Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 20 November 2011





Marriage Proposals
Government Gazette

Technical stream for university entrance :

New GCE A/L, O/L curriculum from 2013

Until an arrangement is finalised, we are ready to assist schools with term test papers. As an alternative arrangement we could help schools fine tune their term test papers. Schools could send us the edited set of papers and we could get our experts to look into them. The papers should be sent to the Research and Development Unit of the Examinations Department.

Anura Edirisinghe

The Examinations Commissioner General Anura Edirisinghe says the GCE Ordinary Level and Advanced Level curriculum and evaluation methods will undergo major changes shortly to produce an employable workforce that could contribute effectively to the country's development in the future.

In an interview with the Sunday Observer he said, ”When 300,000 students sitting the GCE A/L examination each year, and 150,000 fail to reach required competency levels, the question is then, do we have to sustain a testing system that fails 50 percent of the candidates?“

Revisions to the curriculum and syllabus have been recommended by a panel comprising university professors, educationalists and other stake olders in accordance with the multiple intelligence theory of renowned educationalist Prof. Howard Gardner.

Q: What are the changes proposed in the new Advanced Level curriculum that is to be implemented shortly?

A: At the moment a common syllabus is offered at the GCE Ordinary Level. Six subjects; Mathematics, Science, English, the mother tongue, religion and history are compulsory for students. In addition there are three baskets, with aesthetic, technical and other subjects. School candidates have to select from these three baskets. Every student has to sit for the same syllabus. To pursue higher studies students must obtain six ordinary passes including Mathematics and the mother tongue and three credit passes at the Ordinary Level examination

Many have protested against this existing system as being discriminatory. According to world-renowned American educationalist, Prof. Howard Gardener's theory which speaks of multiple intelligence, children have different aptitude Levels in different subjects like Mathematics, Science and Music. The brain performs in patterns unique to each individual. There can be exceptional cases with multiple talent and aptitudes but according to our syllabus and evaluation system we expect students to reach identical aptitudes in Mathematics or Aesthetic subjects. More, often than not, they will be sent home as dropouts.

Q: What were the pressing issues that pushed the authorities into revising the curriculum and the syllabus?

A: When we get 300,000 students sitting the GCE A/L examination each year and 150,000 of them fail to reach required competency Levels. The question remains then, do we have to sustain a testing system that fails 50 percent of the candidates? We have decided, in consultation with university professors, educationalists and other stakeholders, to formulate a new evaluation system that will fit in with Prof. Gardner's multiple intelligence theory.

The National Education Commission (NEC) at the moment is inactive. The NEC is responsible for changes to the examination structure at national Level. Due to this inaction, the Education Minister appointed a special committee one and a half years ago to look into the shortcomings in the education sector. The proposals are the results of these deliberations.

The experts who were associated with this committee included, engineers, doctors, teacher unions, educationalists and the public. We will go for a five subject stream, Mathematics, Science, Commerce, Arts and Technical as early as the GCE Ordinary Level. The Arts stream will cover aesthetic subjects as well. A candidate who will be sitting the Ordinary Level examination, will have to choose between these streams in Grade Ten itself. A special test may be held at the end of grade nine to select students. During our time this was the norm. Students had the opportunity to master their Advanced Level subjects from grade ten and get a better grasp on what they will be learning for the Advanced Level.

Q: Will the Ordinary Level syllabus undergo a major change as a result?

A Yes it will be completely revised. Children who want to study Science subjects in the Advanced Level will have to choose a simplified version of Bio-science, Chemistry and Physics at Ordinary Level among five other compulsory subjects including the mother tongue, History, English, Health and Physical Education. Children hoping to pursue Arts and Commerce subjects at A/L will have to sit for a simplified Science and mathematics paper at the Ordinary Level examination. At present there are 60 odd subjects in the Ordinary Level curriculum. This will be reduced to about 40 subjects, once the new curriculum is introduced.

