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Committee on Chemistry Education

Number: 2005-030-1-050

Title: New directions in teaching, learning and evaluation of chemical sciences at tertiary level in Sri Lanka
CCE Flying chemists program - 2006 visit to Sri Lanka

Task Group
: Neelakanthi E. Gunawardena

Members: Peter Atkins, Colin Baird, Ram Lamba, and Ingrid Montes

Completion Date: 2006 - project completed

To replace the currently practicing knowledge based education in Chemical Sciences at tertiary level with modern methods by empowering academics with relevant knowledge and skills. Focus will be on novel teaching, learning and evaluation methods with an emphasis on curriculum development, new assessment methods and evaluation tools.

The science education process in Sri Lanka has faced a serious problem in the recent years. Higher education is available only for about 6% of the applicants each year due to lack of state university facilities. From state universities, the major producer of science graduates in the country, only about 45% complete the degree whilst others opt for low paid jobs prior to completion of the degree (N.B. The job insecurity after graduation being the major reason). Despite the low number of science graduates produced by state universities the unemployment rate of science graduates is as high as 50%. The reason for this, as envisaged by the developing industrial sector in the country, is the poor quality of graduates lacking relevant skills such as innovativeness, intellectual skills, independent working ability, decision making ability etc. Unemployed graduates' frustration is causing problem in the country.

The root course for low quality graduates, has been identified as due to traditional teaching methods still largely practiced in SL. In turn, regrettably, there has been no opportunity for university academics to educate or improve themselves on novel teaching methods. No attempt has ever been made to address this issue by the higher education sector of SL.

To initiate the modernization in the science teaching at tertiary level, a group of academics in the Chemical Sciences held a preliminary meeting in SL on the 25 July 2005, with two representatives from RSC and IUPAC. After a lengthy discussion, the following activities were recommended to improve the present system:

  1. Reinvigorating the syllabi (theory and practicals)
  2. Incorporation of novel teaching assessment and evaluation methods into the existing course unit system.
  3. Learn to deal with the course unit system to reap maximum benefits from it.

To achieve the above, a conference is planned now by the SL academics in Chemical Sciences. Four foreign experts in Chemical Science are expected to educate the local contingency. The conference will take the form of plenary lectures followed by small group discussions and is planned for two days. A document covering the essence of lectures and discussions at the conference will be prepared to be used as guidelines in the future.

The improved participants will adapt, develop and use the knowledge in their own environment for effective teaching learning and evaluation thus help state universities to produce more adaptable, better science graduates for the country. This modernization process, initiated by the Chemical Sciences, will induce other disciplines to take similar action and therefore a greater overall change in the education system is expected from this conference.

A conference titled "Towards modernizing Chemical Science Education in Sri Lankan Universities" will be organized on 11-12 March 2006 at the Taj Samudra Hotel in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Discussions and workshops will be led by the following lectures:

  • Why do Students Resort to Rote Memory and Recipe Following?
    by Ram S. Lamba
  • Educating a Chemist: the Challenge and the Opportunity
    by Peter W. Atkins
  • Introducing Environmental Chemistry and Classroom Discussion Methods into the Curriculum
    by Norman Colin Baird
  • New Directions in Teaching Organic Chemistry: an Inquiry -Based Approach
    by Ingrid Montes

Sponsors: IUPAC, Royal Society of Chemistry (London) and University Grants Commission (UGC) of Sri Lanka.

project completed - a conference report has been published in Chem. Int. 28(4), 2006.

Last update: 7 August 2006


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Page last modified 7 August 2006.
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