Saturday, January 28, 2012

The IUSF helps the Government – We need a rational basis to improve the ‘Free Education System’

The Inter University Students Federation or IUSF colloquially knows as ‘Anthare’ takes its ideology from pre JVP times into a Marxist Leninist way of the world that is now not even accepted by those traditionally assisted this philosophy.

It is therefore easy for the Government to point the absurdity of their demands, consigning them into a bunch of morons in public debate. A seminar held yesterday under their auspices brings out a cabal of extreme left wing groups, which included the Maoist Students Federation, that called for agitation against Private Universities being set up, and that Free Education is a right of all up to Tertiary level.

Let us go back to basics. In Sri Lanka today, Free Education at Primary and Secondary Level is available to all who seek it. At Tertiary level it is only available to about 10% of those who qualify to enter University. The other fact also is that this so called free education sucks in quality!!!! It may be due to the incompetence of the management of Education by the bureaucrats, the lack of adequate funding by government, the incorrect perception of Education by teachers as a career opportunity rather than a dedicated vocation, and the expectation of individual rights by citizens, without a commitment on their part to make it work as good parents or school supporters.

Based on this reality, it is impossible to offer a GOOD free education system for all, due to a combination of the factors referred to in the previous paragraph. We must then make do with what we have. We cannot move mountains, but we need to work in partnership that is the State, the Public, (including parents, sponsors, companies, past pupils) and Private Sector educational institutions to improve the quality of education offered to the Citizens of this country so that their true potential in maximized, and thus lead to a greater degree of justifiable economic growth, achieving the targets set for quality of life of all our citizens.

This partnership is NOT happening as the State has failed to take the lead in promoting a policy that is realistic, implementable, along with a proper allocation of resources to achieve these goals. This is what the fight should be FOR. Not against those who wish to spend money of their own to set up institutions which will charge fees and admit pupils at their own risk so that they can earn a qualification they (students) believe will lead to better prospects than what a non fee levying state institution could offer. I therefore hope a sensible National student union will emerge to agitate for this Basic DEMAND on behalf of students.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Educated youth in search of employment – A case study – points to ponder

I helped a complete stranger one day over the phone in giving ideas of how to draft a cover letter in obtaining an interview for a job, which was part of her assignment for the two year full time Diploma in English course she is currently following at the Advanced Technological Institute in Dehiwela. She has just commenced her second year, and there are now 60 in the batch with 59 girls and one boy. When the course commenced there were 175 and many have transferred out or dropped out. The minimum qualification for entry to this course is either an A or B in English at the O levels and a pass at the A levels.

There are a smattering of such institutes dotted all over the Island, which offer A level students who have not obtained sufficient marks to enter the University system, an alternative. The courses are usually two years in length if they are full time and are for subjects such as IT, English, Business Administration, perceived as being necessary in obtaining employment.

These institutions offer Free Tuition, and some burseries and mahapola shols for living expenses, and are also part of the Ministry of Higher Education. There is the possibility of doing part time courses there too, while in employment and for that there are tuition fees. In this facility there is a girl’s hostel, where first years are housed, with the boys having to find accommodation locally. Many students follow other courses at the same time, and the student in question, while following this course is also studying for an external degree at the Kelaniya University in Arts, specializing Dance and Drama. The classes for the latter being on Saturdays.

I met this student at my office yesterday, as she was seeking my assistance in obtaining employment, preferring to go part time, while doing a job as it costs her Rs10,000 a month to live, her home being in Embilipitiya. She said that she has topped her batch at her college as well as all the similar colleges in the island and was seeking even a job as a receptionist as she is fluent in English also.

My observation was that they are totally unprepared in knowing how to get about finding a job, even though they now live in the metropolis, where there is a pool of jobs available, and heavily advertised, but for which the lack of experience is a huge handicap. This is where the ability to prepare a relevant resume and good cover letter showing the applicant knows what he or she wants, along with the confidence at interviews gives them an edge, and also the offer of working without pay, for a few months to show their aptitude in a given job, hitherto untested can be measured and competency tested in a real world working environment.

All this points to is the crying need for a life skills development workshop upon completion of the A levels, to be held soon after sitting the exams and not after the results are obtained. Students can then be equipped to make choices that take into account their personal preferences and not just with reference to parental or peer pressure about what they should do.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Present crisis in the State University System – and a way forward

I am writing this in mid January 2012. As of today around 250 students have been suspended or arrested due to various bogus or valid reasons in many of the 8 State University campuses around the Island. Even the day before, the Minister of Higher Education was booed by the students of the Jaffna University, for insinuating that the LTTE is active within the State University system and are inciting the students. Of course there are also the ragging incidents with the new intake that have also led to some of the arrests and suspensions amongst the numbers referred to above. In that aspect, where ragging is a kind of initiation into a mindset of trying to equalize students, by especially forcing the individualistic and the somewhat perceived privileged into adopting a comradeship, I reject as outdated. This culture should be gradually eased with reason prevailing.

