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Let’s educate ourselves for change!

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Engage in science broadly and do not limit yourself to think doctor or engineer but think science! Then you will be knowing 

science, mathematics, engineering and technology, what we today call STEM



Ordinary Level Examinations are over. Results are in. What should I be doing at Advanced Level? Science, Commerce or Arts? And what subject combinations? This always is a burning question for some and also for parents. 

This question is usually answered by checking with friends and doing what everyone else is doing. Sometime neighbourhood choices too may influence the decision. At times the choice is based on what profession is considered to have the perception of its ability to earn more, standing in the society and then the student decides or is forced to take a decision based on that opportunity. 

Today parents receive many adverts through mail specifically targeting the children to be directed to start tuition immediately or paid courses, which may lead to professional pathways. 

As you can see from what I present later, hurrying to classes from dawn to dusk is not the way to success. Advanced Level is intense and competitive, yes, but do not think that one’s entire life depends on the Advanced Level results. If you start thinking like that you will have nearly three more years of stress and economic pressure too. 

What we would like to point out to you is, engage in science broadly and do not limit yourself to think doctor or engineer but think science! Then you will be knowing science, mathematics, engineering and technology, what we today call STEM. 

Sri Lanka needs more students entering STEM streams with a broader mindset. It is parents’ responsibility to see beyond few numbers and support your child to enjoy while studying and not to pressurise only for a result. We also need every student knowing something about STEM and STEM appreciating arts and humanities. There is a need for change. 

Freedom of choice and choice based on happiness

With tuition dictating what you study and how you study and finally how you end up facing examinations, we actually are conditioning students to go through a process rather than developing them. At times you even hear that there are classes to prepare students to enter into preferred streams of graduate study in universities. Unfortunately these efforts are completely counterproductive to the individual as well as to the country. 

First and foremost the concept that I would like to stress is that a student must have an understanding of what he or she likes to do – the subject of interest and more so the area of interest. This is really critical. 

In pursuit of options with monetary rewards as the sole objective, we actually harm ourselves and if a parent also pushes his or her son or daughter to do what you like rather than what they like, then you are actually doing real harm than good. This is really important to understand and we must change ourselves to put freedom of choice and choice based on happiness into practice today in Sri Lanka.

Understand what awaits us in the future 

As we are taking a decision today there is a need to understand what awaits us in the future as the choice that you make today has to prepare them to that emerging future. Before getting into some specific details, I wish to provide an example that I observed with two of our students, which actually indicated to me as two living examples of what I would like all students and parents to know.

I met these two students – Keheliya and Lakshan – recently during a visit to the Industrial Technology Institute, Malabe. They had come as research assistants and were engaged with a dairy microbiology experiment with a researcher at ITI. 

Upon inquiry I was informed that one student has become a specialist in Bioinformatics through self-learning – in-fact studying the open courses available from MIT (world’s best university for engineering today), USA. All the courses are free and the student has known the opportunity and followed his passion. The other student actually is studying law. 

I asked, “Why are you spending time doing this type of research?” Both said that they are doing what they like. I could see the benefit of bioinformatics with microbiology and also a lawyer understanding the importance of intellectual property that may come with doing advanced research. Your horizons are broadened and that is exactly what we should be asking our children when looking at study options. 

Today with the internet one can learn any subject area and at your convenience. Hence there is nothing to worry if, for some reason, you are unable to secure the placement or the subject stream that you actually prefer. Take the second choice and engage with what you most prefer too in a different way as these two students have clearly demonstrated. One is actually working for Google from Sri Lanka now in his spare time!

The option then is to understand nothing is really lost but one can make use of the enhanced options that we have today and then also to seek ways to combine what you have learnt creatively. 

Today we see innovations coming purely due to arts and science working together. With the technology stream today one has a combinational pathway to grow up in technology. Now this area expects someone to be more practical and operationally useful. Our society and industry will definitely seek these specialisations when they emerge. Hence my first recommendation – try to move into science but ensure you select what you really like to do. Do not despair if the first choice is not available too.

Many pathways opening up today 

What is happening with most of our students is that when their choice is not realised, there is overall depression and a serious lack of drive. The process is then on a downhill course. I really was happy to meet those two students at ITI and they actually personify what I am recommending here. 

There are many pathways opening up today and the technologies are really transforming the workplace and hence some of the actual courses that we teach may actually be irrelevant as time moves on. Formal education systems are not that flexible and one cannot change curricula as per the rate the technology is changing! 

Hence my second recommendation – ensure that one understands the basics well, really well. Why one recommends selecting a course that one likes to do is because then you will enjoy listening to the teacher, take extra interest in doing an experiment or even a sculpture and then it sticks in your mind. You are getting yourself transformed and that is what real education does to you. 

We appear to make our decisions based on past while the future is going to be very different. 

I think I need to recommend reading to our parents too! At least for the sake of their children 

if not for the nation 


How can one self-learn?

Now how can one self-learn? One must make an effort to learn English of course as knowing more than one language is always beneficial and opens up new worlds. Today there are mechanisms coming up even in the mobile phone to listen to someone else with a different language but get instantaneous translation to your own language. You can speak with people who may speak 50 other languages easily with your mobile phone.

Do not think, as a student just getting into Advanced Level, what I am recommending is difficult – things become difficult when you do not try. You will enjoy and I can assure you. In Sri Lanka we have made the task of learning English especially a humungous task. 

It is said that a successful person actually reads about 30 books per year and this should be kept in mind. Do not only read books that are relevant to your subject. It is actually sad in Sri Lanka to walk into bookshops and see mainly examination Q&A books available for sale. Reading with that purpose you will not learn much. I write here not only to the child but also to the parent as well as the family unit makes decisions today and I would be happy to see better decision-making. 

The world of work is indeed becoming quite different as technology is changing so fast and that is why science is interesting and more are needed for science. As you know vehicles may not need drivers anymore. Surgeries will be done by robots, thus replacing surgeons and radiologists by computers as pattern recognition is quite easy with the use of computers.

Recently a visiting Professor of Accountancy from National University of Singapore was telling the audience here in Sri Lanka that Artificial Intelligence may mean the loss of significant number of accountancy jobs as well and in Sri Lanka we know that there are lots of students opting to do this study program simply considering the business rewards against a career in science. 

Today lots of commerce is computerised and real drivers are from science. We appear to make our decisions based on past while the future is going to be very different. I think I need to recommend reading to our parents too! At least for the sake of their children if not for the nation.

Pix by Shehan Gunasekara


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