Chemical Education in Asia-Pacific


J. N. Oleap Fernando

Department of chemistory Open Univercity Nawala Nugegada,Sri lanka

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Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) came under foreign subjugation in 1505 with the advent of the Portuguese. They were displaced by the Dutch in 1656. However, the Portuguese and Dutch occupied only the maritime provinces of Sri Lanka. The British, defeated the Dutch and occupied the maritime provinces from 1796. In 1815, the British were able to capture the Central Kandyan Kingdom as well and bring the whole of Sri Lanka under a foreign government for the first & last time. It was subsequent to this dominance and influence of the British in Sri Lanka that the school education in Sri Lanka began to take a firm shape and form. The school education system in Sri Lanka is now about 200 years old.

At the beginning, the British administration was lukewarm about education in Sri Lanka. However, a fillip to education was given with the entry of missionary societies : the Baptist Mission in 1812, the Wesleyan Missionary Society in 1814, the Church Missionary Society in 1818 and the American Mission also around 1818. From 1812 to 1832, these missionary societies opened about 235 schools attended by about 10,000 pupils and conducted in both the English and Sinhalese/Tamil media. In 1837, there also were 118 Roman Catholic Schools basing their origin to the Roman Catholic Church introduced into the country by the Portuguese.

The Colebrook Commission on Reforms in 1832 laid more emphasis on English and the need for more English schools resulting in the vernacular (Sinhalese/Tamil) schools that existed being given step motherly treatment; five English schools were established in Colombo, Galle, Jaffna and Chillaw as a result of the new policy. It is correct to say that the school education system introduced by the British was essentially of a colonial type designed to produce white collar workers who could take up the numerous clerical positions that were required for the British Colonial Government system.

The period 1841 to about 1847 witnessed several innovations in Sri Lanka's educational system. The system of grants-in-aid for missionary schools was introduced and the principle was laid down that a child should first be taught in his own language before he was taught English.

The 1848 civil rebellion and the financial depression during the preceeding year subjected the educational system from 1848 to 1858 to mild shocks. Strong criticism was levelled at the existing system of state cum missionary education and in 1865 a sub-committee of the Legislative Council was appointed to report on the state of education in Sri Lanka. The sub-committee report issued in 1867 recommended that, inter-alia.

(a) elementary education should be undertaken on a large scale by the Government.
(b) more government schools should be established but greater support should be given to missionary bodies to run schools.
(c) mixed schools be replaced by Anglo-vernacular schools.
(d) more schools be established providing for an English education, and also teaching practical subjects.
(e) religious bodies were to be relieved of all restrictions about religious education in their schools and were free to teach any religion they pleased.
(f) the Central School Commission be replaced by a Department of Public Instruction under a Director.

These recommendations were implemented, and the increase in the number of schools was rapid, as the following table for the next two decades illustrates :

                      1869     1879     1889
Government Schools      64      372      468
Aided Schools           21      814    1,042
                        85    1,186    1,510   

The percentage of literacy among males rose from 25% in 1881 to 28% in 1891 and that of females from 2.5% to 3.4%.

Upto 1886, all aided schools were those begun and run by Christian missionaries giving a very westernized Christian atmosphere to school education. While the Legislative Council sub-committee recommendations of 1867 gave a strong impetus and increased fervour to Christian bodies to establish schools in the country, the Buddhist majority also felt the urge and need to set up educational ventures sponsored by them. Under the Portuguese and the Dutch, the Buddhists had been prevented from having their own schools but the greater freedom of worship allowed by the British altered the situation considerably and gave the necessary freedom to the Buddhists as well. An American theosophist , Colonel H.S. Olcott, who came to Sri Lanka at the time, roused the feelings of the Buddhists to assert their rights and obligations. The direct result of this encouragement was the establishment of the Buddhist Theosophical Society in 1886 for the direct purpose of establishing Buddhist schools. In 10 years, this society established 63 schools assisted with grants from the Government. The Hindu and Muslim communities, who form, apart from the Christians, the two other minority religious groups in the country did not then have the necessary organizational impetus to make use of the facilities afforded by the government for expansion of education. The Government however, established six schools for Muslim girls with facilities for instruction in the Koran.

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It was around this time in the latter part of the nineteenth century that the problem of education beyond the elementary school age began to occupy the minds of educational administrators in Sri Lanka. It was as a response to these developments that the Cambridge Senior Examination was introduced in 1880 and followed by the introduction of the London Matriculation Examination in 1882. The London Intermediate Examination followed in 1885. The introduction of such higher examinations at the secondary school stage paved the way for provision of facilities for the learned professions of Law and Medicine and for other specialized studies. By 1897, Sri Lanka possessed a Medical College, a Law College, the Agricultural School, the Technical School (which later became the Ceylon Technical College) and 15 state-aided industrial schools.

