Building an educated workforce to bridge the skills gap


In an increasingly more globalized world,higher skills and higher order-competencies are extremely important skills that make it possible to use new technologies and perform difficult tasks more efficiently.The demand for job specific skills accompany structural changes in an economy - a transformation from agricultural into manufacturing and services, a shift from labour intensive to more knowledge intensive industries, an expansion of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sectors are all elements of this transition. This calls for continuous improvements in skill requirements where skill development and training plays a critical role. Therefore, capacity building in science, technology and innovation are more crucial today than ever before. A country's ability to pick-up new technologies and turn them to economic advantages, depends on the availability of its human capital to cater to these demands in adequate numbers and quality.

In this context, Sri Lanka has to transform itself to a competitive and efficiency driven economy - where innovation and technological transformation will be important drivers of economic growth - if the country is to progress up the middle income ladder.For this, an educated workforce with market-oriented skills is a must. To cater to this demand, Sri Lanka needs good-quality formal education, complemented by relevant skills development opportunities. Given how the inadequacies in the supply side are affectingSri Lanka's human capital, it is timely to focus on reforms that will enable every student to make the best use of the country's free education system and be a part of a dynamic and skilled labour force.

This Policy Insight is based on the SOE 2015 chapter on "Educational Sector Reforms to Bridge Skill Gaps", whichattempts to assess the required reformsin the education sectorto address the major challenges ahead, including ways and means of enhancing the responsiveness of the education system, better provision of equitable access to quality education, and building capacity in the tertiary education system.

Key Education Policies and Reforms in Sri Lanka

The Sri Lankan state continues to provide free education since its introduction in 1945. Over the years, several measures have enabled the country's general education system to improve on equity in the provision of education for all persons, irrespective of socio- economic and regional disparities. While Sri Lanka has long been recognized for its achievements in access to education, it faces new challenges in providing quality education services that are relevant to the changing demands of a rapidly growing economy and aspirations of the younger generation.

In recent decades, government and public attention has begun to focus on learning achievements beyond basic literacy. Despite educational reformsthat were made to meet the changing demands of the globalized world, there are many shortcomings and implementation issues at ground level, which needs urgent attention. The SOE 2015 discusses in depth the successes, failures and gaps in these reform efforts and other subsequent reforms with regards to developing market-oriented skills, improving access to quality education, and expanding opportunities in tertiary education.

Transition from Traditional to Market-oriented Skills Requirement

Recognizing the skill needs and implications of skills constraints for a country's economic growth is more crucial today than ever before.

The quality of the general and higher education systems, mainly provided by the public sector, doesnot transmit much productive skills to students; which is theprimary reason behind the skill mismatch in the country. Although attempts have been made to improve the quality of education through curriculum reforms over the years, there are shortcomings in curricula designing, development and implementation. Reasons for this include; the curricular not being based on identified weaknesses in the preceding curriculum; lack of pre-testing; lack of proper teacher training to suit thenew curriculum; and the lack of anappropriate monitoring and evaluation system.

Also, available data demonstrates large disparities in the quality of education provided due to unequal distribution of resources, both human and physical,whichhampers the implementation of reforms at ground level.

Access to Quality Education

All children should have equal opportunities to successfully complete a basic education. The compulsory education regulations of 1997 addresses the issue of the inability of the economically disadvantaged to utilize free education made available by the state. However, these regulations do not go far enough to address the quality of the compulsory education received.

Sri Lanka's education sector suffers from human and physical resource disparities for more demanding subjects.There are only a limited number of schools in Sri Lanka with facilities to provideA-level Science streams subjects. As a result, almost a half of A-Level student are compelled to followsubjects in the arts stream.Also in rural schools, it is often the case that there is a deficit of teachers for more demanding subjects such as English, science and IT.

Limited Opportunities for Tertiary Education

Adynamic tertiary education sector plays a key role in catering to the changing demand in the labourmarket.

In Sri Lanka, the government plays a prominent role in the provision of higher education services, but the capacity of the state university system is limited.Making matters worse, the curriculum is not modern and has limited scope and relevance to market needs.

The complete report can be purchased from the publications section of the IPS, located at 100/20, Independence Avenue, Colombo 7. For more information, contact the Publications Unit on 0112143100.

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