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A comment on Sri Lanka's general education proposals
27 Sep, 2013 07:57:19
By Nisha Arunatilake

Sept 27, 2013 (LBO) - Despite impressive performance in access to education, issues of quality of education, access to higher levels of education and relevance of education has challenged the education sector in the recent past.

In this regard, the initiative proposed in the New Educational Policies and Proposals (NEPP) to modernize and energize the sector by rectifying the weaknesses is most welcome. These proposals and polices are the result of a long process of expert views and public consultations involving most stakeholders in the education sector. This is apparent in the broad treatment of issues ranging from governance to curriculum development to capacity building.

Rather than critiquing the proposals, in this article I wish to reiterate the importance of threekey proposals for making the education sector a dynamic and vibrant sector that caters to the education needs of the country: professionalizing teacher service, teacher deployment and curriculum development.

Professionalizing Teacher Service

One main proposal in the document is to professionalize the teacher service. This is a change that should be implemented immediately. Education is a service. The quality of the teaching process is highly dependent on the skills of the teachers. In the recent past, there have been several instances where teacher appointments were made with the main objective of providing employment, rather than with the objective of finding the best skilled to fill teacher vacancies.

Making it necessary for all teachers to hold a degree and a teaching qualification and experience will help to professionalize the service. This is practiced in most developed countries. In these countries, there are strict qualifications criteria for different types of teachers.For example in Florida, individuals are required to have either a bachelor’s degree in education or pass three teacher qualification exams relating to subject, general knowledge and teaching to become a certified teacher.

In UK too, an individual needs a degree in education or a general degree with a teaching qualification to become a qualified teacher.

These proposals well understand the importance of making the educational officials, from teachers to education administrators, professionals. It calls for degrees for all teachers by 2025, and a special diploma in education for all teachers. These recommendations are in line with what is practiced in most developed countries, as elaborated above. The NEPP also calls for timely revision of curricula and allowing teachers the freedom to introduce new areas to the curriculum. To effectively implement such changes, the teachers should be educated, creative, skilled and flexible. Proper recruitment of teachers is one main means of ensuring that these proposals are implemented.

Teacher Deployment

Improper appointment of teachers holds back progress in the sector for years to come. For example, recruiting a person not qualified to teach mathematics to fill a vacancy for a mathematics teacher will affect the mathematics education of children, not only in the year the appointment is made, but for years to come. For, when the vacancy is filled, the school is not able to get a mathematics teacher; even when suitable teachers are available. The NEPP recommends that vacancies should be school based and subject based. When recruitments are subject based, only persons qualified to teach a relevant subject will be recruited to fill vacancies for that subject.

School based recruitments will help to alleviate another pressing issue in the sector: the inefficient placement of teachers. At present, urban schools are overstaffed, while schools in difficult areas are understaffed. This is partly due to the fact that teachers are recruited at the center. Many teachers, who start their teaching careers in remote rural schools, transfer into more facilitated urban areas as they mature. Sometimes such transfers take place taking into account the interest of the teacher, rather than the interest of the children.

When recruitments are school based, a teacher wishing to transfer out of a school will need to wait for a vacancy before transferring out. Also, as recruitments are subject based, only teachers who are qualified to teach the subject for which there is a vacancy, will be able to apply for the job.

Education and Content and Progress

A principal of a leading private school that prepares children for both the local and London O-levels once stated that the local O-level syllabus is much lengthier than the London O-level syllabus. Many teachers have also reiterated that the syllabuses are very lengthy.

As a result, teachers tend to rush through the syllabuses so that they can be covered during the school year, rather than allowing students the time to ponder and reflect on different teaching units before moving on to the next unit.

In 2006, the Ministry of Education introduced the 5E learning cycle, an activity based students centered learning method. One reason why the implementation of this method of teaching was delayed, among other things, is due to the lack of time for conducting activities.

Syllabus developers should be aware of the time taken to teach different modules in the syllabus, so that when new itemsare added, existing items are adjusted to ensure that there is sufficient time to properly teach each module, according to the prescribed methods of teaching.

The NEPP proposes effective means of developing, revising and updating the curriculum to keep the curriculum modern and relevant. It also asks to minimize the home work given to children and to ensure that the learning teaching process is more interactive and fun. It calls for amendments to give space for children to observe, critique, reflect, question and overall be more engaged with teachers and their environment in their learning process.

All these proposals if implemented would result in energizing the class room activities. The successful implementation of these proposals will depend on two key elements: time availability and competence of teachers. Hence as elaborated above, professionalizing the teacher service and freeing up the syllabuses to allow time for self-learning will be essential to improve the teaching and learning process to improve the quality of education and make it more relevant in the country.

Nisha Arunatilake is a research fellow at Sri Lanka's Institute of Policy Studies and was first published on the IPS blog 'Talking Economics'.

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