We, as Sri Lankans, can boast of the high literacy rate mainly achieved through free education prevalent in the country, amidst so many setbacks, so long as the employers seek literacy only from their employees. Unfortunately, that era has gone long ago, leaving its outdated education system, that still delivers results, the validity of which is challenged.
On the other hand, the sad situation is that when the graduates who were produced spending public wealth collected by imposing taxes, agitate aggressively demanding employments, especially in the public sector. It has been a tradition that despite the opportunities in the private sector, people that are not used to considering private sector jobs as jobs, need safe jobs with a pension offered by the government. It is this sentiment that has led people to secure employments in the public sector, disregarding whatever the qualification that they possess.
On the contrary, it is needless to mention here that a government cannot recruit all the graduates as public servants whose salary relies on government revenue, for a higher number of public servants means increasing taxes and public debt, creating an unconducive environment for businesses, especially foreign direct investments (FDI). It is when this realistic situation clashes with the dreams of graduates that they remain aggressive so as to get jobs by hook or crook, actively contributing to political campaigns, canvassing for politicians, sticking posters on walls and finally ending up with streets protests, which draw a gloomy picture on graduates, resulting in an environment where the expected outcomes of the graduate cannot be fulfilled.
Under the prevailing circumstances, it is of key importance that root causes for this issue are to be found out, in order that the country’s human resource can be developed more productively. In my opinion, a country can be truly developed only by developing its human resource that makes the unparalleled comparative advantage in this developmental race.
The graduate unemploybility has been a problem whereby Sri Lanka has been suffering for few decades. However, nothing or something negligible has been done by respective policymakers to tackle this issue, while young graduates in the country join the group of unemployed graduates annually. Despite this miserable situation churning out unemployed graduates, the direction of the education system has not changed considerably.
Whatever said or done, the criticism on education system is the lack of proper reforms which identify three key areas: communication, one-eyed student and politicization.
It is very important to go into detail via these three factors as to where we are wrong as a country.
Communication plays a pivotal role, when we have to work with people. Language literacy and proper usage is a must for good communication. All many undergraduates have is language literacy. They can speak, write and read but cannot communicate. It is true that priority has to be given for English language, when talking about in this regard.
With Sinhala only policy introduced by the Bandaranayke regime, the majority of the country were used to working with the Sinhala language in which even state documents were printed. Then, there is nothing to talk about university courses conducted in either the Sinhala or Tamil mediums. Even now, many courses at public universities are taught in the local medium, depriving the students coming from distant areas of emerging opportunities, which seek English language competency.
Because a significant part of the Sri Lankan job market is comprised of jobs in the private sector, spontaneously, those without English competency are marginalized. Hence, in such a scenario, what else can we expect the graduates to do, other than being dependent on employments in the government?
Even if some students that have the required language competency, communicate poorly, as they have not taken it as a skill. Communication as a strategy can be used to convince others and get things done. The students have to be trained on communication, no matter which subject they learn. For this purpose, only English might not be enough, since the other two languages also have relevance in the country.
It is not wrong to state that the Sri Lankan education is on an isolated direction, meaning that the student who learns science, has no any sense on commerce. Those who do commerce, have no any sense on technology. They are going on one direction, leaving all other things aside. Once the student has to put things into practice, he needs commerce, science and even languages. On the other hand, the one-eyed person can look at one side of the problem because he does not have knowledge on others. That is why that person can never come up with novel solutions, which the country needs at present. Furthermore, innovation and invention are not promoted at universities, producing job seekers, instead of job creators.
The grievance is that what is needed is not offered in the labour market. In spite of increasing labour shortage in the market, employers find it difficult to select suitable professionals for the existing vacancies.
What the policymakers ought to focus on is to create proper coordination between universities and employers, so that the products manufactured by the universities can be sold to employers at a higher price. In other words, it’s all about universities producing graduates highly demanded by the companies.
The unemployed graduates are not the root cause but the outcome. The root cause is that the students still follow outdated subjects, which were required to produce clerks needed for the plantation economy in the colonial era. The fact that the majority of those followed arts stream fall into this category, cannot be taken lightly. This plight is further backed by the external degree holders whose academic credentials are not going with the professional requirements.
Without supporting schools to change this direction, we can never expect the graduates to find out employment, as soon as they pass out from the university.
Nothing can escape from politics. If so, how can the education system do so? It has to be recognized that although reluctant, education is highly politicized in the country. It has been drafted in the way in which opportunistic politicians can play well, assuring their existence. University students have become a cat’s paws controlled by politicians to win elections.
Furthermore, creating jobs for the youth in the country is one of the promises made by any political party that wishes to come into power. By doing so, they blatantly aim at unemployed graduates whose votes are very critical at an election, as they are so volatile by nature.
So long as the youth become unemployed, they can be used for elections by the politicians. On the other hand, the students’ struggles are also politicized that their agitations are clearly connected with politics and baseless at certain points. That is why they get criticized by the public.
Unemployed graduates mean a waste of money spent on education. Even if education should be an investment, when it does not expected returns, we cannot say education is an investment.
It’s really a waste. Hence, the country has to be developed by developing human resource and maximally using its potential.
(Amila Muthukutti is an economist who has widely published covering the areas of economics and business management)