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but something ere the end,

Some work of noble note, may yet be done

I got  back from Armenia on May 2nd, and began a period of intense work for nearly three months. We finalized a new Tertiary and Vocational Education and Training policy, something that was long overdue; we revised the National Vocational Qualifications Operational Manual and introduced several new ideas, including a section on teacher development; and we launched the first book for English and Career Skills Training, and sent two more to press.

These I had known I would have to do, but in addition I started working closely with the Sector Skills Councils, and found three of them remarkably efficient. We had decided that we should streamline the manner in which curricula were formulated, and that, instead of having compendiums which included competencies at several levels, each level should have its own curriculum. It also seemed desirable to have short courses, of three months duration with On the Job Training on top of that, for the Level 3 qualification. The Councils took the idea on board, and by August the Construction Skills Council had formulated curricula for Plumbing and for Carpentry for Building. By the end of the year they had produced curricula also for Masonry (both for Foundation work and for Walls) while the Manufacturing and Light Engineering Council had produced one for Welding. At the end of the year we put together these five in a handbook, which was designed to show the range of possible occupations with regard to Construction.

The Manufacturing Council also produced curricula for Tractor and Harvestor Operators, but its deep thinking Chairman said they would hold back for a while on Production curricula, since they had no idea about career paths in the absence of a coherent industrial policy. I brought this matter up at the Committee set up by the Prime Minister to look into the field of Vocational Training, and it was agreed that something should be done about this. But I fear belling the cat (Ranil used to be called Poos by his family when he was young) was not something those who chaired or administered that Committee were able to do. Despite promises they also dodged telling the Prime Minister that it was desirable that the University Grants Commission and the Tertiary and Vocational Education Commission should be represented on the Board of the National Institute of Education. In that area it was clear that reforms would be piecemeal, without the conceptual input that no one in authority at that Ministry seemed capable of (though thankfully a few months later it got a new Secretary who seemed comparatively capable).

The Computer Council very professionally staked out the whole field, and agreed that there should be one simple 3 month curriculum to introduce students to the field. That was produced soon enough, and by the end of the year they had produced also a Level 4 curriculum, having decided that there should not be specialization at that Level either.

In Tourism we had no Council as yet, since the Sector Skills Development Programme team had not been able to get anyone in the Hotels sector. Having met Chandra Mohotti of the Galle Face Group through the World University Service of Canada, I had roped him in meanwhile to help us with Hospitality Curricula, since there seemed a crying need for more work in that field. After he had discussed matters with the Minister, SSDP realized how helpful he could be, and asked him to chair the Tourism Council, but it was the end of the year before it was set up formally. However I had continued working with the Committee we had set up, and after discussions also with the Council we finalized curricula for Food and Beverage Service and for Room attendants.

Towards the end of the year I was put in contact, through the Prime Minister’s Office, with the Sri Lanka Institute of Tourism and Hotel Management, and we revived some work that they had done with us a couple of years previously before changes of personnel there led to a breach in the connection. By the end of the year we were thus able to have four more curricula approved, for which the Hotel School provided training to the staff of the Vocational Training Authority early in the new year. Those six curricula have also been put together in a handbook to show some of the occupations available in the sector. Others, such as tour operation and conventions, which concerned members of our Council, are at a higher level, and will be dealt with later.

As we had indicated in the Policy document, we were also moving more in the service sector, with emphasis on Care and Counselling. The Committee we had set up produced an Introductory Course while the National Child Protection Authority who had helped with that fast forwarded a Level 4 course in Child Care. That will be delivered this year at VTA Centres and also at a National Apprenticeship and Industrial Training Authority centre in Colombo. Meanwhile the Prime Minister’s office had been keen on an elder care course, and sent us different sets of curricula for this. Though these veered between what seemed to me dogsbodying (which I did not think merited NVQ training) and a very sophisticated approach to elder care that involved understanding of brain processes, we managed to put together a Level 2 course, which also should be delivered this year, with support I hope for the VTA to handle it. The National Institute of Social Development proved a tower of strength in all this, and will I hope also deliver training, while I began discussions with private health care centres in the hope that they too will take these on.

