- Limited access to Internet and devices citied as main hurdle
Sri Lanka’s technical and vocational education and training (TVET) took a massive hit during the COVID-19 pandemic, a study by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) has revealed.
Although 2021-2030 was marked as the ‘Decade of Skills Development’ by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, a plan towards reducing the proportion of unskilled labour by 10 percent, the ongoing pandemic only added to the existing issue, which is the lack of necessary infrastructure to improve access to higher education in the country.
Studies embarked on by ADB from July 2020 revealed that the quality of TVET dipped drastically, due to the challenges in facilitating practical training online and delivering lectures under limited access to the Internet and devices.
The study that continued for months indicated that the quality of learning during such times of crisis could improve significantly in Sri Lanka.
To push efforts in the right direction, ADB pointed out that students require financial support for Internet access as well as acquisition of laptops and smartphones as medium-tech solutions.
Despite the hurdles, the students enrolled in TVET courses “managed” to review lecture notes and submit assignments through low-tech solutions such as online messaging apps, the brief stated.
“The TVET institutions have made efforts to initiate or expand online training delivery during the pandemic but faced many challenges. First and foremost, TVET instructors and students do not always have access to the Internet and hardware devices for online training,” ADB said in its latest brief titled ‘COVID-19 Impact on Technical and Vocational Education and Training in Sri Lanka’.
According to the statistics released by the government, only one in five households owned either a desktop or a laptop in Sri Lanka, as of 2019.
As practical hands-on training is “very difficult” to provide online, ADB said Sri Lanka could explore simulation and virtual laboratories.
“Online platforms are far from a student- centred approach because instructors have to provide lecture notes and assignments through social media such as WhatsApp.
In addition to instructor training, changing mindsets toward blended learning will be important as further courses of action,” ADB added.
While COVID-19 forced students to continue their education and training online, ADB acknowledged that the learning approach is not completely new to the TVET sector in Sri Lanka.
The TVET sector deployed ICT in an effort to achieve a sustainable system of distance learning for postsecondary education through the Distance Education Modernisation Project in 2003.
However, the project focus was more on higher education institutions than TVET and distance-learning adoption was limited in the absence of sound track records and proper accreditation of distance-learning courses, ADB said.
Prior to COVID-19, only 36 percent of TVET institutions provided distance learning.