To build a skilled nation | Sunday Observer

To build a skilled nation

Deputy Minister of Skills Development and Vocational Training, Karunarathna Paranawithana
Deputy Minister of Skills Development and Vocational Training, Karunarathna Paranawithana

Sri Lanka joined the international community in celebrating World Youth Skills Day last week. In the recent past, the Lankan skills development and vocational training sector has gone through many changes. In this context, what are the changes that have taken place in youth skills development, and how are the country’s youth meeting the challenge of joining the labour force? The Sunday Observer met Deputy Minister of Skills Development and Vocational Training, Karunarathna Paranawithana to find out.

“My dream is to have a skilled nation on merit basis, not on feudal power or family power or the power of wealth. We need to uphold the power of merit and the country should become a skilled nation,” said the Deputy Minister.

The Ministry of Skills Development and Vocational Training (SDVT) had set some reasonable goals to enhance the vocational training system in this country. The goals come under the six-year Skills Sector Development Program, which aims at improving quality, relevance, access, recognition for vocational training and supportive policies, systems and structures. According to Paranawithana, the Ministry with the recent changes is catering its utmost to the Sri Lankan youth population.

There were some setbacks in the previous system, Paranawithana pointed out, the very first being outdated courses which were being taught for the sake of teaching. “We have been teaching some courses simply because we had teachers and they were taught previously though they were not relevant to the modern labour market. So, we categorically instructed our authorities to omit them for future intakes as there was no point in spending time and resources on those,” said the Deputy Minister.

Instead they have introduced new programs, directly addressing the labour market challenges. “This is an era where we face the fourth industrial revolution, with nano-technology, bio-tech and artificial intelligence. The programs at the higher echelons in the vocational training system are geared to address these needs. We have introduced new courses and upgraded the existing relevant courses to modern-day standards.”

While language skills had been newly introduced to the skills development system including Japanese, Korean, Tamil and English languages being offered at the vocational institutions, courses at certificate level (NVQ 3 and 4) constitute vocational training such as care giving, elder care and solar power technician. Many courses had been introduced at the Diploma (NVQ 5) level as National Diplomas including automobile technology, automation and robotic technology, mechatronic technology and pneumatics and hydraulic technology.

Doubling the intake is the most challenging change they have introduced in the system. The current statistics show “very disturbing features and trends, regarding the country’s youth,” said Paranawithana. “The total number of school leavers in this country after Ordinary and Advanced Level examinations constitute about 330,000 youth annually. However, among these only 30,000 will be eligible to enter into government universities. There are about another 100,000 who either select to do higher studies in foreign universities, find employment mainly in private business establishments and some specially girls get married and leave the workforce.

The current vocational system in this country could sustain only about another 100,000 youth annually. These figures show that about another 100,000 are totally left behind. They are the youth falling into underdeveloped human resource category in this country,” said Paranawithana. Taking this into consideration the Ministry had doubled the number of student admissions into the SDVT system in the country within the next three to five years starting from the first semester in 2019. According to data available at the Vocational Training Authority it is already paying dividends, while the total number of students (2 intakes) who had completed and left the system in 2018 amounted to 32,613. The number of admissions in the first intake of 2019 had been increased to over 22,000 youth.

Value addition

The Ministry and the institutions attached to the SDTV system also connect those students who are passing out from our system to the labour market, said Paranawithana. “Though it is not our mandate it gives us value addition.” Sri Lanka’s vocational training is recognised and have a high demand in many countries both in the West and the East. “Most of the students who have received high-level training from our institutes do not remain in Sri Lanka. Many find employment abroad.

For instance, in the hotel sector professionals find employment in the Middle East or Australia. Those professionals in the technical fields do the same very easily. Whoever who enters into our system find jobs easily.”

The SDVT system in the country is linked with and supported by other countries around the world as well. For instance the first automobile training facility was granted by Germany, the Ceylon German Technical Training Institute (CGTTI). Another training institute of the CGTTI is planned to be established in Matara, said Paranawithana.

Two of the largest vocational training institutes in Sri Lanka , the Japan-Tech and Korean-Tech in Orugodawatte had also been collaborations with these countries. Furthermore, the system also offers training and study opportunities abroad.

“The National School of Business Management (NSBM) one of the prominent institutions in IT training, engineering and marketing field offers a lot of split programs and combined degree programs with Australia, UK and other countries,” Paranawithana pointed out. The SDVT sector in Sri Lanka had produced thousands of professionals in that field, who excel in their respective fields within the country and abroad.

However, in Sri Lanka a problem still remains, the Deputy Minister stressed, it is of changing the attitude towards vocational training. “Still the young people in this country are not encouraged to join the vocational training system. At the school level you are told that you should go to the university and you should have a degree. That is the mentality.

Then, naturally the young people get the idea that vocational training is secondary. It is not for the intelligent people. It is for those who fail exams. That mentality is still there. We will have to eradicate these mental blocks.”

The Government has a few plans in doing the same and had started doing so, through the civic education syllabus. It highlights the importance of vocational education. The introduction of the 13th year with the technical stream, facilitates practical training for school children within the SDVT institutes.

Free education

The best change is the Government’s decision to keep the vocational education also in line with the free education in this country, Paranawithana pointed out. “Though nobody believes that, this education is totally free. Earlier there was a fee levied. Now it is the same as you getting admission to a school or university.”

And how does one get into the SDVT system in the country? “ You can easily get into the vocational training system. And there are competitive exams to get into the German Tech, Korean Tech or any other high level college.

You have to sit for the exams and according to marks scored are either selected or rejected. It is totally on merit basis now without any other influence,” said the Deputy Minister and invited the youth to avail the opportunities. 

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