Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Confidence building to learn English....!!!

Confidence building to learn English
Peer intervention as a teaching method:

Dr Asantha U Attanayake

Peer intervention is used in the form of a correction method in the language classroom. Contemporary times, in English language teaching, it is used as one of the correction methods and not as a major part of teaching methodology. But in the Sri Lankan context, for adult learners (those who have five - ten years of English language learning background in school behind them), I have experimented that it helps immensely in language teaching as an independent discourse. In other words, it could be used as a complete language teaching methodology.

Basic mechanisms
One basic requirement is that learners are in small groups (of four - five). They work on the basis of the sameness. When the sameness is emphasized, sharing steps in. The idea is to make learners use their previous knowledge to accomplish the task given to them. It is assumed here that any Sri Lankan adult learner who decides to follow an English course would have some knowledge of basic language structures, some basic vocabulary, and some ability to read at least a couple of words in English. It is understood that this knowledge has various levels in it. One might find this disadvantageous in a classroom that requires catering to different language improvement needs. But when using peer intervention as the main teaching technique, this heterogeneity in language ability is exploited as one of the main assets.

The struggle
In using peer intervention as a complete teaching methodology, a task is given to a small group, for instance, a simple task such as to read instructions and understand the task or read a small paragraph. Students are asked to read aloud in the group. One student reads aloud while others listen or they could take turns to read aloud.

As it is natural for them to find many words that they do not know how to pronounce, there is a struggle to pronounce those words from the part of the reader. It is crucial that this struggle takes place and the reader and the other members in the group feel this effort. It is at this juncture that peer intervention is required.

Peer intervention comes in here as a support for the struggle. There is a possibility that a group member or members who listen to the loud reader will know the correct pronunciation and helps in the reading. This I would name as the first correct input. Correct input is essential in the learning process, yet it has to be given only when it is required to make the learning effective and meaningful. The necessity is created via creating the struggle. Then the first correct input from peers will be helpful and remembered by the reader/s who struggled. In addition, those who listened without knowing how to pronounce the very word/phrase would also benefit as they also faced a silent struggle.

On the other hand, there is uncertainty from the part of the reader and listeners when faced with a word/phrase whose pronunciation is not known by anyone in the group. Still, in such an occasion, the most important elements for the discourse that I am discussing here are present: the struggle and the need to know the way to pronounce the word/phrase correctly. This is true about getting to know the meaning of a word as well.

Teacher’s role
A teacher needs to give students the time required for loud reading and should see that the loud reading takes place. Herein, teacher is required to monitor the task by going round the class, moving among groups, listening to students’ reading aloud, making sure that every member in the group gets the chance to do loud reading, etc.

The next step is the second correct input. Once the group members read the instructions/paragraph within a time period that is sufficient as perceived by the teacher depending upon the proficiency level of the students, teacher must read the text (for instance, instructions to carry out the task or the paragraph) aloud. With the previously created struggle to read/pronounce, students will be alert to catch the word/phrase they could not pronounce while they were reading aloud.

This way, that is, by creating a struggle, the learners are made to feel the need to know the correct way of pronunciation and then by giving the opportunity to listen to the correct input twice, their need is gratified. This is the opposite of Behaviourism. Behaviourism is a learning theory that only focuses on objectively observable behaviours and discounts any independent activities of the mind. Where Behaviourism professes that behaviours are acquired through conditioning, herein, learners are made to undergo an internal process of ‘searching for’ in the form of a struggle. Once what the learners ‘search for’ through a mental process is given in the form of correct input, then the entire learning process becomes a cognitive exercise.

In carrying out a task, be it reading or writing, sameness is emphasized. Learners in a group are asked to write the same thing and are required to check for the sameness among the group members.

Herein, the philosophy behind is that the first correct input would be given by a member/members of the group. This is on the assumption that a learner who knows how to pronounce a word correctly or how to use the simple present tense correctly (if it is the task assigned to them) will not agree to read or write it incorrectly for the sake of getting the sameness in the group.

He/she will argue, point out to others the correct way/correct verb to use and this becomes the first correct input. The second correct input will come from the teacher, and what has been done by the group will be checked immediately when the teacher’s input is given.

The other importance of checking for/emphasizing on the sameness of answers within a group is that it makes the learner continuously interact with his/her small group. For this interaction, certain amount of Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills (BICS) in English is required if the environment to be conducive to English language learning. While monitoring, the teacher needs to give basic essential utterances for the groups to interact in English. For instance, utterances like, “What is your answer?”, “Mine is this”, “I think it is...”, etc could be given to groups and could even be drilled/parroted as the chance to use them immediately in groups will produce immediate results. Herein, students whose proficiency level is very low will be more than happy with the newly found ability to use one or two utterances in English in groups in order to carry out a task. This will make them feel confident about themselves and this confidence in speech will project them to be confident in doing the task (loud reading, fill in the blanks, etc) assigned to them in the group.

Psychological approach
In relation to English language teaching in the Sri Lankan context, more than a pure educational approach, what is appropriate and effective is a psychological approach. Herein, building confidence, developing confidence and maintaining it are three key concepts that should be used at different levels of teaching according to my perception. This is because, unlike in other countries, especially Western and European countries who profess the theories and teaching methodologies for English language teaching to the entire world may not necessarily have the attitudinal problems we encounter here in Sri Lanka.

Our closest neighbour India, as I stated in a previous article, does not discriminate a person who speaks in an accent that is highly inflexed with one of the 1652 mother tongues available in the sub continent. In addition, India has been able to produce a scholarly generation who speaks sense no matter what subject area they speak about. Therein, accent, pronunciation etc do not matter much (but one should not be misled here that the situation there is 100 percent perfect, but it is certainly better than ours especially where discourses at an academic level are concerned) as content and the quality of argumentation are what one is evaluated on.

Unfortunately in our context, we have not taught our English language learner who has undergone the English language learning process about 10 years to talk sense! Neither have we been able to persuade, or convinced the elitist community who have been projected as superior in their accent and pronunciation (Forget about the content they speak, whether it makes sense or not!) that what is important is not imitating or aiming to be like the native speaker of English, but to produce a native Sri Lankan speaker of English (with all kinds of Sri Lankanness attached to English) who uses rich content in his/her speaking. Herein, I admire the task of the Presidential Task Force on Language and IT and its convener, Sunimal Fernando’s untiring efforts to bring about a mass attitudinal change in relation to the speaking in English.

Teaching methodology
So, in short, in addressing the issue of teaching English to the vast majority of Sri Lankan youth who are from rural areas, the approach must be that of a psychological one. Therein we need to develop a homegrown teaching methodology with necessary incorporation of the accepted theories vis-a-vis language teaching the world over.

What we need to consider is the kind of language teaching we have carried out over the decades and the kind of input we have given to the learner in the process. It is obviously some knowledge about grammar which stands alone as a discrete entity, independent of being used in communication (be it speech or written), some vocabulary items and essentially “what is your name?” with the definite answer “My name is .......” and “How are you?” and “I am fine thank you” as the sure answer (forget even if the student is down with viral flu), the ultimate results of the so-called Communicative approach being used for teaching English, the achievements of the goal, communicative competence in the Sri Lankan context. The output is 63 percent failures in O-L English in 2006 that amounted to 73 percent in 2009.

Yet, without disregarding the fact that there has been some input over the years through their school career, we need to make use of it in planning curriculum for Sri Lankan learners of different levels and age groups. In such a context, making use of the learned knowledge, peer intervention could be used as a complete teaching methodology for adult learners in the manner that has been discussed through this article.

The writer is a lecturer in English Language, English Language Teaching Unit, Colombo University

What is important here is the process whereby the learner struggles and it is felt by the others and the support extended by the peers to cope with the struggle; and secondarily the support by the teacher. The mechanism should be carefully monitored by the teacher, and for this teachers should be trained accordingly.

Teachers must be made aware of the characteristics that are specific to the Sri Lankan learner and the failure we experience in teaching English. Without this, teachers may not be fond of deviating from the Western or European professed teaching methodologies which they have been following throughout their careers.

A complete paradigm shift is required in changing the attitude of the teachers of English and others who are at the decision-making level (to be open to changes as regards teaching methodologies) in developing and supporting a homegrown methodology to teach English in our country.

The writer is a lecturer in English Language, English Language Teaching Unit, Colombo University


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The website notgoingtouniversity,which offers young people advice on opportunities,says deciding against higher education can be a difficult decision!

Brighter UK students opting not to attend university

The website notgoingtouniversity, which offers young people advice on opportunities, says deciding against higher education can be a difficult decision for young people.

Some graduates are struggling to find work in the current economic climate

“There is an awful lot of pressure to go to university, which is why the drop-out rate is so high,” says its communications director Sarah Clover.

Annual performance indicators from the Higher Education Statistics Agency show 7.4% of young undergraduates left university after one year in 2007.

