Dr G B Gunawardena, Vice Chairman, National Education Commission, Sri Lanka talks to Dr Rajeshree Dutta Kumar and Juanita Kakoty about the formulation of the New Education Reforms Act in Sri Lanka and the major concerns to improve the education system in the country
Where does Sri Lanka stand in terms of its education scenario
vis-à-vis standards in South Asia or the globe?
Amongst the South Asian countries, Sri Lanka has done well in the education sector. Since 1948, several education reforms have been undertaken, like free education from kindergarten to the university level. Already, our country has achieved 98% enrollment at the primary level and 90% participation at the secondary level. Now, a new framework has been introduced in the Parliament. By the mid of this year, it is expected that the new Education Act will come about in Sri Lanka ensuring education for all by 2015 in the country. With appropriate measures and by implementing adequate mechanisms to include the marginalised children, we shall be able to achieve 100% education by 2015.
Is there scope for Open and Distance Learning (ODL) in the new Education Act?
We do not require open schooling for school going children at the moment because we foresee compulsory education for children in the age group of 5-16 years. Post basic compulsory education, we have both the formal and non-formal mode of education. The National Institute of Education has opened an open schooling unit to look after the education of those who do not go for higher studies and join work.
Could you elaborate on the aspect of teacher training in Sri Lanka?
Different modes have been followed for professional development of teachers in the country since the 1960s. We have had three strategies for training a teacher – (a) two years institutional training with certificates in teaching; (b) three years diploma programme by colleges on education; and (c) the distance mode programme. In the distance mode of teacher training, the contents and modules are provided to the teachers, who are called upon to attend seminars and classes during weekends. This is a blended programme. We follow constructivism, hereby, making teachers apply their own knowledge and capabilities relevant to their teaching situations by making using of the modules. At one stage, when the three strategies were studied by Harvard University in the 1980s, the distance mode teachers were seen to be doing better than the institutional and diploma teachers.
How do you perceive technology interventions in the field of education?
This is a concern. Our attempt is not to allow technology to dehumanise the process. Human values are the essence of education. Our attempt is to humanise technology. Technology use is limited because human development processes cannot take place solely through it. Technology does have a crucial role in delivering education and education processes Machines can never replace teachers.
“By middle of next year, it is expected, that, a new Education Act will come about in Sri Lanka ensuring education for all by 2015 in the country. Sri Lanka has achieved 98% enrollment at the primary level and 90% participation at the secondary level”
What does the Act aspire to serve? What is your vision for the new Act?
Our aim is to reach out to the marginalised in the immediate future. We want our Act to be pro-poor. Children from underprivileged and disadvantaged groups and areas like migrant population, plantation areas, children with disability, girlchild in rural areas, etc. can be included and integrated into the formal education sector. Our aim is to make education accessible, available and acceptable to every child. We need to ensure that social values are promoted, and not consumerism. We believe that the market should not overshadow social values.
How India and Sri Lanka can learn from each other?
When the Right to Education Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha in India, we made a detailed study of that Bill to help us formulate our own Act. Thus, there is much scope for both countries to learn from the experiences of each other.