Policy Dialogues | Budget 2021 | Reopening of Schools | Grade 5 Scholarship and G.C.E. A/L Examinations Held | G.C.E. O/L Examination Postponed to January | Lessons on TV: Govâ€™s Proposed Distance Learning Solution | Teacher Shortages and Teacher Dissatisfaction | Private Tertiary Education Institutions | Early Childhood Education
Education Forum Sri Lanka a held a policy dialogue on November 21, 2020, via Zoom reviewing the report of PresidentialÂ Task Force on EducationalÂ Affairs. As the panelists and participants observed, the education reform plan of the Presidential Task Force is visionary and comprehensive, but it does not address (1) Strategies for effective implementation (2) Limitations such as political interference (3) Capacity deficiencies in management & administration (4) Lack of empowerment of teachers and (5) Reality of insufficient funding. A more strategic approach identifying a few pivotal strategies and how they can be implemented is needed. EFSL will present a brief on such a strategic approach using the inputs from this dialogue.
TheÂ 2021 Budget Proposalsâ€™ allocation of fundsÂ to the education and higher education sectors include: Rs.3 billion towards developing distance education; Rs.3 billion towards developing Vocational Education; Rs.1 billion towards expanding university facilities (and towards this end, setting up aÂ nonresident City UniversityÂ per District), and Rs.3 billion towards developing sporting facilities and infrastructure (with mention of develop 10 sports schools with synthetic race tracts). TheÂ total education allocationÂ is Rs.163 billion.
Reopening of Schools
The third term of government schools was scheduled to resume on Nov 9. However, due to COVID-related health-concerns, schools remained closed until Nov 23, when Grade 6 â€“ 13 classes resumed everywhere except in the Western Province and inÂ Police Divisions declared isolated areas in any province. However, theÂ Education MinistryÂ permitted school authorities to decide on the re-opening of schools, with certain schools choosing to remain closed. There appeared to beÂ confusionÂ about directives to limit movement which conflicted with directives to open schools.
Grade 5 Scholarship Exam & G.C.E A/L Examinations Held
On Oct 11,Â 326,264Â students sat for the Grade 5 Scholarship Exam. Candidates included three students who were quarantined, two students who were infected with COVID-19 and three students from Apeksha Cancer Hospital. The results were released on Nov 16Â revealing that 200 students scored full marks and 20,250 students were eligible for scholarships.
From Oct 12 – Nov 6,Â 362,824Â students sat for the A/L exams with 27 students having done so from the IDH andÂ 568Â having done so under quarantine. With controversy over the old and new A/L syllabi, reported to have been the cause of unjust admission of students to universities, Minister of Education, G.L. Peiris, stated that he has instructed the University Grants Commission to submit a report regarding University admission of students who sat for exams under each syllabus.
G.C.E O/L Examinations Postponed to January
With an estimatedÂ 700,000 studentsÂ set to sit for their O/L examinations, the exam was postponed from its usual December schedule to January 18, 2021. Due to COVID-related education disruptions in schools, the Education Ministry called forÂ feedback fromÂ teachers on the extent of the O/L syllabi covered. Minister of Education, G.L. Peiris, stated that exam papers would beÂ flexibly prepared depending on how much of the syllabi had been covered.
Lessons on TV: Govâ€™s Proposed Distance Learning Solution
TheÂ inability of students to accessÂ online learning due to a lack of internet connectivity,Â signal, devices, data and mobile phone connections was highlighted as a growing problem, impeding studentsâ€™ learning and widening the digital divide. The National Institute of Education has been telecasting lessons in Sinhala, Tamil and English on the state-run Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporationâ€™s Eye and Nethra channels since May 22, but a Cabinet a decision on November 3 signals a more concerted effort to broadcast such lessons. With Â nearly 50% of students estimatedÂ to be cut off from distance education due to a lack of access to the Internet, the Cabinetsâ€™ approval toÂ use TVÂ programs for such purposes is a welcome move. The governmentâ€™s budget proposal for 2021 also includes an allocation of Rs.3 billion to provide TV sets to schools in difficult areas to ensure that the â€˜Guru Gedaraâ€™ education channel is available to all students.
Teacher Shortages and Teacher Dissatisfaction
With teacher shortages reported in theÂ Southern provinceÂ as well as inÂ over 100 national schoolsÂ across the country, the Education Ministry has called for applications from select categories of officers from the Sri Lanka Education Administrative ServiceÂ (SLEAS)Â and the Sri Lanka Principal Service (SLPS).Â Addressing the issue of teacher shortages in rural and non-national schools, the Prime Minister noted that the â€˜Guru Gedaraâ€™ education channel should be made available to all students by providing television sets to schools in difficult areas.
Despite the teacher shortages in the country, around 4000 College of Education teacher trainees areÂ still awaiting teaching appointments.Â Â Not only are teachers dissatisfied with this situation, but also with the failure of the 2021 Budget Proposal toÂ review salary anomaliesÂ for teachers and principals.
Private Tertiary Education Institutions
Amidst the challenges facing the Government, several private education institutions appear to be faring well under the present circumstances. With plans to expand high-quality higher education opportunities in Sri Lanka, SLIIT was reported to have released plans to launch theirÂ new â€˜SLIIT International Campusâ€™Â in Colombo during the first quarter of 2021, andÂ AOD introduced Master of Arts (MA) programmesÂ inÂ Design Innovation, Design Management & Entrepreneurship and Contour Fashion via De Montfort University Partnership.
Early Childhood Education
Access, affordability and quality of early education and childcareÂ was reported as a significant challenge, primarily due to the involvement of multiple stakeholders and the lack of clarity in administrative structures in this sector.Â It was noted that the Government provides free access to compulsory primary and secondary education, but not to preschool education, which is not mandatory. Enrolment rates were 56.6% in 2016 for preschool children between 3-5 years of age.Â 70.8% of preschools and 78% of day care centers were reported as being privately operated and levying fees, thus reducing access and affordability for a sizeable segment of the population.
The government was reported to have appointed a nine-member committee chaired by Ven. Prof. Medagoda Abhayatissa Thero to study a draft prepared by experts in the field of primary education, and to make a final decision on the amendments to be made.