Speech of Prof Rajiva Wijesinha
Chairman, Tertiary and Vocational Education Commission
At the opening session of the TVEC / UNEVOC Workshop on
TVET Systems for Sustainable Development:
Innovation and Best Practices in Quality Assurance from South Asia – 20 February 2017
I am pleased, on behalf of the TVEC of Sri Lanka, to welcome participants at this workshop. It is particularly satisfying that we have so many delegates from other countries, since it is important that we meet regularly to exchange ideas, and find out about best practice in other countries. It is especially gratifying that we have so many delegates from Iran, since I believe greater participation of Iran will help us to develop our own regional grouping. SAARC is the slowest moving of regional organizations, for obvious reasons, and I believe the inclusion of Iran, given too the long standing shared cultural heritages of this part of the world, will help us to move forward more quickly and more productively.
Sri Lanka is in great need of such cross-fertilization, for we have had for many decades a dangerous degree of self satisfaction. At the time of independence, over two thirds of a century ago, we had the best statistics in South Asia for education, and we have prided ourselves on this fact. We are still doing well but, while others have improved by leaps and bounds, we have not been as innovative as we could have been, and we have allowed the good to be the enemy of the best.
And in confusing egalitarianism, which is counter-productive when it is imposed without attention to sustainability, with equity and the promotion of opportunities for all, and in particular the worse off, we have allowed ourselves to lag behind in the creation of Centres of Excellence. But these are essential, for it is through the study of best practice and striving to compete with such centres that we can promote better practices for all.In Sri Lanka, because we prided ourselves on our comparatively good academic record, we neglected vocational education for many years. Though there were efforts to change this in the last decade of the last century, we still have negative perceptions of vocational training as compared to university degrees, and we did little to raise the prestige of such training and also equip its products to compete with those whose knowledge and skills were in different fields.
In the last year however we have engaged in several innovations, which I trust will be presented to all of you in the course of discussion. In line with problems that have been highlighted in successive studies, we have made English and soft skills mandatory on all courses leading to National Vocational Qualifications. We have begun developing curricula in line with the needs of industry, and also developed training programmes for teachers that are implemented by the Sector Skills Councils. And we are trying to ensure that all teachers spend time in industry, so that they will ensure courses are delivered in accordance with the needs of employers, not the assumptions of those who deliver training.
All this is part of a process of quality enhancement which we must entrench. In this regard we have found that the Quality Management System we have set up is not sufficient, and we need also to develop a culture of Quality Development which is understood and appreciated by all stakeholders. This includes students, and it is essential for all others working in the field to accept that training is about students, that we are promoting learning rather than teaching, that feedback about the effectiveness of what we are engaged in is essential.
We also need to promote innovation. We have instituted projects as an essential component of our soft skills programme, and we have also now requested from all training centre managers ideas for centre based projects contributing to environmental protection. In the Diploma course in Centre Management that we have instituted, we propose that credit be given to active and productive innovation.
I will not go on because this workshop should reflect the principles on which we are trying to operate, which involve collective input rather than prescription. So let me conclude by stressing the watchwords we need always to promote, openness to change, responsibility to our students, transparency in our dealings and accountability to all stakeholders. I hope that at the end of our deliberations we will draw up programmes for action and for better communication that will entrench better principles and practices in all our different dispensations.