Dev Diaries SL

Sri Lanka’s Education system is Upside Down


Instead of a job market orientation, our universities react to changes in secondary education. The Result is Graduate Unemployment.

Sri Lanka is a land of free education. The people of our nation have been generous to bear the costs of our education, from kindergarten to bachelors’ degree. In 1945 the Sri Lankan leaders envisioned for a great future through Sri Lanka’s education system. Yet 71 years down the line we have not traveled the expected distance. But rather, one could argue that we have crawled backwards.

Sri Lanka has one of the highest literacy rates in the world. We have more women at bachelors’ level than men. We own a civilization that dates beyond the many others and a legacy unrivaled by any other. Others envy the blessings bestowed upon us by Mother Nature. Yet, Sri Lanka has been rather stagnant in economic, social and political sub-systems during the post-independence era. By now, I am certain that there is a stack full of reasons flowing into your mind. Each of them most probably as valid as the next. But this article will refer to how a systematic error has caused the education system to fail us.

It’s upside down

Early last week marked the launch of the Faculty of Computing and Technology, in (my alma mater) the University of Kelaniya. Given the status quo of the global and national, social and economic environments, almost everyone would agree that this is a positive initiative. However, if one would dig a bit deeper, the discoveries will get them thinking as it did with me. The new faculty sprung up from nowhere, to accommodate the students who will be completing their Advance levels in the newly introduced technology stream. Instead of students studying to meet the relevant requirements of the existing faculties, new faculties are springing up to accommodate the students.

At this point I realised the biggest flaw in Sri Lanka’s education system: it’s upside down.

What is the purpose of education?

Education is a process of preparation of the younger generations to take their places in the global system. It is the grooming ground for those who will lead the world in the years to come. Thus, the education system should analyse the requirements of the world and transform the raw inputs into the desired outcomes. The system is not only a learning of the books, but also a learning of life that will transcend to practical applications.

In an ideal world, the system should identify the necessities of the world in terms of the existing trends as well as possible new trends of the market. It could be from the general administrator or a mechanical engineer to a data scientist, sustainability conceptualizer or a digital marketing specialist. It could even be an entrepreneur facilitating an innovative new business concept. The requirements identified has to flow down in the higher education circular and the universities and other vocational training institutions must drive the knowledge, skills and the attitudinal frameworks in the students.

However, being a bit more realistic we would all agree the ideal world does not and will not exist, but the disappointment lies in the reluctance to even try.

Why is it upside down?

It is upside down, simply because it accommodates the needs of those at the bottom (eg: Advanced Level) and not those at the top (eg: Job market), and accommodates to a top envisioned by the bottom, not one set at the top. What is this ‘top’ and ‘bottom’ ?

Every system consists of three main components: Input, Process, and Output. The process should transform the input into the desired output. And it is only sensible for anyone to identify the required output prior to deciding the process of transforming the input. The top is the output and the bottom is the input. Ideally our process should transform the inputs – the pre-school children, into the desired output – professed youth. However, the process has become manipulated into transforming the output, as per the wishes of the input. Thus, our education system has become bottom up.

The current system addresses the requirements at the bottom. Every year more parents want to push their children into a so-called elite school, and each year most of these schools increase the intake. Yet, every year a set of smaller schools are closed down. Young ten year olds are forced to push for better results and a better school at the scholarship exams. It pushes these kids to a capacity that is beyond their innocent childhood. Afterwards, society successfully convinces them to dream of a traditional, socially accepted profession.

So they bandwagon

Thus, most students end up pursuing higher education in bandwagons. The socially more accepted undergraduate programs increase their intake annually. Meanwhile the non-conventional programs with more job vacancies  lie forgotten. Once youth step into the job market they realise that they are not the outputs desired by the employers. Rather they are the outputs which the they decided to become.

Why shouldn’t it be upside down?

The purpose of education as we identified earlier, is to produce individuals capable of driving the socio-economic development. To put it simply, it is to produce professionals in respective fields of study could be conventional or innovative role play. In order to do that, it essential for the universities and other higher educational institutions to pay attention and analyse the requirements of the fields of study.

The curriculum development must be done consultation with the experts in the fields. This could be academics, professionals, other related external parties and they should be constantly updated with the global trends. The curricular needs to be constantly up to date and suit the requirements of the rapidly changing world. While Sri Lanka’s education system involves specialised bodies for curriculum development and teacher training, they seem to have completely ignored these dynamics.

Once the curriculum for the top is developed, the tier below should be adjusted. The school level curriculum should gear the youth for the next level. The augments in the tiers of education should be enforced for a successful education system. This is the reason for my call for the Top-Down educational system.

How should it flow?

The flow needs to be systematic and smooth. Each university or higher educational institution in the country needs to identify the industry requirements. Ideally, the curriculum is fixed upon the requirements of the industry. The criteria should be set for the school students and they should be tested upon those given criteria for the respective courses of education. It is important for the people and the authorities to understand that the education system is one, not multiple, state system.

From the kindergarten to schools, to university or vocational education, this is one system, of which the flow needs to be streamlined. It’s not an overnight process. It will take time may be years, but it essential to get it right. I believe that I cannot be the first to see this. But is has always been the reluctance to accept the fact and start it. But, if not today, then when?

Leave politics out of it

Politics have consistently played a role in Sri Lanka’s education system, and it has never been to fulfill the requirements of the nation. The establishment of the new IT Faculty in University of Kelaniya is one of the best examples. It caters to the students who study in the technology stream at their Advanced Level Examinations. The stream’s intention is enhancing the practical vocational training of the youth. These youth were expected to take charge and work hard on technological battles.

But the changes in the political landscape seem to have driven the motive out of the picture. Academic education has returned to these students as well, making the introduction of the stream a mere white elephant.

A streamlined education

The education process of Sri Lanka is quite comprehensive. Yet, bottlenecks at certain crucial points seem to have limited us. If we can stick with the right policy of streamlining, Sri Lanka as a nation could rise beyond expectations. Dear policy makers please assess the requirements in the job market when transforming the system.

Sri Lanka’s education system must stand on stiff ground and be guided by a general consensus; a system that is right side up. If not, we need answers from those of authority. Why create a scheme which does not fulfill its purpose? Why develop a system which does not lead to its desired outcome? Is there a slightest expression of genuine interest of socio-economic development? Has our education system made us all upside down in our thinking as well ?




  1. Buddhi Ranasinghe

    June 25, 2016 at 2:10 pm

    Lovely article. A fresh view from within the system. Amazing stuff.

  2. Darshatha Gamage

    June 28, 2016 at 9:44 pm

    Thanks alot

  3. Pingback: Human Capital Index 2016 - What's Sri Lanka got to bother about?

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