How ICT can help Education in Sri Lanka



By Dr. Manodha Gamage


Digital Economy is rightly a buzz word in Sri Lanka too, though we are not really geared up in achieving the benefits of it in full scale. It is good that the government has realized the importance of digitization though we are yet to see some important policies supporting it. Digital Infrastructure with ICT and broadband can help almost all the sectors such as Education, Agriculture, Finance, Retail & Trade, Health, Transport, Power & Energy, all Government Services etc. to improve the efficiency & effectiveness to achieve economic growth of the country under difficult situations.


In this article I would address "H ow ICT and digitization can help Education "in Sri Lanka with the correct policies and deployments.


What we have today in Sri Lanka is an exam oriented education and we need to get rid of this ASAP. What we need is Knowledge Based Education that encourages and train children at young age for critical thinking, research, innovation, creativity, problem solving etc. One of the main objectives of education should be to make a responsible & disciplined citizen, who can solve problems to help the mankind. Education should be student centric and NOT teachers/parents centric. I recently heard that government is interested in making our education system similar to education system of Finland. My understanding is that we are very far off from the Finish education system. ALL schools in Finland are equal and therefore always kids study in the nearest school (in other words the school you study is immaterial when it comes to employment/recognition/quality & Opportunities), NO homework, NO national exams, schools are open only for 3-4 hours of classroom teaching etc. The recently published concept of the present government "Nearest School is the Bes t"is very important for the country and achieving it faster is even more important. In my opinion, using ICT for education would help us to achieve it faster.


Change from Exam Oriented Education to Knowledge based Education:


First we need to understand the reasons for huge competition that exist at national exams, especially grade 5 scholarship exam, O/L and A/L exams, before trying to propose any changes. In a way, parents are compelled to push their children to pass grade 5 scholarship & O/L exams well at any cost to get admission to a good school for the rest of the education of the child as the school you study matters a lot when it comes to future opportunities. It is needless to discuss how the childhood is destroyed in the processes of passing this scholarship exam. Therefore these exams can be eliminated only by eliminating the quality differences of all schools. The quality of education and future opportunities should be same irrespective the school you attend. In that context the government concept of "Nearest School is the Bes t"is the correct policy, but how long will it take to bring all schools in the country to the same level of Royal College or Vishaka Vidyalaya in Colombo? Can we ever realize that dream? The only way to achieve this within an acceptable time period is by Virtualizing schools using ICT.


How to virtualize a school:


In order to virtualize schools, all what you need are ICT solutions such as a Learning Management System (LMS), Digitized Content of courses, Infrastructure such as Broadband connections, Internet connectivity, WiFi etc., Smart devices such as laptops, tablets, smart phones etc. and Trained teachers to support these ICT systems. If you virtualize schools any kid can attend "Virtual Royal College", though only limited numbers can physically attend the same school. ICT can help to increase the physically attended students to the popular schools around the country as well. The government as a policy should use only 100% locally developed ICT solutions such as LMS as it would help the economy drastically.


In the past, before the Internet and Information era, the only major source of information for the kids was the teacher, but in the digitized world, in an information era, just like any other profession the job function of a teacher has changed as there are many information sources for kids, other than the teacher .The teacher’s role is more of facilitating & guiding for education and sharing experiences. Therefore I believe kids don’t have to go to school 5 days a week,may be 3 days a week is enough and 2 other days they should work from homes individually or as groups using the LMS and the Internet. This means you can have one group schooling from Monday to Wednesday and another group from Thursday to Saturday. By doing this we can have two batches for each grade at least in so called popular schools throughout the country, until we achieve the dream of "Nearest School is the Bes t". Like in Finland it’s enough to conduct schools for maximum of 4 hours a day,w e can finish schools by 12noon and start another batch in the evening from 1 – 5pm. If we do make such changes we can make the physical intakes of popular schools four (4) times the intake today without increasing much of physical resources. This would enable to eliminate the Grade 5 scholarship exam easily and faster. Ideally there should not be any term tests for kids till they are about 16 years old. Instead we can give them group work and then let them do presentations, write reports, do projects, make prototypes etc. appropriately. LMS and Internet facilities would help the teachers and students to interact easily with mobility in the cyber space. This would help us to eliminate typical homework as well. We can affiliate many schools in remote areas (such as Hermann Gmeiner School - Kesbewa, Arawwalla Vidyaloka MV, Phillip Attigala Vidyalaya – Kesbewa) with a leading popular school in the same district (such as Royal College, Ananda College, Vishaka Vidyalaya etc. in Colombo District) in an appropriate way. When children work from home or in groups outside school, the children studying at Royal College – Colombo, residing in Kebewa area can work with the children of the affiliated schools (say Hermann Gmeiner School, Phillip Attigala Vidyalaya – Kesbewa) of Royal College closer to their homes. This way the children of popular schools can collaborate to do their group work with children of lesser privileged remote schools near their homes, but using LMS the teachers of all schools can collaborate too.


