Critical Thinking, Department of Technical Education and Training, English, Mahinda Samarasinghe, Sabaragamuwa University, sinhala, Tamil, Tertiary and Vocational Education Commission, Vocational Training Authority, Vocational Training Centres
but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done
I had enjoyed working with Mahinda Samarasinghe when I was Secretary to the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights, and also during our many visits to Geneva when we staved of the efforts of the British (and then the Americans after Hillary Clinton became Secretary of State) to stop us eliminating terrorism in Sri Lanka.
Mahinda gave the impression of being laid back in his approach, but he worked hard and studied his briefs. He was also capable of sharp insights and, on becoming Minister of Skills Development and Vocational Training, he worked out very quickly what was needed. Before asking me to help, he had identified three major problems, and I suppose he knew from my track record that I was the best person to help him resolve these.
First and foremost was the need to update courses, and in particular to introduce English and other soft skills. I had been the first to introduce Core Courses into universities, when I joined Sabaragamuwa University way back in 1997. This built on what Arjuna Aluwihare had started when he set up Affiliated University Colleges, but it was only at Sabaragamuwa that we introduced Critical Thinking, with exercises designed to make students recognize systems, understand the concept of variables, and ensure attention to relevance. Initially the students protested about what they saw as games playing, but later I recall a group telling me, when I attended a wedding of one of the brightest, that it was such aptitude tests that they were set when applying for jobs.
We also made both Sinhala and Tamil compulsory for all students, in addition to English. When I insisted on a Third Language, my Sinhala and Tamil staff declared that students were no longer taught to write properly in mother tongue, and this should be remedied. I also introduced library studies, because I found that students had no idea how to find material in books, since they had not been taught the use of a contents page, let alone an index. I used to feel immeasurably sad, if for instance I asked them which countries neighboured China, as they rifled through the pages of the atlases we gave them instead of checking first where the relevant information was to be found. Continue reading