Thousands of students, it is said, will not be able to sit the GCE (A/L) examination this year, as the Ministry of Education has decided to give full cry to the eighty-per-cent attendance rule. The Ministry may argue that a student who has not attended school for a stipulated period of time cannot be considered ready to face an examination, where he or she is tested for what he or she has learnt in school. But, in reality, as is the way with our education system, the fact that children don`t attend school regularly doesn`t necessarily mean that they haven`t learnt anything and therefore are not fit to sit an examination. For, during their prolonged absence, they usually attend private tuition classes, without which most of the popular schools which boast of producing the best Advanced Level results, will be exposed for what they really are?empty shells!
Education after GCE (O/L) is usually taken for granted in state schools. There may be a handful of schools where teachers evince a keen interest in teaching and guiding children for the Advanced Level examination. But, overall, education at this level has been neglected to such an extent that it looks as if school authorities had left it entirely to private tuition centres.
Education is the only way for the vast majority of students to climb the so-called social ladder. The Advanced Level examination has become a battle of a sort for those children, as only a few thousands of them qualify for higher education, especially in the much coveted streams such as medicine and engineering. In this mad rush, children take no chances, as they don`t want to live with regrets for the rest of their lives for not having done enough to clear that vital hurdle in life. In this country, if a child fails to score enough marks at the GCE (A/L) examination to become a doctor, he or she has no other way of achieving that dream afterwards, unless his or her parents are rich enough to afford him or her foreign education.
When schools don`t do enough to help children achieve their dreams, it is natural that they turn to private tuition at the expense of school attendance. Parents, too, are without an alternative. How can they ask their children to attend school, knowing very well that trying to learn anything there is an exercise in futility?
An unnamed school principal, quoted in our news item on Friday on the issue under discussion, has called for banning private tuition on schooldays. It was only the other day that we said we were a nation obsessed with bans. Finding root causes of a problem is not for us. We always seek shortcuts in trying to solve problems. Banning private tuition will affect only the poor and middle class children who attend the so-called general classes where fees are low but the number of students is very high. The affluent parents will opt for private tuition at home so that their children will have an advantage over their less fortunate counterparts at the examination.
We hold no brief for tuition mudalalis but question the wisdom of banning private tuition without putting the education system in order. The government must ensure that education is properly imparted to the Advanced Level students in all schools. Principals and teachers must be penalised for their lapses. Private tuition masters in the garb of school teachers must be monitored and their performance in their respective schools evaluated regularly. It is their punctuality and attendance that must be monitored, first of all. Teachers are said to be of three kinds: guruvaru (genuine teachers), varuguru (teachers who go missing during school hours) and guruhoru (teachers who neglect their duty completely). The genuine teachers need to be sifted from the other categories and rewarded for their service in terms of promotions and salary increments. It will be a mistake for the government to transfer varuguru and guruhoru types to the so-called difficult areas, by way of punishment, as those who will really get punished by such action are the voiceless children in those areas.
When errant teachers and principals are appropriately dealt with and schools restored to their pristine position as real seats of learning, especially after GCE (O/L), children will have no need for private tuition, which always robs them of their leisure time, which is essential for their overall development. When children are convinced that they need not suffer in private tuition centres for extra lessons to prepare themselves for university entrance, private tuition will die a natural death, without a ban.
However, there are lessons that our education pundits ought to learn from the private tuition centres. In schools, the number of students per class is limited to 40 or 50 (in some cases it may go up to 60). But, there are tuition classes where?believe it or not?a single teacher takes a class of over 3,500 students. He still shows results! Ironically, he is, in most cases, a school teacher! Isn`t this an indictment of the education authorities?
It is high time the teachers who are being paid with public funds were asked to deliver or depart!
The Ministry of Education must get its act together before throwing the book at students! There is no harm in those children who are debarred by the attendance rule from sitting the all important university entrance examination being given a chance on humanitarian grounds, with a warning that from next year onwards the rule will be given full effect.