New Education Policy: School admission at age 4+ and truncated at Grade 12 | Sunday Observer

New Education Policy: School admission at age 4+ and truncated at Grade 12

Shiyana Nasim and Prof. Lakshman Jayathilake
Shiyana Nasim and Prof. Lakshman Jayathilake

Lowering the mandatory school starting age to four could trigger stress and anxiety among both, children and parents, according to some experts in the education sector.

The National Education Commission (NEC) recently proposed that children be admitted to school at age 4+ and school education be truncated at Grade 12.

Responding to this proposal, experts told the Sunday Observer that the new policy making decision should be an open discussion.

According to Chairman NEC, Prof. Lakshman Jayathilake, President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe have agreed to submit their proposal to the Cabinet as an action plan and work collaboratively with the relevant sections such as, Education Ministry, National Institute of Education, Department of Publications and the Examinations Department.

Prof Jayathilake says, the new policy has been proposed in an attempt to minimize unruly behaviour among adult children.

“Keeping adult children of 18 years in school is not good for maintaining discipline within schools. Currently, we see how adult children behave during various events. Therefore, we have made a suggestion that school education should be truncated at Grade 12 and add a year as pre-school or kindergarten to admit children at age 4+. This could be the primary school or a separate entity run by the government. These are internationally accepted standards. The early stage of education is most effective in inculcating educational behaviour. We submitted proposals on a General Education policy including the above to the President and the Prime Minister recently,” said Prof. Jayathilake.

The Sunday Observer interviewed a cross section of experts in the education sector and parents, to get their opinions on the proposed policy.

Shiyana Nasim, an A/L teacher at Girls’ High School, Kandy said, “At present children are manageable and adherent to school education up to Grade 12. After Grade 12, children refuse to accept school teachers, are less cooperative and do not adhere to school rules, especially clever students seek more than school education. They go in search of tuition classes. Nowadays, tuition classes are also a mode of escape for Grade 13 students. Psychologically, tuition classes have become a need for children. When students get promoted to Grade 13, they become mischievous, seek adventure, interact with people, find boyfriends and girlfriends and integrate into society. They like to take part in social events and overall have no liking for school after Grade 12, she said.

Nasim said she has noticed that children of 18 have started to lose the need for school and leave their childhood behind. “ I totally agree to the new education policy to truncate school education at Grade 12. Children of 18 show insolence and disregard for teachers. The new policy is definitely an attempt to minimize unruly behaviour among adult children,” Nasim said. She says the reasons for such unruly behaviour in adult children could be attributed to the advancement of technology. “There is far too much access to social media, a lot of independence and knowledge through the internet. In Grade 13, half the students stay away from school after December. I always advice second year A/L students and put them on the right track. Admitting students to school at age 4+ is good but there are doubts whether it would be successful. Children have to wake up early, get used to a lot of rules , regulations and a time table, which is a little difficult at 4+,” she said.

Senior Lecturer and Head of History Department, University of Colombo, and former Chairman, Federation of University Teachers’ Association (FUTA) and a prominent political activist, Dr. Nirmal Ranjith Dewasiri said, “The National Education Commission which makes policies has studied the problems in the education sector. I have discussed a lot of things with them regarding the policies. Anyway I am not yet convinced with them. The decision of new policy making should be an open discussion. Education authorities recently proposed various policies and there was a lot of critical arguments regarding these new policies.”

He said, “None of the arguments or opinions of experts in the education field were taken into consideration. Education authorities think they know everything and do not care about our views. We have discussed this issue with the Education Minister as well. If the authorities are serious about the new policies, they should inform the public clearly. They should inform the public the proper solutions, and the public should know on what basis the solutions come up. The problems are larger than the authorities think. There is no use in our comments, because they do not consider them.”

President, Senior Citizens Movement, Mahanuwara, former Secretary Education, Dr. Sudath Gunasekara expressing his views on the new policy over the open web says it is not a bad idea to start education at 4 years going by International standards and truncate school education, at Grade 12, but the authorities should remember the suitability of so-called international to local conditions.

