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Tuesday February 27th, 2024

Ending teacher-centric learning in South Asia’s schools

ECONOMYNEXT – In an era where technological advances make access to knowledge easy, current classroom settings and teacher-centric learning are failing to equip youth with the soft skills required in the workplace. This is especially so in South Asian nations where education systems continue to impart knowledge solely through textbooks and rote learning.

What we have today is a ‘factory education system’ hemmed in within a ‘bell, break and test’ says Heminda Jayaweera, Serial Innovator and Entrepreneur.

Jayaweera was sharing his thoughts during a webinar on the ‘Gap between Schools and Practical Education’ organised by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom, South Asia in collaboration with the Centre for Civil Society, on December 7th. Joining him on the panel were Aakriti Parashar, an aspiring Public Policy enthusiast and writer from India, Susil Premjayantha, Sri Lanka’s Minister of Education and Suresh Gautam, Head, Department of Development Education, Kathmandu University, Nepal.  The session was moderated by Roshan Gandhi, CEO of City Montessori School, India.

Workplaces require critical thinkers capable of solving complex problems and working collaboratively, Jayaweera says, adding that the Maria Montessori method should be taken to the ‘next level.’  Entrepreneurs, he says must have a broad knowledge and skill set, rather than a single focus with boundaries which limit their field of study.  Gone are the days when copying was considered a crime, ‘today it is known as collaboration,’ states Jayaweera, explaining that Japan copied technological development from the United Kingdom, and South Korea from Japan.

The future will be about collaborative skills and for that, it is important to ‘interconnect the creative with the sciences’ he says, explaining that a musician or artist for instance could be taught some coding, which would expand their knowledge and abilities.

When youth lack soft skills, it takes 6 to 7 months to adjust to their work environment, he adds.

Suresh Gautam agrees and points out that a change in mindset at all levels is required to move teaching from a classroom-centred one to a system that includes field trips, projects and internships. It is time to discern whether education systems are producing ‘puppets or humans’ he says. There have been some initiatives, and the ministry of labour is working on developing apprenticeships, yet more needs to be done. Science and math teach reasoning, but not life skills.

Training must be planned keeping in mind what skills are being imparted and to whom, Gautam states, adding that Nepal has around 380 short-term training courses, yet there is youth unemployment. The issue is that training is not locality-specific or ones that lead to income-generating employment. Landlocked Nepal which engages mostly in agriculture is experiencing migration from rural areas leaving farmlands abandoned. A once thriving fishing industry is dead, leading to imports from India. Most youth headed to Qatar to build the FIFA Stadium, he says.

Following his participation at the UNESCO Education Summit in Paris, Minister Susil Premajayantha is working on transforming instead of reforming education policies. Plans are afoot to introduce a pilot project in 2023 where technical and vocational training will run parallel to general education. The new module will be introduced to Grade 1 students, who will also be exposed to practical English. Training of Trainers has begun and in the first three months of 2023 13,000 Grade 1 teachers will also be trained.  IT education which was previously an optional subject in the Ordinary Level curriculum has now been included as a core subject.

The Minister adds that depending on the locality they live in, students will be exposed to the intricacies of the tea, rubber or gem industry for instance, with the hope that they would be motivated to pick careers in those sectors.

Under the new scheme, at Grade 9, students will have the option of deciding between continuing on to higher studies or taking up vocational training.

He is also in consultation with the Ocean University of Sri Lanka and other professional bodies to prepare course content in keeping with job market trends.   Academics both in Sri Lanka and overseas too are collaborating with the Ministry to bring university courses on par with those of developed countries.

While most parliamentarians are on board, he states that administrative reforms are critical for the successful implementation of the changes envisaged. As well, a change of mindset amongst educators, parents and the public is essential.

Aakriti Parashar describes herself as one who was solely focussed on academics, only to realise that textbook-centred learning under-equipped her for the skills desired in the job market.  Teaching methods at school and university were the same, she says, adding that both lacked training in life skills. She overcame that handicap by involving herself in extra-curricular activities.

Though she concentrated on Science and computer education at school, Parashar found that when seeking a career, she was better suited for one connected to the Arts.

Explaining that at one stage entrepreneurship had been introduced into the curriculum of government schools in Delhi, she adds that it could be taught to students of Grade 11 and also at the undergraduate level.

Keynote speaker Kathrin Junken, CEO of the Nepal Secretariat of Skills and Training (NSST) states that German youth have the option for vocational training and over 350 courses to choose from. Fifty-five per cent of school leavers take up vocational training, which is between two and a half to three and a half years long. Twenty per cent of companies provide training to the youth, who spend 70 per cent of the time with a trainer on site, and only 30 per cent at a vocational training school.  Youth are paid while in training, and the programmes contribute to the economic growth of participating companies.

In Nepal, NSST conducts job orientation and prepares youth for apprenticeships in Germany. That programme, she explains is fully funded by Nepali businesses.