Parallel to the Introduction to Care and Counselling we also introduced an Introduction to Office Work course, and I was happy to see that large numbers of youngsters in Jaffna have applied for this. Whether it can be delivered however is another question, since we may take time to build up the expertise for this in the absence of a dedicated authority in the field such as NCPA or NISD. Later in the year we also set up a Committee for other aspects of office work, encouraged by our German consultant who noted that a high proportion of Vocational Training courses in Germany were in this field. We managed therefore to produce a Level 3 curriculum in Logistics to develop Storekeepers.

We worked also with a committee for the automobile industry and managed to finalize curricula in that area too, for Wheel Alignment and for Automobile Painting and also, at Level 4, for Diesel Engine Repair. I should note that the bureaucracy at the training agencies is slow to respond, and I am not sure how many of the new curricula will be delivered in the semester that begins in January. But we certainly got a very good response from parents for our advertisement that urged that time not be wasted after the Ordinary Level examination.

Sri Lanka is after all the only country in the world that keeps children out of school for over a quarter of the year in what is one of the best periods in life for learning. And it is this enforced idleness that leads to the entrenchment of the tuition culture, with helpless parents sending children for tuition classes immediately after the Ordinary Level examination, not so much to learn as to keep them occupied.

In this regard I also had to do more, for SSDP asked me to chair the Committee on Social Marketing and Career Guidance that they had established. This was after I had pointed out, at a meeting I attended early in the year, that they were squandering money with no attention to outcomes. I think they had spent 300 million rupees last year, and claimed this had been productive, but in looking at figures of enrolment they had not thought to also get the previous year’s figures for comparison. And certainly the publicity campaign was shoddy beyond measure, the English versions of advertisements being direct translations that were ungrammatical and incoherent.

I had suggested then that the agencies under the Ministry should work together for Social Marketing and Career Guidance, and for this purpose the three training institutions, VTA and NAITA and the Department of Technical Education and Training, had decided to have one principal Career Guidance Centre in each District, with three in Colombo, one run by each of them. In the Districts they had divided up responsibility, but six months later, when I took over the Committee, I found that they had not developed any joint programmes.

We therefore had a training session for the District Career Guidance officers, and set out a work plan, which most of them ignored, except for a hard working and imaginative gentleman in Hambantota. We had therefore to reinforce the training in December, twinning this with a session for the Skills Development Assistants that the Ministry has in most Divisional Secretariats.

These had been virtually forgotten when I took over at TVEC, but I knew of their existence since I had come across them in the Divisional Secretariat Reconciliation meetings I had conducted when I was Adviser to the President on Reconciliation before the change of government. We had accordingly called them to a meeting in December 2015, but there had been no follow up until I raised the issue again when I started to chair the SSDP committee. The Ministry then had a series of workshops, but chose participants at random, with no thought for the coordination on a District basis that was the obvious way to proceed, and which had been sketched out in discussion. What the outcomes of those workshops are is obscure, with some SDAs having sent in reports on for instance Beauty Culture in their catchment areas, but there has been no follow up.

Whether the workshops we held for SDAs and District Career Guidance officers in December will have any impact remains to be seen. However I have been told that the teams did arrange joint programmes in schools, and have distributed the posters we prepared, and the attractive newsletter which was a brainchild of the officer at SSDP who was in charge of the subject. He has now been moved to another project, but has thankfully agreed to continue to look after the area until SSDA recruits a replacement. This they have not been able to do as yet, nor have they found a new Human Resources Development Consultant, to replace the lady who had not thought of monitoring the outcomes of the various workshops for which she had provided funds in earlier years.

One other area in which reforms were essential was centre management. Previous training had been cursory, with no monitoring of outcomes, and we found when we did training ourselves that many centre heads had no idea about what their priorities should be, nor about how they should fulfil them. They complained for instance about teacher absenteeism, but had not internalized the fact that teachers going on leave were supposed to indicate what alternative arrangements they had made for their students – and this should involve work that could be checked on, not simply a bald statement that they had asked someone to keep an eye on the students. So we decided on training not only for centre heads, but also for academic coordinators. DTET had these, but this was a new idea for VTA. And though they were not essential in small centres, we got the message across that anywhere which had more than four courses should have someone appointed to check that classes were properly conducted.