Confusion reigned after the announcement of the Education Minister’s proposal to change the existing Grade Five scholarship examination system. On Friday, Cabinet Spokesman Minister Keheliya Rambukwella said the Government has decided not to cancel the examination, but that there were proposals to make certain changes to it. He said the subject was discussed at length [...]


Grade 5 exam: Is it on or off?

1,000-school-project to ease pressure on entry to popular ones

Confusion reigned after the announcement of the Education Minister’s proposal to change the existing Grade Five scholarship examination system.

On Friday, Cabinet Spokesman Minister Keheliya Rambukwella said the Government has decided not to cancel the examination, but that there were proposals to make certain changes to it.

He said the subject was discussed at length by the Cabinet and several ministers presented their ideas before they came to a conclusion.

Mr. Rambukwella said that the new proposal was to develop schools under the Mahindodaya 1,000 school project which would gradually ease the pressure on parents to get their children admitted to one of the popular schools.

But, an official of the Education Ministry confirmed that the scholarship examination would be ‘simplified’ in the future.
According to the proposal made by the National Education Commission (NEC) the examination is to be limited to an hour and a common assessment paper set to test the student’s knowledge.

Education Minister Bandula Gunawardena told newspaper editors earlier this week that the NEC had spoken of the social turmoil that arises as a result of the desire to succeed at the Grade Five examination. He said students start going to tuition classes from Grade Two in their bid to prepare themselves for the major hurdle ahead.

“The mothers suffer greatly. They buy past papers with answers and model papers with answers. Some homes have no family life because the mother drops the child off at the class and gets caught up in other unforeseen situations. This is a mother’s exam, so the mother also accompanies the child to the class,” he said.

He said that when he attended meetings in Parliament of the special advisory council on education, he was told the holding of the exam was a national disaster caused by education ministers and educationists.

“I wrote to the NEC about the Grade 5 scholarship exam about six months ago. Its officials had done research and interviewed principals, teachers, those who had passed the scholarship exam and risen to the top, those who had failed the scholarship exam and risen to the top in the education field, and doctors, among others. They had held a discussion and forwarded some recommendations to me in November to amend the Grade Five scholarship process by scrapping the present system with its two-hour exam and two papers,” he said.

However the officials weren’t clear about the new system that is to be introduced, leaving parents, students and educational groups in a confused state.

The move prompted parents to send, during the past two weeks, petitions to the Human Rights Commission (HRC) objecting to the scrapping of the Grade Five exam.

Commissioner Dr. Prathiba Mahanamahewa said that parents, in their petitions, have said that the examination was an opportunity for their children to get into a popular school and the cancellation of it would be unfair by the students who study hard to get into such a school.

“Now the government has made an announcement that the exam will be held. Yet we will be conducting our own investigations,” he said.

Last year a separate petition was filed at the HRC by various groups claiming that the examination was causing psychological pressure and health issues among students who sit for the examination. Dr. Mahanamahewa said that both petitions would be considered in their investigations.

Earlier last week trade unions in the education sector strongly objected to the sudden announcement the Education Minister had made. Lanka Teacher Services Union General Secretary Mahinda Jayasinghe raised concern at the lack of proper planning before the ministry made the statement.

“They are playing with the children’s lives. The minister cannot say whatever he wants before weighing the problem at hand and looking into all aspects. This shows how unprepared they are,” he said.

Referring to the announcement made by the minister to develop 1,000 super schools by 2016 to admit students who sit for the examination, Mr. Jayasinghe that the scheme won’t be successful.

“We do not object to the development of schools but the way it is done. The government initiated various other projects in the past too but none of them were successful,” he said adding that even if the schools are constructed their would be a shortage of teachers especially in English, Science and Math subjects in outstation schools.

He said that parents would prefer to send their children to the few popular schools as facilities, teachers and other services were available in these schools which even the Mahindodaya schools lack. “A well planned system should be put in place before making changes or stating vast changes to the system are to be made,” Mr. Jayasinghe added.

Commenting on the issue, Federation of University Teachers’ Association (FUTA) Chairman Dr. Nirmal Ranjith Dewasiri said the Government cannot afford to cancel the examination because the Sinhala lower and middle classes who vote for it, are the main beneficiaries of the examination. He said parents try to admit their children to ‘so-called popular schools’ with higher education in mind, by getting their children to succeed at this exam.

He explained the examination was initially introduced to provide financial support to underprivileged children, under the free education system.

“This examination has become the victim of various changes during the past years. However, all parents are competing to get their children admitted to a popular school,” he said.

He said that one of the reasons the new amendment was proposed is because there are no vacancies to admit students to the so-called popular schools as the places are already filled by children who were admitted to the school using political influence.
“The other point is when parents fail to admit their children to any of these schools they will then consider admitting their children to private or international schools,” he said.

He added that the officials has failed to take all aspects into consideration before making this proposal as it would provide a solution only to a part of the problem.

Provincial Minister Udaya Gammanpila who had gained entry to D. S. Senanayake College, Colombo after succeeding in the scholarship examination, said that the best way to tackle the problem is by introducing several changes to the examination itself. He said that if the child’s intelligence rather than his knowledge was tested, the child would have more free time to interact with his friends and live his childhood.

“There is enormous pressure on a child because there are only a limited number of places in leading schools. The government should take steps to create more places for them,” he said.

The minister said that the 1,000 school project wouldn’t succeed because one could not make decisions based on assumptions that the schools will be brought up to a good standard.

“If the project fails, the students will lose and those students who are extremely talented wouldn’t have the opportunities they deserve,” he said.

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