Some of the assisted schools were also affiliated to the Calcutta and Madras Universities and presented students for the degree examinations of those institutions. Since degree courses were available only in those schools affiliated to Indian Universities, the thirst for a Sri Lankan University became more and more demanding. The Government of course, had a system whereby scholarships were annually awarded to enable selected students to pursue higher education in British Universities on the results of a special examination held for this purpose, but the opportunity was necessarily available only for a chosen few. The establishment of a University College was recommended in 1911 by a special committee which reported on secondary and higher education for the island. This Committee also recommended

(i) compulsory education in the primary classes for Sinhalese and Tamil children in their respective languages.
(ii) the development of commercial education
(iii) the introduction of an Elementary School Leaving Certificate.

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As time progressed, all religious denominations enhanced their pace of setting up primary and secondary schools in order to cater to increased pressure and demand. The Education Ordinance of 1931 provided the necessary legal frame-work for their development. However, the British colonial administrative system had by this time developed two different type of schools : the higher status schools which imparted education in the English medium and were largely centred around urban city centres and provided 13 years of schooling from age 5 to 18, and the lower status vernacular schools which imparted education in the local languages and were largely primary schools. The class distinction became even more marked since the English medium schools levied considerable tuition fees and were therefore accessible only to those who could afford such an expenditure for their children.

A Royal Commission chaired by a renowned Minister of Education. Dr. Kannangara, laid the pathway open for liberalisation of the gateways for school education in Sri Lanka. The recommendations of this Commission were far-reaching and included firm proposals to provide education free of charge to all children from the Kindergarten to the University; another proposal was the change in the medium of instruction in a phased out matter to the mother-tongue of Sinhalese/Tamil.

The result of the adoption of these proposals, about fifty years ago, was the opportunity afforded to large numbers to study free of charge in their own mother-tongue upto the University: the school going population increased by leaps and bounds and the Government expenditure on school education sky-rocketed since most schools opted to join the free education scheme promulgated by the Government with only a small number of (largely Christian) schools opting to become private and fee levying. Though at tremendous cost, the far reaching educational changes introduced resulted in more equity and equality amongst a wider segment of the population. Equal Education for All became the goal. The literacy rate of Sri Lanka gradually rose to the region of 86 - 88% which is amongst the highest in the Asian region.

Another important step taken by the Government around the time of Sri Lanka's independence in 1948 was the establishment of Central Schools in rural areas to provide Collegiate education in all streams (including science) upto University Entrance Level. Scholars were brought into Central Schools from smaller schools in underpriviledged and less accessible areas and were provided residential facilities to enable them to obtain good senior secondary level education which the Sri Lankan Government was unable to provide for economic reasons in all rural schools. This development marked a major milestone in providing less priviledged children with a better education. Unfortunately, the policy was not continued long enough and after a few years, the establishment of Central Schools was given up. The consequential attempts to develop a very large number of schools in all parts of the country for political reasons were not very successful since sufficient funds were not available for such an ambitious politically motivated programme of school expansion.

However, it has to be noted with regret that the funds made available for education have not kept pace with modern technological and scientific developments due to other demands for the scarce resources available from the national exchequer. Consequently, only 3.8% of the GDP is presently allocated for education of which only 0.4% is provided for higher education at tertiary level.

A wide range of educational enactments have been introduced to ensure equity & equality for all. No pupil can be refused admission to a school or the grounds of race, costs, religion or social status. Education is compulsory between the ages of 5 and 14. Education is free upto the University with only a provision for the levy of a small facilities fee in schools from children who can pay such a fee.

A three tier school system exists at present as part of this educational scenario :

	Primary              - Year 1 to Year 6
	Junior Secondary     - Year 7 to Year 11
	Senior Secondary     - Year12 to 13

The 13 year school cycle includes the General Certificate of Education (Ordinary Level) Examination at the end of Grade 11 and the General Certificate of Education (Advanced Level) Examination at the end of Grade 13. Students proceeding beyond this could enter a University, a Technical College, a Vocational Institute, a Teacher Training College, a College of Education or an equivalent institution. However, a very severe competition exists for admission to all these institutions resulting in a great stress and sometimes bitter frustration.

It has however to be recognized that despite considerable funds being invested on school education by several governments, especially after independence, severe disparities still exist between urban and rural schools with rural schools being less advantaged especially in the provision of science laboratories and the shortage of qualified teachers. Many Science graduates produced by the Universities in ever-increasing numbers are not attracted to the teaching profession, particularly because remuneration is not very satisfactory. There are serious disparities between schools within the same district even in urban areas. Some are prestigious schools, which are well resourced and also getting high calibre students through admission tests while others are deprived schools which are the inevitable preserve of the lower socio-economic groups.

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The total number of schools in the country are 10,590 of which 10,042 (97%) are run by the Government. Of the total number of 4,285,000 children attending school, 4,155,000 (97%) attend Government schools. The total number of teachers is 182,600 of whom 175,680 (96%) are in Government schools.

20% of the Government schools provide classes upto G.C.E. (Advanced Level). About 40% are small schools with classes upto Grade 6 or Grade 9 and serve the disadvantaged children in difficult rural areas. The pupil - teacher ratio in Government schools stands at between 25 and 26 pupils per teacher.

