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The status of higher education in Sri Lankan Universities today?

| by Dr Rifai

( December 22, 2013, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) I happened to read two articles written about Sri Lankan universities recently. One is written by Darshani Wimalasuriaya and other one is written by Hema Senanayake. Both articles are written objectively with the good intention of evaluating and gauging the progress and development of our universities in SL. I think this is a timely needed topic to discuss. In the interest of next generations of Sri Lanka we should discuss this topic. In the interest of higher education Sri Lankan academic who live abroad should contribute to this debate and share their thoughts in the subject matter of higher education in Sri Lanka today. We are obliged morally and ethically support our higher education system in Sri Lanka. We all owe to our nation as Sri Lankans. We should not shy away from this topic but should objectively discuss the status of our universities in Sri Lanka. We should do this away from any political bias. An objective self criticism is not a bad thing at all.

Today, observing, monitoring, and evaluating the progress of any higher education institute is an integral part of modern higher education system. Western universities have developed some distinctive methods and techniques to gauge the progress of learning and teaching in the higher educational institutes. Teachers are accountable and responsible to the intellectual development and progress of each and every student in the class. Heads of department have vigorous methods to evaluate the teaching and learning process. Lecturers are required to give progress reports for each and every student in the class annually. Some time progress reports are written in each and every term. Students are requested to comment on the quality of teaching and they have the right to remark about the quality of teaching in the universities. Students have rights to make any complaints if the teaching standards of lecturers are not good enough.

Universities in the western countries may sack lecturers if they do not perform well in their teaching and research activities. Nonetheless, We in Sri Lanka do not have such vigorous mechanism to observe, monitor and evaluate the progress of learning and teaching in our universities. We do have some formal systems and yet, the qualities of teaching in the universities are not vigorously monitored by universities or UGC in Sri Lanka. It is up to Lecturers what to teach and how to teach. Some hard-working and dedicated lecturers with their exceptional talent and academic merits teach efficiently with modern teaching pedagogies. Yet, many do not deliver their teaching efficiently and

Most of Sri Lankan academics who work abroad agree with me that our universities are par below international standard. I agree with Darshani that our academic contributions and role are meagre today that before in the past. In the early years of university education, Sri Lanka produced a lots of talented academics in all fields of Educations and most of the early generation of eminent academic and professors died or retired and today we do not have such calibre of high level academics. Our universities seem to be not producing internationally reputed scholars in many fields exceptionally there may be a few scholars and academics who have gained international reputations. I would like to share some thought about the challenges that our universities face today in Sri Lanka. Today universities are facing many challenges in Sri Lanka and some of these challenges will be discussed in this article.

1) Pedagogical challenges in teaching and learning in our universities:

Toda, y many modern and innovative teaching pedagogies have been introduced in teaching and learning at all levels from primary to postgraduate levels. Teaching itself is an art itself and it is considered to be one of the demanding jobs in the western nation. Some dramatic changes have been taking place in the field of education in the western counties particularly in teaching methods and methodologies. Unlike in the past, many revolutionary ideas and teaching techniques have been introduced in teaching and learning and yet, sadly, what we see in our universities is old fashion and traditional teaching methods are stills applied and imitated.

Creative thinking and evidence based rational and logical enquiries are greatly encouraged in the western philosophy of education. Empirical and experimental teaching and learning methods are mostly applied in teaching in the western world today. Teachers are regarded as facilitators in the class rooms and yet, what in our schools and universities teachers are acting as educational dictators orindoctrinators. Most of them behave like authoritarian in the classrooms. Still most of our lecturers are dictating from old notes. These notes may have been given by teachers in late 1970s and 1980s and still these notes are copied by generation by generation of students. The traditional methods of teaching and learning have been questioned by many modern educationalists today both in the western world and Eastern world.

Most famous two educational theorist are John Dewey (1859 -1952 and Paulo Freire (1921-1997). They contend that teaching and learning is a collective endeavour between teachers and students. Indeed, it includes wider society around us as well according these educationalists. They argue that “teachers centred” teaching and learning practice should become student centred teaching and learning practice. Paulo Freire is a Brazilian educationalistwho wrote his books on education to depict educational conditions of his society and yet, some of his observations and criticisms are still viable today in our educationalsystems and methods in Sri Lanka. Paulo Freire is regarded one of the modern educationalists theorists who revolutionised the learning and teaching practices of modern time. Indeed, his theory of learning is regarded asone of the most effective critical theory of pedagogies. Hisbook (pedagogy of the oppressed) is a text book on modern pedagogies of learning and teaching. I shall refer to some of his ideas to see how our universities still follow old fashion of teaching. I have great respect to my teachers back home in Sri Lanka and yet, I should remind them that some of their teaching methods are outdated and we should have courage to renew our teaching methods in all our universities in Sri Lanka.

Paulo Freire proposes a new theory of interactive relationship between teacher, student and society. The most important aspect of his theory is that he vehemently rejects old traditional methods of teaching. He called it as a banking model or banking concept of education In this old model of teaching students are treated like empty bottles to be filled with knowledge. These descriptions rightly apply to our lecturers in our universities. Most of our universities lectures are still dictating from their note books and some are dictating form their memories. This method of teaching still applied in the most of arts and humanity subjects in our universities. We should not be shame to tell the true conditions of our university in Sri Lanka. it is not shame to point out these with the good intention of reviving our teaching and learning methods. In some cases students are not allowed to question our university teachers in our universities and teachers cannot be challenged by students in our university. Our students made to listen and obey rather than question, debate and challenge lecturers in the classroom. For fear of repercussion and revenge in examination students would blindly obey lecturers in our university systems. This is the reality of our learning environment in our universities in Sri Lanka. in a sharp contrast, students in western universities debate and challenges their lecturers with logical and rational evidence in their arguments. They do not take whatever they are taught blindly as our students do in our universities.

Paulo Freire further argues that teachers and learners should be co-creator of knowledge. Do we have such a collective learning process in our universities to generate knowledge? It is argued students interactions should more than teachers in modern students centred learning processand yet, what do we have in our university system is mere dictation and listening. It is high time that some dramatic changes are introduced in our teaching and learning methods in our schools and universities. This method of teaching is described by him as the concept of banking education. In this system of education the students are regarded as empty bank accounts that should remain open to the all type of deposit made by the teachers. He argues that it is wrong to de-humanise both party of teachers and students by this system of banking education. What more is he argues that students’ freedom of thinking and thoughts are oppressed in this system he argues. (Pualo Freire. P74).This vividly depicts our system of education in Sri Lanka.He argues in this system of banking education creativity, invention and continuity are dead. This is exactly what happened in our university system in Sri Lanka. There may some exception in the faculties of science, engineering andmedicine and yet, in the faculties of arts and humanities we have not seen that much progress and development in recent times. He further illustrates this in banking concept of education in this way and most of these descriptions apply to our teaching in our schools and universities.

1)The teacher teaches and the students are taught,
2)The teacher knows everything and the students know nothing,
3)The teacher thinks and the students are thought about,
4)The teacher talks and students are listen- meekly….
5)The teacher disciplines and the students are disciplined
6)The teacher choose and enforces his choice, and the students comply
7)The teacher act and the students have illusion of acting through the action of the teacher
8)The teacher choose the program contents and the students are ( consulted) adapted to it
9)The teacher confuses the authority of knowledge with his or her own professional authority, which he or she sets in opposing to the freedom of students
10)The teacher is the subject of the learning process, while the pupils are mere objects. ( Paulo Freire. (PP.75-76)

To be continued next week.

1) Paulo Freire. Pedagogy of the oppressed. The continuum Publication. London. 2008

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