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but something ere the end,

Some work of noble note, may yet be done

I feel quite shattered as I write this, for the last week has been quite hectic. We had an extra meeting of the Tertiary and Vocational Education Commission on Wednesday, at which we presented a number of ground breaking papers. Most important were the curricula for the Diploma in Technology and Education, which will be delivered at a number of Technical Colleges and Colleges of Technology from next year.

fbffc6b3We will be working in five areas, namely Automobiles, Production Technology, Construction, Electric and Electronic Technology and Airconditioning and Refrigeration. The course is open to those who took up Technology subjects at Advanced Level, but here they will study in depth the practical applications of the knowledge they acquired. They will also develop soft skills, and in particular English communication skills. And most important they will be introduced to interactive teaching skills, with much emphasis on group discussions, on reflecting on experience, on sharing and assessing ideas.

We had much experience of this at the workshop we had conducted the previous weekend for teachers on the English and Education course that will commence next year at ten colleges round the country. The original plan had been to confine this to five colleges, but it seems there is much demand from students, who have been enthused by the active approach to teaching adopted by many of the teachers at this College. The NVQ Level 4 course we started in Galle a couple of months back had for instance nearly a 1000 applicants, but we were able to take in fewer than 200, and that was stretching it. If the present initiative works well, we will soon have overcome the decades long problem of enough English teachers for the country – and indeed the problem of teachers of Technology, given that the Technology stream was started without attention to teacher supply.

We had our lively and committed German consultant to introduce the new pedagogy curriculum, since it will be the English teachers who have to handle this for the Technology and Education students as well as the English and Education students. It was fascinating to see the way in which the teachers reacted, including the older ones who were encouragingly enthusiastic. The new Asst Director in charge of English at the Department of Technical Education and Training seemed to have made an excellent selection, though I have noted that there are other good teachers too, and by next year we should be able to run the course in many more centres.

The Minister has asked too that action be expedited on one of the vital goals of the ADB project, namely revision of the Schemes of Recruitment. At present DTET has a large number of vacancies, and despite advertising has not found recruits. With regard to English for instance I was told last year, when I started work and was horrified at the lack of English teachers, that 18 would be appointed in January and then 14 half way through the year. The 18 were appointed and have acquitted themselves well, but in July I was told that there was no one suitable to appoint to the other vacancies.

teaching-english-and-career-skills-front-coverVTA meanwhile, which had 22 English teachers for 245 centres, hired over a hundred on a visiting basis. This worked well in terms of student response, since the youngsters taken on by and large proved enthusiastic and able. But the commitment to take at least some of them on a more permanent basis was not fulfilled, and indeed we lost some of the better ones to other agencies such as the Youth Corps – which has also adopted our programme, and seems to be working on it well. Now however VTA, which has called for applications some months back, has agreed to go ahead with the interviews.

Though there are fears that the Treasury will not provide funding, I found the very intelligent young lady who attended the workshop on Tertiary Education conducted by the National Education Commission, positive about additional support, provided funds available in the budget were used systematically. This was why the Minister was so keen to ensure that vacancies were filled, instead of funds for salaries being unused while more and more money is requested for visiting instructor payments.

All this requires energy to activate, and I am no longer as young as I used to be. One of my former teachers at Sabaragamuwa, now in a senior position at the University of Vocational Technology, remarked on this when he said that, in the old days, I would not have had to ask twice for someone’s name. That was at a meeting to develop their Bachelor of Education degree, which seemed to me to repeat what had already been done by students, given the entry requirements. Instead we concentrated on current needs, graphically expressed by Chandra Amerasekera – whom I was happy to work with again after ages – who remarked that the students she taught simply could not write properly. But I reminded her that she was in part responsible for this.

Once, when I had asked her why, as Consultant on English to the Ministry, she had allowed teacher trainees at Pasdunrata to pass when their English usage was so bad, she said that, after the government had spent so much on training, it could not afford to fail people. Now however she seemed to understand how much damage that approach had done, and noted that that had been the government position.

I had noticed something similar when I was given a Master’s level thesis to mark. Most sentences had something wrong with them and I expressed my horror at the fact that these had not been corrected by the supervisor. The answer of the academics at the Postgraduate Institute of English was that the student was stubborn and would not follow advice given. But in that case, the supervisor should simply have refused to recommend the thesis.

