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Reopening schools in the New Normal: Key focus areas for Sri Lanka

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The decision to gradually reopen Sri Lankan schools – which have been shut for close to 20 months since COVID-19 first struck – is a welcome move. As of September 2021, 93% of countries had reopened schools either completely or partially, making Sri Lanka one of the last to do so. Previous IPS blogs have pointed to multiple access and quality issues facing the country’s distance education efforts, calling for the establishment of a comprehensive education recovery strategy for the future. The accompanying decision to devote the next six months from November 2021-April 2022 to recovering learning losses, giving precedence to essential syllabus areas and decision-making flexibility to schools, is encouraging news, in this context. This blog provides some insights into the current education recovery practices being adopted globally and draws attention to some important areas that can be incorporated into the current strategies being devised in Sri Lanka.

Monitoring and Preventing School Dropouts

According to a joint UNESCO-UNICEF-World Bank Survey of 143 countries conducted between February – June 2021, only half, and less than a third, of developed and developing countries, respectively, reported that all primary and secondary students returned to schools when reopened. Common methods used to identify and prevent dropouts include school-based tracking mechanisms, financial incentives (cash, food, or transport), waived fees, community engagement programmes, and revised access policies. Brazil’s School Active Search system, for example, brings together local government agencies in education, health, social assistance and planning, to identify, register, and monitor out-of-school children and those at risk of dropping out.

Measuring Learning Losses

Measuring learning loss is an essential first step in mitigating its consequences. According to the joint survey, 58% of countries reported having conducted formative assessments to measure learning loss, while only one-third relied on standardised assessments. Existing research also points to the relative importance of formative assessments to estimate learning losses, as opposed to standardised testing which is more effective in the long-term. Formative assessments are geared towards informing in-process teaching and learning modifications, and include tools such as quizzes, journal entries, essays, and works of art. The focus is largely on remediation interventions and/or re-teaching content from the previous year, foundational skills, and adapting instruction to the level of each student.

Adjusting and Prioritising Curricula

To help students catch up once they return to school, 42% of countries surveyed reported prioritisation of certain areas of the curriculum or certain skills. The most likely areas or skills to be targetted include foundational skills in numeracy, literacy, and socio-emotional resilience. In terms of specific country examples, in Odisha State, India, the Central Board of Secondary Education has reduced the syllabi by 30%, to allow students to focus on a few subjects and learn these well. Bangladesh’s education recovery programme includes a condensed syllabus for the next two years, focussing on important subjects such as mathematics, Bengali, English, and science.

High-Stake Examinations

According to the joint survey, countries introduced several changes to exams, such as adjusting content, changing the number of subjects examined or questions asked, and mode of administration. Cancellation of examinations were limited to high- and upper-middle income countries, ranging from a share of 30% in primary grades to 18% in upper secondary education.

Immediate Focus Areas for Sri Lanka

Although somewhat late, it is encouraging to note that some of these worldwide practices are currently being considered in Sri Lanka too. Along with more concrete details and clearer strategies for implementation, Sri Lanka’s education authorities should focus on the following to minimise further learning loss and safeguard student welfare:

Ensure all children return to school

While boasting commendable enrolment rates at the primary and lower secondary levels, student dropouts at higher education levels is a longstanding problem in Sri Lanka. Post-pandemic dropout rates are likely to be considerably higher, particularly in remote and marginalised areas. It is thus essential that immediate data collection and monitoring is undertaken to initiate action and bring back all students to schools. The country’s well-established decentralised education administration system can facilitate coordination among zonal and divisional education authorities and Grama Niladhari divisions to collect data and work closely with parents and communities, in this regard.

Provide general guidance on curricula adjustments and measuring learning losses, while maintaining flexibility

The intention to focus on revised curricula targets over the next few months and to provide principals and teachers with flexibility in deciding how to cover curricula are welcome moves, given the multiple social, economic, and emotional impacts undergone by children during the pandemic, to significantly varying degrees. Such adjustments, however, need to be based on the extent and nature of learning losses experienced by students, for which conducing formative assessments is key. It is thus best that this flexibility is balanced with some general guidance on essential learning competencies for students around which curricula adjustments can be made, and benchmark diagnostic tests and guidance for teachers to assess student learning, especially in switching from formal to formative type of assessments.

The Ministry of Education should conduct careful evaluations on the timing of and the content to be tested at highly competitive national examinations and establish a new examination policy which is clearly communicated to teachers and students, leaving no room for ad-hoc changes. For instance, given the directive to focus on priority areas of the curricula in the next six-month period, the examinations should also be adapted accordingly. Some options include limiting the grade five scholarship examination to an intelligence test, replacing examinations from grades six to nine with diagnostic tests, and limiting the G.C.E. O-Levels to core subjects.

Link to blog: https://www.ips.lk/talkingeconomics/2021/11/10/reopening-schools-in-the-new-normal-key-focus-areas-for-sri-lanka/

Ashani Abayasekara is a Research Economist at the Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka (IPS) with research interests in labour economics, economics of education, development economics, and microeconometrics. She holds a BA in Economics with First Class Honours from the University of Peradeniya and a Masters in International and Development Economics from the Australian National University. (Talk with Ashani – ashani@ips.lk).

Usha is a Research Assistant currently working on Health, Labour and Education Policy at IPS. She holds a BA in Economics with First Class Honours from the University of Colombo. (Talk with Usha – usha@ips.lk).