“The one-size-fits-all approach is not working and we’re there to show there are other perfectly valid routes,” said Ms Clover.

Universities and Science Minister David Willetts says the government recognises that there is more than one route into “well-paid and fulfilling work”.

“Further education and on-the-job training are of vital importance, which is why this government is investing in further education and has provided 50,000 extra high quality apprenticeships,” he said.

But the British government also says university graduates, on average, have better employment prospects and can expect to earn a lot more than non-graduates over their working lives.

And it is hard to imagine making it to the very top of many professions without a degree or avoiding snobbery and barriers along the way.

A spokesperson for Universities UK said students “clearly appreciate” what university provides and value their student experiences.

“University is a life-changing, long-term investment that has benefits both for the individual and society generally.

“It helps individuals hone their thinking and analytical skills, gives them confidence, and the ability to re-skill as life changes.”

But for Das Gakhal, going straight into employment while gaining qualifications is the obvious head start.

“The whole general route appealed to me - when I did my research, I found most employers wanted experience and through this route, I’ll be able to gain experience and still get this qualification.

“I’ll get a much better experience of accountancy and I’ll have a head start on people who come out of university.” -


Friday, August 20, 2010

Science based industry also has to develop in parallel to provide jobs for the graduates! Interdisciplinary fields like nanotech can be developed.!!!

Brain drain:

Sajitha Prematunge

Educated professionals who migrate in search of greener pastures derive all the benefits that free education entails, only to put to use their expertise for the betterment of a foreign economy.

Over a year after ending a three decade old war one would think that the problem of brain drain will be brought under control, if not completely stopped. But a study conducted by the Centre for Social Policy Analysis and Research finds that 50 percent of the Sri Lankan youth prefers to seek foreign employment. Now that Sri Lanka has managed to put the war behind it, brain drain may be the only thing that stands between its development.

Brain drain is a huge loss to a developing country’s economy. Academics and educated professionals are essential for a country’s development because they are required to head various institutions. Theoretically they should be in the forefront of devising economic restructuring.

Senior Professor of Sociology, University of Colombo, S.T. Hettige sees brain drain as owing to economic as well as attitudinal issues. He observes that lack of industrial diversification as a major reason for brain drain.

He suggested that it should be diversified to provide job opportunities for highly qualified individuals such as managers, IT experts and technicians. Lack of such job opportunities results in educated youth migrating to industrialized countries.

Worse yet we are now losing these people to Asian countries such as Malaysia, Singapore and India.

The problem is not just that Sri Lanka lack these facilities but that industrialized countries welcome competent professionals. It is an attitudinal issue because most would prefer to migrate to industrialized countries. With their facilities and high salaries it is a bargain hard to pass. “US literally mops up people from all over the world into their cadre of scientific professionals,” said Prof. Hettige.

Brain drain is a vicious cycle. As the few people who are competent enough to train the young generation migrate more and more of Sri Lankan youth go abroad in search of better guidance.

Nanotechnology Director, Professor in Geology and Physics, Lock Haven University, Pennsylvania, Prof. Anura Goonewardene migrated to the US, in 1998, for unpreventable personal reasons, said that most graduates leave the country in search of jobs. He pointed out that Sri Lanka has a limited number of jobs in the field of science and technology to offer.

This is a major reason for brain drain. Moreover only a limited number of students are accommodated into the science field at university level.

However Prof. Goonewardene also observes that some percentage of qualified professionals is now flowing back into the country at the end of a three decade old war. He admitted that such highly qualified individuals may feel a sense of isolation upon return as no opportunities may exist for them to put their expertise to use.

He emphasized the importance of developing Sri Lanka’s resource base to counter this situation. “The universities as well as the commercial sector has to share the existing limited resource base. Consequently opportunities for research on university level is much less than in developed countries,” said Prof. Goonewardene. According to consultant Engineer and Economist Sam Samarasinghe only 0.31 percent of the GDP is allocated for science and technology, way below recommended.

He explained that he sees no flaws in the Sri Lankan education system, that could cause brain drain. ‘Education’ should make use of available resources.

The US has ample resources, consequently can afford the flexibility it offers.

“The US education system allows students to specialize much earlier. Considering the resources available the education system is not directly responsible for brain drain.”

Brain drain is a huge economic loss to a developing country. “At the current rate of brain drain the future of Sri Lankan economy is bleak,” warned Samarasinghe. The main reason for brain drain, in his opinion, is the lack of proper development plan. The intelligentsia saw no potential for development for themselves in Sri Lanka, so they opted to migrate.

Higher Education Minister S. B. Dissanayake explained that as a result of over a 30-year-old war a majority of Tamils were forced to leave the country. But explained that salary anomalies in the education sector has to do more with brain drain than the war.

Prof. Hettige recommended that the economy be restructured and industry diversified. For example agricultural sector should move on to producing value added goods using agricultural raw material. “We still import diary products. There is a lot of scope for diary products in Sri Lanka.”

He claimed that highly qualified people can not be employed unless industry is diversified. Entrepreneurs who lack the capital and technical know-how should explore the possibilities of joint ventures with foreign companies.”

Minister S. B. Dissanayake said that intellectuals are essential for Sri Lanka at a time when it is attempting to make an economic comeback. And claimed that the government hopes to reverse brain drain by offering them high salaries, special consideration for enrolling their children to school, offering special housing loans and vehicle permits.

“Science and technology should be the mainstay of a developing country,” said Samarasinghe. He recommended that at least 1 percent of GDP should be allocated for the field of science and technology and educated, capable, efficient and dedicated individuals placed in key public sector positions. Prof. Hettige recommended that the development process be guided by qualified individuals.

Minister S. B. Dissanayake also agrees that more investments should be made to promote university level research. He said that the government hopes to resolve salary issues by introducing salary reforms, while also allocating more money for research.

When questioned about the allegation that Sri Lankan education is not job oriented, Prof. Goonawardene said that the job oriented system has its own flaws. “For example in engineering academics plan and design and technicians, with lesser qualifications run the system, but both parties are equally necessary.” He explained that India and China had to face the same problem some 30 years ago. “But this didn’t stop them from producing graduates, because some percentage always returned.”

He reiterated the importance of overcoming the bottleneck of entrance into the field of science in Sri Lankan universities. This could be rectified by allowing more students to follow the science stream at university level. But suggested that science based industry also has to develop in parallel to provide jobs for the graduates. He also suggested that interdisciplinary fields like nanotechnology can be developed as a means of creating more job opportunities.

Produced by Lake House Copyright © 2010 The Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Around 100 Lankans have passed out since 1995! Rigas Stradina Universitate in Latvia opens its doors to Sri Lankan medical students !

Around 100 Lankans have passed out since 1995

Rigas Stradina Universitate in Latvia opens its doors to
Sri Lankan medical students

By Steve A. Morrell

After strictures of Soviet Rule since World War II, Latvia is now an independent State in the upper Straits of Europe. She is flanked by Lithuania, and Estonio. Latvia with the same land mass of Sri Lanka, about 64,000 square Kilometers, has a population of just 2.5 million.

Dean, Rigas Stradina Universitate (RSU), Dr. Ms. Samuidra Zermanos, and Director, Department of Academic and Foreign Affairs, Dr. Ms. Juta Kroica were in Sri Lanka last week to project the image of RSU, and its accessibility to students who wished to pursue medical studies in Lativia.

Addressing the media, Dr. Zermanos said after years of Soviet domination Latvia is now an independent sovereign state and guide its own systems of governance. Medical studies is one such area for self advancement.

However, the difference, quite unusual in Soviet countries, is that the medium of instruction is English. Stemming from latitude emanating from decision for instruction in English, RSU opened its doors to students from other countries including the US, UK, Canada, France, Germany, and most countries in the Asia Pacific archipelago., she noted.

Dr. Zermanos said the medical degree programme has a study period of six years, and results in attaining an MD, which is above an MBBS qualification awarded to those who earn a medical degree locally.

Dr. Kroica said RSU accepted foreign students since about 1990. The university offered 100 placings each year to foreign students to earn medical degrees.

She said over the past few years since 1995, around 100 students from Sri Lanka graduated and have been absorbed into the medical profession.

She named one such former Sri Lankan RSU student, Dr. Vimukthi Pathiraja, who now works for the Harvard Medical School in the USA as a top specialist

The response from Sri Lankan students has been encouraging and the process of enrolment for the new intake is now in progress, Dr. Kroica noted. "We are very happy with the response".

Questioned on costs, Dr. Zermanos said course fee amounts to 7000 Euros per year. These costs did not include residential fees and food. Residential commitments would be approximately 300 Euros per month, and food would be an extra commitment.

Can students work? She said ‘Yes’, but qualified that statement saying usually medical students don’t have time to work and study. Strict time tables for studies do not include spare time to work. "It is not a physical possibility", she said.

