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but something ere the end,

Some work of noble note, may yet be done

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December 2016 saw the consolidation of the new work we had initiated from the Tertiary and Vocational Education Commission. The English and Soft Skills programme was going well, and this month saw the publication of Developing Career Skills, the text for the second level courses, both the dedicated NVQ Level 2 course and the supplementary module on all NVQ Level 4 courses. The energetic Australian Volunteer Beatrice Johnson had also produced a guide, which we published in the same month.

The enthusiastic staff in our Curriculum Division had, with solid support from the Sector Skills Councils, developed new three month Level 3 curricula in a range of subjects, and we managed to have a number of these finalized and approved by the Commission at meetings in December. We had been charged with producing a Job Outlook manual, but we decided instead to produce Handbooks setting out the new curricula while incorporating the career paths available in each sector. Handbooks for the Construction and the Hospitality sectors were accordingly finalized in December.

This last subject area had not benefited from the Sector Skills Council since that had taken a long time to get off the ground. But we had great support from Chandra Mohotti , who had vast experience of hotels and who was therefore asked to chair the Council. Previously the Sector Skills Development Programme, which had been in charge of the Councils before I was compelled to take over, had failed to include any hoteliers. But the World University Service of Canada, which was helping in the sector, put me and the Minister in touch with Mr Mohotti, and he kindly chaired the Committee I set up to expedite action.

tourism-sector-frontIn addition we began working together with the Hotel School, the Sri Lanka Institute of Hospitality and Tourism Management, headed now by someone who had been in school with me. He was incredibly busy however since he also had to look after the BMICH, but he put me in touch with excellent colleagues, and we were able to build up a relationship that it seemed had gone sour a couple of years back. Though the TVEC had collaborated with SLIHTM on curricula then, problems of hierarchy had it seemed caused problems.

I set out as clearly as I could the formal position, which was that TVEC was the authority with regard to curricula and assessment. But TVEC also had to acknowledge that its expertise in the fields in which it operated was limited, and therefore it should rely on professional bodies such as SLIHTM – or for instance the National Child Protection Authority when it came to care of children. We needed therefore basically to work in terms of the competencies the Hotel School prescribed, instead of trying to reinvent the wheel on our own, or to work with individuals we chose.This formula proved acceptable, and we had several Level 3 courses finalized in December with the Hotel School committed to train our staff in delivery. But I realized during the training sessions that the Vocational Training Authority had been as remiss about hiring hospitality industry staff as it had been about English instructors. When in the nineties they had stopped the English stenography course, they had kindly allowed some staff to become English instructors, without considering the fact that one did not need to know much English (and certainly not enough to be a teacher of English) to teach stenography. Now it seemed the same had happened with regard to cookery. The contrast between the older staff and a few bright young instructors trained at the Hotel School was startling.

There was clearly much more that needed to be done. But in this regard perhaps our greatest achievement was the establishment of trainer training courses, in the form of the English and Education and the Technology and Education Diplomas. The curriculum for the former course had been finalized a couple of months previously and the Department of Technical Education and Training had gazetted the course for five centres. I had hoped for at least ten and, after Mahinda Samarasinghe intervened, five more were added, and the course was scheduled to start early in the new year.

The Technology and Education course however was more problematic. Though Mahinda had asked in January 2015 that this be established, between the DTET and the University of Vocational Technology there had been insufficient coordination and no one seemed to have taken on the responsibility. So in the middle of the year I had to intervene, and found a great ally in the form of our German Consultant, Markus Boehner, who was an indefatigable worker. He told me after some initial work that the drafting of the curriculum was in hand, but around October I found that little had been done, and that little was too academic. So we had to have another planning meeting, and this time the idea was entrenched, and by the time of the December meeting of the Commission we had five courses in Technology and Education ready for ratification.

I had begun the training for those who would teach on the English and Education Diploma at yet another workshop at the Sunflower Hotel. My main literary consultant, Shashikala Assella, one of the brightest of my Sabaragamuwa students, who had got her doctorate by now and was teaching at Kelaniya, helped in a very productive session on teaching literature, while a Sabaragamuwa graduate from the AUC Diploma days, who was now in charge of English at DTET, proved both an excellent organizer and an able trainer. But the highlight was Markus delivering training for his pedagogy modules, which we had decided to include in the English programme instead of the more traditional ELT component we had initially included. Markus had devised a splendidly interactive programme, for the Technology and Education curricula and it seemed to me that, if we could entrench some of the methods he advocated, we would have made a start on changing the teaching culture which is still far too top-down in Sri Lanka.

We also had another workshop at the Sunflower in early December, or rather a retreat, for I thought it was time to bring together my senior staff to ensure better collaborative work for the future. When I took over the Chairman’s position, I found that staff operated in isolation, without quite understanding how their work fitted into the overall responsibilities of the organization. One absurdity for instance was that two Divisions were responsible for checking on the institutions registered with us, one to register them and accredit courses, the other to look at Quality Management. This last was vital, but it was done through paperwork, rather than building up a culture of Quality.

