Mandatory education policy, solution to reduce school dropouts | Sunday Observer

Mandatory education policy, solution to reduce school dropouts

17 September, 2017

The latest round of Child Activity Survey was conducted by the Department of Census and Statistics (DCS) in 2016 and the report was published in February 2017. “The survey covered the whole country and collected data related to children in the age group of 5-17 in areas of schooling, working conditions, child labour, health and living conditions. The data collection was carried out from January to May 2016. According to the survey the number of children who had not attended school from January to May 2016 amounted to 452,661.“This does not mean that all of these students have stopped schooling. A majority of 236,819 out of 452,661 students were awaiting the G.C.E O/L results and most of them started schooling after the results were released,” said Minister of Education, Akila Viraj Kariyawasam.

Every year 120,000 students drop out without going in for higher studies. A discussion on school dropouts which is a critical issue was held by Minister Kariyawasam and the Ministry officials at the Ministry of Education, recently.

Minister Kariyawasam said, “The 13 years of mandatory education policy is implemented as a solution to reduce school dropouts. The pilot project which is to be implemented from next month will give an opportunity to children below average in their studies to gain professional qualification and succeed in life. It is a good program which will add value to the free education system. This is a way to bring back the students to school and ensure that all students reach a professional level. The disabled, sick and the financially unsound students will be provided money by the government.”

Lakshmi from Hatton left school when she was 13 years. When asked why she dropped out of school, she said, “I had to leave school due to financial difficulties. I performed well in studies and still remember the day I left school. I cried a lot because I knew that my future is going to be dark. My father died when I was three years. My mother took care of me and my two brothers. Now my mother is ailing and unable to work at the tea estates. She could not afford to send me to school as the subjects were becoming expensive. I needed more books when I was promoted to Grade nine and we did not have the money. Now I work as a housemaid in Kandy.”

“Around 14,922 children are not attending schools due to financial problems. We expect to provide them special allowances under the foster parent’s scheme, in the future. This will be included in Budget 2018 as a proposal, after discussions with the Finance Minister. According to the survey, around 77,730 students were not interested in formal education. They may enter other streams like vocational training or the labour force. However, the Education Ministry has set up supervisory committees with the help of Grama Niladhari officers, Police officers, Midwives and Development Officers with the aim of sending these students back to school,” said Minister Kariyawasam.

“From 2018 onwards, students who fail the GCE O/L examination will be given an opportunity to sit the GCE (A/L). This will be implemented as a pilot project and students who have faced the O/L exam this year will be given an opportunity to select three subjects out of 26 subjects. They can select a subject of their choice from those available in their schools. The idea is to highlight the child’s hidden talents. An important issue is that any inborn talents in children cannot be measured through the GCE O/L or A/L examinations. Therefore, under the 13 year mandatory education policy, students have the opportunity to select their desired subjects based on their skills and talents,” the Minister further explained.

A government school teacher from the North said, “Children drop out of school because they are unable to study the subjects. Not everyone can be an academic, there are several fields out there and children need to be able to choose from these other areas. Our current examination system is not for everybody. Exams are hard, that is why many fail. Psychologically, a child gets discouraged and deflated when the child has to go out from school after the 0/Ls. The 13 year mandatory education policy to be introduced as a pilot project from next month will definitely, morally boost the child to remain in school.”

According to the Child Activity Survey, the estimated total number of children in the age group of 5-17 in 2016 is approximately 4.6 million. Of that about 2.30 million (50.5%) are males and 2.26 million (49.5%) females. When the three different age groups are considered, a majority of them, 55.6% are in the age group 5-11, about 23.4% in the 12-14 age group and 21% in the 15-17 age group.

The current school attendance status of children is allied to the period of the survey. Those attending school during the survey are considered as ‘Currently attending school’ and those not attending during the survey are considered as ‘Currently not attending school.’ The survey reported that out of an estimated 4,571,442 children in the age group of 5-17 in Sri Lanka, 4,118,781 (90.1%) currently attend school.

UNICEF reports that though girls were more interested in studying than boys, socio-cultural barriers in certain ethnic groups such as, the Tamils in the plantation areas and Moors/Malays, kept them out of school. The girls were either employed in domestic work at an early age or married off. The availability of water and sanitation facilities in schools could also have an impact on children’s schooling. “Nearly 43 percent of schools had access to water from wells, 28 percent had tap water and 17 percent had no water facilities,” the reports say.

There are about 17.2% who are not willing to continue formal education and some of them may enter other streams such as, vocational training, or the labour force. It was revealed in the survey that out of 452,661 currently not attending school, 51,249 children have never attended school during the period referred, due to disability or chronic illness.

The report was jointly prepared by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the Department of Census and Statistics of Sri Lanka (DCS).