The Education Ministry is one of the sectors which will have to reorganise and reset its plans and programmes due to the COVID-19 pandemic fallout that has affected Sri Lanka. While the impact on the economy will be more visible and immediate, the repercussions on the education sector will be more long term and less [...]


GCE AL exams – decisions need to be taken and communicated quickly


The Education Ministry is one of the sectors which will have to reorganise and reset its plans and programmes due to the COVID-19 pandemic fallout that has affected Sri Lanka. While the impact on the economy will be more visible and immediate, the repercussions on the education sector will be more long term and less visible immediately.

Nevertheless it will have to be dealt with no less urgently in the days to come. One of the more immediate tasks that the education authorities will have to address is the issue of conducting the GCE Advanced Level examinations currently scheduled for August 2020.

The GCE Advanced Level examination is probably the most difficult hurdle a student has to overcome during his or her school career. This is mainly due to the heavy content of the examination syllabus and the fact that it is also the most competitive examination a student has to face during the entirety of their educational career.

University admissions in Sri Lanka are determined on the basis of these exams, while those who fail to make it or intend pursuing studies outside the Sri Lankan University system also rely on these results.

With the COVID-19 pandemic disrupting the school calendar, the Education Ministry is now faced with the dilemma of proceeding with the examinations which are scheduled for August 2020.

With the Government planning to gradually ease restrictions from tomorrow (May 11) onwards, the conduct of the examinations as scheduled for August may not pose too many difficulties for the Examinations Department with nearly three months still left for the scheduled date.

However what will concern the authorities the most is the inability to complete the syllabuses in time, even if the schools reopen in the near future.

Education Minister Dullas Alahapperuma said, whatever decisions taken with regard to the GCE Advanced Level examinations will be done with the best interests of the students in mind.

This is indeed welcome. The education process has and must always remain student-centred if it is to achieve the optimum for the country, in return for the resources invested in it by the State.

The Sri Lankan GCE Advanced Level examination has a heavy workload for students as a result of a very extensive syllabus. Due to its competitive nature, because of the reasons mentioned earlier, the two year course does take a toll on the students, physically and mentally.

Apart from the intense nature of the classroom work, tuition classes which have over the years become an inevitable adjunct of the Advanced Level landscape, add to the gruelling nature of the effort students need to put in.

The phenomenon of tuition classes has been discussed among educationists and parents alike over the years. Primarily, it is driven by the anxiety of the student to complete the syllabuses (if their school is lagging behind in this regard) or to make sure he or she has a competitive edge over his or her fellow students who are attempting to get the grades necessary to gain university admission.

Another feature of the Sri Lankan GCE Advanced Level scheme is the heavy workload when compared to the British Advanced Level exams or their equivalents. The British Advanced Level content is lighter and better paced, and is therefore less stressful for students.

The closure of schools since March 2020, the uncertainty with regard to syllabus completion and the holding of exams may have added to the students’ anxiety during this period. It is wise for the Education Ministry to put them out of their misery by clearly and expeditiously communicating their plans.

One of the options available to the Ministry is to conduct the examinations on the basis of the syllabuses completed up to February 2020. This will obviate the need to rush through the remaining portions of the syllabus in the lead up to the examinations. This will relieve both the students and the teachers of the burden of hurriedly covering syllabus work.

Besides, leaving out the incomplete portions of the syllabus from the scheme of testing for the 2020 GCE Advanced Level exams will not unduly affect the scheme of studies envisaged for the Advanced Level stream.

The Advanced Level examination is most critical in the Sri Lankan context as the entrance examination for university admission. The syllabus is therefore drawn up as a lead up to the university programme of study. In order to bridge the gap between the Advanced Level and the University study scheme resulting from the unfinished syllabus, the Education Ministry could decide on one of two options.

The first option would be to use the period after the GCE Advanced Level exams, until the results are released, to complete the uncompleted portions of the syllabus but exclude the need for the student to sit for an examination in respect of that portion of the syllabus. The difficulty the Ministry may have with regard to this proposal is that schools may not have sufficient classrooms to be used for this purpose, as students who are newly admitted to the Advanced Level stream would occupy the vacant classrooms.

The second option would be to coordinate with the University Grants Commission and ensure the important parts of the syllabuses left out due to the enforced COVID-19 recess be included in the first year of the university undergraduate programme. In any event some portions of the GCE Advanced level syllabuses are even now included in the first year undergraduate programme of universities.

This is probably the better option of the two, as it will not unduly burden the students nor disrupt the classroom situation in schools.

Whatever path the Education Ministry sets out for itself, it is best if early decisions are taken, so students and parents will have peace of mind after the anxious days they have gone through. It is also important that once such decisions are made the Ministry draws up clear guidelines with regard to the implementation of such guidelines and communicate them to the students and teachers, parents, examiners and others as soon as possible.



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