Education News, December 2020

Posted on January 11, 2021  /  0 Comments

Schools | E-Learning | Teachers | Universities | Technical and Vocational Education | Private Education Institutions | Funding/Development

Opening & Closing: Schools in the Northern and Eastern provinces closed in early December due to inclement weather. Following this, they remained closed due to the Covid-19 situation, while schools in districts in other parts of the country such as Galle, Kandy and Trincomalee were also closed due to Covid-related health concerns. Schools in Kandy re-opened on Dec 14. However, attendance was very low (reportedly around 16%).

Criticism has been leveled against governments that have enforced nation-wide school closures, “as a first recourse rather than a last resort” causing children to continue to suffer “the devastating impacts on their learning, mental and physical well-being and safety”.

Exams: Reportedly, out of the 10,165 schools, only 5,100 were able to conduct academic activities during the third term, and so O/L exams have been postponed from Jan 18 to March 1. The school vacation has been set for Dec 23 and plans to re-open primary schools, except those in isolated areas and in the Western Province, have tentatively been set for Jan 11. With O/L set for March, the decision to allow private tuition classes will be made after Jan 25. Minister of Education, G.L Peiris, noted that O/L results would be out in 3 months, leaving enough time for students to move on to A/L.

The Ministry of Education has made a decision to promote students to higher grades next year, even though they were unable to sit for their exams due to the Covid-19 situation. Admission of students to Grade 1 and Grade 6 classes will reportedly be done in February.

Year 1 Admissions to schools: Conspicuous in their absence are any plans by the government to finalise the admissions for the 370 national schools of which 74 are recognized as being more popular than others. In a typical year, applications are called on June 1 with a September 1 deadline. Interviews of children are carried out from the September to October period and results released in early November, giving ample time for appeals, if any, before the new school year starts in January.

Increasing the number of national schools: The Cabinet approved a proposal made by Education Minister, G.L Peiris, to increase the number of national schools in the country to 1000, as parents are under pressure to enroll their children in popular schools- often not the schools that are nearest to families. However, this initiative has also received criticism for the fact that it would result in 3000 rural schools being shut down – specifically those that have less than 100 students.

With traditional teaching methods having proved unsustainable during this pandemic period, alternative methods of transmitting lesson content as well as testing students’ knowledge have been called for, not just in schools but also in universities. Baseline assessments have been recommended for teachers and schools to ensure that students’ progress/lack thereof can be systematically monitored, while EdTech platforms are increasingly on the rise to facilitate this new model of learning. Initiatives have been taken to increase children’s access to learning material via the distribution of TVs and online educational equipment, and a number of private companies, such as Commerial Bank and Brandix have contributed to access expansion efforts by donating hardware and initiating plans for smart classrooms. Supported by Mobitel, the Ministry of Education has also digitised the Grade 5 scholars’ school application process.

Smart classrooms: With the pandemic situation having highlighted disparities in access to education in Sri Lanka, the Education Minister voiced plans (underway and proposed) to provide smart classrooms for every school by 2022, with the belief that this would be the path to quality education.

Teacher shortages: The government has made plans to appoint 4000 teacher trainees to posts in remote provincial schools countrywide in order to solve the teacher shortage that these schools face.

Teacher dissatisfaction: The Ceylon Teachers’ Service Union called attention to the fact that not only students, but teachers also have been struggling to manage e-learning during this period, as many lack the necessary equipment to conduct classes online. Facing a lack of job opportunities, teachers staged a protest in Bataramulla.

Degree programme for teachers: Aiming to produce better quality teachers for primary school, the Ministry of Education plans to enlist 1500 students for three Bachelor of Arts education programmes which will be introduced next year. Over 4000 individuals who passed their A/L exams in 2018 will be recruited as teacher trainees in 2021.

Ragging: Education Minister, G.L Peiris, condemned ragging, stating that it should be banned, after the issue came to the fore once again following the incident in which Pasindu Hirushan Silva was critically injured at the Sri Jayewardenepura University. Peiris commented that the inhumane practice prevailed in universities because it received support from certain university lecturers.

University expansion: With Cabinet approval to amend the Universities Act No. 16 (1978) to include provisions required to convert nursing and teacher training colleges into universities, plans were made to establish two special-purpose universities with degrees for nurses. There are also plans to develop state university projects with foreign-funded and ADB grants.

Technical and Vocational Education
The government intends to increase the number of students annually enrolled in vocational education from 100,000 to 200,000, providing a secure kit from January 2021 to enable them to successfully carry out their training.

Private Education Institutions
A number of undergraduate degree programmes have been initiated by private universities. SLIIT introduced a Bachelor of Engineering (Hons) Mechatronics Engineering degree to their programme; BCI Campus Negombo introduced a Business Management – BBM (Hons) and Information Technology – BSc. (Hons); IIT launched Sri Lanka’s first-ever BSc (Hons) Artificial Intelligence and Data Science awarded by Robert Gordon University, UK; Northshore International Campus partnered with Lincoln University College, Malaysia, to introduce a range of degree programmes from undergraduate to doctoral level in a number of fields, and SLEA launched a Professional Diploma in Economics for Business, delivered online.

ADB loan to support secondary education reforms: The ADB approved a $400 million loan for the Secondary Education Sector Improvement Program. It aims to train more than 47,000 upper secondary education teachers on inquiry-based and interactive learning approaches and to target 953,000 students with knowledge and skills in the STEM field.

Grant from Japan to develop facilities for differently-abled children: The government of Japan is providing a Rs.15 million (approx) grant to improve facilities at the Centre for Disabled Children in Buttala, Moneragala, which provides educational opportunities and vocational training. Programmes such as Skills for Inclusive Growth (S4IG) have also been functioning to enhance the prospects for children with disabilities, given the barriers to accessing education and employment that they face.

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