As we all know, the local curriculum is the ‘pre-packaged’ course that ensures a minimum knowledge base for all students across the country. However, it is well known that our curriculum failed to incorporate the three core requirements of learning, initiatives, creativity, and flexibility respectively. Availability of an unattractive syllabus, poor teaching, and overloaded school curriculum appears to be the factors that drive children out of school.
Ultimately, it’s the future of the student that is at risk. One day, it is them who’d be labeled unworthy being unable to stand up to their potential. Some end up being tuk drivers due to financial difficulties, which is sadly common nowadays in Sri Lanka. Meanwhile, the privileged ones enter private universities and acquire their tertiary education under desired fields. It’s not our intention to bring down the occupation of the driver here. Rather, it’s shared to support the point that they too should be equally blessed to receive the education they deserved. Who knows, they could have been far ahead than where they are right now.
Sri Lanka follows a common curriculum for both primary and lower secondary grades. According to a report by Angela Little, our curriculum continues to provide minimal space for activities and student participation. It offers a uniform model of teaching and learning. The curriculum has to give priority to all types of learners and different learning styles. The problem lies here as it doesn’t address the different learning styles of different students across the country. It has been questioned for its inability to recognize differences in interests of our students and also at the same time how it hinders the creativity and freedom of teachers and students. It’s difficult to change this system because another majority out there, equally supports the stereotypic system. In their eyes, it’s “the only” path to success.
Going beyond the academic curriculum
Primary education programme must be designed to make schools, child-friendly. Therefore in addition to the academic curriculum, it’s vital to pay consideration to co-curricular and extra-curricular activities. These activities provide opportunities for children to acquire skills. Skills such as communication, decision-making, creativity, productive thinking, leadership, interpersonal and intrapersonal skills are developed through the ‘hidden’ curriculum than the formal subjects.
For example, Finland is a country where children do nothing but play until they start compulsory schooling at age 7. Then, without exception, they attend comprehensives until the age of 16. Charging school fees is illegal, and so is sorting pupils into ability groups by streaming or setting. There are no inspectors, no exams until the age of 18, no school league tables, no private tuition industry, no school uniforms. Children address teachers by their first names. Even 15-year-olds do no more than 30 minutes’ homework daily. Yet since 2000, Finland, has consistently featured at or near the top of international league tables for educational performance. The results have been consistent whether the children are tested on literacy, numeracy or science. The remarkable feature is its equitable school system. Its key target is to provide good schools for all children and not foster competitiveness unlike in Sri Lanka.
It can be said that the Sri Lankan system shows similarities to the system in China all the way from Grade one to the university entrance examination. China is well known for teaching students to sit for exams and Chinese children are masters at test-taking. The Chinese system is very much different to the systems followed in Finland, Australia, and Sweden where the children are always given the chance to be creative and not coupling them with 2 hours of homework.
The scholarship complication
While here in Sri Lanka, students are exposed to an extremely pressurized education system from the moment they enter pre-school. The journey from there on is nothing but continuous pressure from parents and school. Preparation for grade five scholarship exam is yet another measure of smartness in our stereotypic community. The exam is held to award bursaries to deserving children and for placement in prestigious secondary schools.
On the other hand regardless of the extreme competitiveness of this exam, the scholarship open pathways for the less financially able students. It enables them to secure a secondary education which their parents cannot afford for them in this lifetime. Even then not all rural students are fortunate to get this opportunity. This is limited to the high scoring students, which is basically scoring a total above 180 marks. Apart from the handful successful students, how many actually manage to score above the cut-off mark each year? According to the examinations department, only around 10% who sit for the exam obtain sufficient marks to qualify for bursaries and to apply for better schools, each year. It isn’t really a surprise because a child needs to obtain at least a mark around 160 to pass the exam.
Nevertheless, discontinuing the exam may not be the ideal solution here. Rather, this should be limited to the students from rural areas and the schools that only provide primary education. Another option is to make sure that the students from these primary schools have guaranteed access to a given secondary school. This is the suggested agenda under the education sector development framework programme: 2012–2016. Given the pressure and the stress young children are put through in preparation for this exam, a serious reconsideration of its need and purpose must be acknowledged.
The lack of practical exposure
Secondary grade students are expected to study science but exposed to little or no lab works. Science is a practical subject which is the foundation to foster innovation. By limiting its practical scope how can we expect to gain results? A student who does English literary appreciation for ordinary level examinations rarely watches a documentary, role-play or any act regarding works that are included in the syllabus. The curriculum promotes only the study of Shakespeare poetry and drama with less or no steps to experience the practical side of what the students should actually be bestowed upon.
At the end of the day, this results in low levels of practical skills which leave the students with diminutive opportunity to strive in the workforce. Only 6% of schools offer science in grades 12-13 when in reality students across the island need to be likewise arranged the opportunity to study science. It’s clear that there is an absolute need for transformation and broadening of the curriculum at the primary and secondary school levels.
Education for the next 10 years
What could be the reason behind this ongoing dilemma? The lack of resources is a key likelihood. Sri Lanka is still a developing country, unlike Australia Finland Sweden who holds successful education systems. Science, math education and internet access are among the vital areas that need restoring in Sri Lanka. The government needs to offer more of its financial resources towards the supply of learning materials, adding it to education to open new doors for the students to explore the levels of creativity.
Learning and knowledge, together when compromised give rise to the true essence of education. Curricula for teachers and schools should include materials that will promote critical thinking on socio-cultural issues and change stereotypical attitudes in order to promote gender equality and social harmony. An effective education system should focus on interactive learning rather than schooling. An environment that promotes creativity is to be created that provides opportunities for lifelong learning. The education system must be focused not for the next ten years but the next century.