In the run-up to the recent Presidential and General Elections, United National Party (UNP) leader Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe said: “A million job opportunities would be generated under a UNP government within five years by establishing export oriented industries in the country.” (http://www.dailymirror.lk/56037/one-million-jobs-under-unp-govt-ranil)
Sri Lanka today faces a massive unemployment issue and the government is contemplating on importing man power. The corporate sector faces an equally big shortage of suitable manpower. The youth in the country who seek employment are ‘unemployable’. How did we create this gap?
Factories in the Biyagama Free Trade Zone have around 500 job vacancies on a continued basis simply because they cannot find the right people. It is common practice among many factories to hire vehicles and visit small towns on recruitment drives immediately after ‘pay day’, the reason being that workers who collect their monthly salary tend to stay away from work the following month. The fact that large numbers of employees go missing after pay day is a nagging issue that plagues the manufacturing industry.
"Every child has a skill or talent that can be developed into a useful vocation, if identified and dealt with at the right time. However, the current exam-oriented teaching practice in Sri Lanka does not encourage this, and therefore needs urgent change"
In every industry there are jobs available, but the lethargic attitude of the Sri Lankan work force is to ‘live for the day’. They are not trained to think long-term and sustain their careers. As long as the daily needs are met, they don’t seem interested to work and build a future.
For instance, an average self employed skilled worker earns approximately Rs. 1000- 1200 per day, and once they earn 10,000 to 15,000 within a few 10 days they tend to stay away from work because they can survive for the remainder of the month on that income. This lacklustre mindset not only affects them financially but also hampers their employability, the industry and the country.
The problem begins at home and school, continuing in universities and finally in the job market.
Parents and teachers alike chase behind numbers i.e. marks and grades, with the sole intention of passing exams. All children are not good at science, math and physics and in passing written exams. But every child has a skill or talent that can be developed into a useful vocation, if identified and dealt with at the right time. However, the current exam-oriented teaching practice in Sri Lanka does not encourage this, and therefore needs urgent change.
"Parents push their children to limit their studies to text books rather than making them well-rounded individuals.” "
In the curriculum of the Department of Education, there is provision for teachers to work on:
a) Personality development
b) Development of problem-solving skills
c) Creativity development of the child.
But the reality is different. Teachers and parents are all obsessed with passing exams and have instilled the same feeling in the children, starting from Grade 1. For most students and parents it’s a do-or-die situation while tuition teachers make hay at the expense of helpless parents and students caught up in the numbers game. There is more to be said about the unspoken or unseen tragedy that lies beneath this rat race.
Children show talents in aesthetics from a very young age and certain skills that can be developed to a professional level. If such talents are identified and nurtured that can do wonders to their confidence, overall personality development and produce well-rounded contented adults who would excel in their chosen fields.
Commenting on the issue, Dr. Mahesh Rajasuriya, Child Psychiatrist Consultant says: “Children and parents are both bombarded with negative lifestyle images in the electronic media and on top of this, parents push their children to limit their studies to text books rather than making them well-rounded individuals.” Such upbringing, which is focussed on teaching ‘obedient students,’ results in most children lacking confidence to even face a simple job interview. When this happens parents get stressed and wonder why their children fair poorly at interviews, not realizing that the initial mistake lies in their hands. “Parents crush the spirit of the child due to pure lack of knowledge,” Dr. Rajasuriya noted.
Mr. Deepal Wijayasekera, Career Guidance Counselor at the Sabaragamuwa University, believes the National Institute of Education should be geared to make more practical school curricular and, more importantly, train teachers on appropriate teaching methods. “It is unfortunate that teachers don’t use practical teaching methods in the classroom. Even a subject such as ‘life skills’ is taught theoretically, sitting in the classroom with pen and paper whereas this is a subject where the child should gain hands-on experience” he said. “I strongly suggest that activity related teaching and sports should be made compulsory in schools starting from elementary levels, especially swimming” he added.
According to the Life Saving Association of Sri Lanka, we have one of the highest rates of drowning in the world, and in 2014 a total 1,100 people died of drowning. “This is an embarrassment to an Island. Sri Lanka, being surrounded by the ocean and with plenty of rivers and lakes, swimming should be a mandatory sport in all schools, more as a survival skill if not a competitive sport,” says Mr. Wijayasekera. “My suggestion is to make it compulsory for children to engage in at least one sport and play a musical instrument. This will help them build confidence, strategize, learn to face and resolve issues and become achievers in any chosen area.” Another important area is religious tolerance, which needs to be inculcated in children’s minds. In the present curricular, children are only taught their own religion. Sri Lanka being a multi-religious and multi-ethnic country, children must be taught to respect other religions and ethnicities before intolerance reaches serious levels.
