Saturday, October 20, 2012

FUTA – Where to next?

FUTA dropped their Trade Union action as their demands were not met, and to save face, made a statement that it was done on behalf of the students who were really badly affected because of it. In order to appease the strikers, the Govt. agreed to the back pay for the past 3 months during the period of action, as long as they play catch up and cover the lost ground, with minimum disruption to the students. The Govt. in the guise of Basil R who was appointed by the President to handle the issue as the honest broker! In light of, “SB to blame for this” scenario, while not crowing about it, is quietly and smugly satisfied with the outcome.

FUTA on the other hand to get some political mileage out of this, makes a further mistake saying they will not back down from their 6% demand for State Education.

I have made this point in earlier statements and will repeat it here, that while more investment in Education is required, and funds should carefully be allocated on an as needed basis after a complete overhaul of the Education Policy for Sri Lanka, I do not believe it is helpful to the debate to hang one’s hat on such numbers, as it is impractical at best to allocate such a figure in an era world-wide, where the Private Sector is taking a greater responsibility for meeting the requirements of the marketplace, and the state sector kicks in to both to level the playing field, and improve the broad areas of basic education, filling in the gaps.

We must accept reality. The private sector now educates the majority of the Tertiary Education needs of Sri Lanka and will perhaps increase their share. It is a fact today, that of 100 new kids starting Primary Education in Grade 1 in Sri Lanka, at most only 2 will end up in a State University. Now if FUTA ONLY represent the welfare of those 2 who is carrying the burden of the 98? FUTA will say they want to ensure that not 2 but say 40 must come from the state university sector! That is why the funds are needed.

I disagree, I believe we must be able to walk before we can run, and that the 2 are properly educated in fields where they can be assured of employment. At present only 1 is able to get a job, whilst the other at age 30 is still looking for a job, with attitudes and skills that are not required in the market place, not even in Govt.

It is important that we look at all levels of education, and direct more resources to vocational training, not in the  wasteful way it is done now via the VTA (vocational training authorities) but with a view to a specific field in areas where there is a high demand for skills, which are currently unfilled.
I have stated in the past to invest money in training teachers. This is the most important area. However just throwing money and allocating funds that cannot be spent is not the answer. In order to train the required teaching carder for the subjects it takes at least 5 years.

It is no instant panacea, so such investments must be started immediately, beefing up the teacher training colleges, first with international short term academics, as the skills available locally to train teachers in the latest techniques is outdated. In order to get the most benefit, the student teachers must first have a working knowledge of English, so that has to be honed in. These are mere examples of what is needed before we can make a significant dent in solving the problems of our education sector. Will FUTA agree to hiring foreign academics to teach our teachers? They will say there is sufficient local talent. They must face reality, even their thinking is fossilized and they have to come out of their dark ages ideas.

The raw material is there in the form of our highly intelligent student body. If we turn out well educated people with life skills and a broader vision of their place in society, many of today’s societal problems can be reduced significantly. I cannot see the Govt. having the vision and the need to make this change, as they will be the most affected by a thinking population. Their ranks are filled with uneducated cronies, who are bent on taking as much for themselves. An educated populace will more readily be able to understand the con, and throw such people out of power, therefore is there a genuine commitment on their part to change the status quo?

Both FUTA and Govt. have personal agendas that are in conflict with the needs of the nation. We must therefore change direction to a policy that satisfies the latter. How we can do this under the present regime is the issue? I do not believe it can be done in good faith. All we hear is lip service to the gallery and little of substance to solve the pressing problems.

A series of blog entries here have dealt with the solutions and it is a good idea to take them up and include them in a policy document to be discussed by all stake holders, not forgetting the student body, and a consensus reached. We can then refer to that when making policy decisions and resource allocations, so we maximize the productivity of each rupee spent. We do not wish to get into a situation such as in the USA where competition is such that one appears to need a masters degree or a PhD to deliver mail, completely wasting private resources and public funds to contend with the competition for fast diminishing employment prospects in that country. We have a lot to learn from mistakes of others and do better. Let us make a start by training our teachers to teach properly! 

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