The RSU study course has been a complementary adjunct to the medical degree here, she noted.

Questioned by the press on reasons for students from, for instance western countries like the US , UK, or Canada, to opt for studies in the RSU, she said the degree achievement in Latvia is far less costly than most Western Universities. For example, a degree from most Universities in the UK would cost upwards 20,000 Sterling each year. It was so with US Universities as well.

What is so appealing about the RSU Medical Degree? "Cost and international recognition", she answered. More so, individual attention because students do not comprise more that 14 in each group. Intense instruction and individual attention could be imparted bearing in mind course projections for greater student participation in academic work. They do not teach other academic disciplines at RSU.

The prospectus issued at the press brief indicated course commencement each year September and February, for full time studies. Six years or 12 semesters was the period for studies to attain 360 credits. The MD qualification was its achievement goal. The medium of instruction is either English or Latvian..

www island.lk

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Future of the world will be driven by knowledge..!!! Human factor is our greatest endowment..!!!

Looking to the future:

Meeting challenges of higher education

by Prof. Upali Vidanapathirana

The expectations of the millennium development goals (MDG) were to come into force again in Cape Town, South Africa when heads of universities met in April to discuss and debate whether the fading link between higher education and MDG, can be re-established.

Frankly, much of the MDG fanfare in the 1990s is lost by now. In the developing countries fraught by problems of political turmoil, soaring energy prices, recession and droughts, MDGs receded to the background.

Sri Lanka, in contrast, has performed laudably in the spheres of primary education and gender equality while its poverty reduction records have also shown that it is on the verge of meeting the timelines. These are positive signs. However, there are a few other areas where Sri Lanka needs to purposefully engage in raising its performance. One such area is higher education. This sector demands a lot more discussion, debating and commitment at all levels.

The MDG decade that elapsed should have made us a little wiser for the sake of our own survival. The younger generation that is the target group of higher education is wise and knowledgable. Therefore, those of us who are responsible for guiding the youth of this country cannot afford to be complacent about what we do and when we do what we are supposed to do.

This is because the prosperity or peril of our generation will depend on our ability to invest purposefully on education improvements of the generation to come. Currently it is burdened by a myriad of real and supposed problems that need serious attention. The purpose of this article therefore is to reflect on the future of the higher education of this country.

A fundamental assumption of this paper is that the future of this country depends almost exclusively on investments on human capital. Sri Lanka like Japan has an abundance of human capital that requires both enhancement and enrichment. Sri Lankans by nature are hard working. Given the opportunity they are capable of proving their calibre.

This is shown by all those Sri Lankans who have migrated for Education, employment or resettlement. Our youth are a lot more trainable, committed and capable. However, while living in Sri Lanka most of us are lethargic. The list of these negative attributes of Sri Lankans living in Sri Lanka is long and endless.

The assumptions
It is in this background that Sri Lankan authorities need to be astute. Their design and plans need to be futuristic. This is because

a) human factor is our greatest endowment and

b) the future of the world will be driven by knowledge.

In this context there are two other important lessons we can learn. Those countries that are worse off than us today have done badly in human capital development. Sub-Saharan Africa speaks volumes in this regard. Conversely, other countries that are performing better today have invested more purposefully on human capital developments. East Asia can be a case in point. Thus our directions should be clear. What is perhaps unclear may be whether we have the desired sense of direction to take us to the future?

There are no alternatives with respect to investment on human capital. The growth of economies in this country will depend very much on our ability to generate energetic human capital and use them wisely; this is because today economies are driven by knowledge; by science and technology; by training and education and by research and dissemination of research findings for real world applications. However, there is a vital need to make them relevant to our long-term needs.

There is also a need to generate new knowledge that is relevant to us. This new knowledge needs to be exploited to generate value to the economy and hence ready for human consumption. These changes may be equally or even more important than our investments on roads, bridges and power stations we build, expecting a brighter tomorrow. It does not mean that those investments are irrelevant. They can be made really relevant only if we can create a generation of people who can productively and purposefully use them to make our future prosperous.

The orthodox interpretations of economics may differ here as they do not distinguish benefits of investments on human capital holistically. This may be why social returns on the investments on education are rated high only in the case of primary and secondary education. Nonetheless, higher education too generates important value addition because of its contribution to social equity and social harmony.

In general, engineers, doctors, scientists, technologists, accountants and economists appear to be more self-serving in their approach. This idea has emerged because their contribution to national development is less tangible. Therefore, we should change our matrix without blaming the object to be measured.

The challenges
First, the current conjecture demands a different tool kit that can be used to measure the socio-economic environment of Sri lanka resolutely and evolve strategies that are bold and unconventional. The war that drained this country both physically and morally is over. The economic crisis that engulfed the world since last year has shown signs of turning around. Interestingly, this crisis was useful as it changes socio-political and the economic order of the world substantially.

For instance, it has expedited the decimation of the uni-polar world order. There is also a change of ideological trusts. The ultra leftist as well as ultra-rightist views pertaining to politics also are undergoing change. These contextual changes have generated a need for striking a balance by seeking insights from different viewpoints and root them in our own cultural and social milieu.

Second, higher education has become an extremely competitive enterprise the world over (this feature is somewhat evident at primary education levels too). From the supply side, providers of education are numerous; they include the State sector, private sector, international providers, and a mixture of others including those who focus on skills development of different dimensions.

The product mix on offer is also broad and varied; it includes academic courses as well as different types of professional and skills development programs. All these products and their providers take business promotion drives seriously; some of them may be more covert while others are even overt. A cursory look at Sunday newspaper advertisements gives the idea that millions are spent on colourful advertisements to promote institutions, individuals and courses. It shows that the higher education market is not only competitive, but also lucrative.

From the demand side, the buyers are selective; an element of choice that was not present a few decades ago has crept into domain of higher eduction as well. This is a drastic change that has engulfed all sectors and communities. People today have become more mindful of educational providers, teaching faculty, content, costs, relevance, quality, media and learning ambience. These were propositions that were unthinkable two decades ago. These two opposing forces have made higher education an extremely competitives enterprise. This situation is not peculiar to Sri Lanka. It is a worldwide trend and our neighbours such as India, Bangladesh and Nepal are not spared by these changes.

Another related area is the numbers game in terms of the number of people who seek opportunities and the number of seats that ate available for them. This is a stark reality in the higher eduction sector in particular. For instance, the number who sat for GCE (A/L) examinations stood at 201,686 in 2006 and the number selected to the university system of the country was a meagre 17,248. In 2009 this number increased to 225,000 whereas the number of places in the university system too has numerically increased to 21,000. However, the number of students entering universities as a ratio of those who sit for the Advanced Level examinations remain abysmally low; it is strikingly low for the age cohort comparing poorly with the rates for those neighbouring countries including Bangladesh.

There are many other issues that may be relevant. But they make the paper long and the arguments woolly. Suffice to state that the current demand and supply conditions pertaining to higher education in particular have created a massive void. It is this void that has attracted other providers who are genuinely capable of providing such services as well as those who want to derive quick financial benefits.

Here again the weekend newspapers provide ample proof of the complicated nature of the higher education ‘market’ in Sri Lanka. A word of caution regarding the use of the word ‘market’ is warranted here. It is used consciously because of the existence of the forces of demand for and the supply of higher education opportunities in the country. However, it does not necessarily mean that the arguments supports ‘unfettered marketism as proposed by some writers.

As in many other countries in South Asia, Sri Lanka too registers some resistance to private investments in the sphere of higher education. This resistance is partly attributed to what we believed to be ‘real’ reasons and other reasons that are ‘imaginary. Let us look at the real reason first.

Two important real reasons are a) quality assurance and b) social equity considerations. Both considerations are unquestionably valid. In a country where there is no regulatory mechanism to guide private investment on higher education, there is a real danger that diplomas and degrees can easily be generated for a price. Such a scenario can be extremely counter-productive in relation to the first assumption that ‘knowledge’ is the key driver of development.

However, the sorted knowledge imparted can hinder the very development process that it tries to inspire. The second aspect of social equity too can be equally valid as high-priced qualifications necessarily lead to widening the divide. This is primarily because only the rich can afford to buy such qualifications which trigger further accumulation.

The ‘imaginary’ reasons are mostly based on ideological considerations, attributions and assumptions. For example, higher education as a public good must be exclusively in the hands of the State. The expression that privertisation of education is inherently bad has become questionable in a situation where even primary education in Sri Lanka has a high element of private involvement and investments. A case in point is the private tuition that is quite pervasive at all levels of education.

According to the Consumer Finances and Socioeconomic Survey of the Central Bank, private investments that go into education have increased substantially both in rural and urban areas during the past few decades. These are voluntary investments or expenditure. There is growing private ‘health’ sector in the country patronised by both the rich and the poor.