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ESOFT Metro Campus holds Graduation Ceremony 2021

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Dr. Dayan Rajapakse – Chairman and Managing Director of the ESOFT Group (Right) presenting a certificate to a graduate

The Annual Graduation Ceremony of ESOFT Metro Campus was held at the Bandaranaike International Memorial Hall (BMICH) on the 23rd and 24th of November 2021. A total of 1,800 students graduated at this year’s event. Successful students received their Pearson BTEC Higher National Diplomas, Pearson Level 7 Qualifications, London Metropolitan University (UK) Degrees and MBA’s, Kingston University (UK) Degrees and MSc’s.

It was held across two days and split into 9 sessions, to be in full compliance with health guidelines. In addition to the conferring of degrees, batch tops were awarded gold medals and special awards were made to the top achievers of the programmes.

Keynote addresses were by an eminent group of academics and industry leaders including Mr. Conard Dias CEO, LOLC Finance PLC, Mr. Thushera Kawdawatta – CEO, Axiata Digital Labs, Dr. Dayan Rajapakse – Chairman and Managing Director of the ESOFT Group, Dr. Sampath Wahala – Chairman, Sri Lanka Accreditation Board, Mr. Tishan Subasinghe – Managing Director and joint Managing Partner Moore Stephens Consulting (Pvt) Ltd and Moore Stephens Aiyar, Prof. A.A.C Abeysinghe – M.Phil. PhD Programme Coordinator, Senior Lecturer Faculty of Management & Finance, University of Colombo.

Foreign delegates from the University Partners were present virtually and delivered their speeches and wishes for the graduates via video. The Virtusa careers team were also present on both days in order to provide career opportunities to the young and successful graduates. ESOFT prides itself in producing graduates who are work-ready and able to take on the challenges and opportunities presented by the new economy.

ESOFT has a rich history of 21 years and is the largest private sector higher education network in Sri Lanka, and offers a variety of programmes through an extensive island-wide network of over 40 branches and serves over 40,000 learners each year in a range of programmes from school leaver courses to postgraduate programmes.

ESOFT partnered with Kingston University London in 2012 to offer undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications in engineering and soon established a dedicated College of Engineering in Katubedda. In 2013, they partnered with London Metropolitan University to offer a range of programmes leading to undergraduate and postgraduate awards in Computing, Business, Hospitality, and Travel & Tourism. A range of MSc programmes in IT and an International Doctoral programme for IT, Science and Engineering research areas, has also been introduced via Kingston University.

The ESOFT Group has won local and international awards from Pearson (UK), BCS (UK), NBQSA, National Chamber of Commerce, Federation of Chambers of Commerce of Sri Lanka in recognition of their academic excellence and business performance. Their pinnacle accomplishment was to be recognized by the Sri Lankan Government as a Non-state Degree Awarding Institution in 2019.

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Coconut industry products raking in forex to the tune of $ 7000 yearly – State Minister

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By Steve A. Morrell

Earnings from exporting coconut products amounted to $ 7000 annually. Such exports include jaggery and treacle, which are key products relating to the coconut industry, State Minister of Coconut, Kithul and Palmyrah Cultivation Promotion Arundika Fernando said.

Although coconut, as part of the plantation industry, was not given due recognition, it was now a distinct contributor to forex earnings and was of significant importance to the economy of the country, Fernando said.

The State Minister added: “Development of the coconut plantations includes value addition promotion to its various products, which are now key to sustaining the coconut plantations.

“Such development included propagation of 600,000 nursery plants for distribution among smallholders and large-scale plantations to add further progress to the industry. As a result, the coconut industry is part of the mainstream economy.

“The coconut industry made a substantial financial contribution to the economy of the country. Value addition in all products was key to development. Coconut products, used extensively in allied local industries, were contributors to value addition. This is efficiently handled by the private sector.

“Collaboration with the Jaffna University was on-going to develop kitul and palmyrah.

“Soil testing and further inputs were envisaged for development.

“Export markets would include Europe, Canada and the US. This is particularly true of kitul treacle and jaggery. Value of these exports would reach approximately $ 2 million.”

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INSEE Cement’s 360-Degree Approach Eases Cement Shortage in Sri Lanka

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Operating at maximum production capacity with optimized distribution channels for a number of weeks, INSEE Cement has successfully helped to mitigate the cement shortage that was prevailing in the local market. INSEE Cement’s concentrated and immediate contingency measures across its entire operation at the onset of the shortage ensured an uninterrupted market supply of cement, while also logging a record-high 700,000 MT production output during the third quarter of 2021 for the company.

“As Sri Lanka’s leading cement manufacturer, INSEE Cement took on the responsibility to ensure the local construction industry’s post-COVID-19 revival remained on its trajectory,” stated Gustavo Navarro, Chief Executive Officer at INSEE Cement Sri Lanka. “We continued to fully support government regulations and industrial policies to first stabilize the market, and were able to deploy our island-wide distribution and dealership network to ensure an uninterrupted supply across the island. The loyalty and patience of our customers gave us that extra encouragement we needed to overcome the challenge.”

INSEE Cement operates at a 3.6MT maximum capacity, with a 1.5MT production at the Galle plant, a 1.3MT output from the Puttalam facility and a 0.8MT import capacity at the Colombo Cement Terminal. To mitigate the shortage the company introduced two more additional import vessels to its logistics operation to accelerate production and distribution cycles.

 

 

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