I refused then to adjust my judgment, as I had been requested to do, to say that the thesis had only minor errors, and insisted on a total rewriting. That this approach bears fruit became obvious when the stubborn student produced a fresh version that had hardly any mistakes.

As Chandra said, the problem was that, when the Communicative method became fashionable, authorities subscribed to the theory that it prohibited correcting students. This was nonsense, what it prohibited was discouraging students, but this does not preclude correcting egregious errors. That however should be done in a positive manner, while minor errors need not be highlighted, though one should always think of ways of getting it across to students that they should take greater care.

poster-copyMeanwhile, just as our programme to ensure that all students on vocational training courses acquire basic English competence, the forces of darkness are gathering to try to stop us. I have already noted the aggression of the State Minister, who was totally wrong about the Act, and I worry continuously about the Prime Minister after his insidious effort to block English medium in 2002. But there are others too, who have perhaps greater reason to worry, since they were deprived of English and might think a new generation would soon overtake them if they had easy access to international sources of knowledge. But fortunately the Minister stayed firm, and said that, in the interests of future generations of students, this was not something as to which there could be any compromise. And being practical, he has ensured that there will be more teachers too available soon, through the Diploma course.

Fortunately we also now have a very positive Secretary of Education, who has responded to my letters on what we are doing, and we may therefore be able to extend our programmes to schools, at least in the afternoons when the plant otherwise lies idle. The Commisson also accepted that our principal agencies, DTET and VTA and NAITA, could have sub-centres in schools, and these could be registered to teach NVQ Levels 1 & 2 and 3. I have therefore written, not just to the Secretary of Education, but to all Provincial Ministers of Education, to suggest that they too work towards extending opportunities on these lines

I know that the Northern Province Ministry of Education, which developed several excellent ideas through a think tank guided by Prof Ethirveerasingham, is already working on these lines, and I can only hope other Provinces will also follow suit. Typically, it is the Jaffna College of Technology that has the most applications for the innovative Introduction to Office Work course that we have developed, which will equip those who have sat for the Ordinary Level with skills that will enable them to move straight into office work, and rise up the ladder in fields which desperately need personnel.

This is one of the new 3 month Level 3 courses we have started, in the hope that parents, who do not know what to do with children who have finished the Ordinary Level Exam, will introduce them to areas in which they could later seek productive employment. My excellent Director of Curricula has been working overtime and, with the support of the Skills Councils, has developed five courses in the Construction area plus others for Automobiles and Telephones and Tractors and Harvesters. Then our Director Assessment, who is busy enough in that area, also found time to work on Curricula for the hospitality industry. We now have six courses for the hotel industry, which were finalized also with the support of professional Hotel School staff. I hope they will help us with the training programmes which our currently overworked Labour Relations director is conducting for the new courses in all areas.

Then we also had a massive Social Marketing drive, which involved distributing 50,000 newsletters and 50,000 posters through the District Career Guidance Centres we have set up to coordinate the efforts of our training agencies plus the Skills Development Assistants which the Ministry has in most Divisional Secretariats. We had four training sessions for them round the country, and found some very bright officials who have to be encouraged to deliver through support for the initiatives they develop in cooperation with the training centres.

To supplement all this, we are also producing books, the latest being a guide to teaching English and Career Skills, produced by the delightful Australian volunteer who was stationed in Hambantota but proved inspirational to teachers all over the country. Then there are the textbooks for the English and Education course, with Cambridge University Press having agreed to provide my Grammar book at a concessionary price (my copyright fee being waived, which I stressed in my paper to the Commission given that Ranga Bandara was on the rampage), and Godage doing the same for the Anthology of English Poetry and Prose, which is a distillation of several of the books I produced in my British Council days.

In addition, though we were not able to produce the Job Outlook manuals we had wanted, given that the Skills Councils are engaged in more imp0rtant tasks at present, we are collating the new curricula by sector to indicate job opportunities in different areas. This is not a comprehensive account, but it will be a step towards identifying the different opportunities available in various sectors for those not in the dominant academic education system.

Ceylon Today 31 Dec 2016 – http://ceylontoday.lk/print20161101CT20161231.php?id=12113

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