Nilanthi Wickramasinghe

The Tertiary & Vocational Education Commission (TVEC) as the apex body in Technical & Vocational Education &Training (TVET) sector, is geared to accomplish its mandate through its main goals, which is to formulate, review, update and implement robust TVET policies and strategies. It also includes planning TVET activities to develop and maintain information systems. Thus developing TVEC’s institutional capacity to establish and maintain a credible and quality assured National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) system which is here to stay.

“TVET was established in 1992 as the overall body for the Vocational Education Sector, of which the oldest institution is the Dept of Technical Educational Training (DTET). There is also the Commission and the National Industrial Training Authority (NITA) established simultaneously.

Then the Vocational Training Authority (VTA) which was established a little later, and a Teacher Training Branch which was upgraded subsequently intothe University of Vocational Technology (UNIVOTECH)”, said Chairman- TVEC & former Chairman- Academic Affairs Board, National Institute of Education, Rajiva Wijesinha.

“Something that the Education Commission and we were very keen on was to develop a University level qualification for Vocational Training & they created UNIVOTECH. However, typically they did not really give UNIVOTECH its freedom. It tends to have more of an academic approach, although they now have a very good Director General who has come through the trade, but still inadequate in promoting the practical way of looking at things,” he said.

“I was wondering as to why this body was so ineffective, as TVEC had really achieved little. One of the reasons being that, although people of enormous capacities were appointed, whom I really do admire, the fact remained they did not assert themselves enough,” he said .

“And all these Agencies functioned as they were equal, but TVEC is the apex body. Hence, we make the Policies. We have actually taken a lot of very radical steps, and I am very fortunate to have a Minister who understands. Although Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe is new to the sector, he has been quite perceptive I must say, and one of the things he said was that it was not NITA’s business to Train instead, NITA should do Apprenticeship and develop an Apprenticeship Model, which is even better. They are quite good now, but can do even better,” he further elaborated.

“Similarly, it is absolutely necessary to conceptualise and push the reforms. Minister Samarasinghe also said that English and Soft Skills were quite inadequate, with all the reports for the last five years saying the same thing, but no one did anything about it, and that is one of the reasons why I am here,” he further claimed.

“VTA, with 245 centers islandwide, apparently, had no English teachers when I came in. We have now initiated several changes for every Institute to have an academic quoting system. And I believe, if the man at the top believes in what needs to be done, then anything can be achieved. We absolutely insisted that this is not a political place, we need to work on the policies,” he further stressed.

“So now, we have 120 new English teachers in place. There was a syllabus that said the underpinning skills were English and Soft Skills. This was absolutely the case. They were not looking at the old syllabuses. The fact remains there are no Policy Directors.”
“Now there is an excellent International Labour Organisation (ILO) study, a very good paper, but not well renowned, which repeats what both the University Grants Commission (UGC) Chairman and I said at the first meeting, which is, ‘We are now repairing the damage, unless you improve the General Education in schools we will get nowhere’. And this study says the General Education system has completely failed our students; it does not develop Cognitive Skills nor the Communication capacity in the mother tongue, let alone in English,” he exclaimed.

“We hardly had any courses for NVQ I & II , but now we have set up NVQ I, which is English & Soft Skills. The Minister wants this made compulsory for anyone to complete, prior to NVQ III or, while doing NVQ III, if you haven’t done it. We have also just started NVQ II with more English, together with introductory courses in the sectors, bearing in mind that the average child, even in India, gets a better training in schools. We pride ourselves on our Education, and it is true we give more basic mass Education to more people, but not Quality-wise.”

“I have just been told by ILO consultants and university Professors that our students cannot go abroad now for Postgraduate Degrees because they do not read the right text. The fact remains that our staff do not insist upon Education, they give you the old notes. Even Universities now do not provide lecture notes. Books are made available, and class is meant for discussion and analysis, that is all. The ILO report says you need to learn to look at the information, digest it, analyse it and work on it, while thinking skills are out.”

“Our basic structure is now changing; we have just done a policy paper which we have revolutionised in the last 3 months, and will be out in 2 weeks. Approximately 12,000 A/L students have passed out in Technology last year. State Minister of Education, Mohan Lal Grero can take only 1,000 or 2,000, what happens to the rest? We need to use them. Hence, we will be conducting Teacher Training Programmes coming in touch with the bureaucracy.”

“Our boys and girls are clever, willing to work, but feel they do not have to work hard because their friend gets a job by knowing a politician. This is exactly what people are saying worldwide. We are losing our Competitive Edge because our kids are not being trained to think, unless you have the Political Will to take radical measures, and radical measures are not difficult, if it is being explained.”

“We intend giving Teacher Training for the remaining 10,000 students who have passed out in Technology. They are very good and we should give them a Degree. Now we have NVQ I & II in place, with English made compulsory for III, IV, V, & VI, and Teacher Training. And the Director General- Dept of Technical Educational Training, J.A. Ranjith, has produced an excellent document in Technology & Education, a proposal for trainer competency profile which will be out next month. We need the money and so, we need to inform the Prime Minister’s office to write to the Treasury for a commitment. We cannot penalise people who are hide-bounded by government regulations. You must liberalise regulations and let them spend as long as its productive.”

“We have also published a book called ‘Building Career Skills’ which contains material required by students to obtain NVQ I, to build career skills. In addition to English, the syllabus will include activities to increase self-confidence in students and prepare them for the world of work. Thereby aiming to develop their ability to work in teams, solve problems systematically and display leadership and initiative.”

“While we hope many students who have sat for their O/Ls, and others will apply for this course, we will also extend it to students on all Vocational Training Courses we conduct. This will be a requirement for NVQ levels III & IV. Basic competencies for the world of work have been included in the syllabus for 3 Courses, yet they have not always been taught. With the recruitment of English teachers for all VTA centres, together with training for them and others to deliver general skills, we hope to remedy this shortcoming,” he further elaborated.

“We have also decided that all students on our Courses should be provided with material to help them learn because, a recent study of Education worldwide shows that students who do not possess material will not achieve their best. We want students to use these material in class, make notes in them if they wish and also read them at home. We have also arranged with an established publisher to print more copies of the book, to make it freely available.”

Sunday Times 19 June 2016 –