Understanding that this did not work, the ADB I think had encouraged Markus to adopt a new approach to Quality considerations, and TVEC published the book he produced on Quality is Fun, since SSDP had put a number of bureaucratic hurdles in his way when he wanted the text ready for the later workshop sessions he planned. I found the book exciting, and decided to set in train a process whereby this could be blended in to the Quality guidelines TVEC had previously established. I also entrusted all monitoring of institutions to one Division, and entrusted the NVQ work that Division had been doing to the Curriculum Division.

We had also established a new Assessment Division, and appointed one of the most able members of staff to head it. For some reason the Division had been entitled Assessment and Quality Development, but she had justified this by drawing attention to the need to ensure that the Formative Assessments which are an integral part of Vocational Education targeted Quality rather than Process. The Deputy Director who had previously been in charge of Assessment was asked to head a new Division for Industrial Liaison, and though more bureaucratic than I liked in his approach, he developed a satisfactory working relationship with the Councils and ensured their involvement in the training programmes for the new curricula they had developed.

He also had an excellent Deputy in the form of one of my former students from my time at the University of Sri Jayawardenepura where I had introduced a new English degree programme. Career Guidance was entrusted to him, for SSDP had asked me to take charge of its Career Guidance and Social Marketing committee, which had only wasted a lot of money during its first few months of activity, with no attention to the outcomes of its expenditure. I tried then to consolidate work, through the establishment of District Career Guidance Centres where all our agencies (DTET, the Vocational Training Authority and the National Apprenticeship and Industrial Training Authority) could work together. The officer at SSDP who was in charge of this area, the most able of those in that outfit, had the bright idea of a student oriented newsletter, and the Editor we had recruited produced a colourful trilingual magazine which we distributed to all training centres through the District office. In addition there was a colourful poster, though I realized that the existing culture only demanded that these be given out to all and sundry, not placed in places where they would have maximum impact.

By December I felt the restructuring of the TVEC needed consolidation, since we had also had now recruited a number of able Assistant Directors. There had been vast problems about this, with efforts at political interference from many quarters, but my Director General managed diplomatically to keep everyone happy while ensuring that we did not compromise on standards. Her efforts were justified in the compliments both external trainers paid to our staff, saying that they had not thought government officials could as a group be so imaginative. I was quite pleased at the way the event worked out, though I also realized the need for more training in the coming year.

The SSDP training had been ineffective through the year, with its Human Resources Consultant, a sweet lady with no idea of the requirements of her position, gawping when I asked what were the outcomes of the training staff in different institutions had undergone. I was in particular worried about the fact that centre mangers had no idea of the manifold requirements of their position, and was pleased to find that Markus too had understood this and was trying to set up a training programme for the purpose in collaboration with Kaiserslautern University. The proposal had lain fallow because of some upheavals at the University of Vocational Technology but, with an excellent new Vice-Chancellor in place by the end of the year, that too seemed to be on track.

We had meanwhile drawn up a curriculum for a Diploma in Centre Management, and I was pleased to find that the TVEC Director in charge of monitoring institutions was anxious to get this going. But there was little take up, so it seemed best to wait till UNIVOTEC at least announced its own Master’s Level course before pushing for recognition of the importance of such training.

On balance then I was feeling optimistic as the year came to a close. Just after Christmas my own workmen arrived to start doing up the rear portion of the house which was now entirely mine. My brother-in-law’s workers, the main group of which came coincidentally from Getamanna, had done the essential divisions quickly, so I could begin on the changes necessary to make my own domain nicer, with at least some views of greenery.

I went down for the new year to my river cottage. Felix, the son of old friends who had worked for me when I headed the Peace Secretariat, was due to visit in January with his girlfriend, but suddenly advanced his visit. He was a delightful youngster, and in October, when I went to England for the wedding of the friend who had first recommended him to me, I stayed with him and his parents for a couple of days, and found we got on as well as we had done five years ago. He had loved Sri Lanka, and come back in two successive years, but I had not seen him for ages, so was delighted to find him unchanged. In between he had travelled widely, while getting his degree, climbing Mount Ararat and being arrested in Armenia amidst other adventures.

I did not want to stay back in Colombo till he arrived, on the morning of the 31st, but Jeevan Thiagarajah kindly agreed to bring him down that afternoon. We had a lovely evening on the terrace, finishing the Christmas pudding that Nirmali had given me for my Christmas lunch. We finished the evening with Kithsiri’s sons setting off fireworks, Felix as delighted as I was at the sight of catherine wheels whirling round the terrace and the trajectory of rockets over the river.

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Ceylon Today 4 March 2017 – http://ceylontoday.lk/print20170101CT20170331.php?id=16423

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