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CaptureIn the midst of continuing dysfunctionality, increasing evidence of financial corruption, arbitrary decisions at education, abrupt changes of personnel initially introduced with great hype, it was good last week to receive some positive news. This was in the form of a circular issued by the Secretary to the Ministry of Home Affairs with regard to Divisional and District Secretariat Development Forums.

This is the first indication that there is at least some concern with regard to the commitment in the President’s manifesto, that ‘The Divisional Secretariat will be made the chief unit that performs the priority tasks of the area. It will coordinate all activities such as skills development and supply of resources pertaining to the development of the economic, social, industrial and cultural sectors of the area.

I had hoped for some input from Mr Abeykoon, since he had been Secretary of the then larger Ministry of Public Administration and Home Affairs when we had tried, with support from the United Nations Development Programme, to introduce some order into the functions of regional government agencies. It was following the excellent report on the subject by Asoka Goonewardene – whom I was glad to see the Prime Minister had subsequently roped into his little committee to suggest reforms for the public sector – that I suggested that idea for the manifesto. I was delighted that it was accepted, but then all interest seemed to lapse.

I had been particular worried about this because there was simply no coordination at all with regard to service delivery. The staff in the Divisional Secretariat had not been briefed properly about their responsibilities, nor how to work. This was perhaps understandable since many of them had been taken on for government to win political points by giving jobs to unemployed graduates – including those with external degrees, which seemed even madder than usual – and there had been no attempt to train them properly or ensure that they understood their dual responsibilities, to the line ministries to which they were attached as well as to the head of the government administration in the area in which they were deployed, namely the Divisional Secretary.

The problem was further compounded by what were termed Coordinating Committees, which did nothing of the sort. They were chaired by politicians, generally Basil’s favourite. Since the man’s idea of administration was to empower sycophants, in the North and the East he gave enormous authority in this regard to Rishard and Hisbullah, both of whom made an effortless transition to the new regime.

Neither cared overmuch about consultation or coordination, so I found that in many places the Coordinating Committee had not met for months. I suggested then to the Divisional Secretaries, who suffered from this, that they should hold the meetings on schedule, and politely tell the Chair, if he was busy and suddenly asked for postponement, that this was not possible. But to keep him happy they could tell him that decisions would be subject to his concurrence.

Unfortunately they were too nervous to do this. Now however they have been specifically told that ‘After the dates for the Divisional or District Coordinating Committee are finalized on the calendar, unless it be a national reason, the fixed dates shall not be altered and although it is difficult for certain representatives to attend the meeting, the committee shall have the authority of convening the meetings and taking action accordingly. At a time when the Co-chairpersons fail to attend a certain committee meeting, the proceedings of the meeting should be continued by adopting a proposal for a temporary Chairman. Accordingly the proceedings held in such a manner shall be equally valid as the proceedings of the meeting chaired by the Co-chairpersons.’ Read the rest of this entry »

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qrcode.26476412I was delighted to find that the small group with which I am working are not the only people putting forward suggestions for reform. Recently I was sent a document prepared by the Pathfinder Foundation which puts forward a policy agenda for political parties. The Pathfinder Foundation is I think run by Milinda Moragoda, who is also an adviser to the President, so it looks like his advice too is not taken seriously.

 I think the ideas they have put forward are most interesting, and potentially productive, and I have urged that they too issue short, compact recommendations for different subjects, since that will make their ideas more accessible to all. With due attribution I might make use of some more of their proposals, but here I will look at what they have written with regard to ‘Education, training and skills development’. I find myself in agreement with almost everything they say, and I think it worth reproducing that section in full here –

Sri Lanka can no longer depend on a growth strategy which leverages low wages. The next phase of development will have to be driven by more skilled labour and technological upgrading. The lack of human resources could well become the binding constraint which restrains the country’s development prospects.
The current education system has been successful in terms of attaining very high participation rates, including for girls. However, learning outcomes have not been aligned with the needs of a rapidly modernising economy. Education, training and skills development should be better aligned with the country’s development strategy i.e. the needs of those sectors which drive the growth model.
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  1. Shifting the focus of the entire education system from exam-based learning by rote to one where there is emphasis on fostering creativity, creative thinking and innovation.
  2. Strengthening Maths, Science and English education.
  3. Aligning training and skills development to the priority sectors of the country’s development strategy.
  4. Increasing investment in tertiary education on the basis of a pragmatic and non-ideological approach to public, private and mixed provision.
  5. Restructuring and upgrading the multitude of learning and skills development institutions and schemes (lessons can be learnt from East Asia and Germany).
  6. Reforming the state-owned Universities in order to make them internationally competitive.’

 

This however is a brief synopsis of what needs to be done, so I thought I should divide it up into two or three areas, and expand on the suggestions. I will begin with the content of education at schools, and then look at what are termed school services. Then I will look at higher education and also vocational training.

Colombo Post 7 December 2014 – http://www.colombopost.net/columns/op-ed/item/302-a-reform-agenda-school-education

The President’s Budget Speech had a lot of innovative suggestions about education. This is just as well, for this is an area in which we must move swiftly, if we are to reap the full fruits of development.

A balanced but trenchant criticism I heard recently of current economic policies is that, while infrastructure has been developed effectively, human resource development has lagged behind. That must be remedied for we must ensure equality of opportunity, even while promoting the private sector as the engine of growth.

In this regard, the example of the Ministry of Economic Development, entrusted to someone with no previous Parliamentary experience, but with a track record of proven practical capacity, suggests one way forward. Sri Lanka has not yet recognized that an Executive Presidency demands technocrats at the helm in areas of urgent concern. We suffer from a preposterous constitution, the only one in the world that confuses an Executive Presidential system with the Westminster model of government that abandons even any pretence of the separation of powers. However, the institution of a Ministry devoted to development has permitted concentration on results, without the need to work also on parochial political concerns in a particular area.
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Some of the issues I have raised in recent columns in this series came up in a different form in a presentation made by Indrajith Coomaraswamy during one of the discussions the Liberal Party has been conducting on Reform. Though initially we had thought of concentrating on Constitutional Reform, it soon became clear that that alone was not enough, and questions of change had to be looked at holistically.

Given Sri Lanka’s current status, as a Developing Country that has got over the hump of under-development (the only Under-developing country that was still under-developing, as the Economist I think once sharply put it), it is obvious that economic issues are of particular concern. We were fortunate therefore to get four speakers who dealt, in short and succinct presentations that were amongst the best I have heard, on political economics, and the issues we now face.

All of them should be widely disseminated, but in particular what Indrajith Coomaraswamy said should be studied by all decision makers. Pointing out that we were now in a better position than ever in the last half century to go forward, he pointed out the severe institutional constraints we face.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

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