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Tomorrow, perhaps, the future - EDITORIAL


6 November 2019 12:00 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


Elections campaigns take two forms, broadly. In order to  posit themselves as the best deal for the voter candidates get dragged  into shouting matched where the focus is on relative demerits of  opponents, their histories and political associations. Secondly, they  talk of policies. However, these are typically kept snug in manifestos  or, when they do get articulated, are drowned by rhetoric and invective.  

The past is referred to a lot. The present is either  celebrated or decried, depending on whether the candidate is from the  ruling party or not. The future it is that gets most play. Promises,  promises and more promises. Delivery and deliverability notwithstanding.    

And yet, we need to talk of the future and when we do, the  most important element is clearly education. Education is about  preparing for the future. It is about matching training to ensure a  human resource complement that matches needs. It is of course tied to  economic and social vision for the future.   

Naturally, it all begins with a critique of the current  state of the entire education system, an assessment of what’s worked and  what is clearly not working. This is a necessary precondition for  reform of any kind. We need to know what has to be fixed and if  overhauling is necessary then we need to know how to do so without  wrecking systems and also aspiration, which in turn could cause costly  anxieties and ruptures.   

The basic principle of course is captured in the phrase ‘no  one will be left behind.’ It’s ‘education for all’. Non-negotiable.  This has been one of the foundational principles of the doctrine of free  education or rather non-fee levying education, for there’s not ‘free’  in this world — someone (the people) pays and if the return on  investment does not accrue to the people in some form then it is a  problem. Rhetoric and ideology can be stumbling blocks, but then again  nothing comes easy — candidates and hopefully the victor will have the  courage to do what is necessary and the wisdom to do it in ways that do  not cause social unrest.   

The world has changed. Sri Lanka has changed. Aspirations  change all the time. Things get outdated fast due to technology. It is  no easy task to keep pace when skill-needs can change fast and indeed  faster than the time necessary for skills to be acquired. That’s a  challenge in and of itself.   

That said, an education system that straightjackets  students into specific streams will little or no knowledge of  disciplines outside of it, cannot be wholesome nor conducive to meeting  changing challenges.   

There’s an entrenched learning culture in this country that  is turning children into fact-guzzling but uncritical adults who find  it hard to analyze and even harder to take multiple factors into  consideration when resolving problems. This is a culture whose seeds are  unfortunately sown at a very early age and sadly nurtured through  secondary and tertiary education. Assessment has been strictly limited to the examination  method which in turn has created an exam-mania. While assignments and  group work are encouraged, school-based evaluation is not factored into  final grades which are the basis for university admission.   

What is required perhaps is a system that produces a  student empowered with a wholesome and well-rounded education, equipped  with the ability to work with others, a healthy curiosity, good  communication skills in at least two languages and a mind that is  curious and innovative.   

That’s basic. It has to be complemented by a structured  system where training leads to useful employment. Sri Lanka still lacks a  comprehensive occupational classification. If such a classification is  developed it would indicate present skill requirements, and therefore  make for a more informed and intelligent training regime where overlap  as well as resource-waste are mitigated.   

It is easy to paint a beautiful picture of bright-eyed  graduates sliding easily into plush positions in the public or corporate  sector. It is hard to figure out a way to get them there with the  requisite skills. It is even harder to make sure no one is left behind.     

Manifestos and within them notes on education need to be  read carefully, for this is where the blueprint of the future is  scripted. Or not, as the case may be.   

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