Should the Grade five exam be scrapped? | Sunday Observer

Should the Grade five exam be scrapped?

27 January, 2019

A debate whether the government should go ahead or scrap the Grade five scholarship examination is on currently with the Minister of Education, Akila Viraj Kariyawasam saying that the Grade five scholarship examinations will be cancelled or made optional soon.

The Sunday Observer spoke to the Secretary, Ministry of Education, Padmasiri Jayamanne who said that the Education Ministry is in the process offinding a solution to the issues faced by Grade five students.

“A lot of pressure is applied on students facing the scholarship exams by various parties. Currently we are in discussion with psychologists and educationalists to bring a solution to the issue.

The final decision will be announced in two weeks. However, we will not cancel the exams. With certain modifications we will make the exams optional .

The purpose of the exam is to admit bright students to city schools and to provide the economically disadvantaged students with bursaries. The exam has its pros and cons. We will be coming to an acceptable solution very soon.

Rural schools can be developed. Then gradually parents’ attitudes will change. My advice to parents is not to pressurize children,” said Jayamanne.

Paediatrician’s study

According to a recent study conducted by Paediatrician, Dr. P.M. Jayawardena, it has been revealed that children are under tremendous pressure to do well in studies at a very young age. They lack playtime owing to the highly-competitive Grade five scholarship examination.

The study says that heavy pressure affects the hippocampus of the brain, and takes its toll on future academic activities of children. Itgoes on to add that children are deprived of an opportunity to play and engage in recreation due to the scholarship examination. Out of 360,000 students who sit the examination, only around 15,000 achieve the cut-off mark, the report reveals.

According to the report, the disadvantages of the exam outweigh the advantages by eight to two. The opportunity to choose a prominent school and the scholarships to study in those schools are the only advantages of the exam, Dr. Jayawardena’s report says.

Personal experience

A recent Arts graduate from the University of Peradeniya spoke to the Sunday Observer about her personal experience in facing the Grade Five Scholarship exam. “I sat for my scholarship exams in 2004 but unfortunately got three marks less than the cut-off mark. I was very upset about it at that time. According to my opinion this is a highly competitive examination which I consider a ‘Mother’s Examination’.

Children are forced at a very young age to memorise a heavy load. Parents prepare their children from Grade one to face this exam. Childhood cannot be enjoyed due to this pressure. The government should reduce the content of the exam syllabus. Children go for tuition classes from Grade three leading to a destruction of their childhood,” she said.

According to Principal, B.T.S. College, Dadalla, Galle, P.T. Hapugoda, it is good if the Ministry of Education takes steps to cancel the scholarship exam. “Children are pressurised from early grades to prepare for this exam. It would have been better if the exams were in Grade eight or nine. This exam is more beneficial for rural and poor region schools as those students can enter the popular city schools with facilities.

In Sri Lanka’s education system, children are trained to memorise books. The system leads to the downfall of practical values in children. I have experienced in my school that children are unable to react in practical and day to day situations due to this system of memorising,” Hapugoda said.

However, a parent from Gampaha, A.I. Bamunuarachchi, had positive views on the exam. He said, “My son got through his scholarship exams in 2015 from Nalanda Madya Maha Vidyalaya, Minuwangoda. I am happy to say that he gained admission to Royal College, Colombo.

“My son is good in extra-curricular activities too. His former school does not have any facilities. The scholarship exam is a way for talented students to enter schools with facilities. The Education Ministry can do modifications to this exam, but it should not be cancelled.”

Low scores

Clinical Psychiatrist, Government Base Hospital, Kiribathgoda and Lecturer in Child Psychology and Psychiatry, Dr. N. Kumaranayake said that the majority are not happy with the scholarship exam. Children who achieve the cut-off marks are highly appreciated. What happens to those who could not score?, he questions.

“They end up isolated and in failure moods. I believe that the time, money and effort spent by children and parents on this exam is a waste,” he said.

“I met a child with the symptoms of headache, irritability and utter frustration due to the heavy workload foisted upon him by his school. He is preparing for the scholarships exam now. According to his mother, he leaves home early to school and comes back around 6 pm.

The school has made it compulsory that students participate in evening scholarship classes. He was a good badminton player, but now has no time to play. Whenever he takes a book to read, he feels sleepy with a heavy headache.

His scores gradually dropped in the last few terms. He was taken to many doctors to check on his headaches, but had no improvement. After he was brought to me, I reviewed his history to find that he is suffering from Generalised Anxiety Disorder due to too much stress. We had to confront his parents and school about the situation.

We made his mother stop sending him to the school’s extra classes and made it a priority to restart his badminton classes. We began treating the mother for depression and she gradually stopped nagging the son. His headache stopped and his grades increased progressively. This is a prevailing predicament in our country,” he said.

“As a psychiatrist, I have seen a large number of children who are stressed out with Grade five exams. Most of them suffer anxiety related symptoms, mainly memory related, irritability, anger and sleeping disorders. These are symptoms of Generalised Anxiety Disorder. A research carried out by the Ministry of Health in Sri Lanka has shown that the main stress in most children was exam anxiety.”

Dr. Kumaranayake said that parents, teachers and the education system are responsible for the stress faced by children. “More than children, parents and teachers stress out at exams. Teachers are in a competitive frame to show good results for their schools as is expected and respected by the Education Ministry.

The Ministry is partly responsible for the psychological damage caused to the children of our country. Only a few people understand the psychological suffering inflicted on the children, teachers and parents of our country. I have come across many parents who were suffering from Mental Depression with the symptoms lack of energy, poor appetite, poor sleep and negative thoughts with irritability due to this exam.

Most parents don’t realise the stress and depression they undergo and instead due to utter desperation they would further pressurise their children,” he said.

Hippocampus of children

Scientists have discovered that the hippocampus of children thrust on higher levels of stress shrunk. The hippocampus is a brain structure that assists in storing and sorting memory and emotion. The withered hippocampus may make children less able to deal with stress and will increase anxiety.

A study published in the journal Paedriatrics also revealed that stressed children had higher levels of cortisol (a stress hormone). According to British psychotherapist and the author of Why Love Matters: How Affection Shapes a Child’s Brain, Sue Gerdhardt, in normal situations, cortisol production is not harmful, but if a child is left uncomforted for too long or exposed excessively to a stressful situation, the cortisol levels will spike. This is linked to depression and anxiety, and, alternately, to violence and aggression.

According to a spokesman for the Examinations Department, only around 10 percent of students who sit the exam obtain sufficient marks to qualify for bursaries and to apply for better schools, each year.

One may well argue that the government should improve the standards of the rural schools. That is not something that will happen soon. It is not ethical to subject some 360,000 ten-year-olds every year to this harassment.