Better run schools pledged with new Education Act

By Nadia Fazlulhaq

Educationists are expected to welcome the revised Education Act, which promises greater transparency while addressing all aspects of primary and secondary school education.

According to Ministry of Education sources, the new Act will see a restructuring of the schools system. Curricula and examinations will be modified; resources allocated in a fair way, and the recruitment of teachers and school principals will be more closely monitored.

Dr. G. B. Gunawardena, chairman of the National Committee for the New Education Act and vice-chairman of the National Education Commission, said the Education Ordinance of 1939 was outdated, and a new Education Act that reflected the country’s current education was long overdue.

Dr. Gunawardena said the main aim of the New Act was to address disparities in the schools system. “There are 717 schools that have less than 25 students each, and these schools lack basic facilities, while 258 schools have less than 15 students,” he said.

Many of the less-privileged schools will be converted into primary schools, while national schools will be re-named secondary or senior schools. Private and international schools will come under the Education Ministry’s purview. “There is a need to regularise private and international schools,” Dr. Gunawardena said.

The school curriculum will be revised to make it more assessment-oriented than exam-oriented. “The present curriculum is essentially geared to exams, and that approach tends to neglect the development of the child,” he said.

Teachers recruited should have some teaching experience. “About 28,000 graduates recently signed on as teachers, but most of them have no teaching qualifications or classroom experience. Teacher placement is a huge issue. There are 215,000 teachers in the country.”

Dr. Gunawardena said Sri Lanka’s teacher-student ratio was 1 to 19, while in most countries the ratio is 1 to 35. The new Act will also widen the age range of children entitled to a government-paid education from five-to-14 to five-to-16 years.

The Act will reflect changes in the recruitment, placement, promotion and remuneration of teachers, and a code of ethics will be in place. The post of school principal will be determined by seniority and performance. Political appointments will not be permitted.

Referring to resources for schools, Dr. Gunawardena said the state provided 90 percent of the funds required by schools. Most of the money is spent on staff salaries, and the development of schools is largely supported by donors and international organisations.

Dr. Gunawardena said the New Act will also bring much-needed order to the education system. “At present, there is no co-ordination and no monitoring,” he said.

Transparency will allow parents and the public to observe how school resources were being utilised.

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