IQ score highlights quality of education system | Daily News

IQ score highlights quality of education system

Education, a right of every child

Recently published reports on the average IQ test scores for countries across the world show that Sri Lanka's average score is very low in comparison to many other countries in Asia and elsewhere. The highest and the lowest scores reported are 108 (Singapore and Hong Kong) and 59 (Equatorial Guinea) respectively. Sri Lanka stands at 79, closer to the lower end of the spectrum. Among the Asian countries, Sri Lanka is ahead of only Nepal. Some of the Asian countries such as Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Japan have 108, 108, 106 and 105 respectively, the highest scores in the world. Only a few European countries score 100 or over. They are Switzerland, Austria, Netherlands, Norway, Luxembourg, Italy, and Iceland.

There is general agreement today that average IQ scores of countries are indicative of access to high quality education rather than innate intelligence of people.

Thus research evidence shows a very high correlation between level of educational attainment and scores in intelligence tests. In this regard, scores in maths, science and language are closely related to scores in IQ tests. So, a lower average IQ score is indicative of the quality of the country's education system, educational inequalities and access to quality education.

A study conducted by the national education research and evaluation centre (NEREC) of the University of Colombo in 2004 on educational performance of primary school students in the country showed that performance of a large proportion of primary schoolchildren in the country in such areas as maths, science and language was poor and this no doubt was indicative of the serious deficiencies of the education system of the country.

There has been so much criticism of our education system over the last several decades. While one of these has been our almost total preoccupation with memory testing examinations from Grade 5 right up to university level at the expense of providing children and youth with a more skill oriented, all round education that emphasized critical thinking, problem solving skills and life skills, logical reasoning, etc., the other has been on the growing educational inequalities within the country, leading to unnecessary concentration of a large proportion of children in a few privileged schools, both public and private and deprivation of many who attend poorer rural and urban schools.

Underprivileged schools

As is well known, the vast majority of secondary schools do not have facilities to teach subjects in the science stream at GCE AL. Moreover, many underprivileged schools do not have competent maths and science teachers. What should also be noted is that the quality of teachers has declined over time, forcing most parents to take children around to give them private tuition to make up for the deficit of school instruction.

Today most children spend many hours travelling back and forth from schools rather than concentrate on reading and other education or real life related activities.

In spite of the presence of serious issues within the country's education system, successive governments and national educational institutions have shown little or no interest in responding to these in a rational and systematic manner.

Meanwhile, we talk about the need to allocate more money for education, as if this is the most important problem in education, whereas the biggest challenge seems to be to liberate education from persisting political control.

As is well known, every newly appointed minister begins to pretend that he or she knows everything and educationists, if at all have to play second fiddle to him or her. This is a recipe for disaster because all those who know something about education take a back seat and enjoy life, without making an effort to point out that most education ministers, perhaps with the exception of the first Education Minister, Dr. C. W. W. Kannangara, did not know much about the complexities of education.

On the other hand, have been boasting about our achievements in education such as high literacy rate and near universal enrollment, gender parity in education, etc. We have been encouraged by international agencies such as the UN and the World Bank to do so. The result is that we became too complacent and less critical about the state of education in the country. Political leaders in general wanted not much more.

Those who could manipulate the education system for their own benefit, namely the elite and the middle classes, had few problems with it, as long as their children had access to decent employment and higher incomes. They get their children admitted to good schools, give them the paper qualifications and finally secure such employment in the formal sector for them. But the vast majority of people and the country suffer because a majority of children and young people leave schools and the universities with a poor quality education, often with almost no skills and capabilities. Many of them join the informal sector or the largely unproductive state sector or leave the country for unskilled employment in the Middle East, Italy or South Korea.

Skill driven development

Unless and until the educational deficiencies mentioned earlier are effectively remedied, the country will continue to rank low in world league tables on educational attainment which is reflected in the poor average IQ score of the country.

The countries that do well in this regard in Asia and elsewhere will naturally lead in innovation and skill driven development, leaving countries like ours far behind. This is not to suggest that development depends entirely on general intelligence which largely depends on educational attainment.

There are naturally many other factors which cannot be discussed here for want of space. But the fact of the matter is that a country like Sri Lanka which does no longer have its cheap labour advantage or massive natural resources like gold or oil deposits, has to concentrate on human resource development as a way out of the present economic predicament. It is important to bear in mind that the countries that are higher on average IQ of populations are among the most competitive in the global economy. Among these are many European countries like Switzerland as well as Asian countries like Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea.

What we need to learn from these countries is that the spread of general education alone is not sufficient to equip the younger generations with the skills, the world views and the capabilities necessary to fit into a complex and competitive world.

There is enough evidence to show that we, like many other countries in the developing world, are not up to this challenge. Many people in this country are steeped in myths, superstition and uncritical religiosity which are usually antithetical to logical reasoning and critical thinking.

Education in Sri Lanka today by and large prepares children for memory testing examinations at the expense of the knowledge of the link between what they learn from textbooks and the world out there. Sri Lanka's future in terms of development, peace and contentment depends to a large extent on how we deal with these issues. It is hoped that the political leaders who talk a lot about development today will not turn a blind eye to these obvious issues.