The essence of mathematics is not to make simple things complicated, but to make complicated things simple S. Gudder
Our education pundits seem to be oblivious to this simple truth. Instead of preparing children to make complicated things in life simple with the wonderful tool called mathematics, teachers have turned it into a fearful monster of sorts, the mere mention of which is enough to make many a child shiver and hide under his or her desk. Therefore mathematics, which Einstein extolled as the poetry of logical ideas, has unfortunately become one of the most hated subjects in schools.
The failure rate in the GCE (O/L) mathematics is shocking. It stands at 57 per cent, second only to the failure rate in English 63.18 per cent. About 52 per cent of candidates crash in science year in year out. Over 51 per cent of students fail the whole examination. What does the future hold for a country where so many children fail in mathematics, science and the international language?
This year, there is huge public outcry over the O/L mathematics paper (new syllabus), which bowled over many children including those whose performance had been consistently good in that subject. It is reported that some of the candidates who faced the Maths paper were so shocked that they even fainted. Parents are naturally perturbed as their children are highly demoralised after that ordeal. Desperate for a remedy, they have sought the intervention of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who has directed the Education Ministry to initiate an inquiry.
Director General of Examinations Anura Edirisinghe has asked children and parents not to panic as relief could and would be granted through the marking scheme to be formulated. A panel of experts, he says, will evaluate a sample of answer scripts and the marking scheme will be based on their recommendations. His assurance is some consolation to the aggrieved children and their parents. But, why on earth were children made to face that ordeal in the first place?
This unfortunate situation has resulted from the introduction of a new syllabus. Evidently, students were not adequately prepared for a change over, which is usually full of jolts and jerks. The education authorities insist that they sent model papers to all the schools a long time ago so that children could be coached for the mathematics paper based on the new syllabus.
Teacher unions have, true to form, sought to lay the blame at the doorstep of the Examinations Chief. They are apparently trying to settle an old score with him, as he went all out to scuttle their boycott of the evaluation of answer scripts last year.
The blame for the mess up, we reckon, must be apportioned to both the parties.
In this country, at examinations children are tested for what they don`t know rather than what they really know. It is not being argued that standards should be compromised to produce impressive results at examinations so that we could dupe ourselves into believing that we, as a nation, are doing extremely well in education. But, students must be tested in such a way that the majority of them won`t be demoralised and disillusioned with the education system. Similarly, teachers must admit that they have failed in their duty by students. They cannot always make the Examinations Chief a scapegoat for their sins.
We pointed out in these columns in May last year that the National Education Commission (NEC) had, in a survey conducted with the participation of 4,054 students from 70 schools representing all provinces, except the North and the East, revealed that 18 per cent of the sixth graders could not write at all. The NEC found that 28 per cent of the tenth graders could not write legibly and only 35 cent of them could take down a passage dictated to them. Of the sixth graders concerned, only 41 per cent were at a satisfactory level of performance.
When such children are tested at the GCE (O/L) examination, it is no surprise that more than one half of them crash gloriously. The teachers must take the blame for this sad state of affairs.
Last year, the Examinations Chief pointed out that about 90 per cent of students had left out the question on geometry in the GCE (O/L) mathematics paper as neither students, nor their teachers nor education directors knew that subject. Therefore, he said he wondered why a question on geometry had to be set at all.
All these years, we have done all sorts of experiments and managed at last to dissuade children from learning English! That beautiful language has come to be dubbed kaduwa (sword) by the ordinary people deprived of the means of learning it easily and effectively. We are doing our damnedest, ably assisted by education authorities, teachers and examiners, to achieve the same result as regards mathematics as well!
Worse, we now learn that in this predominantly Buddhist country, over 82 per cent of teachers of Buddhism are not qualified to teach that subject in schools! The Ministry of Education has found, as we reported recently, of 8,455 persons teaching Buddhism to students from Grade 6 to Grade 11, only 1,500 have the required qualifications.
At a recent competitive examination for teachers to select principals (Grade II), thousands of candidates could not score more than ten to fifteen marks. What takes the cake is that some of those teachers aspiring to be principals did not even know who the Balangoda maanawaya (Balangoda Man) was. We are in a position to reveal that they mistook Balangoda maanawaya referred to in a question for the late Most Ven. Balangoda Ananda Maithriya Thera! What a shame! And what a posthumous insult to that much revered great thera who did Sri Lanka and the Buddha Sasana proud! Not even the three hundred and thirty million devas believed to inhabit this thrice blessed land will be able to save our children from such teachers!
What we have witnessed at this year`s GCE (O/L) examination is only one aspect of a deep crisis afflicting the education sector. Unless a national effort is made to reverse the frightful trend, nothing is going to stop our march towards a nation of ignoramuses fit only for politics.