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SL should avoid blindly pouring money into public education

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President Maithripala Sirisena has vowed to increase the current allocation of education in the next Budget. I am sure that he is fully aware that Sri Lanka cannot spend its way out of this education malaise. If this was possible Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Government would have done so.  Untitled-1 

What is needed is sound education reform, a new approach that puts leaves no child behind. Therefore the Government must recognise the mounting evidence that spending even more on the same programs will do little to change the status quo and raise achievement. 

The data and findings from research over the past 20 years on achievement, education programs, and spending trends continue to demonstrate that spending more money on the same programs, is simply not effective. Therefore, the new Government must be careful not to continue to approve and allocate more money for public education without proof that the larger budgets can help achieve their desired outcomes. 

Research has continuously demonstrated vouchers and school choice increase graduation rates, achievements and the employment potential of the student. 


Technical and vocational education

In the short term investing more money in vocational and skills training could help Sri Lanka to attract more MNCs to set up operations, we need to continue to grow our talent pool. That would however require the injection of targeted additional training places, which requires a special effort from both the Government and the industry. 

Management Guru Peter Drucker once said knowledge is the only meaningful resource today. Access to other resources is no longer limited. Capital flows freely across borders, unerringly seeking out companies that need it. Technology is available to countries that cannot grow it for the right price. Information is available to anyone who wants to flag it down, on the digital highway. 

Crucially, the people who bring knowledge into business and government are limited, but the key to build competitive advantage and improve our productivity levels is skills and knowledge. Therefore, in the face of new global and internal challenges, the development of human resources will become increasingly important.55665

The ability of our talent pool to create, absorb and apply knowledge to generate new value will be a primary source of our competitive advantage. A country’s real value today is not found in its fixed assets or infrastructure but in its human capital. 

For Sri Lanka to transit successfully into a developed economy, our human resources must have the competence to exploit our economic potential. Therefore the Government’s HR strategy should be relevant and responsive and our people should have the skills and learning capabilities to add and create value. We must therefore aggressively upgrade and retool our workforce with the capabilities for the current work and the future work.



The other challenge we have is to improve productivity and encourage innovation (see chart) in both the public and private sector. Productivity is the prime determinant in the long run of a nation’s standard of living, for it is the driver of our national per capita income. 

In the private sector, the productivity of the human resources largely determines their wages. High productivity not only supports high levels of income but also allows citizens the option of choosing more leisure instead of long working hours. Sustained productivity growth requires that an economy continually upgrade its human capital. Productivity therefore is a measure of the quantity and quality of work performance and also the resource utilisation. 

Productivity is also a broad performance factor that applies a criterion of work achievement to individuals, groups and organisation. People in the organisation are in a position to influence directly the productivity of individuals, groups under their supervision. They are also in a position to help integrate these performance contributions into the organisation as a whole. Only when such integration occurs is high organisational productivity possible. We also know that a country and an organisation can rise only up to the level its people can take it.



Recently there have been renewed calls for industry to take responsibility for their skill needs. However, for industry to take responsibility, it must be given responsibility for its own skills formation processes and for purchasing those services from the training system. Industry will always move faster than the training system. Therefore, to provide the skills for the future and to ensure that training provided is relevant to industry needs, industry must be delegated some level of authority in driving the training priorities for public funding.

One of the critical challenges facing the allocation of training priorities for the public is the unresponsiveness of the system to the changing demands of industry. Sri Lanka needs a robust, flexible public provider; however, public sector institutes still determine their priorities according to available supply and not sufficiently on industry demand. This erodes the effectiveness of the great bulk of all investments in education.

The injection of targeted additional training places into the Sri Lankan economy has the potential to dramatically improve productivity and workforce participation across the board. However, unless the training investment is targeted towards skills that are in demand and skills that will be most relevant to the industries of the future, it runs the risk of losing its long-term relevance to industry. Skilling Sri Lanka requires a genuine commitment from both the industry and the State.


(The writer is a HR Thought Leader.)

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