL/AL is standardised and sticks to the texts while the local OL/AL goes beyond the texts where exam papers are complicated and meant to confuse the student. By definition, this also means the Sri Lankan student should be far superior to his or her foreign colleagues studying for example at Cambridge or Oxford!

Taking this argument further: The ‘superior’ Sri Lankan student then succeeds in acquiring a PhD or Masters from Cambridge or Oxford along with a British colleague who didn’t have to waste or spend valuable time on the kind of knowledge the Sri Lankan student was forced into at the secondary level. The British student also has an advantage – as he or she enjoyed a normal lifestyle with play, recreation and a regular childhood.

The general public perception – one hopes this is not true – is that the authorities are setting extremely difficult papers to fail students since only 10 percent (20,000) of the 200,000 students who sit the Advanced Level can find places in local universities. The others become dropouts, find places in private or foreign universities if their parents can afford the cost or do other courses.

Some of the key issues that figured at the discussion were: Are school-children overloaded with information? Are they losing their childhood by cramming for exams via a heavy flow of school and tuition classes, and have no time for play or recreation? Is their nutritional intake sufficient? Is the examination model too heavy and meant to fail students rather than pass them?

For parents who have children in the OL or AL levels, the struggle to keep pace with school work, extra curricular activity, tuition class or homework is enormous. One example given at Thursday’s forum spoke of how a mother suffered a nervous breakdown having to do her kid’s homework.

It was clearly illustrated by examples the struggle today’s society goes through to educate a child in what someone called an “achcharu’ model of education. Consider this: Children are taught from text books but are also advised that the better guide is the teachers’ manual since question papers are generally set from this manual.

“Achcharu” is the best description of Sri Lanka’s secondary education where children in urban areas wake up at 4 am, go to school at 5 or 6 am by public transport, school van or car; at the end of school at 1.30 pm have a quick lunch or snack, go to a tuition class and end up home by 8-9 pm. Little wonder then that nowadays secondary students are suffering from nutritional problems, headaches and stress-related illnesses.

Listen to what the doctors with specialisation in neuorology (and who are themselves parents) have to say: “Over-loading information on children will effect a brain’s fundamental ability or cognitive functions, like attention, or memory, or emotional self-regulation and as a result such children will not be able to interact with the society and events to tackle day-to-day problems.”

“The flow of data, information and knowledge is growing exponentially, stretching the capacity of our children’s not-so-evolved brains. There is an urgent need to demand the authorities to rewrite all text books of our children with the aim of relieving them from this unnecessary load of information. We should not burden them with carrying some gems (needed information in the brain) along all the mud, stones, garbage and various other things (unnecessary information). Instead we should allow them to carry some gems in their pockets that will help them to enlighten their lives in the future.”

“It is essential to consume information more systematically instead of randomly. Children’s creative ability and the ability to invent will be affected by an information over-load.” The Z score required for university entrance was also roundly criticised. One panellist said he couldn’t understand the logic behind this system which gives more opportunity for students who received the highest marks in physics and less marks in biology to enter the Medical Faculty.

Citing an example he noted that a student who received an A pass in Physics, B pass in Chemistry and B pass in Biology got a much higher aggregate due to this system and entered the Medical Faculty whereas a student with an A in Biology, A in Chemistry and C in Physics was unable to do medicine due to this faulty system. “A high knowledge in Physics is not necessary to become a doctor. Likewise to become an Engineer you don’t need a high Chemistry knowledge,” he said.

The call from the panellists was for more discussion on the current education crisis, a call which the Business Times applauds and urges for the sake of the present and future generations who will otherwise have to struggle through this ‘achcharu’ system and be misfits in society.

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