Kussi Amma Sera may have got it wrong after all. Or did we? In our column two weeks ago we predicted an Achcharu budget or an unpredictable one and suggested some advice from our band of chefs but it seems the Finance Minister (and his ‘master’chefs) may have got it right after all. Praise when [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

Driving innovation through classrooms


Kussi Amma Sera may have got it wrong after all. Or did we? In our column two weeks ago we predicted an Achcharu budget or an unpredictable one and suggested some advice from our band of chefs but it seems the Finance Minister
(and his ‘master’chefs) may have got it right after all.

Praise when praise is due is our motto and on three issues close to our heart – education, innovation and technology – Maithripala, Ranil and Ravi (and teams from the UNP and the SLFP as the media was told were involved in budget preparation) seemed to have got it right on the money. To some extent at least.

The UNP and the SLFP appear to have concocted a nice formula for their ‘Achcharu in the chatty-pot’ perhaps giving our band of Achcharu chefs a run for their money.

How is that? For the reasons stated here. Ravi has addressed issues like poor infrastructure, teacher training, curricula development and also spoken of reforms targeting zero drop-outs, a mandatory education for 13 years and expanding options for students to continue onto education, with a focus on science and technology-based education — issues that were raised at a recent discussion on education organized by the Sunday Times Business Club.

The focus of that discussion was whether education is geared towards today’s technology-driven marketplace. That discussion referred to the need for an education system that meets the demands of the world, while the medical profession represented at the meeting spoke of the lack of time for precious play, rest and recreation.

The need for an attitudinal change in the education system, moving away from a system of memorizing which takes away the skill of questioning and building a system that promotes thinking was stressed at that education discussion. Play, reading, rest and sleep were noted as fundamentals in an education structure that takes on a new world filled with development and challenges, in many ways a world of the unknown as the pace of change is very vast and rapid in this fascinating, technologically-driven era.

Innovation, creation and critical thinking are the new mantra and the Business Times has contributed in many ways profiling start-ups with innovative business ideas and having special pages focusing on technology. In fact today, the start-ups page features ParaQum Technologies, whose founder and university teacher Dr. Ajith Pasqual says his objective is to  mak e  electronics a significant contributor to the national economy and exports.

Ajith’s reading is spot-on, because electronics and everything that goes with it are the future and that is written in the stars, even our astrologers would tell you.

For that matter, last week checking out a design exhibition in Colombo steered by Linda Speldewinde, who has transformed the fashion design space with new technology, I was fascinated by a presentation from a young designer from Tel Aviv, Danit Peleg.

I was drawn to the discussion not because of a penchant for fashion designing but out of curiousity to see what technology was being used for. And that presentation floored me, for it showed how Danit had experimented with creating dresses using 3-D printing which can be made at home.

“Can you imagine making your own dress at home?” she asked showing a video presentation on how she created a dress using 3-D printing described as ‘an additive manufacturing process that creates a physical object from a digital design’.

Danit highlighted how a 3-D printed dress can have LED lights which light up when you send a text. “Imagine if the T-shirt worn by a DJ lights up at an event when everyone texts that they love him,” she said.

According to Danit, 3-D clothes can be printed at home; you don’t need a store-front to display and sell clothes. You can email the design and print the dress, shirt or whatever at home. Fashion stores could be a thing of the past!

Think about it. This could be a reincarnation of the baby boomers generation who grew up with mothers and wives doing a lot of sewing at home on cranky, old pedal-driven machines. The only difference: a change of machine!

Danit said that after the design is 3-D printed in a small machine at home, the pieces are glued together which is the ‘fun part’. Just like knitting – then a favoured past-time at home, which mothers and wives did whenever they had a moment to spare amidst their busy ‘running-the-house-and-family schedule’.

3-D dresses, however are made of rubberized material and need some inner, soft fabric, but the day will dawn soon (given the speed of innovation) when a softer, wearable fabric is created. Nanotechnology is coming up with some amazing creations – even in our backyard at the Sri Lanka Institute of Nanotechnology 50-acre nanotechnology park at Homagama. Among some of the developments is a fabric that doesn’t get dirty or smelly (with sweat) and doesn’t need to be washed for many days or weeks.

Now back to Ravi K’s budget: The Finance Minister said the right things needed for a futuristic education stream like smart classrooms (with provision for free tabs for almost 175,000 students who enter the AL classes and around 28,000 AL teachers) and urged telecom service providers to support this initiative by providing Wi-Fi connections.

In enhancing IT facilities in 3,500 schools, schools are to be provided with funds to rent a maximum of 50 computers each, and new subjects like Hospitality Management, Fashion Design, Digital Technology, Logistics, and Financial Literacy amongst many others are being introduced at the OL and AL.

The savings habit among children is also being encouraged with banks, as part of their CSR, being urged to help open savings accounts for all school children. Perhaps, the Minister must have read last week’s column where we spoke about inculcating a savings habit that can generate funds to develop the nation with less foreign and local commercial borrowings.

Another good proposal was the offer of scholarships for undergraduates of the 17 state universities who are the top 3 in the faculties of Engineering, Medicine, Bio and Physical Science, Accountancy, Finance and Law to top universities around the world like Harvard, MIT, Oxford, Cambridge, NUS, etc to follow post graduate studies up to PhD level. These universities are a driving force in the world on innovation and these offers should also take into account how these students can and should, on completion, contribute to the country’s development paradigm with progressive ideas and thoughts. These were some of the points that emerged at the education discussion (referred to earlier) where Paediatric Neurologist Dr. Jithangi Wanigasinghe strongly implored the authorities to formulate an education structure that is based on critical thinking, questioning and thought along with adequate time for play, rest and recreation.

In today’s busy world, most corporate executives will tell you  a relaxed walk in the park energises the mind, creating vibrant thought and ideas.

The proposal to encourage pedagogical training for academic and administrative staff is also a step in the right direction with teachers at all levels being connected to a different art or science of teaching where writing on a blackboard and telling students what to learn is a thing of the past.

Another very important proposal is a ‘cost sheet’ for patients in government hospitals and university students. For example, a patient in a state hospital on being discharged would be provided with the total cost of that care – sometimes running into millions of rupees if one accessed private medical care for example and if it includes surgery. In the universities, each student would be told what it costs for his or her education, for as Ravi says “so that they are conscious of the funds allocated from the taxes collected from the common man in the country”. This also importantly addresses the ridiculous thought ingrained in most university students that the government is obliged to provide a job, rather than working hard for it.

This proposal is an innovation, thinking out-of-the-box exercise and drives home the fact that in both health and education, someone else is paying for the services we use, and often abuse.

Perhaps another important exercise – maybe in the next budget – is to measure the performance of MPs in economic terms vis-à-vis the money spent from taxpayers funds. For all the shouting and hollering in Parliament, are they making a significant, productive and meaningful contribution?

There were many other proposals on science, technology start-ups and innovation but as they say, the proof of  the pudding is in the eating. Will the Government deliver on all these promises? In the 2016 budget at least 20 key proposals were not implemented with some being repeated in the 2017 budget. I rest my case.

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