Our research with proven systems show that teaching methods need to be more conducive to the child’s mind, and help better comprehension and retention. Project-based teaching methods are far more enjoyable to children, and allow them to learn quickly too.
If children in a classroom are grouped and asked to present projects on ‘birds of Sri Lanka” or ‘lakes & rivers of Sri Lanka’ or the ‘national flags of the countries and their meaning”, there will be a huge interest generated not only in the class room, but among family members who will help in research for these projects and the learning will remain fresh in their minds for a long time.
A management student who attended one of our activity filled soft skills training sessions in his thank you speech said “I have been in this University for 3 years now, sitting on chairs, looking at the board and listening to lectures daily. Today is the best day in my life”.
The world has changed today. Children are exposed to every aspect of information via the internet. Hence we believe that health, hygiene and sex education, prepared according to the age group, should be made compulsory in school curricular. Children need to be aware of their own body changes as they attain puberty, be educated on substance use and abuse, child abuse and social abuse, before they are exposed to wrong information via the internet. Currently we conduct ongoing Soft Skills programmes at certain International Schools on Personality Development, Social Graces & Etiquette, Environmental Issues, Personal Health & Hygiene, Sexual Awareness and Child & Substance Abuse. The students of different Grades are presented with programmes to suit their current age and understanding. We are happy to observe that these children are becoming aware of themselves and their surroundings in school and other social gatherings. Collective awareness among friends or peers makes children stronger against potential predators.
Teaching soft skills like communication skills and leadership skills are equally important. Children must be given training to help them to learn more about their strengths and weaknesses and prepare them to be balanced adults respecting society and the environment.
Lack of self-worth, ambition, focus and respect for skill-related employment are the main causes of the unemployment issue. Only a small percentage of students enter university, and the rest have no clue as to what they want to do with their lives after leaving school. Desperate and stranded youth are most likely to look for “a Job” rather than a profession, thereby raising the issue to the level of national importance.
Properly directed programmes will help students realize and unearth their hidden talents, ambitions, motives and career agendas in a variety of fields. All carrier guidance programs run in schools and reputed organizations at the moment only focus on selected white collar career options. These programs should also include guidance on career opportunities in the fields of agriculture, hospitality (culinary art, bakery, public relations, housekeeping), construction industry (masonry, plumbing, electrician) horticulture (gardening, plant export, landscaping) etc. At the moment IT & Engineering companies conduct awareness programmes in the universities to guide and pick the best talents for employment. Similarly other companies should create the awareness of the value of these Skills and explain the lucrative job opportunities available. The biggest issue is the social non acceptance of these careers (when we say social, it begins at home and school). Yet in most countries these skills are given the highest respect and financial gains. We would like to point out the fantastic social change created in the garment industry by the MAS Group, which is the second largest employers in the country, after the Sri Lanka Army. They began by giving respect to the sewing girls. The name “Juki girl” was changed to ‘Machine Operator”. Each person was given opportunities to develop in their career path. MAS today can boast of many senior managers, who have come up the ranks, starting as a ‘machine operator’. This is what needs to be done with all our masons, plumbers, carpenters, electricians, gardeners, bakers and most importantly the farmers.
The farmer need not be a betel chewing sarong clad old man. We should portray smart men and women with high agricultural education working in the fields as well as moving in society as well dressed individuals driving not only tractors, but cars.
We urge the relevant authorities in power to implement the following and help this country to solve the unemployment problem.
- Implement Social Skills programmes in school curricular and train the teachers on improved teaching methods to develop the overall personality of the child.
- Continue the 2 week leadership development programme for University students and other relevant organizations. This is the best exposure you could give a completely unexposed student who had come from a protective background to prepare for the adult world.
- Create public awareness via the print and electronic media. Brands that advertise progress, strength and energy only show children who want to become doctors or engineers. What about supper successful farmers, carpenters, chefs and classical dancers?
- Give credibility and respect to all Vocational Skills Training such as motor mechanism, telecom engineering, dressmaking and designing and include personality development, finance management, communication skills and other self development programmes to the training manuals of all the Vocational Training Centers.
- Encourage industries that cry for foreign labour, to invest that money on developing the local talent and give the existing job opportunities to the lakhs of unemployed youth in our country. All job seekers should be given a compulsory 2 week training session on self worth, self management, job responsibility, team work, respect and leadership skills.
In conclusion, I wish to note that if the garment industry can develop to what it is today, if the City of Colombo can be so clean, it clearly shows that if guided on the correct path, our people would change and the country would prosper with a willing and able workforce.