Yet, there are seemingly valid apprehensions pertaining to the goals and ownership of private providers of higher education. Firstly, if there primary goal is ‘profitability’ it goes against the models operating in many other countries where the so-called private providers are identified as not-for-profit organisations. Secondly, with respect to ownership too, if investments are exclusive private funds it may be inconsistent with those models based on State/private endowment funds that contribute substantially to meet the expenses of private universities.

Thirdly, there can be questions regarding the quality of the faculty staff employed by those institutions. Eventually, there can be a likelihood of questionable institutions providing questionable qualifications. These are genuine anxieties that arise in the absence of regulatory mechanisms to guide private investments of credible sources and options in the country.

The public sector providers too are not totally free from criticism. Two important criticisms are worth mentioning here. The first question deals with the relevance of the qualifications provided by the public universities. This is a contentious issue. On the one hand, an evaluation regarding the attributes that make a qualification relevant or vice versa is not forthcoming.

On the other hand, the public university system has not made a genuine attempt to examine the extent of relevance of their qualifications and to rectify lapses if any. The second question deals with the expansion of the external degree programmes in the country which is argued to have become ‘degree mills’. The numbers involved in the external degree sector exceeds 300,000 learners following the so-called “easy-to-complete” combinations of subject disciplines to get degree certificates. This has become a negative externality as such qualifications trigger protest movements of unemployed graduates.

Challenges ahead
It is evident that the problem at hand is not simple. Higher education in Sri Lanka is plagued by a complicated mix of problems and issues that need carefully designed, but speedy and effective solutions, for instance, it is worth debating whether there is a space for striking a balance between private and public funds to augment opportunities for education.

In economics, education falls into the category of public goods where the State has to accept a major responsibility. However, the usefulness of private investments cannot be totally overlooked on account of the following six reasons:

1. Even today parents spend private funds for public education at all levels despite the fact that public education is supposed to be ‘free’.

2. Billions of valuable foreign exchange is drained by seeking education abroad. It is estimated that about 8,000 to 10,000 youth annually leave Sri Lanka for countries including Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan at the low end and to Australia and America at the high end and leads to a high outflow of foreign exchange. The drain of foreign exchange in this manner is estimated to be in the range of US $ 4.5 to 8 billion annually.

3. If at least only part of this amount can be utilized to augment the capacities in our current higher education system, many of these students could be absorbed into the system at a relatively lower cost.

4. Further Sri Lanka can be made one of the centres of excellence in education in this region and thereby attract foreign students from South Asia and the rest of the Third World.

5. Many countries including India, China and Vietnam have moved away from totally public higher education institutions to fee levying institutions with sufficient safeguards to protect both ‘merit’ and ‘needy’ cohorts of the youth. Vietnam too has established private universities providing higher educational opportunities.

6. In any case Sri Lanka needs graduates capable of fulfilling its developmental demands. The current “output” of graduates which is about three percent of the population is perhaps the lowest in South Asia.

7. The budgetary imperatives of the country do not allow Sri Lanka to start many more public sector universities. Even if started, the rigidities in recruitment and compensation will not make the university system sustainable.

It is therefore necessary that a mechanism is evolved to garner private investments to develop a system of non-state university institution in the country. In addition there is the need to initiate a regulatory mechanism to assure the quality of programs offered and also to ensure that a quota of deserving students are provided with free or subsidised tuition.

Further, the university system should be made sufficiently flexible in terms of curricula changes to suit the demands of the country.

These imperatives have contributed to a situation which has demanded us to revisit the educational policy with respect to the establishment of a properly accredited system of non-State actors in higher education. There is of course a danger of misreading such an effort partly due to political expediency and partly on account of genuine fears of national interest.

These fears can be allayed only by creating space for debate and discussion regarding the issue at hand more fervently.

It is in this context that Sri Lanka should explore other avenues to solve its problems in higher education. In a country where 130,000 GCE A/L candidates acquire the minimum qualifications to enter the university system, only 20,000 students are admitted to the 14 conventional universities.

The media, political parties, and the civil society are fascinated by these limited numbers that are admitted. A simple content analysis of media reports and Parliament debates will show that the entire country has forgotten the destiny of the remaining 110,000 students who acquire the minimum qualifications or the others who are dropped out completely off the system owing to their inability to secure minimum marks.

Distance education
One might wonder as to why there is no mention about distance education in this article thus far. As far as the writer is concerned, it is the best policy option. It is best not because of one’s vested interest, but solely because it has been tried and teste both in the developing and developed world. For instance, the British Open University among the first 10 universities in the UK in terms of contribution to teaching, research and scholarship.

The Indira Gandhi Open University in India offers high quality study programs to cater to the needs of more than 1.8 million students scattered around different parts of the country and it too ranks very high in the overall academic ratings.

Likewise, there are many distance open universities in Germany, Israel etc that offer high quality educational programs to cater to both national and market needs of those countries.

The current information and communication technological revolution has opened many vistas to users of online resources and free services to acquire and enhance skills.

The Open University of Sri Lanka has ventured into teaching Natural Sciences Engineering Technology, IT, Law, Management and Social Sciences, Education and Nursing Education in Sri Lanka, many of which were inconceivable with the distance mode a few decades ago.

It is in this context that the education policy of this country needs to make an authentic and radical shift to exploit the true potentials of distance education to meet the challenges discussed above.

The writer is Vice Chancellor of the Open University of Sri Lanka.


Thursday, April 29, 2010

48% of Candidates of G.C.E. O/L examination-2009 have failed according to results issued by the Dep of Exams! 1,47,000 Passed Out of 2,77,260! SHAME!

48% unsuccessful at O/L
Thursday, 29 April 2010 10:30

48% of the candidates who sat the G.C.E. O/L examination in 2009 have failed according to results issued by the Department of Examinations. 2,77,260 candidates sat the O/L examination and only 1,47,000 have qualified to study in the G.C.E. A/L classes.

51% of the candidates have passed Mathematics which equals the proportion that passed the subject in 2008. 45% has passed Science which is 2% less than last year. 25% has failed Sinhalese while the figure for 2008 was only 19% failures. 25% has failed Tamil, the same number that failed in 2008.
There are 16,500 candidates who have passed only one subject and failed in 8 subjects. The number that has passed two subjects and failed in seven subjects is 18,000. There are 20,300 candidates who passed four subjects and failed in five. 22,800 have passed five subjects and failed in four.

Meanwhile there are 19,000 who sat nine subjects and failed all these subjects. Last year this figure was 16,000.


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A radical new teaching method that has been pioneered in India, Africa and Latin America is catching on in Britain..!!!

Teaching: Inspiring British children, Slumdog style
By Max Davidson

A radical new teaching method that has been pioneered in India, Africa and Latin America is catching on in Britain, says Max Davidson.

"I don’t mind children cribbing answers off other children," says Sugata Mitra, Professor of Educational Technology at the University of Newcastle. "It’s one of the ways they can learn. I also don’t think there should be too many constraints on what they can look at on the internet."

Have your say: How can we encourage children to think for themselves?

Controversial views, perhaps, but then Professor Mitra, originally from India, is no stranger to controversy. He is an educational radical whose unorthodox experiments in the slums of New Delhi – experiments that were part of the inspiration for the blockbuster film Slumdog Millionaire – have sent ripples around the world.

In what became known as the Hole in the Wall project, Mitra simply knocked through a wall in his Delhi office and installed a computer with an internet connection for the local slum children to discover. To his delight he found that they soon became fully fledged autodidacts, teaching themselves English, maths and other subjects.

"It became obvious that children were capable of working by themselves, without help from teachers," Mitra says. More to the point, the children wanted to learn, not just play computer games.

His one quibble about the movie, which drew on his findings, was that it was not called Slumdog Nobel Laureate. "After all, the whole point of the Hole in the Wall project was to encourage children to think beyond monetary gain and want to change the world, not simply become rich."

As his academic standing rocketed, Mitra conducted similar experiments in other parts of the world, from Africa to Latin America. He is now working with children at three schools in the north-east of England, including St Aidan’s C of E primary in Gateshead, where nine-year-old children are to be found researching school topics on computers, unaided by teachers. The result is what Mitra calls a Self-Organised Learning Environment, or SOLE.

How does SOLE work in practice? "The children are given a SATS or GCSE question, then divided into groups of four, each group with its own computer, and given half an hour, say, to find the answer via Google, Wikipedia or other websites. The groups compete with each other, which is good, but children also range freely around the room, seeing what other groups are doing, which is also good. There is a healthy mixture of competition and collaboration," Mitra says.

Sometimes a teacher is there but for Mitra the presence of a teacher can be a problem not a solution. "If children know there is someone standing over them who knows all the answers, they are less inclined to find the answers for themselves. It would be better, in a way, if any adults present were completely uneducated. There is nothing children like more than passing on information they have just discovered to people who may not already have it – an elderly grandmother, for instance."

