Suggestions to overcome shortcomings in secondary education | Sunday Observer

Suggestions to overcome shortcomings in secondary education

18 October, 2020

Prof. G.L.Peiris has hit the nail on the head when he spoke at the National Institute of Education last month: “Focus should be made on two areas, viz: the method of teaching and the school curriculum.

The present method of teaching does not focus on the development of a child’s analytical and critical thinking skills. The school curriculum should be revised”. On another occasion, after inspecting a classroom project at Susamayawardhana Maha Vidyalaya, Prof. Peiris said that the Government wants to create more opportunities for students to learn English. He also commented on the failure of the education system to produce youth capable of meeting current and growing requirements in the job market.

This article takes on from where Prof. G.L.Peiris has left, ie. We have made some recommendations to solve the problems that Prof. Peiris has raised.

There is intense stress for students; they have hardly any time to play or be engaged in extra-curricular activities. Their life is complicated by the necessity to attend tuition classes. They have to study nine subjects for the GCE (O/L) examination as opposed to seven subjects for students in England, Europe, Canada and Australia. The majority of graduates in the teaching profession do not have professional qualification (a Diploma in Education or a Teacher Training Certificate). There is a shortage of trained teachers.

Below is a plan to provide an all-round education to all Sri Lankan students.

1 The number of subjects studied for GCE (O/L) examination should be reduced to seven (Sinhala Language, English Language, Mathematics Studies, General Science, History, Religion and another subject).

Instead of taking nine subjects in the GCE (O/L) examination, students will be able to take seven subjects, thereby reducing their stress considerably.

Teaching seven subjects for the GCE (O/L) examination will provide a little space for teaching Computer Studies to all students. This subject should be internally assessed; there should be no homework set on it and there is no necessity to offer it as a subject for the GCE (O/L) examination. In many countries, students do not offer Computer Studies as a subject for the GCE (O/L) examination. All students follow a course in Typing and Computer studies and obtain a Diploma in that subject (eg.ICDL-International Computer Driving Licence) while still in school.

Maths Studies for the GCE (O/L) examination: There are students who have a little or no ability in mathematics and also others who do not need the use of Maths for their future studies. We suggest that they follow a course in Maths Studies in Grades 9-11 and sit the GCE (O/L) examination called ‘Maths Studies Exam’.

The Maths Studies course should aim to demonstrate some practical applications of mathematics and problem solving:eg. Percentages, use of compound interest formula, elementary statistics, including standard deviation, elementary probability, including permutations and combinations, use of the Z-Score formula and the Normal Curve (the bell shaped curve) and use of Spearman’s Rank Correlation formula (no proofs required in any of the formulae), plus elementary Arithmetic, Algebra, Geometry and simple Trigonometry of the Right Angled Triangle (some of which they have studied in the Middle School) plus emphasis on graphical work.

International Baccalaureate had a Maths Studies program from 1970 to 2018. Over a million ‘weak’ students all over the world have discovered that this course is within their capability and they have benefited by obtaining the IB Maths Studies Examination qualification.

Maths studies course will equip students with a few useful life Use of the compound interest formula will enable them to calculate in advance how much interest and the Amount of money that they will get in their Savings Book Account.

Simple exercises in permutations, combinations and probability will sharpen their ability to do critical thinking. The simple method of calculation using the Coefficient of Rank Correlation formula will enable them to compare two sets of statistical data and obtain a meaningful result. The simple Z-score formula also has practical applications.


2 iii/There is a shortage of trained English teachers. This problem is acute in rural areas. Sri Lanka cannot solve this problem alone. We need assistance from England, Australia and Canada to set up training colleges and to train our teachers to teach English.

Hats off to Ampara district SLPP candidate Kirti Sri Weerasinghe who contested the last parliamentary elections on the platform ‘make English a compulsory subject for all secondary school students in Sri Lanka’.

Six years of English (in Grades 6-11) taught by teachers, who are trained to teach English, will give students proficiency in English.

3 The need to revamp the overloaded GCE (O/L) syllabusesஇ: Dr. B.J.C.Perera (Specialist Consultant Paediatrician) has said that “Some of our secondary school students are forced to learn the minutiae of genetics that even a medical doctor is not expected to know”.

This is also true for some of the other subjects.

The need of the hour is for the Minister to constitute syllabus committees in the subjects comprising a few secondary school teachers who have over 20 years’ teaching experience in the subject.


4 CAS was introduced to 10 schools in Europe, UK and North America in 1970 by the International Baccalaureate Organisation. By 2010, it has spread to more than 5,000 secondary and high schools worldwide. Now it’s Sri Lanka’s turn to introduce it. CAS should be compulsory for all secondary school students.

This should be taught outside school hours.

C-Creativity. That is, learning to play a musical instrument or taking part in a theatre production or singing in a choir or doing painting or sculpture or pursuing a hobby, such as stamp collection or carpentry or metal work.

A-Activity includes playing football or basketball or badminton or tennis or cricket or hockey or swimming or athletics or any other sporting activity.

S-Service. For students in Grade 9-13 only. For example, giving tuition in English or Mathematics to a ‘weak’ student or to a handicapped child for 45 minutes during the weekend for free or baking a cake to sell the cake slices at a fund raising event for a worthy cause or visiting an orphanage occasionally and playing a musical instrument to entertain the orphans. That is, to undertake a project that involves community service. It is not necessary to do a service activity every week. The aim should be to do it about three times during the school year. The service component of CAS should be an enjoyable experience. Some students take part in service projects in Temple or in Church. These also count as service activities for CAS. It is the duty of the teachers to provide the students with some guidance on the choice of simple, easy to perform Service projects.

The students playing for the school cricket team or any other sports team have fulfilled their activity component of CAS. Similarly, the students who are members of the school band or dramatic society have fulfilled their creativity component.

CAS should be monitored by the school for each student. Each school should appoint at least one CAS Coordinator, ie. a competent teacher. He or she should not be a full-time teacher as it is a post or responsibility requiring many hours of work per week inside and outside school hours.

A CAS Coordinator should be paid a salary equivalent to that of a Deputy Principal.

The CAS Coordinator must ensure that, at the end of Grade 11, every student has worked on creativity, activity and service for at least a couple of years.


5 Extra heavy school bags carried by schoolchildren and the setting of homework. (i) install lockers (with at least one shelf inside) preferably close to classrooms. Lockers can be made of wood or metal, 45x10x10 inches or 20x15x15 inches (4,500 cubic inches per student).

(ii) Teachers should set homework a maximum of twice per week (ie. 2x20 minutes per week) in mathematics and only once per week (maximum of 30 minutes) in any other subject, making sure that a student gets no more than a total of one hour of homework per day. Some subjects require homework only once a fortnight. Some subjects do not require any homework at all.

(To be continued)