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Monday April 22nd, 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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IMF official: Sri Lanka’s road ahead is challenging, critical to keep up with reform momentum

ECONOMYNEXT –International Monetary Fund’s First Deputy Managing Director Gita Gopinath said Sri Lanka’s future with many reforms are challenging, but it is critical to keep up with the reform momentum.

Gopinath stated this after meeting the island nation’s State Finance Minister Shehan Semasinghe Central Bank Governor Nandalal Weerasinghe, and Treasury Secretary Mahinda Siriwardena on the sideline of the IMF/World Bank Spring Meetings in Washington.

“I commended them on hard-won economic gains in the past year. The road ahead is challenging and it’s critical to keep up with the reform momentum,” Gopinath wrote on her X platform.

Under IMF programme, President Ranil Wickremesinghe has implemented a raft of hard reforms including higher taxes.

Sri Lanka agreed to the IMF programme after it declared bankruptcy with sovereign debt default in April 2022.

Semasinghe after the meeting tanks Gopinath for acknowledging Sri Lanka’s economic progress.

“Our discussion was insightful and productive, and we appreciate the opportunity to delve into the challenges and opportunities ahead,” the State Finance minister said in his X platform.

“We remain steadfast in our commitment to our reform agenda and eagerly anticipate continued collaboration with the IMF to advance our shared goals.”

Sri Lanka was compelled to go for IMF after the unprecedented economic crisis which was followed by a political crisis that ousted former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his government who were legitimately elected.

The IMF programme has included reforms in state-owned enterprises, fiscal sector and financial sectors to ensure debt sustainability.

The global lender also has pledged its support to speed up the island nation’s lingering debt restructuring process with private creditors including sovereign bond holders. (Colombo/April 22/2021)

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Sri Lanka motor racing crash claims 7 lives, 4 critical

ECONOMYNEXT – A deadly accident at motor Race Sri Lanka’s hill country town of Diyathalawa has claimed at least 7 lives police said, after a racing vehicle, in the seasonal Fox Hill Super Cross ploughed in to spectators after running off the track.

Another 21 spectators were injured Sunday, and hospitalized and at least four were critical, police said.

Thousands of people come to watch the Fox Hill Super Cross race, which is usually held in April, as large numbers of people head to the cooler climes in the hills.

According to footage taken by spectators one car overturned on the side of the track.

Sri Lanka’s Newsfirst television said Marshalls were waving flags to caution other vehicles, when another car went off the track and crashed into spectators. (Colombo/April21/2024)

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Widespread support for Sri Lanka debt workout, reform progress at IMF/WB meet: Minister

ECONOMYNEXT – There was widespread support for Sri Lanka’s debt restructuring and acknowledgement of progress made under an International Monetary Fund program, at meeting of the fund and World Bank, State Minister for Finance Shehan Semasinghe said.

“The strides made in our economic recovery and financial stability have been acknowledged as significant advancements towards our country’s prosperity by our stakeholders and international partners,” Minister Semasinghe said in an (twitter) post after attending the meetings.

“Further, it was heartening to note the widespread appreciation and support for Sri Lanka’s debt restructuring process.

“We remain steadfast in our commitment to reaching the restructuring targets and confident of smooth progress in the continued good-faith engagements for a speedy debt resolution that will ensure debt sustainability and comparability of debt treatment.”

Sri Lanka ended a first round of talks with sovereign bondholders in March without striking a deal but some agreement on the basis for a deal.

An initial deal with bilateral creditors have been reached, but they may be awaiting a deal with private creditors to sign formal agreements.

International partners have appreciated reforms made under President Ranil Wickremesinghe, Minister Semasinghe said.

“It was great to engage in productive bilateral discussions with all of whom appreciated the recent economic developments, progress in debt restructuring, strengthening of tax administration, and ongoing governance reforms,” he said.

Sri Lanka’s rupee has been allowed to re-appreciate by the central bank amid deflationary monetary policy, bringing tangible benefits to people in the form of lower energy and food prices, unlike in past IMF programs.

Electricity prices were cut as a strengthening currency helped reduce the cost of coal imports.

Related Sri Lanka central bank mainly responsible for electricity price cut

The currency appreciation has also allowed losses to the Employment Provident Fund imposed to be partially recouped, helping old workers near retirement, as well as raising disposable incomes of current wage earners on fixed salaries.

Related Sri Lanka EPF gets US$1.85bn in value back as central bank strengthens rupee

The IMF, which was set up after World War II to end devaluations seen in the 1930s after the Fed’s policy rate infected other key central banks, started to actively encourage depreciation after a change to its founding articles in 1978 (the Second Amendment).

The usefulness of money as a store of value, or a denominator of current and future values then decline, leading to loss of real savings, real wages and increases in social unrest.

Before that, members who devalued more than 10 percent after printing money for growth or any other reason, faced the threat of suspension from the organization as punishment.

Sri Lanka’s rupee has appreciated to around 300 to the US dollar now from 370 after a surrender rule was lifted in March 2023.

But there is no transparency on the basis that economic bureaucrats are allowing the currency to gain against the US dollar (the intervention currency of the central bank).

The rupee is currently under pressure, despite broadly prudent monetary policy, due to an ‘oversold position’ in the market after recent appreciation made importers and banks to run negative open positions as the usefulness of the currency as a denominator of future value declined with sudden strenghtening. (Colombo/Apr21/2024)

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