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but something ere the end,

Some work of noble note, may yet be done

One reason I am so irritated by the interference of the Prime Minister in the Vocational Education sector, when he should instead be trying to drill some sense into his Minister of Education, is that it causes confusion with regard to areas on which we have begun to make changes. Recently I was told that his committee had set up a committee to coordinate curricula for the tourism sector, but had forgotten to invite the TVEC. They had instead invited the Vocational Training Authority and, though the minutes of the first meeting indicated the need to involve TVEC, by the time of the second meeting this had been forgotten. And those who had set up the committee had failed to read through the relevant legislation, which would have made it clear that VTA was a delivering agency, whereas promulgating curricula was TVEC responsibility.

Meanwhile we had been moving on new curricula through the committee on the hospitality industry we had set up, as well as through the Tourism Industry Sector Council which the Sector Skills Development Programme team had tried to establish last year. That ran into some problems because they did not have hoteliers on it, but we have managed to change this and that too now seems ready to move forward.

So we had in November produced 3 month Level 2 course curricula for Room Attendants and Food and Beverage Service, which VTA is preparing to put into practice in January. This month we had moved on to curricula for Pastry and Baking and for Bartending. It was worrying then to be told that a curriculum reform process was going on elsewhere.

My initial reaction was to just ignore this, but I thought that would be irresponsible, so I asked that we be kept informed. There was a prompt apology and a gracious invitation to the next meeting, so I went, and felt there was much we could do together. In particular, though TVEC is responsible for NVQ curricula, we know that we do not have technical expertise and in this sector the lead should obviously be taken by the Sri Lanka Institute of Tourism and Hospitality Management. Its very able head, who chairs the sub-committee, shared the Hotel School curricula with us, and I thought that we should absorb some of the content in different subject areas. Conversely I feel they might benefit from a clear structure, and an inclusion of at least some aspects of the methodology to be adopted, which we now include in all NVQ curricula.

I did find, in exploring how we had developed our curricula, that there had been hotel school involvement, but it was not clear whether this had been formal. Some years back the Hotel School and TVEC had engaged in active collaboration, the former seeking NVQ status while TVEC sought their expertise to update what seemed not very productive curricula at the time. But with I think changes of personnel, this initiative lapsed, and worse there was little institutional memory on either side as to what exactly had been achieved.

We need then to ensure better cooperation, but what was unacceptable was the effort of the Prime Minister’s office to declare, after we had worked out a simple way to proceed, that SLITHM had to be in the driving seat. I had to make it clear that there was no question of this, given the TVEC mandate with regard to NVQ curricula, but we were not interested either in claiming to be in charge since we should all see the process as collaborative. The problem is that the Prime Minister, who is incapable of working with people more able than he is, looks on human relations in terms of primacy, whereas work should be based on mutual recognition of, and respect for, individual and institutional capacity.

That is why I wish he would accept the recommendation of the committee he himself appointed, and give the Youth Corps and the National Youth Services Council back to the Ministry of Skills Development and Vocational Training. Instead he has lumped them into the Ministry of Policy Development and Economic Affairs, which does not have the capacity, nor indeed the commitment, to take things forward in those areas. Indeed both have come to us to help with programmes, and I feel that they could contribute immeasurably to the ladder type progession we need in the Tertiary and Vocational Training sector. But at present our planning, in particular with regard to the foundation levels for such training, is stymied by our not having to work closely with us the agencies who function at those levels. They for instance could ideally deliver the Levels 1 and 2 curricula, instead of offering similar Level 3 courses to those VTA centres offer. To compound the problem, different agencies work in the same geographical areas in similar subject areas at the same levels, which means that numbers for student intakes are inadequate in many centres.

But I do not think the Prime Minister, harking back as he endlessly does to his lost youth, will give up his efforts to recapture those halcyon days. But with intelligent officials in the institutions he clings to, they will I think benefit despite him from some of our initiatives. But there is so much more that can be done. The notes I prepared for Mahinda Samarasinghe before the budget debate indicate how far we have moved in the last year. It remains to be seen whether the terrible twins, Ranil and Ranga, will continue to try to knock us off the course sketched out below –

New Directions in Vocational Training

  1. We have set up 4 Sector Skills Councils, 3 of which are functioning very effectively. The fourth had delays but will now shortly sign an MoU.
  2. All Councils have participated in curriculum development, and also in training to deliver the new curricula, which are in accordance with training needs.
  3. TVEC also now works closely with professional bodies in fields under its purview, such as the National Child Protection Authority and the National Institute for Social Development, and used their services in the development of new curricula.
  4. A principal feature of the changes made is the introduction of short tailor made courses to bridge the existing skills gaps. These include 3 month NVQ Level 2 and 3 courses in
  5. Elder Care and General Care and Counselling
  6. Plumbing and Carpentry
  7. Welding and Harvester/Tractor Operator
  8. Introduction to Computing
  9. Introduction to Office Work
  10. Wheel Alignment
  11. Mobile Phone Repair

while several more are planned.

