Daily News Editorial 26 May 2010 – ON  UNIVERSITY EDUCATION

Professor Rajiva Wijesinha MP has raised a number of salient issues with respect to University education when he took part in the debate on the Adjournment Motion in Parliament last week.

He was speaking, among other things on resistance to change. Our Universities are run on an archaic British model that the latter also has abandoned by now. All attempts to make progressive changes in the system of education were resisted by the students. However, it was only a minority that resisted though the silent majority acquiesced with no resistance. This is largely due to the monopoly held by a certain political party among the student population.

Teaching in many disciplines still follow the obsolete method of delivering lectures and following lecture notes. In the absence of wide reading on the subjects taught, students rely much on the lecture note as gospel truth. Education is reduced to rote learning and in this instance Universities are no better than high schools. Actually Universities are places where the basic method of education should be self-learning while teachers could only assist and guide the students to explore the world. Individual initiative and group assignments should take the place of rote learning.

Universities should be centres of academic discourse and inquiry. The proliferation of Universities, through a salutary development was associated with a general lowering of standards and the recruitment of mediocre individuals to tutorial staffs. To quote Professor Wijesinha MP: “Sadly, as excellence gets diluted, requirements for promotion are relaxed. Simple long service leads to chairs and administrative positions that are then used to perpetuate mediocrity.” No wonder our University rankings have declined over the years.

As the learned Professor and Member of Parliament stressed education means not only academic learning but also acquiring professional and vocational skills. This calls for a combination of work and study. Those who plan education strategies should take this factor into account.

Our University courses are also rigidly compartmentalized. There are a few opportunities for inter-disciplinary studies. In fact it is even discouraged. This is a principal drawback in our University system.

The system of examinations also leaves much to be desired. More emphasis should be given to individual and group course work and opportunities should be provided for students to finish the degree courses on a modular basis. Bright students should be allowed to complete simultaneously more than one module while others could be given the option to take their time to complete the modules if they face any difficulty to devote whole time to studies on account of employment or economic difficulties. The objective is not to let more students fail but to give every student a chance to complete studies successfully. In this respect best practices in foreign Universities could be emulated with suitable modifications.

Time wasted on ragging should be done away with. The ugly phenomenon of ragging should be eliminated through a process of building cordial teacher- student relations coupled with strict law enforcement.

Since a large number of qualified students (about 80 percent) are denied University admission those among them that complete suitable diploma or certificate courses should have an opportunity to enter Universities and read for a degree. For example, those with professional or technological qualifications could be enrolled for special degree programs that would supplement their practical knowledge with academic theoretical learning. In other words, a multiple entry system should be introduced.

Source: Daily News Sri Lanka, Editorial 26 May 2010  http://www.dailynews.lk/2010/05/26/main_Editorial.asp