As the world moves towards a new era, considerable attention has been focused on technology. But little evidence is seen of technology transferring from initial planning to the marketplace. Primarily, the question is centered on the basic issue of whether engineers could, in fact, be developed in such a way as to turn out to [...]

Business Times

Education system in Sri Lanka kills innovation,creativity


As the world moves towards a new era, considerable attention has been focused on technology. But little evidence is seen of technology transferring from initial planning to the marketplace.

Mr. U.D. Jayawardana.

Primarily, the question is centered on the basic issue of whether engineers could, in fact, be developed in such a way as to turn out to be more entrepreneurial in their attitude and thus build up an approach more appropriate to the concept of commercialisation.

The scale of such a problem cannot be underestimated, says U. D. Jayawardana, Director/ CEO LTL Holdings.

In an interview with the Business Times, he noted that the Sri Lankan education system turns out many engineers each year but very few become entrepreneurs. “The majority look for government jobs whilst the graduates with higher degrees leave for greener pastures overseas.”

Contrary to popular belief, he noted that Sri Lanka has an excess of engineers. “Each year there are about 2,000 students passing out. There is an oversupply. Like it is done with the doctors, the government sector was absorbing engineers. Now we see a situation of unemployed or underemployed engineers,” he explained.

He noted that to increase the number of entrepreneurs, there has to be an overhaul in the education system. “The most urgent requirement in Sri Lanka now is to overhaul the education system. No one is lobbying for it, because no one is interested. Now one can get through A Levels without doing practicals which not the case was in the 70s,” he explained.

First batch

Being in the first batch of engineers at the University of Moratuwa in 1972, Mr. Jayawardana noted that during his time the university was designed for 125 students. Now they put out thousand students, with the same facilities. “So the quality is clearly low. The number has increased but the quality of the engineers they put out is quite low. In any other country the university links with the industry to cater to the demand – especially in research and development. But we don’t see it here,” Mr. Jayawardana added. He noted that as opposed to this, Singapore updates its education system each year to cater to the changes of the industry. He said that India is also a good example in terms of research and development. “The Amazon Research Centre in Hyderabad has 4500 Indian engineers working,” he said.

He also noted that the undergraduate engineers in the electrical engineering field do not have a place to do designs. “The facilities are the same as was during my time.”

In contrast, LTL Holdings has helped upgrade Moratuwa University’s high voltage and machinery laboratories. Mr. Jayawardana said that there is a lack of funding from the government for upgrading the infrastructure. At the same time, the state has set up three more faculties – Jayawardenepura, Ruhuna and Jaffna.

Mr. Jayawardana, who will be delivering the IESL Ray Wijeyawardena memorial lecture titled “Transforming Local Engineers into Global Entrepreneurs – the LTL Experience” on Wednesday, strongly noted that the education system in Sri Lanka kills innovation.

“The children are over protected by their parents and start tuition classes very early in life. When it comes to higher grades, children depend purely on spoon-fed subject matter rather than learning to think and reason for themselves. Now I understand that undergraduates too lack self-confidence and they try to pass university examinations simply by memorising notes. We have noticed that when these individuals start their careers they are failures since they lack innovative thinking. The solution to this is long term but immediate reforms in the education system which is the critical need of the hour must be introduced now.”

Engineers to entrepreneurs

He added that the definition of engineers contains the formula in imagining things, making things and that engineering is a creative process. “Engineering is helping people. The above are the skills necessary for the entrepreneurs. Thus naturally, any engineer should be an entrepreneur. Unfortunately in Sri Lanka the outdated education system does not encourage all these.”

The government should have a scheme through the banks providing venture capital to start-ups. This happens in India. In an effort to identify and support technology start-ups across the state, the Indian government, over the past decade has designed several policies and schemes — creation of innovation and entrepreneurship development centres in over 226 colleges, establishment of high-tech infrastructure through Fab Labs, incubation spaces and accelerators, while ensuring early business connect by providing preferential purchase arrangements with government etc, are some of the interventions that supported this ‘ground-up model of entrepreneurial ecosystem development’. Over the past six months, Kerala Start-up Mission has funded over 100 start-ups, with more than 50 per cent of the funding awarded to start-ups in the ‘steady’ revenue stages at the time of investment.

As is the case, Mr. Jayawardana noted that start-ups should target the global market; the supply chain. Also the political stability of the government is an essential factor for start-ups to succeed. Further from a commercial perspective, it is essential that the judiciary is regarded as being both transparent and efficient when it comes to the resolution of legal disputes.

He explained that local engineers suffer from fear of failure – lack of confidence to be entrepreneurs. They opt for government jobs.

Commercialisation goes beyond designing products for minimum cost and demands an opportunistic way of achieving a market orientation, financial acumen and an ability to convince investors that the proposal presented in a business plan is robust enough to be worthy of investment. This is not an easy task as the mindset of the engineer and scientist has invariably been developed in such a way as to focus solely on the application of scientific and research methodologies.

Share This Post


Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.