Mathematics education – past, present and future

Professor J. E. Jayasuriya Memorial Lecture, 2014

By Dr. Upali Mampitiya

(Senior Lecturer, Department of Mathematics, University of Kelaniya)

Continued from yesterday

Meanwhile the policy of teaching mathematics to all was accepted by the new government and extended to Grade 10. When implementing the policy, some schools faced a considerable challenge in finding suitable teachers to deliver the topics such as formal geometry and algebra in the mathematics syllabus to their students before they sat the GCE (O/L) examination in 1978. Since it was not possible to ensure that all pupils would have the required teachers, a decision was taken by the government to give a `concession` of not offering mathematics to those sitting the GCE (O/L) examination in 1978 and 1979.

Following the abolition of the HNCE examination, two G.C.E. (A/L) examinations on different syllabuses were held in 1979. The April examination was the regular examination, and the August examination was an examination to meet the requirements of students who would otherwise have sat for the HNCE. The latter group having done the NCGE examination in December 1975 and qualified, started their HNCE classes in May 1976. They were studying the HNCE curriculum for a period of one year before the decision was made to terminate it and reintroduce a new two-year curriculum.

3. Mathematics Education – Present

The hurriedly introduced interim curriculum of 1978, as the substitute for NCGE and HNCE, was replaced by, a more stable, regular curriculum in 1980. Also in the same year, with the intention of enhancing the quality of education and improving learning outcomes, the government took the important step of providing free textbooks to all schooling children from Grades 1 to 11.

The 1981 White Paper on Education Reforms in Sri Lanka, contained the recommendations of three committees, appointed in 1979, to report on General Education, Technical Education and National Apprentice Training respectively. The reforms recommended in this White Paper brought in some major structural transformations to facilitate greater efficiency in the education system and covered the entire range of education including General Education and Examinations, Open Schools, School Organization and Administration, Teacher Education, University Admissions , Open University, Professional and Technical Education, and a Teaching Service. As a consequence of these recommendations the Sri Lankan education system initiated School-based Assessment, the Tertiary Education Commission, the Teacher Service, the Principals’ Service, and the Sri Lanka Education Service.

The Proposals for Reforms in 1981 describes the period of secondary education in Sri Lanka as having three segments: Junior Secondary – from grades 6 to 8, Senior Secondary – from grades 9 to 11 and Collegiate level – grades 12 and 13. This resulted in GCE (O/L) becoming a three-year program.

The National Institute of Education (NIE), Sri Lanka was established in 1986.The main purpose of creating NIE was to establish a unique institution for capacity building of educational managers, teacher educators and teachers, design and develop school curricula and conduct policy research on education. NIE was mandated to advise the Minister on matters related to the development of education in Sri Lanka.

Department of Examinations began assigning numbers to identify the subjects in GCE question papers in 1987 and GCE (O/L) Mathematics was allotted number 20.

In 1986, the terminology to indicate school levels was changed from "Grade" to "Year". Also a curriculum revision was initiated for senior 19 secondary students in 1986 and the first GCE (O/L) examination under it was conducted in 1988. Mathematics subject was given the number 42.

According to the 13th Amendment to the Constitution in 1987 and the 16th Amendment to the Constitution in 1988, both languages of Sinhala and Tamil became the Official Languages in Sri Lanka while English assumed the status of the link language. As a result Official Language Department became the Department of Official Languages.

In 1991, Parliament passed the National Education Commission (NEC) Act on the recommendation of the National Youth Commission (1989) and NEC was established under the President as the apex body on educational policy to advise the government on overall Policy covering all aspects of Education in the country.

A Presidential Task Force headed by the Minister of Education was appointed in 1996 to implement the recommendations made by NEC in 1992. The government declared the year 1997 as The Year of Education Reforms by unveiling the New Education Reforms of 1997. They were implemented from 1998/1999.

This proposal made some minor changes to secondary education levels and they remain the same even to date. A new nomenclature was adopted to designate the different levels of secondary education: Junior Secondary – from Years 6 to 9, Senior Secondary – from Years 10 and 11 and Collegiate level – Years 12 and 13. Thus GCE (O/L) once again became a two-year program.

In 1998 through a circular the Ministry of Education introduced three-subject combinations for GCE (A/L) replacing four-subject combinations that were in place since 1964. The maiden examinations under this scheme were held in August 2000. Two new academic concepts made their debut in 2000: Common General Paper for GCE (A/L) students who seek university admission and the Z-score method to select candidates for admission to universities. 20

In 1999 mathematics curriculum revisions were introduced at two levels – Year 6 and Year 9. In the same year, the authorities had decided to experiment a new mechanism to address the low pass rate issue in GCE (O/L) Mathematics by examining the mathematical ability of students, at two levels of difficulty, through two examinations called Mathematics I and Mathematics II. Question papers of both subjects were based on the same syllabus. The first was assigned the number 45 and the second continued as number 42. Mathematics I targeted the future Arts and Commerce stream GCE (A/L) students and had questions from less complex mathematics topics. Students were allowed to sit for both subjects if they so wished. However, the experiment was short-lived and the model disappeared after having been available only to students sitting the GCE (O/L) examinations for the first time in 1999 and 2000. However the examinations for subjects 45 & 42 were held in 2001 and 2002 also for the benefit of repeat candidates. In the meantime, Year 9 students who were subjected to the new curriculum from 1999 had to face the GCE (O/L) examination in 2001. They were given GCE (O/L) Mathematics question papers under the number 32. This number is continued to date by the Department of Examination. It is significant to note that in both 2001 and 2002 there were three different Mathematics examinations subject numbers (45, 42 and 32) at GCE (O/L).

It was recognized in the 1997 reforms that the free textbooks given to students, on the basis of one book for one subject, had a negative effect on learning opportunities as a whole due to the fact that a single textbook in mathematics could not adequately cater to the needs of the entire ability range among students. Hence it was recommended to introduce the Multiple Book Option (MBO) with private sector participation. As a first step in this connection the Educational Publication Department initiated the Single Book Option (SBO) in 2000 by inviting bids from the private sector. Then in 2001, MBO was introduced enabling schools to have access to more than one textbook for each subject including mathematics for Years 6 to 11. This scheme 21 did not last long and MBO was replaced by SBO in 2005 but the involvement of the private sector continued.

DOE, for the first time in history, conducted a mock examination in June 2005 called "Mathematics Pre-Test" to give the students an idea of what would be tested in the actual examination in December. It also intended, depending on the performance of each student, to have additional corrective measures taken by schools before the December examination. This ground-breaking project was abandoned in 2006.

The Ministry of Education introduced the Competency Based Curriculum, incorporating the 5E learning cycle, to the Sri Lankan Education System in 2006, starting with Years 6 and 10 and extending the same to other Years subsequently. Each of the 5 E’s describes a phase of learning: Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate.

The aim of the mathematics curriculum under this activity-based student-centered learning model was to create individuals who are able to think mathematically, and apply mathematical knowledge effectively and responsibly in solving problems and decision making, in their daily life and the work place. GCE (O/L) Mathematics question papers also underwent changes, in line with this philosophy, by introducing problems with real-life scenarios, starting 2008.

In order to promote awareness and understanding among stakeholders of the expected standards and facilitate the learning-teaching-assessment process by enhancing student performance at GCE (O/L), DOE published a very comprehensive document in 2008 titled "Examination and Assessment Guidelines – Mathematics (for Grades 10 and 11)".

To be continued tomorrow

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