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Bridging the gap between employable graduates and job market

2013 Jun 18

By Manjula Fernando

Education Minister, Bandula Gunawardena says the Government's 'Mahindodaya 1,000 schools project' is the first serious endeavour aimed at easing the intense race for popular schools in cities.

In an interview with the Sunday Observer, Minister Gunawardena said ground-breaking changes were being introduced from this year in the GCE Advanced Level and undergraduate courses in Universities as part of the new National Education Policy that is in the offing. The Policy strives to correct 'historical discrimination' where rural students were subject to and these changes will also effectively address the mismatch of state education and job requirement. A new GCE Advanced Level technology stream is one of the important changes aspired in this line.

The Parliamentary Consultative Committee that looked into the issues of the education sector, has concluded its final report. It is to be tabled in Parliament pursuant to Cabinet approval next week.

The Minister said he aims to complete formulating the new National Education Bill that will streamline ill-regulated international schools and universities among other things before the end of this year.
Excerpts of the interview:

The new Technology Stream to be introduced to the GCE Advanced Level from this year in July, will be a turning point in Sri Lanka's free education system. In the history of our education, an AL students had just three streams to study in and enter University-Science, Commerce and Arts. Children in the rural areas who qualify to do GCE ALs could not enter Science or Commerce streams because their schools lacked required laboratory facilities. Even if they had laboratories, there were no graduate teachers, since qualified graduate teachers did not remain in remote schools. Similarly there was a shortage of Accounts teachers in the Commerce stream thus the opportunities there were also limited.

Discrimination between schools in the cities and the villages, existed which gave rise to the popular JVP slogan, 'columbata kiri, gamata kekiri', so as a result children doing science subjects account for only 21% of all GCE AL students and there are 27% in the Commerce stream.

The balance 52% were all in the Arts stream. This is about 200,000 students each year.

This group which accounts for more than half of the AL students had to choose either the Sinhala Language, Buddhist Civilization, Political Science and Logic. More than 200,000 students select these subjects for their ALs every year. They pass out as Arts graduates but when they enter the job market there is a gigantic mismatch between their qualifications and job market requirements. Although impressive jobs are out there, Arts graduates find themselves a bunch of useless misfits due to no fault of theirs.

The Government is facing a huge issue, educated youth don't have jobs while Universities don't produce the required workforce to satisfy the job market.

For example there is an acute shortage of teachers for Science, Mathematics, English and IT in state schools due to lack of Science graduates who can fulfill our criteria. Parents can picket in front of schools demanding Mathematics teachers for their children, but our system has not produced enough graduates. Then if you talk of nurses, we don't have enough GCE AL Science students to be trained as nurses. This is a long standing and grave issue. This is the top most reason for youth unrest and bloody insurgencies in the past.

If our youth who pass out with an Arts Degree cannot find jobs, a suitable partner in marriage, and build a house of their own, their next move is to take out their anger on the state by destroying and killing people. The country has seen enough of such violent phases in history.

This is not the trend in Japan, China and Korea. Why? because they restructured their education systems to suit changing national and global needs. They bridged the gap between the education system and the job market. They focused schools to competency-based education. This is the catalyst behind their success story and speedy development.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa realised this mistake and in his 'Mahinda Chinthana forward vision' he proposed to develop a total of 1000 secondary schools to address this issue. We are nearing the completion of building 409 Mahindodaya technical laboratories. Another 175 laboratories are funded by the World Bank. The contract to construct 400 odd more laboratories in schools were awarded on Friday (June 14).The objective of these laboratories are to offer rural schools equal lab facilities, a leading city school enjoys.

Three selected schools in each divisional secretariat Division is to be upgraded under this project. The infrastructure development part of the project includes building Science labs, IT labs, language labs, Physics labs, Nenesa distance education units, and all other aesthetic and sports facilities. The teacher shortage in these schools will be addressed by the end of this term.

Once these improvements are in place, students in village schools will have no reason what-so-ever to fight for a school in the city. An important objective of this project is to reduce the intense fight for the country's 50 odd popular schools and end corruption that goes with it.

The AL Technology stream will be introduced in 250 schools from July 15, 2013. At least one school in every electorate will be selected for the project. The technology stream will consist of three subjects; Engineering technology/Bio system technology, Science for Technology and choose one subject from Arts or Commerce stream. They will have the option of choosing one out of ten selected subjects in the Arts or Commerce stream.

At the final examination the students will get 75% marks from the written examination held by the Examinations Department. The balance 25% will be evaluated by the Youth Affairs and Skills Development Ministry for practical components. The Z-score will be calculated using both grades.

In 2016, the Science Faculties in state universities will be upgraded as Science and Technology faculties to accommodate the new batch of technology students.

A total of 1500 students will be selected for the Bachelor of Technology (B.Tech) Degrees in 2016. In addition technology students can follow 40 other existing Degree programs in state universities.

Apart from this the Youth Affairs and Skills Development Ministry plans to open 25 University Colleges by 2016.

These Colleges will admit a total of 300 students each for two year higher diploma programs in technology beginning from 2016. The students who follow technology subjects will also be selected for Technical Colleges on priority basis.

The three ministries of Education, Higher Education and Youth Affairs and Skills Development were joined in formulating the technology syllabus for AL students. National Education Commission, National Institute of Education and University Grants Commission are playing key roles in the new project.

I was assisted by Ministers Dallas Alahapperuma and S.B. Dissanayake, especially to train teachers in technology subjects. Experts from universities and Vocational training institutes were extracted for this purpose.

This will be a golden opportunity for students who complete their GCE Ordinary Level examination this year (2013). Students who strive to enter University from the Arts stream will have to compete with 200,000 students. But 1500 of those who follow technology subjects will be competing with just 25,000 students to enter University while more will get admission to follow 40 other degree courses if their Z-scores are high. With University Colleges in place by 2016, almost all AL technology students will have a path to pursue higher education.

The ADB offered a $ 200 million loan facility to implement the program. The funding will be utilised to construct fully equipped 250 technical laboratories in the selected 250 schools by the end of this year. These will be the first schools to be upgraded to 1AB super grade with GCE AL science, Commerce, arts and technology streams. All 1000 'Mahindodaya schools' will be upgraded to 1AB super schools by 2016.

This project is part of the National Education policy that is in the offing. A Special Parliamentary Consultative committee held 30 meetings where they recorded over 1000 statements. The report of the consultative committee has been finalized and it will be submitted to the Cabinet next week.

The new National Education policy will be based on this report. Our aim is to table the Act before Parliament at least by December 2013.

The Act will seek and include mechanisms to monitor International schools, revision of state school syllabi every five years starting from 2015 and the possibility of holding national examinations such as the GCE OL and AL earlier than the current examination schedule to create a level playing field for students in government schools and those in international schools.

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