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Sri Lankan education: view from the ground

December 12, 2012

IMG_4118Yesterday, I attended a lecture by R. Nilhyanandan, senior teacher at Trinity College, Kandy – one of the most prestigious schools in the area.

He outlined why in his view education in Sri Lanka wasn’t working – and what needs to happen.

What’s the evidence that the education system isn’t working?
In Sri Lanka education is good, but we are not creating good citizens, he said. Every day, 10 people are murdered here; child and domestic abuse is rife. In 1965 Malaysia looked to this island for inspiration on how to educate at village level, but now that country has overtaken Sri Lanka in the achievements of its education system.

Challenges for Sri Lankan education
The village/ urban divide is massive in Sri Lanka; moreover the high literacy rate (91%) does not denote an educated population – he estimates about 5% are actually educated in the normal sense of the word.

Unlike Malaysia, students in Sri Lanka take a break of up to two years before entering university. We need to plug those gaps.

School and university classes in Europe and east Asia wait for all students to understand before they move on. The weakest children in Sri Lanka are being failed because the class moves on, regardless of pupils’ ability to pick up the information.

The solutions?
He posited a strong school/ campus culture as one answer: getting the commitment from students right from the word go.

Secondly, we need to work on basic reading skills. In Sri Lanka, children who have Sinhala or Tamil as their mother tongue are plunged into English medium classrooms. “English medium schools,” he said, “Can destroy society.” After one world history class he taught in English, a third of the students asked to leave halfway through. They said they couldn’t understand. Without the language of instruction, students can’t succeed in any way. Promoting an English reading culture through clubs, modelling and parents’ support can help.

Thirdly, he highlighted the need to develop the memory and recall skills of the weakest children.

Fourthly, we need to encourage students’ analytical skills. In one kindergarten class he visited, pupils were asked to draw animals. While most of the children filled their sheet with animals, one child simply drew a lion. When questioned about the reason, he explained, “The lion has eaten all the others.” Evidence indeed that the child was thinking, and trying to be different.

IMG_4275Finally students need to be able to present back this information to pass exams. He argues that exam papers should be scaffolded to ensure success for even the weakest students. We don’t set exams for people to fail. But presentation skills of all kinds can help at this stage – for example, encouraging students to develop the confidence to sing in public, or perform in some way.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Jane permalink
    December 12, 2012 11:04 am

    Very thought provoking – the learning from this could be applied world-wide, not just in Sri Lanka. Perhaps we could persuade R. Nilhyanandan to give a short presentation on the 5 points he makes in a YouTube video to share his thinking?

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