Time to focus on the bare necessities of life
“Look for the bare necessities- The simple bare necessities- Forget about your worries and your strife- I mean the bare necessities- Or Mother Natures recipes- That bring the bare necessities of Life” ( The Walt Disney Production -The Jungle Book 1967)

Mother Nature endowed Sri Lanka with an environment of good weather, sufficient water for irrigation and personal use, a fertile soil, beautiful scenery, limited but unique resources, plentiful sea resources and an island status free of common borders. We have a proud record in ancient history, during Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa periods, of having enjoyed the endowments of Mother Nature with plentiful harvests, healthy and satisfied people achieving fetes that stun the modern day scientists. The application of knowledge, capability and effective leadership, going hand in hand with hard work, unity, oneness and patriotic nationalism were the drivers of high achievement then.
In the post independence period all successive leaders have paid scant attention to the other bare necessities essential to enrich the lives of people - peace, law and order, capabilities, and infrastructure, in that order.

Capabilities of the workforce are a priority in a globalized world of today. Capabilities are driven by knowledge and skills with competitive advantages derived by science, technology and best practices. The access to these and the key to open the doors to global services options is a capability in the global language – English.

Let us examine our achievements within the framework of competency in English, beginning with the brightest of our young – those eligible to enter universities. A recent newspaper report stated that in 2005 nearly 115,000 students gained sufficient marks to qualify to enter universities, out of which 75,000 or 65% had failed to gain a pass standard in English at the ordinary level examinations. These children will have an English refresher course upon entry to the universities. Can it give them the required competency to access the vast sea of knowledge in the information gateways of the world? As these kids progress through universities will their only source of knowledge be their text books, lecturers notes and “Kuppi Classes” – informal classes held by senior students aligned to politically motivated union groups who limit the context and scope of knowledge transfer and lace them with the necessary doses of ideology as well?

A reputed political scientist described how keen students willing to explore knowledge come to the centre run by the scientist and refer the reading texts recommended in a laborious way with the aide of an Oxford dictionary. Thereafter they seek guidance as to whether they will be penalized by the lecturer for quoting reference material outside the archaic notes dictated in class. This situation read together with the experience of a firm of international professional analysts, where only three out of 10 qualified chartered accountants and graduates pass the entrance test on English competency (a prerequisite before tests of analytical skills and theoretical know-how are assessed) shows the sad state of the graduate population, representing the cream of our educated young.

It is many years since the University Commission report identified the lack of English competency as the “Kaduwa” – the sword used by the private sector and the high society in keeping rural talent in poverty and denial of rights to resources. This was also a common political slogan of the extremists. However, now in power for quite a while, they are yet to remove the obstacles that deny the disadvantaged segments reaching for the bare necessities of life- competency in English.

The World Bank has granted a $60 million dollar, 5-year facility for promotion of education, including the improvement of the quality of education through curriculum development and upgrading. It is our fervent hope that leaders will identify the need to allocate sufficient resources from this facility to provide the bare necessities of education and endow the young and adolescent with required competencies in English.

What would have been the plight of the young and new entrants to the job market had so called international schools and education and training institutes not sprouted all over the country, all registered as limited liability companies? How would the bare necessities of education and capabilities then been met by slogan shouting politicians agitating against privatization of education?

Chamber leaders, why is it that your voices are silent on this bare necessity for growth and development? What happened to your focus on HR and Education? Where is the dedicated team of resources representing all interested stakeholders? Why not re-emphasize the valuable recommendations from the National Education Conference? Have you forgotten the lessons from Pakistan, of what Babur Ali and Ms Kassuri did to propel private education to build capable young? Why not invest in education and skill development to gain competitive advantages?

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