  1. TVEC has also developed Diploma courses to satisfy the urgent need for more and better trainers for vocational subjects. In addition to Diplomas in English and Education and Working Mathematically and Education, a Technology and Education course is also proposed. TVEC is discussing with UNIVOTEC the possibility of developing a degree based on NVQ 5 and 6 Diplomas, in the ladder scheme now prevalent in other countries in the TVET sector.
  2. The Cabinet has equated the Level 3 NVQ Certificate with the Ordinary Level examination and the Level 4 Certificate with the Advanced Level examination. A circular to ensure employment criteria on these lines is being prepared.
  3. In response to what was presented in all analyses as the greatest gap with regard to skills, TVEC has now made English and Soft Skills compulsory on all TVET courses for NVQ Certification. DTET has expanded its pool of English teachers and VTA has now appointed teachers of these subjects to all Centres. NAITA too delivers these courses to students in its centre based courses. Textbooks have been prepared for these courses at 3 levels and students have expressed satisfaction at this new requirement, and indeed asked for more.
  4. TVEC has also developed dedicated Career Skills courses to cover English and Soft Skills at three levels, and these have proved very popular. These courses, as well as the supplementary English and Soft Skills courses are also offered now by the Youth Corps and the Bureau of Foreign Employment.
  5. TVEC has provided training for teachers for these courses, and also arranged training through the Sector Councils for teachers of trade courses.
  6. TVEC has also developed training programmes in Center Management and for Academic Coordinators and for Career Guidance. It has coordinated work in these areas so that all training providers under the Ministry work together.
  7. New Assistant Directors have now been hired and TVEC reorganized, including through the creation of two new Divisions, for Assessment and for Labour Market Relations (to liaise with the Sector Skills Council). Instructions have been given to clear the backlog with regard to monitoring of centres as well as payments, within the next couple of months, with priority for state providers of training.
  8. A new website is being developed to promote easier access to information regarding training programmes, while regular coordination meetings take place with other agencies under the Ministry.

 

And I should also record here the achievements of our English and Soft Skills Consultants, given that their names too were sent to the Prime Minister in Minister Ranga Bandara’s complaint. A couple of weeks back I told the Commission that  we did not need their services any more except for those of the Project Manager, to coordinate further training as we expand the services we offer. I wrote that

The contracts of the English and Soft Skills Consultants come to an end in December 2016. There seems no need to renew these, since they have done an excellent job. Outputs include

  1. a)Curricula for Career Skills modules for trade courses from Levels 3 to 6
  2. b)Curricula for Career Skills courses at Levels 1 and 2 and 4, as well as the Diploma in English and Education course at Level 5
  3. c)Textbooks for the Certificate courses
  4. d)Setting up and uploading these materials to the website buildingcareerskills.gov.lk
  5. e)Support with a textbook for the introductory courses to the service sector developed at Level 3
  6. f)Participating in training workshops for the above including two residential workshops for English staff
  7. g)Contributing to workshops in other areas including for Career Guidance officers and also for TVEC staff at a residential workshop to be held from December 2ndto 4th

I should record here, given the State Minister’s effrontery, that all this work, over a 12 month period, cost under Rs 1,500,000. This is in contrast to the Rs 6,000,000 paid twice over to the British Council for far less work. And the impractical officials in charge at the time did not ensure the production of books students could use, but instead ignored the recommendation of the Council that they order books from Cambridge University Press in India. The books they recommended are comparatively expensive, and those in charge did nothing about negotiating a discount as the Council recommended, though I suspect that even then the cost would have been beyond the reach of most students.

The Secretary to the Treasury has failed to respond, for the second time, to the letter I sent about looking into the squandering of money that took place then. But that seems to be the name of the game, and the superb work of local consultants, at minimal cost, will be belittled by politicians anxious to pursue personal vendettas.

Ceylon Today 10 Dec 2016 – https://ceylontoday.lk/print20161101CT20161231.php?id=10880

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