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Sri Lanka president appoints Supreme Court-faulted official as police chief after CC clearance

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka President Ranil Wickremesinghe appointed Deshbandu Tennakoon as the 36th Inspector General of Police (IGP) of the country after the Constitutional Council (CC) cleared the official who along with three other police officers were asked by the Supreme Court to compensate 2 million rupees in a fundamental rights case last year.

“President Ranil Wickremesinghe has appointed Deshbandu Tennakoon as the IGP in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution,” the President’s Media Division (PMD) said.

The island nation’s Supreme Court on December 14 ordered Tennakoon when he was the Acting IGP and three other officials to pay a compensation of 500,000 rupees each for the violation of the fundamental rights of an individual.

The Supreme Court also instructed the Police Commission to take disciplinary action against the said Police officers after it considered the petition filed by W. Ranjith Sumangala who had accused the Police officers of violating his fundamental rights during his detention at Mirihana Police Station in 2011.

The Supreme Court held that the four police officers violated the fundamental rights of the petitioner by his illegal arrest, detention and subjection to torture at the Mirihana Police Station, which was under the supervision of Tennakoon at the time of the arrest.

President’s Secretary Saman Ekanayake presented the official appointment letter to Tennakoon on Monday (26) at the Presidential Secretariat.

When Tennakoon was asked over if the Supreme Court decision would have an impact on his appointment as the IGP last week, he declined to comment, saying that it was a Supreme Court matter and he does not want to say anything about it.

Tennakoon was also criticized by Colombo Archbishop Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith when he was appointed as the Acting IGP citing allegations against him related to security lapses leading up to the Easter Sunday attacks which killed at least 269 in April 2019.

However, Tennakoon rejected the allegations. (Colombo/Feb 26/2024)

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No water tariff hike in Sri Lanka this year: Minister

Millennium Challenge Corporation Photo.

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s planned water tariff formula is ready, and the government will implement it this year only if the formula’s tariff is lower than the current price, Water Supply Minister Jeevan Thondaman said.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s government has been implementing IMF-led pricing policies on utilities and the Water Supply Ministry has already come up with a formula.

“There is a water tariff formula in place right now and we are waiting for it to be drafted and seek approval from the cabinet,” Thondaman told reporters at a media briefing in Colombo on Monday.

“Once this water tariff formula is in place, there will be an annual revision with an option of biannual review.

The formula has been developed with the help of the Asian Development Bank. The formula includes electricity and exchange rate among many others as components like the fuel formula.

The National Water Supply and Drainage Board (NWS&DB) increased the water tariff in August 2023, claiming that the operating cost had been increased owing to high interest payment for bank loans and increased electricity prices.

The last year revision saw the consumers paying 30-50 percent increase from the existing water bill.

Minister Thondaman said he will implement the new formula this year only if there is a reduction.

TARIFF CUT WILL BE IMPLEMENTED 

“We will have to wait to see what the formula is. If the formula shows us there needs to be a reduction in the water tariff, we can implement it. But if there is an increase, why should we burden the people when we are on a road to recovery?” he said.

He said a group of experts including University Professors are working on the formula and the numbers.

“Once they come with the number, we will have to take a decision on whether we are going to impose on the people or not,” he said.

“We have already spoken to the Asian Development Bank and informed them we have established the formula. But according to the ADB requirement of this policy-based loan, the implementation period is only in 2025.”

“But right now, you want to take the approval for the formula for sustainability.”

The Energy Ministry is considering a drastic slash in electricity tariff soon. Thondaman said the exact numbers will be decided on after the finalized electricity tariff.

However, he said that as per the formula, there has to be a up to 10 percent increase in the water tariff as of now.

“Given the current formula set up, there must be around a 9-10 percent increase. It was actually at 14 percent. What we have done is since it is at 14 percent, we also did a calculation to see how we can do a cost cutting,” he said.

“So, despite our cost cutting measures, there will be an increase of 9 or 10 percent. But we will not be imposing it as of now because this year is meant to be policy sector reforms. Next year is meant to be the implementation.”

“As per August 2023 water tariff hike, we are able to come close to sustainable. So right now, there is no issue in the water sector. But a formula eventually needs to be established.” (Colombo/Feb 26/2024)

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Sri Lanka rupee closes at 310.80/311.00 to the US dollar

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s rupee closed at 310.80/311.00 to the US dollar Monday, from 310.95/311.05 on Thursday, dealers said.

Bond yields were down.

A bond maturing on 01.02.2026 closed stable at 10.60/80 percent.

A bond maturing on 15.09.2027 closed at 11.80/90 percent down from 11.90/12.05 percent.

A bond maturing on 15.03.2028 closed at 12.00/12.15 percent down from 12.10/25 percent.

A bond maturing on 15.07.2029 closed at 12.20/70 percent from 12.20/95 percent.

A bond maturing on 15.05.2030 closed at 12.30/70 percent down from 12.40/95 percent.

A bond maturing on 15.05.2031 closed at 12.60/80 percent from 12.45/13.00 percent.

A bond maturing on 01.07.2032 closed at 12.50/90 percent from 12.50/13.30 percent. (Colombo/Feb26/2024)

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