Gateshead is a long way from New Delhi and these are not slum children, but it is significant that the English schools Mitra has chosen for his experiment are in areas of social deprivation, rather than middle-class enclaves. "The best schools tend to have the best teachers, not to mention parents who supervise homework, so there is less need for self-organised learning," he says. "But where a child comes from a less supportive home environment, where there are family tensions perhaps, their schoolwork can suffer. They need to be taught to think and study for themselves."

© The Telegraph Group
London 2010

www island.lk

Education; planning for the future....!!!

Education; planning for the future

by Douglas King

Few can deny the success of the eradication of the LTTE and the opportunities it has created for Sri Lanka to develop peaceful and economically viable policies. Similar bold decisions need to be taken about education and must surely rank uppermost in priority. Despite numerous initiatives and huge amounts of money, donations or long term loans, most aspects of education remain in the doldrums. No longer can the government rest in the satisfaction of a 95% basic literacy, and a virtually free education system available to every child everywhere in the country. Now is the time to look beyond the here and now towards a future educational system befitting a third millennium perspective.

It surely seems a misguided policy to aim for a laptop for every child. The sheer logistics and cost of such an initiative are prohibitive. Is such an idea deemed a panacea for all educational woes? Is it the magic bullet that will catapult Sri Lanka into the club of first-world countries? The recent donation of 100 laptops by HNB to the children of a rural primary school, makes for good public relations but of little educational improvements. Apart from the security and maintenance difficulties, computer classes for parents were not initiated. Anyone, especially those in rural areas, who uses the internet provided by SLT or Mobitel knows only too well the varying reliability and speed according to day and time. How will these laptops really benefit these children? Has there been any research or pilot studies into such a project? How much better it would have been to provide the school with a small purpose built computer classroom complete with a multi-media projector.

A visitor to many classrooms in schools (or universities) would see little difference from their own school days. For the most part teaching still relies on the chalk and talk monopolized by teachers. Blackboards (and a few whiteboards) still display basic computation sums and spelling lists. New text books come and go, with thousands of outdated books piled high in storerooms. Seminars that give teachers time away from the classroom rather than providing educational inputs, remain the standby of in-service education. A bureaucratic administration includes many thousands employed at the Ministry of Education, the N.I.E., Provincial and Divisional educational offices.

Yet go into numerous schools, not only in rural areas, and all too often several grades will be sharing a common hall, with only a small space separating each class. Teachers may put a brave face on such conditions but know they cannot teach effectively with such visual and noisy distractions from adjacent classes. Even where separate classroom exists, the divide between classes maybe a half wall, so each teacher must still compete to overcome the noise interference from her neighbours. Beyond the classrooms, toilet facilities for students and teachers are basic, and many smaller rural schools have no running water or electricity. Numerous so-called popular schools blatantly ignore rulings on maximum class size by allowing in excess of fifty students in some classes.

One area of success that the government can claim is the gradual privatization of education. In numerous ways it has encouraged private institutions from pre-school to higher education. The rapid bourgeoning of international schools, which in reality are private English medium schools, says much for failed language policies of successive governments. The best of these schools receive official endorsement with key government luminaries invited as special guests for speech days and sport meets. With fees as low as Rs;1500 a month, these schools ensure that their students acquire the advantage of English language, written and spoken, without the need to attend extra and sometimes useless tuition classes. Only a minority of students at government schools achieve a similar standard of English.

Tuition classes are now a parallel education system with an estimated 80% of students attending one or more classes every week. The government turns a Nelsonian eye on thousands of these unregulated classes, as to their operation. Anyone, anywhere at anytime can conduct a tuition class from a few students in the teacher’s home to several hundreds packed into makeshift halls crammed with wooden benches. If students achieve good grades in their ordinary and advanced level examinations, much of the credit is due to the tuition classes that virtually all students attend.

As many as 12,000 pre-schools, wrongly termed Montessoris, can be found in every town and village. The majority are privately run for profit and like the tuition classes abide by few regulations as to physical conditions or qualifications of teachers. Most are little more than playgroups with educational input confined to workbooks that children fill with repetitive copying of the alphabet and numerals. The thousands of teachers with relevant pre-school qualifications appear not to have understood basic good practice in early childhood education.

Student numbers in private higher educational colleges far exceed those attending government universities. A walk along the full length of the Peradiniya Road in Kandy indicates clearly how many of these colleges exist. There are few regulations, government supervision or quality control, and degrees covering every subject are awarded, usually endorsed by a foreign university. Competitions to enroll students is intense, and various inducements are offered by way of minimum entry requirements and extended loans. No need to study for A levels, as some colleges offer direct enrollment to degree courses after completing O level examinations. The fact that many of these graduates will be adding to the list of the unemployed, seems of little consequence.

Whether because of, or in spite of government policies, education has become an obsession with so many families. What is not questioned or properly understood, is that quantity is replacing quality. Many primary schools now begin intensive scholarship examination tuition from grade three, whether from parental pressure or from improving their status and image. Research indicates that such measures make little difference to results, since the tuition is confined to an endless completion of previous test papers rather than intellectual development.

Only massive investment will ensure a real improvement, and although hundreds of millions of dollars have been fed into the system, the gains are marginal. Like too many policies, solutions are arrived at before a proper understanding of the problems. State education is so politically entrenched, that it requires the authority of an executive President to initiate a change of direction and even then his subordinates are reluctant to follow through. The best education is available to a minority of students in both government and private schools. A recent Presidential donation of Rs:30 million to the Ananda School swimming pool in Kandy, may have boosted his popularity for election, but other schools in the vicinity could have benefited from this money to have improved their very basic facilities.

Computers and ICT must become part of a modern educational system. Virtually every school in the UK maintains a website, often designed and maintained by students. Very few schools in Sri Lanka have websites and even fewer schools incorporate computer technology into their administration. Traditional typewriters are still in wide use. Real computer literacy among government servants is still low and institutions such as the courts, police and hospitals have hardly been touched by IT. Exploring web sites of Ministries and few have web sites that show innovation or creativity, and too often links don’t function and information is out of date. The Ministry of Education has never exploited basic audio-visual materials such as audio cassettes or more recently CD and DVD disks. In language studies there are easy ways to make stimulating and meaningful lessons. Few schools can provide the science equipment or experiments that could be made available on purpose-made DVDs displayed on a large screen from a multi-media projector. Studying aspects of science, maths, history and music through high quality multi-media could greatly complement the chalk, talk and textbooks that do little to inspire many students. The best and gifted teachers can now be available in every classroom even in remote rural schools. All that is required is a laptop computer with a multi-media projector at a combined cost of around Rs 130,000. A further Rs: 50,000 would provide a small petrol generator.

At the heart of such innovation is the quantity and quality of the multi-media content. Several years ago the author offered to personally fund in full a project to produce suitable cassettes, CDs and DVDs, mainly for English language but also for science. He suggested that a team of four experienced teachers be seconded to the project for an initial 3 months. Despite numerous letters to departments, colleges and individuals, as usual, not a single response was forthcoming. Had the same proposal emanated from the World Bank along with a multi dollar donation, the interest would have been immediate since money would have been available in a "flexible" way. It seems that the adage "we do what we know and we know what we do" is all pervasive.

With current technology, making multi-media lessons and content has become simplified. A good working knowledge of PowerPoint, Adobe and Audacity programs are ample to produce CD or DVD lessons. Producing quality websites is easily learnt using WYSIWYG applications. Since recordable disks cost less than 20 rupees each they are well within the budget of schools and individuals. As for hardware, computers and quality cameras, are now relatively inexpensive and filming and editing skills easily acquired. The sooner government realizes that a computer is just a piece of technology and the real question is how it is utilized and for what purposes.

Already some influential people in government are saying that interactive whiteboards are the way forward. Educational research, which seems not to have been consulted, points out conclusively that at the heart of educational excellence is a teacher who thoroughly knows her subject; how to teach and test it effectively; has suitable teaching conditions, and is dedicated to her students. The computer, and its multi-media applications, can make teaching more stimulating and effective, but since such teachers are only found in the top 10% of the profession, even more reason to provide the remaining 90% a technological backup.

Meanwhile, the political gains from a "laptop for every student" and "2009 Year of IT and English" will continue to dominate the education scene, albeit that they will have little real educational impact. The President has an opportunity to appoint a new Minister of Education. Hopefully he will offer such an important Ministry to someone with political will and educational experience, and of equal importance a person who is innovative and pro-active.

Douglas King douglasking1939@yahoo.com

Footnote: Take a look at the internet site www.youtube.com/jarjumsinkandy to view many short pre-school teacher training videos made by the author using a small digital camera and laptop with a total value of Rs:60,000. He has also made many short programs to assist with teaching English.

