Burden of the GCE O/L will reduce | Sunday Observer

Burden of the GCE O/L will reduce

14 October, 2018

The government has taken a decision to lower the number of subjects that students have to offer at the G.C.E. Ordinary Level (O/L) Examination to six, for purposes of qualifying for the GCE (A levels) , while four other subjects are to be optional ( these will not be required for qualifying). Currently the O/L candidates are required to sit for nine subjects.

Minister of Education, Akila Viraj Kariyawasam says that the six core subjects are Religion and Value Education, First Language, Mathematics, Science, English Civics and History. “The other subjects will be Aesthetic Studies and other Languages or Technological Studies, Second National Language or Physical Education and Information and Communication Technology’.

The Minister said he hopes to implement the plan by 2020 and wishes to obtain public views on the recommendations before implementing the plan. “The objective of reducing the subjects is to enhance the creativity of children, rather than just preparing them for exams and making them answer questions by rote. The new system will provide a holistic education rather than just focusing on exams. “Discussions are under way with officials and experts on the proposals,” he added.

The Sunday Observer spoke to a few educational experts and a psychologist to get their opinion on the new proposals.

According to the Chairman, National Education Commission (NEC), Prof. Lakshman Jayathilake, who praised the attempt by the government to lower the number of Ordinary Level subjects, “It was my idea to reduce the number of subjects at the Advanced Level Examination from four to three, which is the requirement now. Our system is very stressful for children. It is a very good move to give an opportunity for students to select from the four optional subjects according to their desires, as in the foreign Edexcel Examination system,”.

Prof. Jayathilake believes that students should be given the opportunity to enjoy their childhood. ‘Children should be given the time to do what they enjoy, such as leisure time activities, adventure trips and sports.Physical development through sports is important’.

‘I am for things that reduce the burden on children, says Prof. Hemantha Senanayake, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Faculty of Medicine, University of Colombo and a Member of the University Grants Commission. Our whole education system is just study and reproduce. Every child memorises the books before an exam and as a University professor, I want to do away with this system.

I see a vast difference between our students and the foreign students who enter Sri Lankan Universities on an elective basis. Our children lack originality due to the pressure they face from childhood. Currently our children in schools are spoonfed with information which leads to a lack of originality, creativity and independent growth,’ he said.

‘In the current education system, children lack the ability to express themselves. Nowadays in our nursery schools, children are taught very difficult things that even an adult will not grasp easily. They are taught about geometric shapes and the intricate details of shapes and forms of a leaf. It is difficult for a child to cope. The nursery teachers believe that the children should be taught these things in preparation for the higher grades.

‘There is a huge burden on children as information is fed blindly and lateral thinking is not encouraged. Originality and innovativeness are killed’ says Prof. Senanayake.

Dr. N. Kumaranayake Clinical Psychiatrist, says that reducing the O/L examination subjects is the only solution for reducing anxiety and depression among children. “Studies have shown many children who face O/L’s and A/L’s are under severe stress. We conducted cross sectional surveys to screen for symptoms of anxiety and depression among students aged 14 - 18 during school mental health programs in Rathnapura.

Two schools were randomly selected within the Ratnapura Municipality (urban population of approx. 50,000), and all students aged 14-18 were assessed with self administered (pre tested, with Sinhala translations) questionnaires.

He said that a total of 445 students were assessed (male-54.4%, female 45.6%) and results showed 36 percent screened positive for depression (mild depression-17%, and severe depression-19%) while 28% screened positive for severe anxiety. Females screened positive for depression and anxiety significantly more than the males. Students in classes facing barrier examinations at the end of the year had the highest anxiety rates. Examination related issues (36%) were the most commonly cited problem.

Dr. Kumaranayake said that he conducted another study in the Colombo district schools among the 14-16 year olds. “The study indicates that increased personality maladjustment in the female gender are associated with test anxiety. It also shows that increased exam anxiety is associated with decreased academic performance,” he said.

A recent study by the Ministry of Health funded by UNICEF covering 22 district schools has revealed that major stress or anxiety facing our adolescents in Sri lanka, are related to exams. The Government of Sri Lanka provides free education in all public schools. However, given the limited resources, access to better schools and universities is subject to severe competition.

The two important barriers in examinations for a student are the G.C.E Ordinary Level examination (which determines entrance to G.C.E Advanced level) and the G.C.E Advanced Level examination which determines University entrance. The symptoms of anxiety and depression were most among students in these classes according to the Ministry of Health.

Stress can be identified as a multi-dimensional phenomenon that is focused on a dynamic relationship between the individuals and the environment, although some degree of stress are essential to stimulate and motivate individuals. It is well known that stress is associated with the development of anxiety and depression, and a relationship between stress, anxiety and depression is well established.

According to Dr. Kumaranayake reducing the number of subjects to six is not the only solution. The government and the relevant authorities should understand the other problems adolescents are facing.

According to a recent national survey by the Ministry of Health on the nature of adolescent problems, 63% of school going and 70% of non school going adolescents, had some attribute in themelves, that they did not like. 50% of school, and 75% of out of school adolescents, had some key worry. The percentage of students bullied one or more times during the past 30 days was 37.8 %. The percentage of students who felt very sad or hopeless almost every day for 2 weeks or more, during which time they stopped their activities,( within the past 12 months ) was 32.5%.

“Improving comprehensive program for adolescents and improving their mental health rather than only focusing on lowering the number of subjects for O/L ’s is important. Awareness on mental health issues can be improved by conducting training for teachers and students to improve the psychosocial environment, by training teachers on life skills, organizing life skill camps for children, developing facilities for team games, and awareness programs’, Dr. Kumaranayake explained.

‘However it is a good step’. The Education Ministry and the other relevant officials should collaborate to implement the new plan.