The Secretary to the Ministry of Education of the Northern Province convened a meeting of Zonal Directors in the Jaffna District along with other Education Ministry officials to discuss possible improvements to educational services in the North. The meeting was held on the initiative of the Governor following reports by Professor Rajiva Wijesinha MP, Advisor on Reconciliation to HE the President on matters that had been brought to his attention at Divisional Secretariat Reconciliation meetings he has attended during this year throughout the Province.
In addition to particular problems of the North, the meeting provided space to discuss the current situation of Sri Lankan Education as the quality of the school education is remarkably going down. Students are continuously facing poor teaching and supervision as well as constant complaints from parents about the quality of the examination papers set by Zonal offices. The creators of the examination papers have not been able to maintain the quality and the consistency of the examinations which impacts on schools not being able to accurately assess their students’ performance at the end of the term which should occur during their tenure in the schools. In any case, pupils seem generally to have almost lost their trust on the school education and they rely heavily on tuition classes. One of the officials noted that this reliance also arose from schools having to only have single sessions, whereas double sessions as was the case in the past would help to discourage the prevailing tuition culture
However the biggest issue schools face today, especially in rural areas, is schools don’t have sufficient teachers to teach the compulsory subject required to get them through the important examinations such as English, Maths, Science. Though much had been done on an initiative of the Governor to appoint sufficient teachers, there were still problems in rural areas because of distribution problems, which could not be monitored carefully.
During this meeting the emphasis was on the fact that Sri lanka has to concentrate on improving the school education in order to promote a quality education and increase trust in the schools examination system which impacts on helping students to get in to early employments with their qualifications. This session discussed issues and ideas based on how we could make productive schools to cater to the education requirements of present and future generations. It was felt that the tuition culture is not only insult for the school education,it also leads to social problems such as increased teenage pregnancy rate and other sexual issues of the society.
To ensure better attention to rural areas, it was suggested that there should be empowerment of Divisional Offices, as had been suggested by the Parliamentary Consultative Committee on Education following a proposal by those responsible for Educational Reforms. Zones were too large to monitor all schools and the conditions that were essential for a good education. A Divisional Office would have to look after around 30 schools and this will help to set up a monitoring mechanism to work out the status of every school.
To ensure better monitoring, it was also suggested that the grama niladhari should take on some responsibility for this, and set up a child welfare committee which would check on all aspects of the one or two schools in the GN division, and report to the divisional secretary as well as the Divisional Education Office. An audit should be conducted on all aspects of the school, including teacher cadres, furniture and sanitary facilities, as well as extra-curricular activities and student clubs and societies.
There was also discussion about recent initiatives by the Ministry as well as other government Ministries. The development of vocational training was of great interest to the participants as at present school education pays little attention to vocational training, except at a very few schools. Vocational training could enhance job opportunities for the students not only in Sri Lanka but also in the overseas job market. Also a desire was expressed to develop cross – regional school links between well established schools and rural schools. They could also undertake joint projects to assist primary schools with regard to basic facilities. This will enable students to exchange their ideas and, while encouraging social initiatives, promote mutual understanding between students in different communities.
To summarize, discussions during the sessions focused on the features of a good school and what requirements a school must have to be graded as good schools. The participants identified the following factors –
a high rate of schools attendance of both students and the teachers is a vital sign of a good school
consistency in the quality of examination result of the school
the importance of extracurricular activities where student could get involved such as social services, cultural activities and sports which would help student to develop their communication and decision making skills thus making them desirable recruits to any employer,
the provision of bilingual language teaching through language centers and vocational training,
the establishment of school links between schools across the different regions.
All in all it was a very useful meeting for all zonal and other officers of the education ministry in the Northern province who participated in the session and they were keen to implement these discussion points as fast as they can so as to rebuild high quality school education in the country and the Northern Province.