The challenges that we face today -triggered by the pandemic and the utter mismanagement of the economy – are unprecedented. Rather than discussing the gravity of it, let me straight away express the fact that Education should and can contribute immensely to the efforts of finding solutions to this pathetic situation. It is against this backdrop that Dr. Susil Premjayantha who is a veteran politician with the highest educational credentials shoulders the responsibility of guiding the youth to be ultra-useful contributors to the nation’s revivification. It is generally believed that the seasoned scholastic politician – a rare species in Sri Lankan political arena will deliver and bringin a paradigm shift. The following may be useful in his efforts.
The ideas shared here could be supported with very convincing facts at a relevant forum if the responsible high-ranking offices would pay attention to those with a genuine intention for implementation. I will be as brief as possible here to convey the message directly so that one would be able to comprehend my thoughts easily.
= About five hundred thousand (500,000) students sit for the GCE (O/L) examination yearly; for the GCE (A/L) examination, the number is about three hundred thousand.
= The age of a GCE (O/L) student is 16, he or she will be about 19 years old when he or she sits for the GCE (A/L) examination. Those who decide to take the examination for the second and third time are above 20 years of age, and it takes about one year after the GCE (A/L) results when the Universities commence their studies for those who are successful (about 30,000) in the examination.
= The traditional Universities take about thirty thousand (30,000, until recently) students per year, out of approximately one hundred and seventy thousand (170,000) passers. The opportunities that the rest of the students look at are Colleges of Education, Institutes in the Tertiary and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) sector, such as Technical Colleges, German Tech, ‘Japan Tech’, and ‘Korean Tech’ and Vocational Training Institutes under the VTA. There are a few more Private Sector Institutes as well.
= In the pre – Covid 19 era, some sought Higher Education opportunities in foreign countries, and some joined private universities established in Sri Lanka. This has now become very costly and an almost impossibility.
= Based on the figures given above, one can conclude that at least about one million Sri Lankan Youth between their prime age of 16 – 22 (approximately 300,000 x GCE AL-3 years) are on the road running a rat race at any given time to secure a place out of 30,000 places available in Universities yearly.
It is quite evident that it is an utter waste of the prime time of the Sri Lankan younger generation, the resources of parents (the colossal sum of money they have to spend on education despite the ‘free’ education), and the government funds.
More importantly, what is wasted ruthlessly and ignorantly is such irreversible time that could otherwise be effectively used for national growth in many a way, which will be elaborated on later in the article. In brief, it is by diverting the students early to gain a skill which makes him or her employable locally and internationally, expanding Sri Lankan TVET. It is NOW or NEVER.
DISCUSSION AND SUGGESTIONS FOR A WAY FORWARD.
To avoid this utter waste of time and resources of students, parents and government funds it is suggested to conduct the GCE OL examination in year 9 or 10 instead of having it in year 11 (eleven).
This could be easily arranged by reducing unnecessary stuff” that are in the syllabi of the subjects from years 6-10. I clearly understand that there will be strong opposition to this idea. We may discuss things objectively in appropriate forums to see whether the opposition has a rationale.
Similarly, the GCE A/L examination could also be held earlier than the usual time. Taken together the students will hopefully save three precious years, which would otherwise be spent on roads attending tuition classes fighting for a place in so-called traditional universities, spending enormous amount of money for more than three years.
What is alarming is that except for a handful of degree programmes, even “successful ones” after such a huge battle, generally add numbers to the queues of unemployed graduates due to many reasons that we should discuss separately. In short, most of the ‘happy passers of GCE A/L are not that happy after they have spent 4-5 years in universities solely due to the fact that they are not employable and do not fit intothe modern world of work.
It is easy to suggest things, but resources are limited. One may observe that schools are free after 02.00 p.m. and then there is enough space to conduct TVET programs. The instructors, teaching and learning materials, and modern equipment have always been nagging issues that should be addressed with a massive fundraising programme with international support. The writer believes that a comprehensive proposal to convince the international donors should be publicized, and the successful implementation of the suggestions will take a leap forward in many a way because such a progressive attitude towards education paying special attention TVET sector would definitely contribute immensely to attract their attention favourably in this hour of need.