Having dealt with ragging with a brush stroke that will not endear me to the student body, I hope they will see the bigger picture of what truly ails the State Tertiary sector and agitate for an improvement in both their Educational environment and also the value of the degree for which they have sacrificed not just financially but also in time, as many are past 26 when they finally receive their degree certificates, an utter waste of talent, when I consider that I had a degree a few days past my 21st birthday and was in full time employment two months later.

There is one main reason I believe for the true rationale for student agitation. That is the interference by the state into a big brother autocracy of trying to manipulate the mind of the students and also to impose a militaristic state security apparatus as an extension of the power of the dictatorship that is now being IMPOSED on the placid and unsuspecting populace of Sri Lanka. Added to which the back door disadvantages the state system is bound to face with the gradual growth of the Private Tertiary Sector as well as the Fee Levying State sector in Education, should be what the Students agitate against. The political appointees to the positions of Vice Chancellors of the Universities are also detrimental to the independence of the State University system and one which must be reversed.

The agitation is led by a motley collection of nationally known, but politically void individuals professing allegiance to either official JVP or its breakaway rebel group, but who do not have a rational answer to the students grievances. These opportunists have taken center stage and a following amongst the student numbers only due to a lack of alternative leadership by the UNP or a UNP affiliated student body that can show the students an alternative to the present anti Govt. IUSF unions. This alternative is essential as a counter to the current status quo.
The misguided leadership who are against the introduction of Private Universities, when they already exist, and who organized a now banned demonstration from Peradeniya to Colombo, are inevitably going to lead the students in a pied piper sense into an abyss. Students ought to realize this and seek an alternative.

I can see that this unhealthy direction will to lead to some regretful casualties, which the IUSF is likely hoping for, also for political gain. Only then can they show the other apathetic students that they are fighting for a cause. So let us show these students that they have some real issues with which to fight the Governemnt, and not some nebulous ones they will not be able to change.

I note below some of the real grievances that the whole student body should agitate about and if that is done with sufficient vigor, will be able to change the stance and possibly some of the policies in a direction that will truly benefit the students in the State Sector. Students in the state sector must face one reality, and that is those students who can afford WILL go the path of Private Tertiary Education either in Sri Lanka or overseas, with the possible exception of the study of Medicine.

Then we are left with those who do not have the funds, and are chosen to enter the University system. They need Educational Freedom in the sense that they should be permitted to learn and be taught free from political interference. There should transparency in the appointment of Vice Chancellors to ensure this freedom. The number of places with no Tuition Fees must be guaranteed at say 25,000 per annum so as to give a chance to those qualified to enter the system.

Secondly, as is inevitable, the Private Sector will attract a crème of the academic staff due to the ability to pay. In order that the State Sector does NOT fall behind, competitive remuneration to teaching staff given, but with accountability, with regard to minimum teaching hours per week. The 750+ staff who have skipped their bonds and remain overseas having got their PhD and Masters, are likely to return and those not, held to make good the bond, which was signed in good faith.

The resources allocated to the State Tertiary sector must increase. The Universities must be challenged to obtain quality classifications that put them on a par with International Universities. This is so that the degree these students come out with is of value in the international marketplace, where they have to compete for jobs. It is implied that English and IT skills are included in this resource allocation, and a true sense of self worth as graduates without a sense of entitlement are produced. They must understand that the state does not owe them a job, just because they have a degree, but instead realize the value of FREE EDUCATION.
Fourthly, the Government owned quasi military security must be withdrawn forthwith as they act as the listening arm of the State apparatus, and have now proved to be counterproductive to educational freedom and freedom of thought and expression, something that is valued highly in the Tertiary Educational sector.

The valuable lost time in waiting for entrance and the plethora of delays that just cost the economy, of a productive educated professional, must be reduced, with prominence given to the time value of money, that seems to be absent in the Govt. sector and which contributes to the mindset, that does not take account of it. This is also due to the lack of tertiary education of the MPs who are unable to understand this basic principle of economics.

Sixthly, Career counseling and guidance must be provided for students in the State Sector for all intakes and all years, so that instead of blaming the students for being unable to find jobs, the students are guided on how to find jobs and shown what is available both here and overseas, so they build their goals in life while at University rather than come out of it not knowing what opportunities are available with the qualifications they have. Life skills must be part of this program.

A fairer system of bursaries for students of poorer families, so that the principles of Free Education can be emboldened, but which carry with it some responsibilities upon completion, must be adopted as the current Mahapola scholarship amounts in real terms are now worth 10% of what they were when they were originally awarded. This has not kept pace with inflation, and the extra awarded for excellence must be made much bigger for incentive to perform while at University.

