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Can rural education balance our disjointed society?

| by Victor Cherubim

( June 21, 2013, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) School performance, particularly in rural schools in Sri Lanka, places too much emphasis on tests and examinations, less on the advanced inter personal skills and creativity so necessary for advancement in today’s world. When judging how well rural education is serving pupils, we often connect education as serving the needs of bygone days, when Sri Lanka catered for small scale assembly line work, such as the garment industry, manual overseas work, the tourist and catering scene, plantation agricultural or fishery pursuits and/or further studies.

Good rural schools are a prerequisite for broad economic prosperity, individual as well as social mobility, together with a healthy civil society. How well rural schools educate their pupils will hold the key to Sri Lanka’s future. This is because during the thirty odd years of war, rural education suffered the most, with conscription among other perils, which left a vacuum in rural education.

Another measure of education is how school leavers in rural schools go on to study at further education or get an apprenticeship or find a job. At the moment rural schools are judged on the proportion of pupils who achieve a grade “C” or higher in 5 GCSE subjects including Sinhalese or Tamil, English, Maths and a Science subject. The national average is 58.6% whereas in rural schools it is 35%. This is not good enough.

Little appears to have changed in rural education in the remote reaches of rural villages. Reforms in rural education are long overdue. Enforcing standards in rural education, means paying teachers on performance, not on pupil attendance. Targets should be set to draw on teachers know on subject knowledge, how they teach a subject and how students are likely to understand what they are taught. Enemy Number 1 is, what is happening in one rural classroom has little bearing in what is happening in another classroom in another rural area. Isolation is a big problem in rural education, not only in teacher consultation but also the link among students in two neighbouring rural schools.

Besides, we are told the economic downturn both in Sri Lanka and elsewhere have forced young people to reconsider the value of going on for further studies. Half of all students in rural and perhaps, in an urban setting think a degree is no longer worthwhile. The majority of youth aged 16 to 24 we are told, do not expect to have a job for life.

In this setting performance measures are essential if rural schools can compete with urban schools as well as serve the rural areas where there is a majority of student drop outs.

What is networking?

People skills are becoming essential for life today. The ability to network is an essential ingredient to improve the chances of getting a job, or keeping one and most important getting a better job, or even for career progression.

Networking means many things to many people. In essence, it is a relationship building exercise, which is a personal thing. If it is, not” what you know, but who you know” which is important; rural education must thus cater for the core qualities for success. They include among others: curiosity, generosity, confidence and motivation. These have never been taught. Some might argue that they cannot be taught.

How can rural schools teach the art of networking to their pupils?

Some students are naturally born networkers, with loads of charisma, for others the skills have to be learned. One such skill is flexibility. Rural education must teach finding the appropriate way to build and develop relationships.

Here are a few tips for developing relationships.

Start with a clear idea of what you want to be in ten years time and then work out how you can achieve it.
Remember you are endowed with some capacity and capability. Explore any innovative ways of projecting your self worth.
Don’t be intimidated by technological change. Go and chat with your friends at school and meet others in neighbouring rural schools and find out innovative ways of handling technology.

Everybody in London and in UK knows about the “Boris” bikes. It was introduced by the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, to control pollution, riding to work for physical exercise as well as preservation of the environment.

The future of education will determine the future of Sri Lanka, because it is human values that matter. How well rural schools educate their pupils, will judge how President Mahinda Rajapaksa does, to turn round Sri Lanka.
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