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Educational reforms must also address two critical needs

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The Government has announced that it intends to limit the number of examinations faced by school children to a year-end examination.

Education Minister Susil Premajayantha said, from the year 2024 onwards, government schools will dispense with the customary exams held at the end of every term and instead confine the examination process to one exam at the end of the year.

Under the proposed changes, the progress of a student will be evaluated by a combination of 70 marks awarded for the year end examination and 30 marks by a process of continuous assessment through a system of modules. It is planned that over a period of time the proportion will be eventually changed to 50 marks for the year end exam and 50 marks by continuous assessment. 

The Minister hopes the process of introducing the scheme of continuous assessment will compel students to attend school regularly and prevent children going for extra tuition classes, thus reducing the financial burden on parents.

Another benefit of the changes being proposed, according to the Minister, is that students will be saved from the burden of carrying a heavy load of books to school. These heavy books put a strain on the shoulders and backs of young students.

“I am working hard to free the children from the oppressive mental distress of having to remember subject knowledge for years and then face exams. The existing exam-centric education system should be changed through an education transformation that goes beyond the education reforms,” the Minister said.

While the proposed move to take away the over dependence on examinations is laudable and in line with contemporary thinking in the education sector, it will first have to overcome several challenges to succeed.

One of the critical factors will be how well-trained teachers are to implement these reforms.

A programme of continuous assessment will require a high level of professional skill by the teachers including a scrupulously fair method of evaluation as the students in their charge are young ones.

In the process of implementing these changes, it would be prudent for the authorities to study the experiences of the past to ensure their success.

One of the earliest educationists to move away from relying on examinations was the well-known Headmaster of Royal Primary School: H.D. Sugathapala. He was of the view that the sense of competition that exams triggered in students was not healthy for their growth.

Two previous Education Ministers Ranil Wickremesinghe and Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga too took steps to introduce continuous assessment to the school system but did not succeed in sustaining them over a period of time. The identification of the reasons for the lack of success in these previous attempts can provide valuable insights that may help the current efforts of the education authorities.

Another important reason to justify moving away from total dependence on examinations is that it can make the learning experience in schools less stressful and would therefore be much welcome.

The Education Ministry also announced last month that it is initiating several far-reaching changes to the country’s education system, to produce students who can meet the needs of the 21st century. According to the Ministry’s plans, human resources would be regulated to achieve this objective and education would be remodeled in line with worldwide standards to form an education system that addresses sustainability and the best possible quality.

However in the Education Ministry’s plans revealed so far there are two critical areas that have not been mentioned.

The first is the Year 5 Scholarship Examination which makes life stressful not only for the students but also their parents. If the Education Ministry wishes to wean away children from tuition culture, they must pay attention to making changes in this area too.

The Year 5 Scholarship scheme opens doors for students in less resourced schools to gain access to the more renowned schools. In the process it creates a highly stressful competition among students and parents resembling a rat race.

Many educationists have written and spoken about the need to take the Year 5 Scholarship Scheme out of the education equation but nothing has changed so far. It would greatly benefit parents and students if the authorities could device other alternatives that can meet parents’ desires to provide their children with better access to good education.

The second area which has to be addressed is the need for character building of students. Particularly in the formative years of schooling it is easy to instill eternal values in the minds of children. The entire period of a child in his school should be used not only for knowledge gathering but also to prepare him for adult life with special emphasis on character building.

One of the characteristics of the crisis facing the country is the integrity deficit, not only among leaders but also citizens. If, in the long run this is to change, the classroom must be the starting point.

Often leaders talk about the mismatch in the education system that results in the failure to produce citizens who are required to meet the needs of the economy. The national experience shows that citizens of integrity and positive values are important for the nation to move forward.

It is in the national interest that the education system is also geared to fulfill this need. (javidyusuf@gmail.com)

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