The writer is an educational consultant specializing in Early Childhood Education, TEFL and ICT. His experience includes teaching at every level from pre-school to university, in several developing and developed countries.

www island.lk

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Blogger Buzz: Blogger integrates with Amazon Associates

Blogger Buzz: Blogger integrates with Amazon Associates

Sri Lankan students can now get a university degree through online education..!!!

Online degree chance for Lankans.............by Dasun Edirisinghe

Sri Lankan students can now get a university degree through online education, Higher Education Minister Prof Wiswa Warnapala announced yesterday.

The Minister said that he was delighted at the revolutionary introduction which is also a realisation of one of the promises pledged under the ‘Semata Sarasavi’ (University Education for All) theme of the Mahinda Chinthana manifesto.

The innovative scheme is offered by NODES, the National Online Distance Education Service, commenced under the Distance Education Modernisation Project (DEMP) of the Higher Education Ministry.

He said the NODES programme was declared open for students on March 1.

NODES, introduced under the DEMP, started in 2004 and 26 centres had been set up islandwide, he said.

This innovation would create greater opportunities for tertiary education through Online Distance Learning (ODL).

Universities, professional associations, private and public sector education institutions are instructed to adopt this mode of learning to cater to a larger student population.

The Minister said the NODES had introduced 46 courses of studies and these courses allowed the students to choose a course of study leading to a degree, diploma or certificate, depending on their qualifications.

A loan agreement signed between the Asian Development Bank and the Sri Lankan government on August 18, 2003 launched the DEMP.

www island.lk

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Open Distance Learning (ODL) mode is a viable option in the educational arena...!!!

Monday, 22 March 2010

Open distance learning
Alternative provider of quality education:

H. M. Guneratne Banda

The Open School Department in NIE has completed six years of its journey and has proved that the Open Distance Learning (ODL) mode is a viable option in the educational arena. The NIE with the assistance of Prison Department in Welikada will organise a series of activities to create awareness on open schooling among all the stakeholders of the country.

* Lanka achieves higher HDI than all S Asian countries
* Adult literacy rate 90.7 percent
* Infant mortality rate 17 per 1,000
* Life expectancy 7.1 percent
* Annual population growth rate 1.1 percent
* NIE created Department for Open Schooling in 2004


A short definition of Open Schooling is
“the physical separation of the school level learner from the teacher and the use of unconventional teaching methodologies, and information and communication technologies to bridge the separation and provide the educational and training” (Phillips, 2006)

National Institute of Education, Maharagama. Pic. courtesy: Google

Open Schools design flexible programs to meet learner needs without requiring full time attendance at a traditional school. It recognises that students learn in different ways, at different speeds and at different times of their lives. Distance learning combined with periodic face-to-face contact sessions allow students to learn at their own pace.

Commonwealth of Learning (COL) defines usually there are no rules dictating student ages, prerequisites, content of courses. As a result, open schooling meets the needs of a broad range of learners.

Global vision for Education Provision
UNESCO, in its report and ‘Learning - The Treasure within’, of 1996, aimed to provide a frame of reference to cope with the challenges and demands of the new millennium. It proposed the following four pillars of education, as essentials for all whether young or older to function effectively in the new millennium.

These are:
(a) Learning to do or becoming competent
(b) Learning to learn or remaining a life-long learner.
(c) Learning to live with others or learning to relate
(d) Learning to be or live by a set of principles; be a person of character

Sri Lankan context
Sri Lanka has experienced a series of changes in its overall education policy since attaining independence from British colonial rule in 1948. The new education policy has been prepared with the consultation of relevant stakeholders and it is ready to be submitted to the Parliament in due course. We forwarded our suggestions and comments the importance of open schooling systems especially in a country like Sri Lanka.

Interaction was key as teachers participated at several group
projects at NIE, Maharagama. Pic. courtesy: Google

Sri Lanka has achieved Human Development Indicators (HDI) higher than all South Asian countries. The adult literacy rate is 90.7 percent, infant mortality rate 17 per 1,000; and life expectancy is 7.1 and annual population growth rate is 1.1 percent.

Sri Lanka provides free education and university entrance is confined to 1 percent and rest is compelled to pursue higher education through professional institutions. With all these provisions every year a considerable number of children dropped out from the school.

Thus the natural question arises: what is the chance that children will continue his/her schooling in present condition of education? Hence an attempt has been made to find out the survival chance for each school going age.

Realizing the importance of providing educational opportunities the NE created a separate Department for Open Schooling in 2004 and first open school was established at Negombo Open Prisons Camp with the assistance of Prison Department.

The Open School Department in NIE is responsible to provide academic input such as learning materials, modules and A.V. material for the course participants. Internal as well as external resource persons are engaged to prepare learning material and submit to the Academic Affairs and the NIE Council for approval before distributing to the learners.

An Advisory Committee consisting of eminent educationists will take policy decisions in consultation with the Director General of the NIE. Already ten centres have been established throughout the country in taking into consideration of local demands. More than 1,000 learners enrolled during the year 2009. Each centre is supported by a senior tutor who provides learner support.

The Millennium Development Goals set by the UN in 2000 had the following items:
1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
2. Achieve universal primary education
3. Promote gender equality and empower women
4. Reduce child mortality
5. Improve material health
6. Combat HIV/AIDS, Malaria and other diseases
7. Ensure environmental sustainability
8. Develop a global partnership for development

International context
We live in a knowledge-dominated world today. We witness tremendous progress made in science and technology. Hence, the fundamental division among the peoples of the world today is due to the knowledge gap. We also witness today massive poverty and gross inequalities and injustices in many fields of life. Open Schooling could be regarded as a one of the options to provide learning opportunities.

Developing countries will not be able to achieve the goal of providing Education For All (EFA) without including ODL programs as part of their response the challenge.

Developing countries are taking steps to spread open school system to remote areas.

Open schools are not new. The figures refer to the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS) in India. NIOS has enrolled more than 1.5 million students over the past four years. 16 states established Open Schools for the benefit of distant learners.

In this context, the future workforce will need high levels of knowledge and skills to deal with new technologies and integrated production systems. Services and facilitate learning on individual basis. Tutors will come to the NIE with problems encountered during teaching and learning processes and possible remedial measures will be discussed. This could be regarded as sharing of best practices among other tutors.

The following courses are conducting by Open School Department in NIE:
Foundation Course
Secondary Course
Life Enrichment Course
Language Skill Development Course

GTZ provides financial assistance to carry out planned activities during the last two years. It is intended to get the cooperation from local, regional and international organisations to strengthen the Open School system in Sri Lanka.

The writer is Assistant Director General, National Institute of Education, Maharagama.



Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The so-called sunshine vitamin, which can be obtained from food or manufactured by human skin exposed to the sun, is boosting the immune system..!!!

Vitamin D ‘triggers and arms’ the immune system........By Richard Alleyne,
Science Correspondent

Vitamin D is crucial to the fending off of infections, claims new research.

The so-called sunshine vitamin, which can be obtained from food or manufactured by human skin exposed to the sun, plays a key role in boosting the immune system, researchers believe.

In particular it triggers and arms the body’s T cells, the cells in the body that seek out and destroy any invading bacteria and viruses.

Scientists at the University of Copenhagen have discovered that Vitamin D is crucial to activating our immune defences and that without sufficient intake of the vitamin, the killer cells of the immune system – T cells – will not be able to react to and fight off serious infections in the body.

For T cells to detect and kill foreign pathogens such as clumps of bacteria or viruses, the cells must first be ‘triggered’ into action and "transform" from inactive and harmless immune cells into killer cells that are primed to seek out and destroy all traces of invaders.

The researchers found that the T cells rely on vitamin D in order activate and they would remain dormant, ‘naïve’ to the possibility of threat if vitamin D is lacking in the blood.

Professor Carsten Geisler from the Department of International Health, Immunology and Microbiology, said: "When a T cell is exposed to a foreign pathogen, it extends a signalling device or ‘antenna’ known as a vitamin D receptor, with which it searches for vitamin D.

"This means that the T cell must have vitamin D or activation of the cell will cease. If the T cells cannot find enough vitamin D in the blood, they won’t even begin to mobilise. "

The discovery, the scientists believe, provides much needed information about the immune system and will help them regulate the immune response.

This is important not only in fighting disease but also in dealing with anti-immune reactions of the body and the rejection of transplanted organs.

Active T cells multiply at an explosive rate and can create an inflammatory environment with serious consequences for the body.

After organ transplants, T cells can attack the donor organ as a ‘foreign invader’. In autoimmune diseases, like arthritis or Crohns Disease, T cells mistake fragments of the body’s own cells for foreign invaders, leading to the body launching an attack upon itself.

For the research team, identifying the role of vitamin D in the activation of T cells has been a major breakthrough.

"Scientists have known for a long time that vitamin D is important for calcium absorption and the vitamin has also been implicated in diseases such as cancer and multiple sclerosis, but what we didn’t realise is how crucial vitamin D is for actually activating the immune system – which we know now, " said the researchers.

