You have heard it said that our education system is broken, it is in a perilous state. For that matter, we read in social media stories of political appointments to Government schools, tinkering with education? Parents are feeling desperate where their children are going to end up, not only in social status, but facing life in the future. The educational system “as is” may not be able at present to think for future needs, for a “future ready society”.
When I was growing up, we imported educators from abroad to train our teachers, to raise our standards of education “to compete in the world.”
We saw the arrival of the American and other religious missionaries to our schools. Examples were Rev. Robert Stopford, an Anglican missionary principal of Trinity College, Kandy, a Cambridge educated principal, Rev. Fr.T.M.F.Long at St. Patrick’s College, Rev. S.K. Bunker at Jaffna College and many others. The view at that time was learning from the experience of educators from abroad, was essential. In turn our own educators, were sent abroad to get the best qualification in teaching.
I for instance, was not good in Tamil, but that did not put me off. I devoted much of my life, to what I was good at and benefitted.
Today, none of it is possible, without the political will, the long term planning and the continually evolving, change in line with economic growth and future demands of society.
No forward thinking education?
We are warned to think for the future, “a future ready society”. We need to rethink our ideas how our learning systems are currently organised, resourced and supported.
We need to think and teach higher level thinking skills and develop key competencies using technology to prepare students for the 21st century. We need a personalised approach in the classroom, where students can take control of their own learning.
I call this “Personalised Learning”. It means students understand “how they learn, what they learn and what drives their learning”.
Students now have to learn their learning needs, their interests, and their capability to determine the pace of learning. In this environment, the advantage of technology is that students can use the content and be the experts in their subjects of interest, which society demands for a worthwhile career, assisted by their teachers. They can create content they need for the future with the resources that have not traditionally been thought of as part of the schooling system. Education must be able to provide how to think like a mathematician, like a historian, like an environmentalist.
Education for the future?
We face unprecedented challenges – social, economic, environmental – driven by war, accelerated social integration, women not being allowed an education, globalisation and a faster rate of technological development.
These challenges are at the same time providing new opportunities for advancement.
Change is the only constant in our present lives. The future seems uncertain. Schools of the future should be able provide the skills, attitudes and values to thrive students to shape their world.
There is no forward thinking in education at present in our education system. There is no ability driven education. The days are gone when specialisation in career education was required. Today, students must be given a challenge to find out for themselves how humanity will address the problems of the future, including those linked with sustainability, globalisation, non-globalisation, citizenship and enterprise.
We in Sri Lanka do not allow our students to think about their future lives, the interests they have ingrained, and the challenges they have to meet head on.
Let us go back in time to education among Sinhalese and Tamils some 50 odd years ago, why, that far, say some 30 years ago. Most Sinhala students were generally very good in spoken English and literature; Tamils were predominantly scientifically minded, excelled in Maths and Science, and had an aptitude for theories. Both wanted to be Engineers, Doctors, and Accountants. Today, it seems students are all satisfied with ordinary jobs.
Have our students within a generation or two, “lost their brains”? Have they “lost their ambition”? Has society forced them to be complacent? Has our recent history made us indolent, not enterprising?
What kind of people do we hope our students will become by the time they leave school in 2030? What kind of career jobs will be open to them when they leave school? Will they have to create their own jobs, or fit into the market niche?
These are some of the serious questions that educators in our land have to address themselves. We know each of our students have hidden talents, which need to be explored and teachers must be able to be talent scouts.
We need to explore the advantage of expertise in technology. To navigate through such uncertainty, students of today first need discipline, they need curiosity, imagination, and resilience. They will need to cope with failure and rejection. They need to move forward in the face of adversity. Their motivation will be more than getting a good job, a high income.
Challenges are not new. Sri Lankans had many hurdles to overcome. Sinhalese students went abroad to advance their professional skills. Tamils who were uprooted and went as refugees abroad, were forced to learn a new language, German, French and or spoken English, to survive.
Today, all students needed to think of their new environment, either in the land of tomorrow in Sri Lanka, or abroad, how they are going to cope with “climate change,” with new types of disease, with sustainable living. They need to shape their own lives and contribute to the lives of others, to make life meaningful.
The risks and rewards of education in today’s world are many. Educators in Sri Lanka have a duty to think well ahead into the future and provide an education for a “future ready society”.