The irony of life is if you don’t have an education you want it, and if you do, you wish you had not. Today’s Washington Post headline reads, “Armed with PhDs scientists fail to find jobs.” Also stated in the Newspaper was that in the league of College degrees, Architects had the highest unemployment rates whilst graduates in the Healthcare field the lowest, indicating that in a population that is aging and a country, that spends a whopping 20% of GNP on health care, still appears to need more healthcare professionals.
So how does the country manage its Education? What education options should a country such as Sri Lanka adopt?
I believe it is a no brainer to have a quality Primary and Secondary school system, so that students learn the basics. How far the secondary education should go is still open to debate, as some say, there is a large segment, who should terminate at O levels and go straight into a vocational training establishment. The resources MUST be directed at that. The argument then is on tertiary education. How much? What? And how advanced? It all depends on the aims.
In Sri Lanka the govt. has made a decision to train nurses, degrees and/or diplomas, but with a view to exporting them to the US! Now why is that when we have a huge shortage of nurses? They want the foreign exchange in preference to a better health care system I suppose. These are all choices that are made. Who makes these choices? And under what basis are they made? Are they sanctioned after public debate or are they on a whim of a politician who has some self interest in the project?
It is worthwhile considering all these questions when determining the options. The main thing here is not to train people to an extent where they are unemployable in the current market place, whilst we have a huge dearth of qualified people for a whole host of jobs in Sri Lanka.
Then there is the skills matching problem, which if we had an established vocational training scheme, would look at the demand and supply of each job category and determine the level of resources to direct to which. In fact it is easier to direct resources to needed jobs either in Sri Lanka or overseas by these Vocational Institutes than with Universities.
One must also not forget the substantial amount spent in Sri Lanka today on private education. This includes, private Montessori schools even in villages where children are sent, and also tuition classes, to say nothing of the number of crammers preparing students for internationally accredited qualifications, such as CIMA, CIM and ACCA to name just a few. Now IT institutes crop up almost daily to cater for the demand for accredited IT degrees that enable people to get instant employment.
It must also be remembered that the SLIIT (Sri Lanka Institute for Information Technology in Malabe) was set up as a semi government body that awards degrees, but which is fee levying. NIBM is another which is also fee levying, though subsidized.
There are many more students enrolling in private institutions after A levels than the numbers who enter University. Ironically I was talking to a graduate of the Sri Lanka University system in Management Studies, who said that he would have been better off if he had not gone to University and had done CIMA instead. He is doing CIMA now, but he maintains that graduating at 25 was a waste of time, whereas had be not gone to University and done CIMA he would have qualified and hold a much more responsible position in a private institution as an assistant finance manager or equivalent. He is only now being apprenticed. I should note that he had all A s at A levels and is a bright student.
I personally believe Sri Lankans do far more exams than required. There are so many double accountants for example, and that is not a requirement for their jobs. So is some segment overeducating themselves, because they can afford to do so? It is important for each person to personally evaluate their life goals and plan accordingly rather than believe that the more qualifications one has the better it is for one.
In conclusion the Education mix, the productivity of it and the choices people make mean that whilst many are starved for education there is a segment which is overeducated by choice. The latter I would argue are not necessarily more productive in society. After all there are many hardly educated entrepreneurs who contribute hugely to society through their businesses and productive steps. The real test is how we arm school leavers at every level to enter employment with a skill that is needed and from which they can progress through their personal journey through life. If we start at that point I am sure the benefits will be manifold.