The findings, continues Professor Geisler, "could help us to contain infectious diseases and global epidemics.

They will be of particular use when developing new vaccines, which work precisely on the basis of both training our immune systems to react and suppressing the body’s natural defences in situations where this is important – as is the case with organ transplants and autoimmune disease."

Most Vitamin D is produced as a natural by-product of the skin’s exposure to sunlight. It can also be found in fish liver oil, eggs and fatty fish such as salmon, herring and mackerel or taken as a dietary supplement.

The findings are published in the latest edition of Nature Immunology

(C) The Telegraph Group
London 2010

www island.lk

Monday, February 22, 2010

SL: New visa rules for students entering UK...!!!

New visa rules for students entering UK

The British High Commission in Colombo has announced that new visa rules will be in effect from the 22nd of February for students entering the UK’s educational institutions for studies.

According to the statement issued by the High Commission in Colombo, from 22 February 2010 all students who apply for studying in the UK under Tier 4 of the points-based system must possess a Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS) from their sponsor.

The CAS will replace the Visa Letter for overseas Tier 4 applications on 22 February 2010. The CAS is a virtual document, not an actual certificate, and it contains a unique 14 digit electronic reference number.

The press release said the Visa Letters would no longer be accepted in support of a Tier 4 visa application. Sponsors would provide students with a unique CAS reference number to quote in their visa application.

The CAS contains information about the course of study for which it has been issued and the student’s personal details. Like the Visa Letter, the CAS will become invalid if not used to make a visa application within 6 months of issue.

Holding a valid CAS does not guarantee that a student’s application will be successful, the release said adding that students must meet the requirements of Tier 4 and the Immigration Rules.

A student may hold several CASs issued by different sponsors, but can only use one to apply for a Tier 4 visa.

Under the new rule the High Commission says that until 21 February 2010, students can continue to apply under Tier 4 using a visa letter, even if their course of study starts after 22 February 2010.

From 22 February 2010 they will not be able to apply under Tier 4 using a visa letter, even if the visa letter was issued before 22 February 2010.

www island.lk

Monday, February 15, 2010

All citizens of this beautiful island need to feel that this country is their country and that State institutions serve all of them indiscriminately.!

German-Lanka partnership:

Focusing on post-war development

Dharmasri Abeyratne

Following are the excerpts of an interview by the Daily News with German Ambassador to Sri Lanka Jens Ploetne on the German technical and development assistance to Sri Lanka.

Q: The German Technological Training institute has played a vital role in Sri Lanka. How do you view the development and success of this institute over the past 50 years?

A: German Tech, as it is commonly known, has become a brand name for sustainable and successful development cooperation in Sri Lanka. Many thousand highly skilled technicians or drivers have graduated since 1959. Today, each one of them is a living proof of how successful the typically German combination of theoretical and practical training has developed in Sri Lanka.

Q: How would you elaborate the types of technical and engineering assistance provided during this period?

A: Education at the CGTTI starts of with a General Basic training for all students. After that, different types of specialization can be chosen from machinist to automotive electrician.

Technical education is vital for economic development. File photo

From the start, the students had a broad choice of specialization. But German Tech has always kept up with the newest technical standards.

Today, for example, students get trained state-of-the-art computer-assisted-development (CAD) with the latest technology. During my last visit to German Tech I was very impressed by this modern learning-environment.

Q: Has Germany increased technical know-how and funding to this institute during the past 50 years?

A: While German Tech today stands on its own feet, partnership with the renowned vocational training school in Metzingen continues. That is why a high-ranking delegation from Metzingen will assist today’s festivities in Moratuwa.

Q: What was the reason for Germany to enter into such cooperation?

A: Fifty years ago, German Tech was the first big German development aid project. Since then, many have followed. Just think of the two dams financed by Germany in the Mahaweli Development scheme in Randenigala and Rantambe or a seven million Dollar grant for developing the Colombo Harbour as early as 1961! Overall, German State development aid to Sri Lanka amounts to more than Dollar 1.5 billion.

Q: What is the role of the German Tech in Sri Lanka?

A: I think that for Sri Lanka German Tech had a double benefit: It introduced state-of-the-art technology to its economy and had provided the country with a significant number of well-trained specialists.

Q: What would role Germany play at this Engineering and Technical exhibition?

A: Different German institutions will exhibit at the fair starting today in Moratuwa. The German Embassy will inform about German companies such as Mercedes, BMW, Volkswagen or Porsche as well as the possibilities of studying in Germany. GTZ will provide information about its long history of development work in and for Sri Lanka.

Q: How do you view Germany as a competitor in the Western technological and engineering market?

A: German companies remain leading providers for high-end technology and engineering.

German products might not always be the cheapest, but as everybody knows: at the end of the day, quality pays.

Q: What are your future plans to assist this institute and other sectors in Sri Lanka to be a partner in Sri Lanka’s massive effort to become a developed nation?

A: Cooperation between Germany and German Tech will continue. It has evolved into a real partnership we all can be proud of.

Beyond that, German development aid today is very much focused on helping Sri Lanka overcome the consequences of nearly 30 years of armed conflict.

The war has been won, but building peace is a long and very demanding task. All citizens of this beautiful island need to feel that this country is their country and that State institutions serve all of them indiscriminately. My country stands ready to help Sri Lanka in this challenging and historic task.


Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Nippon Maru World Youth Ship Program 2010 organised by the Japanese government will be held from January 23 to April 10...!!!

Lankans to represent world youth ship program
Wehelle PIYATHILAKA-Maharagama special corr.

The Sri Lankan contingent selected for the Nipon Maru World Youth Ship program with officers of the NYSC. (Third from left seated) NYSC Chairman and Director General Bhaswara Senanka Gunaratne, Deputy Director Chandanie Gunathilake, and Assistant Director Ukwattage. Picture by Wehelle Piyathilaka, Maharagama special correspondent.

The Nippon Maru World Youth Ship Program 2010 organised by the Japanese government will be held from January 23 to April 10.

Eleven youth from youth clubs affiliated to the National Youth Services council have been selected to represent Sri Lanka.

One hundred and forty youths will take part in the journey from 22 countries.

The ship will begin sailing will start on January 23 from Yokohama Port. It will sail through Singapore, Dubai, Chennai and back to Japan through Singapore.

The journey will end on April 10, 2010.

The Sri Lanka contingent is as follows.

Thusara D.D. Dahanayaka, (National leader) M.L. Mohamud, Ramusul (Kalmunai) K.M. Nilusha, Madushani (Ipalogama) N. Thawara, Jathumaran (Colombo) W.M. Nipuna, Tharuka (Matara) Thilini Mathunda, Liyanagamage (Belehuloya) Baggya Senaratne (Moratuwa) D.M. Pathirage (Weeraketiya) S.M. Mahendra, (Nugegoda) and L.H. Welgamage (Amparai)


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

What is urgently needed is a National Centre for Early Childhood Education to serve as a positive influence in raising standards throughout country!

The failure of pre-school education in Sri Lanka..................................
by Douglas King, consultant in Early Childhood Education

Forget the titles Montessori, kindergarten, nursery school, early childhood centre, and several more as most pre-schools are little more than play groups and even as such many fail to provide adequately in educational, physical and social spheres. 90% of 4 year-olds attend one of the estimated 14,000 pre-schools in the country. The majority of these schools are privately run for profit, but many of the others under control of local government or NGOs fare no better. This might be seen as a total condemnation of the approach to Early Childhood Education in Sri Lanka. Despite various educational institutions, both government and private offering 1 or 2 year diplomas in Early Childhood Education, they have failed to conduct courses that meet professional standards.

The first six years of a child’s life is universally recognized as the Early Childhood stage, and acknowledged as the most critical for future development. During these initial six years a child will have developed more rapidly, both physically and mentally than any other period. Research has shown convincing evidence that this period is crucial for the full and positive development of the brain. Numerous studies have also indicated that the lack of a stimulating physical, social and emotional environment , can reduce the child’s brain developing its full potential. The part played by nurture or nature ceases to be questioned, and though we cannot change our genetic endowment, the environment in which it develops has a far reaching influence.

The Early Childhood stage lays a foundation for values, attitudes as well as social and personal habits. To ignore these aspects or to misinterpret them can be a retrograde step for developing countries such as Sri Lanka. Therefore, planning for Early Childhood Education it is necessary to take into account three fundamental principles. Child development is continuous and cumulative, and even pre-natal experiences can have some influence. The two years of pre-school represent 40% of the child’s initial 5 years of life and should not be left to a hit and miss developmental exposure. Later formal schooling and learning levels are significantly influenced by positive early experiences.