Further to this, there should be a mechanism that students are diverted to GCE AL Streams according to their performances so that only a reasonable number of students are competing for places in state Universities. The rest has to be shown the TVET path officially again based on merits and guided to the TVET Institutes which are situated in the students’ immediate locality.
However, there should be freedom for any student who has passed GCE O/L to follow any of the streams as they wish as private candidates. Thus, ‘freedom for education is upheld as students’ and their parents’ aspirations are not compromised.
It is also suggested to organise all TVET Organizations under one banner namely ‘ONE TVET’ which should be a powerful body that can take decisions fearlessly to integrate resources that are available in a range of institutes such as DTET, NAITA, VTA, German Tech, University Colleges, Ocean University, and the University of Vocational Technology (UoVT).
Some more actions that should be taken in parallel with the above
It is of paramount importance that foreign languages such as Japanese, Korean and Chinese along with the English language are taught from year 6 and continue at G.C.E. A/L as at TVET Institutes.
Further, the NVQ 4 -6 courses at TVET Institutes mentioned above should introduce a foreign language as a core subject in all their courses. Passing that should be made compulsory. If this suggestion is accepted, “the title of an example of a prospective advertisement for an NVQ Level training program would be as follows;
‘NVQ Level 4 in Mechatronics with Japanese, Korean or English language’
The NVQ level 4 and 5 curricula must be revised as soon as possible and must be mapped with the ones that are in targeted foreign countries so that our trainees follow ‘their’ curriculum. They are then better equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills to be employable in such countries.
The suggestions that have been made above are in a very sketchy form and Each has to be elaborated with more convincing statistics and clear assessments before the implementation.
The expected main outcome of the suggestion is to ensure that the number of candidates who spent around 4-5 years for very limited opportunities in the University system is reduced to a manageable and realistic number so thatthe vast majority after G.C.E. (O/L) (which will be held earlier at the year 9 or 10) will be diverted to train them for skills which could be employable at both local and international level.
In other words, the nation is ready tosend its youth to the world of work earlier and a colossal sum of money and time is saved for a purpose. More foreign jobs will be approached and our country will begin to prosper again. We cannot produce things that could be exported soon. It takes years at least to begin. The expansion of TVET andfocusing more on it which can be commenced immediately- will create a sudden boost in the entirety of the social and economic spheres of the country. It is a tough time, but as the maxim goes, “Tough times never last, but tough people do”. It is now or never!
The Role of the University of Vocational Technology (UoVT)
It is the inspiration and the ultimate aspiration of the students in TVET institutes. Now UoVT is a fully-fledged national university which offers about 20-degree programs, giving priority to those who come from the NVQ stream. Nevertheless, the UoVT has not shut the door for GCE AL qualified applicants.
It has now taken the responsibility of upgrading the educational qualification of the TVET trainers to the degree level. The four faculties have introduced new degree programs, some with partnerships with other Institutes. The Staff Development Centre which has a mandate to serve many fields in the TVET can play a key role in implementing the suggestions given above by organising training programs for language teachers. If resources could be improved it can also help map the curricula of target countries to those of Sri Lanka NVQ curricula. Under the leadership of Senior Professor Ranjith Premalal de Silva, the Vice Chancellor, the UoVT introduced the fourth year (honours) program last year, so that the graduates can rub shoulders with their counterparts from any other university in the world, and become qualified to pursue further education up to PhD level along the Sri Lanka Qualification Framework, which is one of the major achievements during past years apart from having partnerships with other institutes to expand the opportunities for higher education for TVET and introducing new degree programmes. We have advertised the new intake. Those who have NVQ Level 5 or 6 and the students who passed GCE A/L in 2 websites visit our wesite, http://univotec.ac.lk/ . You will have the opportunity you have been looking for. It is guaranteed that you will not be in the unemployed graduate queue after graduation.
Faculty of Education
University of Vocational