There is no technical stream at the Advanced Level at present. A new set of technical subjects that can be pursued at university level has to be evolved, before the new curriculum is implemented. This is the biggest hurdle we have to overcome. Even the universities will have to make necessary adjustments to accommodate courses in technical studies.

At the evaluation process, we have to check competencies. We don't evaluate the activities of the child in relation to the subjects they follow. A child's skills and activities and potentials are not given consideration at present. According to the proposed evaluation system, these factors will be given a certain amount of marks or points. We have not yet set norms but school performance may be given 50 marks and 50 marks for the written examination.

Q: Will these changes be effected from Grade Six ? Any changes to the Grade Six syllabus?

A: The tentative plan of the education minister is to introduce this to Grade Ten from 2013 on which the Cabinet of ministers and President Mahinda Rajapaksa has been duly briefed. The selection to different streams will have to be completed at the end of 2012.

The objective is to produce a workforce that is required to usher the country to its intended development target in the future, to minimize the mismatch between the job market and school leavers and graduates.

Today at least 45 percent of candidates fail the Ordinary Level mathematics paper. According to the Howard Gardner theory, everyone is not competent in mathematics. We have to identify the different skills and aptitudes of children and show them the path to master inborn skills. What the present system does is just the opposite.

Q: But isn't it possible that the proportion of failures could be due to the structure of the paper or some mismatch between the syllabus and the evaluation method?

A: We carried out a survey last year. Following this we extended the duration of the Mathematics paper from two hours to two and a half hours in 2010. This was made after a thorough examination of the test paper. But even after that 45% failures were recorded.

Q: Will there be major changes to A/L syllabus once the new curriculum is brought in?

A: No not until 2015. There will be a modified syllabus for the batch of O/L students who sit the exam in 2015 under the revised structure. The introduction of Technical subjects to the Advanced Level will also be made in 2015. This is to ensure that children get the maximum opportunity to carve out their future in school itself. Parents should stop compelling children to follow defined professional courses. Parents must strive to recognise children's inborn talents and guide them towards excellence in that particular path. We have to make this endeavour possible. This is one of the biggest expectations of Education Minister Bandula Gunawardena.

Q: The Department held the first Advanced Level examination under the new syllabus in August this year ?

A: The GCE A/L examination was held in August this year under the old syllabus and the new syllabus. Yes, this year we held the first GCE A/L exam under the new syllabus. The examination under the old syllabus will be held for the last time next year, for the benefit of repeat students.

We are evaluating children's competencies and national performance at this examination. It is not a university entrance examination. This is the final hurdle of a students' general education. The syllabus was composed to fulfil these objectives. There were 147,000 candidates under the new syllabus, this included 5,000 students from private schools. This group will also be regarded as school candidates. Over 140,000 candidates sat for the examination under the old syllabus.

Q:Is there a way for the final term test papers of schools to be compiled by the Examinations Department? At the moment individual schools have to prepare their own question papers. It affects the uniformity of the evaluation process and creates a staggered aptitude levels of children. Moreover, test papers are full of mistakes, especially in question papers for English medium students.

A: A committee has decided that schools in the same neighbourhood must get into a cluster and develop their own term test papers. This is the usual pattern the things work out now.

Close on the heels of the national examinations, the Examinations Department conducts seminars and has model question papers for the GCE O/L and A/L candidates to prepare them for the national examination.

International schools and private schools are not under the purview of the Education Ministry. Candidates sitting from these schools for the local O/L and A/L examinations sit as private candidates. But it is compulsory for them to register with the Examinations Department and we maintain a data bank of these schools.

Q: Is there a possibility for at least final term test papers to be printed for State schools by the Department to maintain standards?

A: This issues arise because schools fail to take effort to maintain standards. Our examination panels proof-read the final draft at least 16 times before it goes to the press. It will be a massive task to take over printing of term test papers of over 9000 schools. If we do this, not just the printing, but also the storing and distribution part has to be taken care of.

The Education Minister has proposed to prepare a question bank for schools to use in term tests. These questions are to be prepared by examination panels within the Department so that a uniform term test paper can be offered in all State and semi government schools.

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