Sri Lanka: Unqualified teachers – bane of our education system

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Tue Dec 30 14:51:39 UTC 2008

Unqualified teachers – bane of our education system

M. A. Kaleel

A recent study shockingly revealed that 82% of the teachers teaching
Buddhism in our schools were unqualified and the worst affected was
the central province with 90%. The study also revealed among other
things that of the 8,455 teachers teaching Buddhism a staggering 6,955
teachers recruited by successive regimes were unqualified and they
should not have been recruited.  This was a front page news story in
The Island of November 24 and was the Editorial in the Daily News of
November 25. In short a Buddhist Nation has no competent teachers to
teach Buddhism. What a damning indictment of our education.

This is not the first time the issue of unqualified teachers has been
raised. Last year UNP parliamentarian Madduma Bandara dropped a
bombshell in the Parliament that there were 12,000 unqualified
teachers in the schools. This was the Editorial of Daily Mirror the
following day. The UNP and the PA traded allegations as to which party
was responsible for the recruitment of such a large number of
unqualified teachers. When asked what the Education Ministry would do
with them, the Education Services Minister said it was too late to
deal with them (Dinamina). Therefore they would remain in the system
and mar the future of hundreds of thousand students and retire as
unqualified teachers.

Readers may wonder how such a large number of unqualified teachers had
infiltrated the teaching profession and remained in the service for
such a long time undetected. To my knowledge the major reasons are the
faulty teacher recruitment systems, and the political and bureaucratic
patronage. Different regimes have adopted different systems of teacher
recruitments. To share with the readers a few of the teacher
recruitment systems hitherto adopted by different regimes are
Janasaviya Teacher Recruitment System, Volunteer Teacher Recruitment
System, Contract Basis Teacher Recruitment System, Samurdhi Teacher
Recruitment System, Home Guard Teacher Recruitment System, Terrorist
Victims Teacher Recruitment System, Political Victimization Teacher
recruitment System, National Cadet Corps Teacher Recruitment System,
Competitive Exam Based Teacher Recruitment System, National Colleges
Education Teacher Recruitment System and Graduate Teacher Recruitment
System. Some of these systems are hopelessly ineffective and the
unqualified could have infiltrated into the teaching profession
through one or more of these systems with political or bureaucratic

When we say we do not have qualified teachers to teach Buddhism, what
does it means? Are we short of competent people to be recruited as
Buddhism teachers? No. We have ample but we have deliberately failed
to recruit them and train them properly. This applies to English
language teaching as well. We do not have competent teachers to teach
English. The standard of English teachers is abysmally low. Teaching
English in our schools and universities has been a complete fiasco.
Now having lost confidence on the Education Ministry, the President's
Office has taken over the teaching of English. They look to India to
revitalise English Education in Sri Lanka and a batch of English
teachers has already been trained at the University of Hyderabad.

They also look to the Board of Investment and the Private Sectors to
introduce English as a life skill. Meanwhile, English as a medium of
instruction has also made a comeback with the same host of problems
which led to its overthrowing a few decades ago, and this move has
been strongly opposed by the JVP. There was also a proposal by the
Eastern Provincial Ministry of Education to bring down English
teachers from India to teach English in the schools in the East which
was strongly opposed by the JVP provincial councillor.

Aren't we barking up the wrong tree? There are many obvious reasons
for our failure in the teaching of English but we have hitherto failed
to rectify them. We do not have a proper English Teacher Recruitment
System. Nor do we have a proper English Teacher Training System. We do
not have a proper English Teacher Supervision System. Nor do we have a
proper English Teacher Placement System. We do not have a proper
Promotion System for them. We can definitely make these systems more
effective but we have deliberately failed to do so.

For instance, the Eastern Provincial Ministry of Education recruited
English teacher through volunteer teacher recruitment system and
contract basis teacher recruitment system and the teachers thus
recruited were so poor in English. They also recruited English
teachers through a competitive exam in General Knowledge and Aptitude
not English. Anyone without any school education knows the problem
with English teachers is their lack of proficiency in English.

But the Eastern Province Education Ministry thought the best way to
maintain the standard of English teachers was to test their knowledge
in General knowledge and Aptitude. Unfortunately we had no one at the
Central Ministry of Education to advise against this. The English
teachers recruited under these systems also included candidates with a
simple pass in O/level English.

Nearly a thousand English teachers recruited under these systems were
for the first time admitted into Government Teachers Colleges in the
North and the East last year. Now they are in the position of the
proverbial man who fell from a tree and gored by a bull. These
colleges are not equipped even to train vernacular teachers. They do
not have a single permanent lecturer for English. English teachers
from primary and secondary schools released on secondment are their
English lecturers. Their libraries do not have a single book on
English language teaching. When some teacher trainees of a GTC
petitioned the MOE about shortage of English lecturers, the Principal
of the college threatened them in the assembly that he would fail
them. He told them that their pass or failure was in his hand not in
their performance because 40 percent of the final marks was in his

He told them that provided they cooperated with the administration
they will all pass out as English Specialist Trained Teachers or they
will fail. Now they are about to complete their course but their
vocabulary is still infantile and they cannot write any sentence other
than a simple sentence beginning with a subject and ending in a full
stop and even these sentences will have at least an error in each.
Anyhow they will pass out as English Specialist Trained Teachers-a
shame for the name. They will either freely copy in the final exam, or
their final papers will be set easy, or their papers will be marked
leniently, or their pass marks will be lowered.

The other day I visited a school which had around thousand students
but the school did not have a single English teacher whereas a popular
school only half a kilometre away from this school had four English
teachers surplus. The Zonal Education Officer, a senior SLEAS officer
who was the product of the Buy One Get Two Free system of promotion
was least bothered about it. Having made a fine mess of English
language teaching and now look to India to improve the standard of
English of our students. Education Minister alone cannot improve the
education system. He also needs support and cooperation of the other
politicians as well. Politicians should place the country before their
self interest. For instance the Education Minister formulated a
national policy on teacher recruitment recently but now I understand
the policy has been shelved due to strong protests from his colleagues
and opposition politicians.

Another instance is he still considers the appointment of performing
principals as political and refuses to absorb them into permanent
cadres and asks them to go through the normal procedures to be
promoted as principals but there was a directive recently from a top
politician to the Education Minister that action should be taken to
absorb them into the permanent cadres. There was another move from a
Cabinet Minister to lower the educational qualification for Moulavi
teachers' recruitment to O/level from A/level but the Education
Minister refused to heed it.

These incidents show that the Education Minister also needs
cooperation from other politicians to raise the standard of education.
Above all the Education Minister should also seriously think about
revising the systems of teacher recruitment, teacher education,
promotion, teacher placement, and teacher supervision. The Zonal
Education Officers and Provincial Education Officers should be held
accountable for anything which goes wrong in their education

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