ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, April 01, 2007
Vol. 41 - No 44
Financial Times  

Education system at the crossroads

By Antony Motha
In recent months increasing attention has been paid to Sri Lanka’s education system. The US Ambassador recommended that private universities be allowed to exist alongside public universities. Last week, the CEO of Imperial Institute of Tertiary Education echoed these views, views that are valid and fairly universal.However, while one focuses on the tip, we have been ignoring the iceberg.

There is mainstream tertiary education (represented by colleges and universities). And there is also education off the beaten track – vocational education. In the latter case, the obstacle is not so much the lack of earning potential or opportunity, but the lack of social status associated with many vocations.

Take construction craftspersons, for instance. A member of the National Education Commission confirms that “a mason, carpenter or plumber is able to earn more than a graduate civil engineer,” this has much to do with the distorted demand-supply position. The Minister of Construction and Engineering Services rightly seeks to remedy that by certifying and glamourising the low-supply trades. Call a mason a ‘Masonry Technician’, he suggests; apparently, a rose by some other name would smell sweeter.

For a training certificate to infuse that elusive social status, it needs to be ‘recognised’. That’s where the National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) system comes in. Dr T. A. Piyasiri, Director General of Tertiary & Vocational Education Commission, says that the NVQ system addresses this concern by:

(a) Making the courses relevant, so that institutes churn out competent craftspersons for various occupations and

(b) Formulating a unified qualifications framework, wherein competency standards will be specified for 100 different occupations by 2008.

Dr Piyasiri confirms curricula, standards and assessment criteria have already been formulated for 45 of these occupations.
These include masons, carpenters, plumbers and household electricians.

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Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.