Skills development growing in importance in education: Goolbai

Monday, 6 April 2015 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

The Principal of Asian International School, Goolbai Gunasekara, has always been passionate about education. In a recent interview she weighed in on current trends in the sector and shared the story of how the school has grown from 16 children to the recognised international school it is today. The following are excerpts from the interview:     Q: How has AIS evolved over the years to become a recognised international school? A: AIS has grown from 16 children on our first day to 1,300 children today. It took a lot of hard work over 25 years. We were also fortunate to have an exceptional Chairman, who supported us financially. He was very encouraging and allowed me to put any system I wanted into practice. Most importantly, I’d like to thank Mrs. Moir and Mr. Tenduf-la, who pioneered the international school system, and helped AIS greatly. I give them credit as they really helped me to set up the school.   Q: What would you like to see AIS become in the future as an educationist? A: Well, I hope it’s seen as a top school. I’d like it to be known as a school which turns out ladies and gentlemen. Just this morning I told the children at assembly that we’re going to take a paperless mobile approach. When it comes to notes to parents and anything we want to contact them on, it will be online. We’re planning to modernise the school. We have to keep up with current trends. I’d also like to see the competition between schools be replaced with a spirit of cooperation and collaboration.   Q: How important would you say it is for education to focus on practical and real world knowledge rather than solely focusing on academics? A: Very important. Countries like America are saying that an academic degree is not as important as it used to be. I have some bright students who find it difficult to pass an exam but are highly skilled. There should be some system of education to conquer this problem. Teaching them carpentry is not enough. Skills need to be taught and sharpened and I think a lot of the degree courses are now going into that. Even professions such as chefs can earn fortunes and I feel that education should embrace that. Nowadays every parent wants an initial after a child’s name. They don’t want to enroll their children in a course on cooking and home-making, for instance, which was very popular 50 years ago. There is this mania for qualification, be it a diploma, a degree or a certificate.   Q: What would you say are the current trends that are emerging in the education sector for international schools? A: Edexcel pretty much sets the tone there. I think current trends are pretty much in line with what the world wants, except that we are circumscribed by money. Australia and US have lots of money to spend, and can offer diplomas in several offbeat subjects such as hotel PR. In Sri Lanka we have the Sri Lanka Institute of Tourism and Management (SLITM) and not much else, perhaps because we’re not such a wealthy country yet. I think an emphasis on skills over qualification is going to emerge. I don’t know how long this will take though, since this depends on job availability. For instance we badly need trained electricians. Electricians are not considered as prestigious a job as, say, a science teacher. Yet actually it’s more important since a science lab cannot function without a good electrician. The dignity of labour will have to change a lot.   Q: Would you say Sri Lanka is on par with its global counterparts in the education sector? A: I think so, yes. I think our children can compete with most schools in America and the UK, even considering those studying in the Sinhala medium. The Indians are outstripping us fast, however. Their children are so quick, modern and up-to-date that our children find it difficult to get into those universities.   Q: Are there any areas for improvement? A: It is difficult to get trained teachers. Many of the teachers aren’t trained, so there is a need for a proper training centre.   Q: Recently AIS excelled at the Edexcel Awards. How would you say Edexcel helps its students excel academically? A: We’ve always won global awards. Edexcel has long considered schools like AIS and CIS as the benchmarks. I think the sheer choice of student sets a certain tone in the school. We also choose our extracurricular activities carefully so that the students learn from them. I always encouraged programs like Interact and the Colombo Operated Model United Nations (COMUN), for instance. I encouraged interfaith programs - we were the first school to start that. Our English Literary Association has a drama competition which holds to a very high standard as the students have the best people to train them. We try to guide them so that by the time they graduate they have a lot of skills. I started a series called This Is My Life and had people like banker Rohini Nanayakkara and Group Director of MAS Holdings Dian Gomez speak at assembly for about 15 minutes. We had people like Suni Munasinghe, a very well known businesswoman, who told the students that she didn’t even speak English until she was nine. She gave her life story, including how she won a scholarship to attend Devi Balika Vidyalaya and qualified top of her class studying Engineering, the only girl in her batch. It was very inspiring to these girls and boys. In this way we try to keep them up-to-date with the world and current trends.