Almost equal gender differences in enrolment in all parts of the country indicate a very positive feature in the access to education: in fact, there are more girls than boys in the higher classes, particularly at the G.C.E. (Advanced Level). The significant gender differential is seen in the choice of the field of study at secondary level: boys are equally distributed in the three common fields of arts, commerce and science; in the case of girls, over 50% choose arts while the balance are divided between commerce and science.

92% of the children admitted to school at Grade 1 complete primary schooling at Grade 6. About 4.5% of the children drop out of the school system between Grade 1 and 9 the rate being lower among the girls (3.8%) than boys (4.9%). These drop out rates and the primary completion rates are impressive by any standard relative to most developing countries.

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The development of a more widespread teaching of Science in Sri Lankan schools received an impetus only about 50 years ago around the time that Sri Lanka received independence from Britain. The development of Science (including chemical) education was relatively slow with a widespread inequality in the availability of teachers and laboratories to provide a sound education in the scientific disciplines. With universal franchise from 1931 and independence in 1948, political pressures came to be excerted on the system with a populist desire to make science education more extensively available to the rural student. Free education coupled to education in the mother tongue, which increasingly came into vogue in the nineteen fifties as a result of the Kannangara reforms (Section 3.0) provided additional impetus to these political pressures. However, lack of adequate teachers, resources and finances no doubt had a curtailing influence on providing adequate science education to all.

In 1972, a political decision was taken to adopt a common curriculum with Science as one of eight subjects in all junior secondary schools in the country. Consequently, the teaching of Chemistry (and other science subjects) as individual subjects in junior secondary schools came to a stop resulting in a lowering of the scientific knowledge imparted by Year 11 in a few schools but with a raising of the same knowledge in all the remaining schools. The gap between the scientific knowledge acquired by Year 11 and that required in individual scientific disciplines (including Chemistry) by Year 13 therefore widened considerably. This has no doubt presented a considerable problem to an effective chemical education at the senior secondary level in Sri Lanka. Making all Sri Lankan school children more science literate has thus been achieved but at the expense of a higher level of scientific knowledge, as earlier existed, amongst those who aspire for science education in senior secondary schools. In the revised curriculum, the teaching of Science commences as part of Enviroment in the integrated syllabus.

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Provision of education, particularly in schools, only in the mother tongue (Sinhalese & Tamil) has been a characteristically significant educational policy in Sri Lanka for the past 40 years. Simultaneously, the accent on the need for a knowledge of an international language (English in the Sri Lankan context) has been downplayed for political reasons in an apparent attempt to provide equal opportunity and access for education for the rural child vis-a-vis the urban population. Any degree of competency in English, though a compulsory subject at the GCE (Ordinary Level) Examination, is for many years not necessary for any higher educational programme. Consequently, we have in Sri Lanka, a highly literate population who, however, for no fault of theirs, have not been sufficiently motivated to acquire competency in English, so necessary for many vocations in life. Realization of this dilemma has occurred a little too late in Sri Lanka's educational scenario : today, we therefore have a rural population who realise the need for English which they cannot adequately obtain due to the grave paucity of English teachers. Short sighted political decisions which were apparently intended to avoid marginalisation of the rural and underprivileged sector have virtually boomeranged on that very sector; however the urban sector is better able for cultural and historic reasons to obtain this much needed competency in English. It is ironic though not surprising to observe that even for employment in the state sector, anybody having competency in a second language such as English, is obviously at an advantage compared to a person competent in a local language only.

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Due to the lack of adequate competency in English, secondary school children as well as university undergraduates have insufficient and inadequate reading and reference material in scientific fields including Chemistry. A few text-books have been produced in the local languages to cater to this need but these are grossly insufficient when one considers the wealth of material that is necessary for a complete education and which is in fact available in the English language. Due to the relatively small clientele, no books are produced in the local languages at the post-secondary level since the few authors who have written scientific text-books in the local languages have done so, for financial gain, for the comparatively huge secondary school marketl. Even at this level, the available books are not adequate both in depth and quality. Chemical education in Sri Lanka at the secondary and tertiary levels in Sri Lanka has therefore been adversely affected. Attempts made by the Government of Sri Lanka to undertake the translation of renowned English text-books were abandoned many years ago when it was realised that the exponential growth of scientific knowledge cannot be matched by such costly and expensive endeavours in any satisfactory or pragmatic manner.

At the tertiary level, however, practically all the eight science faculties in Sri Lankan Universities provide chemical education in the English medium as well and generally encourage students to switch-over to this international medium as quickly as possible. A large number of students do so but not without serious practical difficulties that involve obtaining adequate competency in English simultaneously with obtaining higher level Chemical Education. Honours Level courses in Chemistry are available only in English causing serious problems to a fair number of students; however, it is relevant to point out that faced with the challenges and the need for change of medium, many students become sufficiently motivated and atuned to obtain the necessary competency in English. They do this in order to receive a sound Chemical Education that prepares and enables them to even proceed abroad and obtain good post-graduate degrees in prestigious Universities.

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