The pertinent question: whether free or freedom of education, is to be answered by policymakers of Sri Lanka is important to be considered in driving its higher education system to produce 21st century skills.
Free education has made a huge impact in the Sri Lankan society. However, the freedom to choose from a wide range of educational paths is limited. Universities do possess a reasonable number of paths; however, many of them are outdated and such skills have no demand in the industry. Hence, freedom of education is becoming more important than the free education as the country is moving into the next stage of the developing nations. It is a fact that free education is a requirement for a segment of the society where resources for education and financial facilities are inadequate.
Today, many universities and Higher educational Institutes (HEIs) are incapable to offer choices regarding what students demand. This has resulted in outbound student mobility (22,000 students annually) and a huge annual foreign exchange loss nearing to Rs 55 billion. Many Sri Lankan youth reportedly view migration or international schooling as an opportunity to enhance their employment prospects, and Sri Lanka’s tertiary-level student population is quite mobile – in part because higher education in Sri Lanka has insufficient capacity to address student demands, especially at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels.
However, the current pandemic has challenged the higher educational system to build the capability within the country. It is at this backdrop that NIBM is building its digital capability to offer a variety for student’s choices of higher education through both offline and online platforms.
Digital lifestyle in Sri Lanka
A rapid growth is observed in the digitalisation process in Sri Lanka and the penetration of mobile and internet is on the rise at an exponential rate. In 2020, there are 10.10 million internet users and the number of internet users in Sri Lanka has increased by 399,000 (+4.1%) between 2019 and 2020. Mobile connections stood at 31.80 million in January 2020 in Sri Lanka and it is equivalent to 149% of the total population. Social media penetration was around 30% in January 2020 in Sri Lanka and it shows an annual growth rate of 8.3%. Hence, the issue of digital gap is steadily moving away from the society.
The digital divide: this critical national issue can be addressed through ICT integration with the educational services. The Government and many agencies are implementing several projects to establish ICT infrastructure to provide the foundation for ICT integration for educational services. ICT literacy of both teachers and learners is a crucial requirement in the infrastructure development. During the pandemic, many teachers and students initiated teaching & learning online as they were deprived of offline teaching and learning. It is a positive gesture in the educational industry to carry forward the strategy of ICT integration within the educational system. Further, the rapid growth of digital capability in Sri Lanka has opened opportunities in the higher educational industry to set up virtual universities, so that students from all corners could access the higher educational facilities which were earlier limited to a few universities in Colombo and main cities.
The mandate of a university
The mandate of Universities or Higher Educational Institutes is to discover the personality of every student and to build a strong character with a sense of responsibility for their community. This implies developing skills of reflection, interpretation of different information and other complex meta competences. Science, business and social organisations alike describe a strong need for a set of skills and competences, often referred to as 21st century skills (e.g. Pink 2006, Wagner 2010, Gardner 2007) or key competences. With the complexity of everyday life, increasing globalization, fast changing technological advances, product cycles getting shorter and economic competition tightening, innovative capacities comprised in the 21st century skills have become crucial for individuals to survive in an ever-changing society (Dikmans 2011).
Digital Teaching and
It is a fact that a teacher’s or a lecturer’s quality has a direct positive impact on a student’s achievement. Teachers are increasingly expected to employ integrated teaching practices in their classrooms or digital platforms to help students learn better.
The need is exacerbated by the recent Covid-19 pandemic, forcefully migrating physical learning environment to a virtual space. Furthermore, teachers act as planners, designers, climate builders, facilitators and guides and are central to interpreting and implementing any curriculum. Hence, investing in teacher training and development is imperative.
NIBM formal Digital Teaching and Learning (DTL) initiative began in 2018 with the collaborative efforts of all the faculties of NIBM. This led to the creation of NIBM Digital Campus which articulates the intent of technology-powered learning at NIBM, including the critical role of the faculty as the architects of teaching. Advantages of digital teaching and learning includes;
• Learner -centered and self-centered
• Time and space flexibility
• Cost -effective for learners
• Potentially available to global audience
• Unlimited access to knowledge
• Archive capability for knowledge, its reuse and share
• Covers many students by a very limited lecturer panel
• Potential use of variety of educational tools and techniques
• More learning capability in virtual learning
It has been evident that there are some disadvantages as well. Some of them are; more time for teachers’ preparation, anxiety and confusion due to lack of relationships, no access to control exams and practical and lower contact hours. A major obstacle is the digital divide and no equal online access to all the students. However, DTL is becoming more popular among the new generation and almost all the individuals belonging to the new generation prefer online learning at least to a certain extent with a reasonable contact level. Hence, blended learning is the most preferred option for higher education at all levels.
NIBM Digital Campus
NIBM Digital Campus is the latest global initiative of NIBM in addition to its network of six campuses located throughout the country. The main facility is in Colombo-07 with a total on campus capacity of more than 10,000 students including regional campuses.
Vision: Setting global standards in Digital Teaching and Learning (DTL)
Mission: Creating NIBM community and online body of knowledge through innovative online and blended learning
Located at your fingertips, the NDC offers an extensive range of professional qualifications through a virtual setting that allows you to study, learn, and connect when it suits you, anywhere, anytime. With a plenty of flexibility and student support, our digital campus serves up a rich learning journey that has your career in mind. The features that are embedded in the process of NDC teaching and learning are;
• Quality provider of Online Education
Learn from more than 300 academically and professionally qualified faculty (Internal and external)
• Study-Life Balance
Choose from two ways (total online or Blended) to study online and have the freedom to mix and match to suit your changing needs.
• Support to reach your goals
As 40% of our cohort study, or at least two subjects are offered online, you can be sure that you will have plenty of dedicated student support and services on hand.
24/7 learning access, online library, rich learning environments, and IT support, student collaboration networks, cost-effective
We know that everyone’s situation is different, so why should everyone study in the same way? At NDC, you can choose to gain many qualifications, and we offer two ways to study as online and offline, while giving the students freedom to mix and match to suit the changing needs. Furthermore, as life gets busy, you’ll have the flexibility to accelerate or slow down your study to make your university life easier and more enjoyable. Of course, even if you choose to study online, you can still come to campus to take advantage of all the great facilities NIBM has to offer.