He says, “We have to be careful before we jump into conclusions about the suitability of such models to local conditions. First, we have to find out the scope of the research base where and how many countries it has covered and whether it is compatible with our socio cultural environment. They cannot always be used as blanket standards to countries world over because these values often tend to change from country to country and even from area to area. My experience in the agricultural field in this country has proved this. As such it may be worthwhile to have a couple of trial tests before we adopt such findings. Sometimes the proposed remedy could be even worse than the malady.”

“The proposal to have pre-schools or kindergarten schools to admit children at age 4+ as primary school or a separate entities run by the government might bring in more problems than expected. They would need additional buildings, staff and other facilities. As things happen in this country the government might jump at the idea of a separate Ministry, Minister, a department and staff. This means additional expenditure. I doubt whether the government that has failed to repair a 100 year old school like Sirimalwatta in the Kandy District that collapsed on the heads of its children recently, would be in a position to find thousands of new buildings and billions of rupees for the new proposal. Instead, why not have a Kindergarten class as in the olden days and provide them with trained teachers, perhaps, with little extensions to existing buildings,” Dr. Gunasekara says.

He said, the other argument that it is ‘a move to minimize unruly behaviour among adult students, and having children over 18 in Grade 13, in schools is not good for maintaining discipline in schools’ seems to have no substance because maintaining discipline in schools, is a matter for the Principals. “If suitable persons are appointed as Principals, among other requisites, and allowed to run them without political interference, this problem could be easily solved. Student discipline is a more complicated subject and has to be addressed within a broader framework. Has anyone ever heard of schoolchildren going on strike in the olden days? If you treat children as children and make them aware of their responsibilities and duties, they will not revolt and behave like animals. Teachers, at all level have to treat their students like their own children,” he says.

“The practice of appointing political Principals, often unqualified for teaching or school administration as is done now should be immediately stopped. Political parties and University teachers must refrain from using students as cat’s paws to meet their political ends. Discipline has to be installed among them through better understanding, without first using force, often, without listening to them and, trying to settle them with intolerance of their grievances. Where lies the intelligence and wisdom of our educational authorities and politicians who are in charge of the future destiny of our children?,” he questions.

Educationist, Jezima Ismail said, “The teaching methodology is different in pre-schools and the schedule and timetable too differ when compared to normal school routine. If children are admitted to school at age 4+, will the teachers and the curriculum be transformed for this age group? Can this be done? Admitting pre-school students to normal schooling can have a negative impact on education,” she said.

“Why should pre-school education be interfered with? Why should the government add a year as pre-school or kindergarten to all government schools? Too many new policies carried out simultaneously does not get stabilized. There should be preparations and we should enhance the quality of whatever we already have before making new changes. The government should do things step by step. Pre-school education is extremely important. Adding pre-school to normal school routine will bring problems. First we have to finish one policy and then start the other,” Jezima Ismail said.

Nithya Lakshmi, a parent from Kandy said, “Truncating school education at Grade 12 is a good move. Students pass out from the Universities at the age of 25. If the education period is shortened, the students can pass out at a younger age. Sri lanka does not have a standard primary education system at present so it is a good move by the government to start schooling at an early age.”

“At the same time, the education authorities should make sure that the standards and quality of education is well maintained. Does the government have enough pre-school teachers with training? The Divisional Secretariats conduct Montessori courses for a period of 6 months which I feel is not effective as I have experienced it. We do not receive a proper training here. Most of the time, the school leavers follow this course. It is psychologically proven that children have capability to grasp more knowledge within 1-5 years so the government’s initiative to start the education at an early age would help to produce pragmatic children, she said.

Melissa de Silva, a Montessori teacher from Galle said, “Montessori education is for children from 2 ½ to 6 years. Children are able to grasp a lot during that age. Age 4+ is not the real age for children to start the normal school education system. Children need individual help at age 4+ and if a child of this age enters the normal school it might not be practical . In school they teach in groups which system does not suit children aged 4+. Activities should be presented to the children and they should be allowed to play. Will the normal school system help do this? What will happen to the prevailing private Montessoris island wide? Will the private Montessori teachers lose their jobs? A clear explanation regarding this should be given by the education authorities to the public.” 

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