Changes in Curricula:


In order to accommodate these enhancements in our education the curricula has to be changed drastically. In order to decide the best curricula for schools, we would have to first define the objectives of the school education. Certainly it is not passing exams, but it is in broad sense to create a "Responsible,Disciplined Citizen , who can solve problems ".Another would be to set the platform to become a very good professional in any field, without having to decide the future career, while you are schooling.


As of today it is mandatory to select streams (Mathematics, Bio Science, Commerce, Arts etc.) just after O/L. This means basically the students should decide their careers to be either Engineer, or Doctor or anything else just after O/L. But how come a 16 year old knows what he/she wants in his/her life? Therefore our A/L curriculum should be changed drastically and we should teach everybody further mathematics, biology, chemistry, physics, economics, accountancy, ICT, English etc. as they all are important to all professionals irrespective of the discipline. Deeper knowledge of each subject can be taught in the university after they decided the specialization. Even in the university the education has to be more general and let the students decide their specialization at a later stage from 2 nd year onwards. For example, all mathematics related courses should have a common first year and after the end of the year 1, they should be able to select engineering, physical sciences, technology, ICT etc. This way you can eliminate the competition of the present A/L examination and that would help the students to move from exam oriented education to knowledge based education. Also the leading national universities can be virtualized as explained earlier for schools and increase the student intake drastically.


Other Important Aspects of Deployment of ICT in Education:


It is very important that the Ministry of Telecommunications and Digital Infrastructure, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Higher education, Presidential Secretariat, TRCSL, ICTA etc. work very closely in deploying any ICT in education.


Since we wish to promote children to study from home, online at least 2 days a week, we need to build that ICT infrastructure for e-learning LMS), Island wide. This will be a solution for lack of teaching resources in very rural communities as the students of those schools can take the courses of leading schools via e-learning platform. First of all the responsible authorities should prepare a simple general specification for a LMS. There are few very good 100% locally developed e-learning platforms/LMS and they should be evaluated against the specification. Different selected regions can be can be allocated to each LMS provider and all schools in that region would use the same LMS. Since children should have the broadband & internet facilities to collaborate well and to use LMS, the government taxation and subsidiaries in broadband have to be revisited. Since most poor children cannot afford computers/smart devices and Internet, Government through TRCSL & ICTA should start community centers with broadband and Internet facilities where children can use in groups. Certainly the recent budget proposal to impose a fee of Rs.200,000/= for each tower of telecommunications operator would not be of any help as that would surely increase the cost of broadband internet depriving the internet for rural communities.


In conclusion, I strongly believe we need to make lot of changes in our education system as explained above. We need drastic changes in curricula, how we conduct lectures, how we evaluate, how we impart useful knowledge to children, how we discipline the future of this country etc. As an ICT consultant and an academic, I am 100% sure we can carefully deploy everything discussed here and by doing so we can achieve better collaboration among students, teachers, parents and industries. This would surely produce a more disciplined, responsible citizen who could help to solve most of the problems we face as a nation today.


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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