Various government departments since 2003 have drafted a number of statements and position papers on Early Childhood Development and Education but little has been acted upon, and the funding granted by leading NGOs has produced little meaningful development. Minimal standards may have been suggested but in practice anyone, anywhere and anyhow can open a pre-school. All too often the facilities are poor and in some cases violate basic health and safety standards. The so-called "real" Montessori schools often charge high enrollment and monthly fees and can provide better premises, but educationally they are stuck in a rigid Montessori time warp that refuses to acknowledge a more eclectic attitude in Early Childhood Education. It’s as if Montessori philosophy cannot be questioned, and many of these schools offer training leading to recognized Montessori diplomas, whilst in reality utilizing students as free teachers.

Though many pre-schools now have qualified teachers, this does not always imply good practice. One has to question standards of the universities and colleges awarding certification in Early Childhood Education and whether they have the model classrooms or faculties to .produce competent teachers. In so many pre-schools a lack of suitable developmental play materials has contributed to a diet of work books that teach aspects of the grade 1 curriculum. Quantity rather than quality is seen by parents as a sign of a good school. Thus a child might be expected to fill a workbook with mind-numbing daily period of writing alphabet letters and ubiquitous colouring sheets. Such activities are little more than busy-work requiring no preparation or even insight into educational theory and practice. Formal teaching of reading, writing and maths can even have a detrimental affect for children who will then become passive and bored in grade 1. Schools that follow developmentally appropriate curriculum are few and far between and may not be held in high regard by many parents, even though they provide a more meaningful experience. Most pre-schools, in the absence of suitable developmental activities, also rely on a fare of art and craft. All too often the end product has become more important than the process, so the 20 or so identical birds, elephants, hats, Santa Klaus shows up the creative talents of teachers rather than the children who have simply added some colouring and sticking. The annual exhibition attracts the admiration of parents and visitors who must be naïve to believe that the beautiful exhibits were produced solely by the children.

Pre-school education in Sri Lanka has developed a style of its own that is uniquely out of step with the more widely accepted Early Childhood Education theories and practice valued in most developed countries. Often the uniform is the only creative aspect with an array of styles and colours that gives the school visual status. A simple concert at Christmas time has always been enjoyed by children and parents. However, many pre-schools see this events as a show-piece for the quality of education and plan concerts in large halls lasting several hours, requiring numerous changes of costume (paid for by parents) and scenery. Perhaps most devastating of all it requires months of training and rehearsals much to the chagrin of the children, who have been denied purposeful activities and recreation. Sport meets should be fun but many pre-schools have copied the format in use by high schools. Competition is fierce and appropriate medals awarded in Olympic style ceremonies. Parents are there to encourage their offspring to victory or more often to failure. Special guests and high-end speaker systems are becoming more common at some of these functions. In addition, many schools are now training their children for a colourful drill display, with costumes intended to impress parents. Slowly creeping into this uniquely Sri Lankan pre-school culture is the Prize Day that apes the formalities of the high schools. It may seem fictitious but a small number of schools have started awarding prefect status to their five-year-olds who have not yet started grade 1. And to cap it all is the final graduation ceremony complete with cap, gown and diploma.

There are some excellent pre-schools though few have been identified or recognized. It could be assumed that pre-schools attached to top schools in Colombo and Kandy would be among the best. However a visit to a large pre-school at a leading independent school in Kandy indicated standards that were far from satisfactory in spite of parents paying very high fees and enrollment charges. Little could be found that showed an insight into Early Childhood Education. Classrooms had only a few well worn books and play materials were confined to a large box and included broken cars and dolls. Much of the display on walls had required a heavy dose of teacher skill rather than displaying the more primitive work of the child. A "real" Montessori school for 120 children in Colombo could only offer an outdoor play area equipped with a slide, swing and see-saw and space for fewer than 20 children at one time. The classrooms, devoid of any displays, were lined with polished wood shelves holding a wide range of the "didactic" materials so loved by Montessori adherents. Few of these materials seemed to be in regular use but an assortment of workbooks did proliferate along with various teacher directed activities. This particular Montessori school is well sort after by professionals and has a waiting list for annual enrollment. A large day-care pre-school with over 80 children at a leading university has standards that no university could be proud to show. There is little to commend it apart from the friendliness of teachers. The depressing outside playground has a rusting slide, a swing and a broken see-saw, and hardly any covering of grass. Groups of 20 children are penned into small rooms with virtually no materials or equipment It’s a sad reflection on the university that despite boasting an education faculty, such a poor pre-school facility has been allowed to fester for over 20 years.

In the absence of any proper regulation for pre-schools it appears that standards are unlikely to improve. Like the unregulated tuition classes, pre-schools are primarily businesses and in order to turn a profit, teacher salaries can be as low as Rs.5000 a month. Few parents, even those with professional qualifications, really comprehend or value an enriched early childhood education based on the social and educational requirements of the young child. Although it has long been recognized that play is the work of the child, most parents and teachers make a clear separation. Playing with blocks, sand, water and puzzles are not equated with "real" work that can be tested and seen in workbooks.

It will take more than the usual spate of seminars and political proclamations to bring the 14,000 pre-schools and the estimated 60,000 teachers up to a standard that reflects a degree of excellence or simply good pre-school practice. If the Ministry of Education, N.I.E. and institutes of higher education cannot get their act together, what hope for the thousands of pre-schools dotted around the towns and villages in the country. Pouring more money into yet more seminars can hardly help since there seems to be so few in authority or with decision making positions who have real expertise in Early Childhood Education.

What is urgently needed is a National Centre for Early Childhood Education to serve as a positive influence in raising standards throughout the country. It would not only demonstrate good practice through a model pre-school, but would also be a resource centre making full use of internet communication and a place where teachers and students alike could visit to see materials, equipment and library resources and participate in seminars and workshops. It is unlikely that such a Centre could be established since there are numerous competing interests in government which would lay claim to it.


To see good pre-school practice look at the pre-school videos on Youtube site douglasking2 The photo in this article and the videos on Youtube were taken at Jar-Jums pre-school, Kandy.


Thursday, January 7, 2010

A paper by Dr Indrasenan Thusyanthan and Dr Gopal Madabhushi has won the Bill Curtin prize awarded by ICE..!!!

University of Cambridge
Date: 07/01/10

Paper on ‘tsunami resistant’ houses wins the Institution of Civil Engineers Bill Curtin prize

A paper by Dr Indrasenan Thusyanthan, former Lecturer in the University of Cambridge Geotechnical Research Group and Dr Gopal Madabhushi, Reader in Geotechnical Engineering, has won the Bill Curtin prize awarded by the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) for the Best Paper in the 'ICE Civil Engineering' magazine.

The Asian tsunami of 26 December 2004 showed the catastrophic devastation that could be caused by a tsunami to human lives, infrastructure and economy. The tsunami claimed more than 220,000 lives and made almost 800,000 people homeless. The total economic cost of the catastrophe is estimated to be more than £7·5 billion.

The paper by Dr Thusyanthan and Dr Madabhushi presents the results of model tests that compare the impact of a tsunami wave on a typical coastal house with that on a new ‘tsunami resistant’ design developed in the USA and now built in Sri Lanka.

While earthquakes and tsunamis are inevitable forces of nature, it is possible to be better prepared for them so that the damage to infrastructure can be minimised. To save lives, efficient tsunami- warning systems need to be put in place for the evacuation of people from coastal areas. The physical, economic and financial loss to the coastal community can also be reduced by having tsunami resistant designs for houses and other infrastructure in the region.

Understanding tsunami wave loading on coastal houses is important to improve the design of coastal structures. The paper presents the results of physical model tests of coastal houses subjected to tsunami wave loading in a 4·5 m long wave tank. 1:25 scale models of a typical Sri Lankan coastal house and a new house design were tested in the tank, in which the near-shore tsunami wave conditions were created.

The new house design, named the ‘tsunami-resistant house’, was designed by a student initiative at Harvard Design School in collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Instead of four solid walls with small openings for doors and windows used in conventional design, the new design has centrally placed doors facing the sea and the corner walls are made of reinforced concrete. The basic design concept was that these houses would allow the passage of the tsunami wave, through the central part of the house, without attracting too much hydrodynamic loading.

The Bill Curtin Medal was instituted in 1992 following a donation by Curtins Consulting Engineers to commemorate the late W G Curtin's contribution to engineering. The medal is awarded annually for the best paper published by the ICE describing innovative design in civil engineering.

The prize winning paper in the ICE Civil Engineering magazine can be downloaded as a PDF here.

Dr Indrasenan Thusyanthan (right) receiving the Bill Curtin Medal from ICE President Jean Venables OBE FREng


For further information please contact:

Dr Gopal Madabhushi email: mspg1@eng.cam.ac.uk

Dr Indrasenan Thusyanthan email: it206@cam.ac.uk

Reproduced courtesy of University of Cambridge, Department of Engineering

See also:
Organisation: University of Cambridge