- Expresses concern regarding regular street protests of undergraduates
Member exporters of the National Chamber of Exporters (NCE), which is the only private sector Chamber that exclusively serves Sri Lankan exporters, have expressed their concerns regarding regular street protests of university undergraduates. Council members of the NCE expressing their views regarding this phenomenon, have stated that the unacceptable behaviour of undergraduates through regular street protests is of grave concern to them, because as prospective future employment seekers, it reflects their attitudes, leaving a question mark on their competency level of meeting job demands, although they may have legitimate reasons for their actions in some instances.
The President of the Chamber being a longstanding exporter states that the attitude of the current generation seems to be more focused on comfort zones, which needs addressing by the education system from primary levels. In this regard the Chamber is of the view that these undergraduates who receive free education at public expense should understand that the public deserves proper deliverance of their services as employees, for the betterment of the country.
In the above context the Chamber is strongly of the view that educational authorities should adopt new approaches to develop a proper mindset of students beginning from school-going age, to prepare them to be worthy future employment seekers, with adequate knowledge of subjects, which impact on the economic development of the country, over and above the knowledge they acquire under standard educational streams. This is particularly relevant to students whose education falls outside STEM subjects (Science, Technology, English and Mathematics), and who are less prepared for productive employment. It is also felt that the agitation of undergraduates may be partly due to the tensions arising out of their uncertain future after completion of university education.
In this background an important revelation of the South Asian Economics Students Forum held in Colombo recently, which is one of the few regional forums that has been able to survive and thrive since its inception in 2004, is that Sri Lankan students graduate out of universities at an average age of 25 years, whereas their counterparts in other South Asian countries do so three years earlier. This phenomenon is stated to be due to the nature of the education system in Sri Lanka.
Further out of more than 300,000 students who sit the GCE Advanced Level Examination, although more than 150,000 are successful, the State universities are able to accommodate only around 30,000 students, leaving behind around 120,000 which is four times the number of those who qualify to pursue higher education.
Even those Sri Lankan students who are able to pursue higher education, become ready to start working rather late compared to their counterparts in other South Asian countries which is an economic problem that needs correction, because some graduates become overage to fit into specific jobs, as some of their good years of working age are wasted in schools and universities, due to issues arising out of transition from one level to another, or due to disruptions arising out of other extraneous factors.
Those who get delayed to enter the productive labour force of the country are categorised as ‘Economically Inactive’, and therefore dependent on the economy. Further it is stated that, if the economy does not expand fast enough, job creation becomes slow, increasing the numbers of those who are unemployed, creating even more serious repercussions. According to the Asian Economic Students Forum, measures are adopted by educational authorities in other countries to make the learning process quicker. As such, Sri Lanka too should adopt measures to create meaningful avenues for Sri Lankan students to seek employment as productive job seekers.
In the above background, it is a known fact that the Government accords high priority to promote and develop international trade, especially exports, as well as related investments in manufacturing, to accelerate economic development, to achieve National Economic Development targets, and create employment opportunities. Further entrepreneurs are encouraged to develop or acquire the relevant technologies, as well as undertake investments, to develop the economy. However, existing export enterprises, and prospective investors, find it very difficult to acquire the required labour and management skills in respect of their products and services sectors.
This problem requires a meaningful overhaul of the educational system, and to provide training opportunities, to enable prospective employment seekers to acquire the skills that are in short supply. In this respect it is commendable that the Government has embarked on measures to provide opportunities to those who fail to enter universities for higher education, to pursue their careers in other technical and technology streams, complemented with a sound knowledge of Information Technology, whereby students are encouraged to continue schooling for 12 years, and then focus on higher education. Since this may impact on the labour force, the Chamber feels that the time may be opportune for automation as well.
Although interest is created among prospective entrepreneurs and investors through Free Trade Agreements (FTAs), as well as through other measures, and guidance programs, it is imperative that they be supported by making available employment seekers having the required skills. It is in this context that the Chamber urges educational authorities to include export-related subjects in school curricula, and continuing through university education, to lay a sound foundation for students, and employment seekers to acquire the required knowledge related to international trade, especially exports, to make them employment ready. Additionally university undergraduates could be provided opportunities for practical training as interns in export oriented enterprises to acquire the required practical experience as well, providing them additional opportunities to be directly employed in such enterprises. Further job knowledge and exposure gained through such internships could be considered a requirement for attainment of their degrees. The Chamber is of the view that such an approach will serve to ease the tension among undergraduates, whose mindset will then turn away from actions such as street protests, by engaging themselves in alternative productive avenues. It will also give more confidence to prospective employers, turning them away from the negative attitude they have towards present day undergraduates who are their prospective future employees.
The NCE on its part makes a valiant attempt to develop professionalism in the field of international trade, especially exports, through its professional training arm, the National Institute of Exports (NIOE), which offers recognised and accredited courses in International Trade Management, at the certificate and diploma levels, to employees in export enterprises, as well as school leavers, to prepare themselves for a career in the field of international trade, especially exports, because there are many specialised branches in the field of international trade which they could qualify in and train themselves to be worthy of employment. The Chamber also offers short term online training programs related to international cross border trade transactions, which are especially beneficial to students, and school leavers, to follow during their leisure hours.
In the above overall context the Chamber urges the educational authorities, to firmly commit to the inclusion of specialised subjects related to international trade and exports, beginning with their inclusion in school curricula which will also contribute to wean away school leavers from seeking employment as three wheel drivers, due to the assistance and incentives currently offered to own a three wheeler, which is not a productive line of employment for their career development, or for the economy of the country.