Public Education System _Failed to Deliver?

Posted on August 13, 2007  /  0 Comments

Public Education System is often blamed for not producing what is required by the society. It is also said that system had especially failed to deliver what is required by the private sector, which has been lately identified as the engine of growth and a possible provider of jobs.

There is a counter argument to say that society is not advanced enough to absorb the products of the public education system. It has not advanced enough to provide suitable jobs to the job seekers having qualifications.

Before addressing the issue, let us look at what we observe in the society that has relevance to the discussion. 

  1. There is unemployment of graduates in large numbers within Sri Lanka who agitate for jobs
  2. There is a dearth of required skills and now it is observed that skilled people from different countries (India, China, etc) have been employed by certain firms
  3. There is an exodus of educated youth to other countries
  4. There are large number of Sri Lankan professionals (Products of the Public Education System) doing lot of good work in other countries (including those who are in the NASA, the most sophisticated space technology institute on earth; according to a recent declaration by the Hon. Minister of Science and Technology more than 10% of the NASA specialists are Sri Lankans)
  5. There is a popular statement that is normally heard in many forums represented by the private sector (sometimes openly and sometimes subtly) to say that the school dropouts who had played rugby is better than the educated youth they have recruited
  6. The current debate has created frustration in youth, because they don’t know what to believe and what to discard (two diametrically opposite signals being received)
  7. There is an ongoing conflict that has eroded our society and economy (ravaged by a more than 20 year old armed struggle)
  8. There is less business (huge bureaucracy), less manufacturing (only primary processing and primary production), less export orientation (only cheap labor), etc when one looks at the current economy
  9. Countries that were far behind Sri Lanka by passing us at a rapid speed and going a very long way, and are now well ahead of us
  10. Large majority of population believing that the jobs have to be provided by the government, business is bad and our problem is not within us but is entirely an outside creation (Imperialism, Neo-colonialism, NGOs, LTTE, etc)

Education should not be taken as a whole but should be divided in to parts if we are to address the issue fairly and squarely. To prove the point, two main streams of education has been taken separately; streams of Science & Technology first and Arts & Commerce later. A better analysis would have been done if these were further divided, but to maintain simplicity, going to such a depth was deliberately avoided. 

Science and Technology
If we take the science and technology part of the education, we see remarkable achievements. Many who had been successful in getting foreign employment and doing well seems to be from this sector. When we talk about brain drain it is this segment that we mainly refer to.

These graduates find that the opportunities to apply their knowledge are minimal locally. Reason is that the country is not producing many technological products. Instead it sells within the country what is produced outside. Science and technology has very little role to play in this selling exercise. Apart from the greener pastures that attract them, this is another reason for migration.

Most of these graduates, even when they are employed within the country, therefore have to do functions outside science and technology areas, in selling and marketing, in which they have not been trained.

Arts and Commerce
We find many unemployed youth in these two areas; art and commerce. It is more in the former than the latter. The subjects they study have very minimal application in the selling jobs and the training they get does not build up the competencies necessary for selling.

Selling requires different set of skills which one doesn’t get by associating books and hence he/she will not be able to acquire those in a very formal academic environment.

Knowledge, of even commerce itself, will not help in getting sales targets, selling being an “art” than a “science”. Here one needs to know that we teach “science” of commerce in our education institutes than facilitate learning the “art” of selling or even the “art” of management.

People, who play rugby and as a result become very aggressive in nature, ready to take risks and can speak English, fits well in to those roles than university graduates. The latter who had crammed the notes and outpoured the same at an exam, but less exposed to the society and taken aback when English is used in a conversation, don’t exhibit such characteristics.

Even the science graduates don’t fit in to this role and fail to make an impression.

In addition the present set of “rugby” group has created a culture that will not allow any one outside the group to become comfortable with the setting. Hence culturally there is a repulsion which alienates the graduates from this corporate setting that uses English as the mode of communication.

Even otherwise the culture of the obedient, educated and disciplined guy has less room hear to perform given the nature of the business.

Combining Together
However, when the subject of appropriateness of education is taken for discussion, these two product segments (science graduates and others) are bundled together in the analysis. Also when one refers to the private sector in most of these discussions, the reference is made only to the organizations that are involved in sales or similar activities, though there is a good rationale for it, they being large in number. As a result of these two limitations we end up concluding that graduates produced are not suited to our organizations.

This partially true and very conditional statement confuses the children (especially those who are still attending school).

Apart from we requiring a better understanding of the issue for identifying any interventions necessary this (confusion of the children) too demand us to be more vigilant in our statements and announcements about the education system.

Larger Issues
Education is provided by the state (with tax payers money) not only to produce employees for jobs, but also to make people responsible citizens.

These responsible citizens are supposed to take initiatives and create business and jobs, apart from demanding or applying for jobs. But when we produced a large segment of people who are interested only in getting jobs and less in creating, there will be a gap created in the society that cannot be easily filled.

The responsible citizens are also supposed to live in harmony and create a peaceful society, where everyone will have equal opportunity for survival and growth. This requires creating systems, processes, mechanisms and institutions that ensures social harmony, growth and equity (this requires leadership skills). But when the citizens failed to create those, society ends up disintegrated and would be burden with conflicts (that we see around us).

In these two larger issues too, we observe that the education system had failed to create an impact. Firstly, it had not created entrepreneurs but only job seekers and secondly, it had not contributed to harmony and growth, but only escalation of violence and disintegration of the society.

In short, it had failed to create the leaders necessary for institutions and the country. It had also failed to create followers who could strengthen the hands of good leaders, even when such leaders emerge, through other processes, outside the formal system.

This is true for all streams; science, arts and commerce equally (some of the worst contributors to disharmony coming from science graduates than others). Hence you see the science graduates who do marvels when they are in other countries failing to deliver even very small things when they are within Sri Lanka.

Education System and Larger Society

One gets the education not only from the school, but also from the parents and society. On the other hand school does what the parents and society want it to do; not more, not less. Hence when we say the education is at fault it is not only the public education system but also the total society, at large, is responsible for the failure.

Solution and Future Directions

The conclusion of the above discussion could be summed up in the following form.

  1. We need to change the education system to create more entrepreneurs and leaders, without creating only job seekers and blind followers. This requires building the performance based right brain skills instead of current concentration on the exam based left brain skills.
  2. We need to create a culture that is conducive to both harmony and growth for which education system should shoulder a decisive responsibility. This requires questioning of some of the current cultural paradigms we have, that would include even questioning the present relationship between the teacher/school and students.
  3. We need to drop or limit intake in to certain segments in education (certain arts streams) in favor of other segments and go in to new areas of education (technical and even sociological/business related areas)
  4. We need to create more job oriented skills and competencies by deviating from the academic biased education in to skill and competency development education, by changing areas of study and also mode of delivery and methodologies
  5. We need to expand our manufacturing sector than concentrating on primary production and selling, where educated youth will have a significant role to play. Students should be encouraged to go in to this sector and also become entrepreneurs in this sector. Education should support such a change not only through strengthening application based science education but also encouraging and facilitating entrepreneurship through creativity generating education processes.

Each of the above requires lengthy elaboration. But the limitation of space and time prevent such an exercise at this stage. The intention here was to give a frame work for analysis and identifying crucial areas initially. This dialog could be expanded to identify additional areas and to include detail proposals.


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