Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Infrastructure for Development – What is it that is really needed?
I am sick of hearing the good deeds being spouted about how everything is being done to accelerate development, especially with the ambitious goal of telescoping 40 years growth to the 10 years. While outwardly, roads, rails, power generation and water supply are the obvious basic infrastructure needed, the most important ingredient is being conveniently forgotten, “a properly skilled workforce”. Much is being stated about our level of education, but the reality is very different.
Unlike in any other comparable study, Sri Lanka has a unique distinction of exporting her most valuable commodity, namely a well educated, English speaking workforce who have skills that are needed at home for growth but are also demanded by the developed countries. They are Scientists, Doctors, Accountants, Engineers, Hoteliers and Managers. This flight of talent, educated in Sri Lanka, many at high cost to the State is a severe impediment to growth. While trying to attract them back requires enormous costs, it is better to replace them with home grown talent that will find it harder to emigrate due to less lucrative opportunities.
How do we fast forward their replacement? We have a workforce with the necessary intelligence, but we do not have educational establishments that are harnessing them to ready them for the skills required. The State University system has been an abject failure except in exceptional cases like the IT department of the University of Moratuwa and SLIIT and there is no clear vision of how the private sector can help in producing the needed talent.
One does not need a budget to put the necessary resources, but the budget was clearly lacking in the emphasis to get this up and running. Ports and Airports have a cache for personal aggrandizement, but good centers of learning need to be beefed up. Round the corner from my farm is a huge technical college, which can be used to harness some of the talent, but getting good teachers and proper equipment and courses does not earn votes for people or line anyone’s pockets. It is the cheapest thing to do that can reap rewards, but is not being done. I wanted to follow some vocational course myself and found even the automotive engineering course woefully inadequate to train good mechanics, something we need desperately in this era of ever increasing motor vehicles.
How is it that the needs of the day are so obvious, the skills shortage so apparent but no one is able to take up the challenge to plug this gap? It requires little funding most of which is available as foreign aid if really necessary, and that is INVESTMENT in the future. "KALPANAKARANNA" that is the need of the day.