but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done
One reason it is vital that the different institutions responsible for education work together is the continuing shortage of teachers in vital subjects. All our students need to improve in subjects such as English and Mathematics, but many rural schools have no teachers. There is also no proper training for teachers who take these subjects in primary school, and this means that, when students move on to secondary schools, they find it difficult to catch up, even when there are sufficient teachers.
The problem is compounded by the fact that the system treats syllabuses as discrete entities and makes no provision for the fact that students must get to particular levels before they can move higher. I tried to introduce this idea when I chaired the Academic Affairs Board of the National Institute of Education, and introduced into the syllabus for each year, with regard to English for instance, the rubric that students should first demonstrate familiarity with the requirements of previous years before they moved on.
But I believe this clause was done away with, exacerbating the situation described by one of the scholarship students at Sabaragamuwa when I asked him how, being so bright, he had learned nothing despite doing 11 years of English at school. There were no teachers at his primary school, he said and, at the grand school he went to after doing well in the scholarship exam, they made no allowances for this. And even teachers who understand the problem and would like to help are prevented by the relentless pressure on them, from principals who may know no better, and In-Service Advisers who should know better, to finish the book rather than ensure that the components of the syllabus are understood.
Given the total failure of the Ministry over the last few decades to produce enough teachers, and to ensure that they teach students rather than the textbook, we have decided at the Ministry of Skills Development and Vocational Training to also move into teacher education. Teaching after all was the profession about which the term ‘vocation’ was first used, and it certainly should be a vocation rather than merely a job.
The idea came when the Minister was mulling over the fact that the previous government had introduced a Technical stream to schools, but there was little provision for them to go on to further studies. I believe around 8000 have qualified for university but there are places for fewer than a quarter of these. In addition, what should have been a great opportunity for rural students without access to proper science teaching was squandered because the government had not made plans to provide enough teachers for the country at large. I realized how bad the situation was when, during my meetings in Divisional Secretariats for Reconciliation meetings, I found that few schools were offering the option because there weren’t enough teachers. Continue reading