Moving the Education System into the 21st Century
The COVID-19 pandemic forcing schools to close has students anxious about how to face upcoming exams – calling for a closer look at the country’s education system. Online classrooms, sadly, are unchartered territory for the Sri Lankan education system, and so is homeschooling. When schools closed, only the rich schools which can afford the technology are able to try out online lesson delivery. It further narrows down to privileged students who have access to an IT/mobile device, and the disparity in the education system becomes more evident.
Times have changed, technology has progressed, yet the education system remains predominantly the same as decades ago, with the same traditional subjects, teaching methods, and the same three public examinations (Scholarship Examination, GCE O-L, and GCE A-L examination). The ideology of school is one where teachers, students, and parents alike are solely concerned about students’ success in these three exams, not taking into account creativity, talents, or their potential beyond content learning. These outdated assessments still govern acceptance to universities and jobs, causing tremendous stress on students, their self-worth limited to the number of A’s or B’s they achieve.
Traditional assessments push students to ‘memorize’ concepts without forming a deep understanding, or allowing the child’s curiosity to guide learning. This causes short-term Lower Order Thinking. Diverting from traditional assessments to new modalities like project-based, practical and creative assessments, will help students to develop Higher Order Thinking and boost their creativity and metacognition, which are vital for their success in dealing with unfamiliar or unexpected situations in life. Newer education systems are seen in European countries that have adopted eLearning and skills-based learning into the teaching of core academic subjects. One such adoption is Finland’s Phenomenon Based Learning (PhenoBL) – an interdisciplinary approach where students learn holistic real-world phenomena through the integration of skills and knowledge across various subjects. For example, a student who wishes to learn how to start a restaurant would learn the phenomenon through elements of cookery, innovation, communication skills, teamwork, mathematics, business, and accounts. PhenoBL encourages inquiry-based learning, problem-solving, and exposure to real-life scenarios beyond the classroom, and makes use of technology and the internet through eLearning.
Increased funding is the need of the hour, to develop the education sector and to help underprivileged schools and students to cope with the fast-paced changes that we see unfolding. It is indeed time for Sri Lanka’s education system too to move forward into the 21st century. It is time to move past the stereotypical content-oriented curriculum, towards equipping children to succeed in real life, and beyond all else to make the journey of a student holistic, fun, and less demoralizing.