Point no eight in this list which is in no particular order of significance, is the question of competitiveness vis a vis the private sector. If the private sector is able to provide scholarships of say 5% that can further enhance the places available for disadvantaged pupils, while at the same time permitting the state sector a release valve to allocate resources to improving quality and not more places. The latter being taken by the private sector and an increasingly affluent middle class, who is able to pay for State owned but fee levying institutions such as the NIBM which is rapidly expanding nationwide.

I believe my proposals above are worth agitating for, as they are all for the benefit of existing and future students and the state would then be forced to allocate more funds, which they only have to divert from the heavy allocation to defense spending, where there is a gross mis-allocation of resources as part of the effort to provide security to an increasingly isolated regime, from its own people.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A Business University – National School of Business Management(NSBM)

NIBM (National Institute of Business Management) affiliated new University has been approved by the Cabinet, to be set up on 50 Acres of land in Homagama owned by the UDA, with an initial Investment of Rs5Billion. The Foundation is expected to be laid in March with Academic Activities set to commence in 2014.

The idea is to allow students with suitable O levels to go straight into this College and get a degree within 4 years, thus short circuiting the current cumbersome route where it takes 5 to 6 years after sitting for A levels to actually walk out with a degree. It sounds eminently sensible at first glance, and they expect an annual intake of about 12,000 students (current entry into 8 state Universities is 22,500 per annum) The idea is for degree programs to cover areas such as Management, Marketing, IT, Engineering and Design. I have only extracted this from a government owned newspaper and to that extent I qualify that what is said, proposed and actually likely to be achieved can vary immensely to possible even make my blog entry about this a waste of time.

I am taking the trouble to cover this information only on the assumption that if it is in fact successful there are many basic foundations in the Education of Sri Lankans, which must be in place before we can even begin to contemplate this. As the reality from ground breaking to opening is ambitious it is more likely it will happen around 2015 or 2016, and the initial intake is likely to be no more than 2,000 students. However I applaud the establishment of such an institution, especially to short circuit the time it takes to get a degree, a wholly wasteful exercise in Sri Lanka. I had an honors degree in Economics almost at my 21st birthday, as I studied in the UK, while most of the young people I have to liase with on youth programs only get their degrees when they are 26 or after, and often know a lot less than I did at 21!!

I believe this University though owned by the Government will be a “for profit” or at least fee based to cover the cost of education, and thereby not qualify as an Institution of Free Education in the Tertiary Sector. It is possible therefore to offer courses of excellence and courses that are directly catered to specific types of managerial jobs. To that extent I believe it will produce graduates who should be able to find employment in the private sector and not the state sector and also have to make a huge financial sacrifice to go there, and thereby are unlikely to waste their time. In reality this is another Private University, although owned by the Government and funded by it. The success or failure of this is completely dependent on the commitment and caliber of the Board and the funds allocated together with the level of political interference in its activities.

It will be interesting to see whether my predictions or the governments will turn out to be more accurate. I also predict that the cost will double to Rs10B and the project will be fraught with wastage and kickbacks that will delay its opening to the detriment of the students and the country.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

My Wish for 2012 is for the Sri Lankan Journalists to use ‘Common Sense’ in helping their audience to think!!!

New Year’s day 2012 and I almost had a row with my Dad, when he said that according to the papers, Commercial Bank was doing a great job in their CSR by helping 6000 students with Computers and related assistance for IT.

I told him to read further and actually think. The Bank is in the business of using CSR to tell the public how good they are in helping worthy causes so that they get a lot of goodwill. However if Commercial Bank gives one computer to a school with 10,000 students they will say they helped 10,000 students with Computers and IT, because our people are so dumb as to believe what they read. In fact the Principal who has not internet or Computer is more than likely to have it at his office to teach himself computing as he would not want to look a fool while his students learn IT. “KALPANAKARANNA” please.

So the point I am trying to make is that there is always a story behind a story, and we only are shown and led to believe the surface ONLY. So let us get back to basics and teach the audience how to think and rationalize. After all many so called news items in Sri Lanka especially in the papers are planted items. They are either informercials, advertorials both paid by the company or government to boast about something they are about to do or done, and make it sound so much grander or of some journalist putting something by a friend or the owner putting some items of information he wants the readers to see.

It is very important in the present context when we have a Government blessed with misinformation to be able to see the wood from the trees and make up our minds as to what to believe. I call upon all journalists who are worth two cents in Sri Lanka to lend some thought to this and view the information for what it is and not be as gullible as the audience or readership, as they must have more grey hairs of common sense to guide their readership etc. into a frame of mind from which to come to their own conclusions.

With these few words I wish my readers every success in 2012 and please try to understand that my crusade in this blog is for the betterment of the great country of Sri Lanka so that its citizens can grow up, especially our young generation to be valuable citizens contributing immensely for the overall good of this country. I thank those who are sincerely doing their best in this regard and challenge others to take on the mantle as it is a noble cause that will give them the “pina” “good Karma” or any other merit that they deserve in this life of the lives from here on.