New vistas in education | Daily News

New vistas in education

The Easter Sunday attacks revealed one paradox. The attacks were carried out by well educated young men and women. The question on everyone’s mind was “how could educated people commit such an atrocity?”. The answer lay in hate speeches and extremist preachers. The bombers had been brainwashed to such an extent that even formal education failed to make a dent in their thinking.

Addressing a function in Ampara, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has said that new laws will be needed to curb hate speech in order to stop the rise of extremists and extremism, which generally leads to terrorism. This is a timely move, given the role apparently played by extremist preachers in the Easter Sunday tragedy. Extremism is not limited to one religion or community – one can find them all over the world. If extremism can be contained and middle ground found, a lot of problems can be successfully solved.

Attention has been drawn to Madrasas, some of which had allegedly employed foreign preachers with radical views. If left unchecked, they would have radicalized a whole generation of children. The Government has already said “no” to the proposal to have a Sharia University in Batticaloa. Now there is a proposal to bring them under the purview of the Government in order to ensure proper regulation. It has since been decided that all Government and private schools and educational institutes will be regulated and monitored by the Education Ministry, according to Education Minister Akila Viraj Kariyawasam.

He has said that there is a need to regulate and monitor all Government and private schools aiming at maintaining the standards of education. The proposed monitoring and regulating process will be carried out by a committee appointed under the Education Ministry. No one will find fault with the Minister for taking these steps in the light of recent events, but these have been advocated for quite some time.

Minister Kariyawasam has said the Sri Lankan Education System needs more radical changes to meet international and advanced standards. Accordingly, subjects will be taught by only highly qualified subject teachers, who had earned Degrees and Masters’ Degrees in the said fields. Experienced teachers will be issued a licence which simplifies the capabilities for teaching. This practice is already common in many countries, where teaching cannot be undertaken without proper accreditation. This is a step in the right direction since professionalism and academic knowledge are essential for teachers. It will inspire confidence in the students and their parents.

Government leaders have also pledged to end the system of schools segregated on racial and religious lines. This should have been done right at the outset in 1948, but our politicians created segregated schools to sow the seeds of division without which they could not survive. The language policies brought later made the situation worse.

It is generally known that those who attend multi-communal schools have a better worldview than those who attend segregated (Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim etc) schools. We have seen newspaper articles by many old timers who reminisce on the unity among the students belonging to various communities during their schooldays. Students in a segregated school do not come into contact with the other communities and may form an insular opinion of them. This fear of the “other” could be exploited by opportunistic elements to spread division and hatred.

Since it is not immediately possible to start new multi-racial schools, the next best option is to convert all existing schools into multi-racial and multi-religious schools. All schools, public and private, should be required to enroll students from every community and religious group, as long as other admission criteria (such as distance to residence from the school) are fulfilled. A couple of decades down the line, this will automatically create multi-racial schools. These students would not know what division is. As a bonus, they will be able to speak and understand all three languages.

It is vital to bring our education system and curricula up-to-date. Controversy surrounded the project aimed at providing tablets to secondary school students, but we cannot go forward without gearing up for the future. A tablet can hold an entire year’s worth of textbooks and moreover, one can even take notes and scan documents on some of the latest tablets. Since a tablet can actually replace many textbooks, it will lighten the load students have to carry to school. It will also be beneficial from a security perspective, at least in the present climate.

Sri Lanka is one of the few developing (and even developed) countries in the world to offer free education from Grade One to University level. Our achievements in the education sector are almost on par with those of the developed world. However, we have to address issues such as the large number of students being unable to enter the universities despite passing the A/L examination. Alternatives must be offered within and outside the formal education system for their benefit. The education reforms currently underway and under contemplation should help mould a new generation who will truly think and act as Sri Lankans, sans any man-made barriers. 


 

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