but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done
The third area in which Mahinda Samarasinghe decided that radical change was necessary in the vocational training sector was with regard to industry involvement. This was obviously essential in that there was no point in training youngsters for work if employers thought their training was inadequate. But there had been no concerted effort previously to involve businesses in developing curricula and in providing guidance to trainers.
The sector had benefited vastly from World Bank and Asian Development Bank projects in the preceding period, but there seemed little practical progress despite all the money that had been poured in. Of course several buildings had been put up, and several studies done at vast expense, but little effort had been made to ensure that the recommendations of these studies were carried out. Thus, any study one looked at indicated that soft skills, and in particular English communication capacity, were lacking in trainees, but nothing had been done about this. And no one had bothered to point out to the VTA that they could not expect their students to learn English if they had hardly any English teachers – 22 I think for 245 centres at the beginning of this year, with some of them hardly knowing English.
Many courses had very few students but no efforts had been made to understand the reasons for this or increase enrolment. Soon after I started work I found that Rs 30 million had been spent on what was termed social marketing, but no coherent system had been put in place to check on the impact on the campaign. When I pointed this out, I was asked by the head of the Sector Skills Development Project, which administered the funds, to chair the Committee that was supposed to deal with Social Marketing and Career Guidance. I think he saw this as his only hope of productive action, and further investigation indicated that indeed nothing practical had been done previously. Their plans for instance included no reference to social media, which first principles would have indicated could have been a major instrument of getting messages across to the young. And though the two subjects had sensibly enough been combined for the committee, hardly anything had been done about Career Guidance, except a workshop after which it was claimed that a model sector had been set up in Ratnapura. The impact expected of this model was not on record, and there had been no follow up to check on what it was doing. When I suggested this needed investigation, the Ministry finally visited the place and discovered that very little was going on. Continue reading