Enhancing future-proof competencies: Education for excellence

Tuesday, 2 April 2024 00:43 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


It is heartening to see some serious efforts are being made to reform the education system in Sri Lanka. Fulfilling a long overdue, launching of a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) initiative is also a welcome move. Despite the resource constraints, socio-economic challenges, amidst political inconstancies, uplifting our education system is commendable. Let me reflect on 10 essential competencies for future-proof Sri Lankans in making them competitive locally, regionally, and globally. Today’s column is a reflection on 10 future-proof competencies for Sri Lankans. 


“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world,” so said Nelson Mandela. It highlights the tremendous potential of formal as well as informal education. It was encouraging to see the adoption of six guidelines by the ministry of education in the current initiative. In brief, they refer outcomes-driven, strengthening capacity at delivery points, stakeholder understanding and engagement, inevitable technology trends, constraints of financial and other resources and being pragmatic. The proposed reforms hopefully will cover general education, higher education, technical and vocational education, education administration, and institutions building for human resource training and development in the sector. Competencies occupy a central place in any endeavour of education enhancement. 

Future competencies in focus

“Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today,” so said Malcolm X, a prominent activist in US. Competencies are required to compete in an increasingly competitive environment. They refer to measurable or observable knowledge, skills, abilities, and behaviours critical to successful job performance. Choosing the right set of competencies is core for consistent performance expected by an employee. What Martin Luther King Jr. envisaged makes sense here: “Intelligence plus character-that is the goal of true education.” 

Based on global trends and local realities, I would propose ten competencies for future, which can be easily labelled as ABCDE, with the inclusion of 2 As, 2 Bs, 2 Cs, 2 Ds & 2 Es. Let us have a deep dive into them. 

1. Awareness 

There is a dire need to have self and social awareness. It refers to have a clear understanding of oneself and others. With a rich religio-cultural setting, mindfulness paves the way to build the foundation. Living mindfully is the starting point of education. Studies show that the benefits of mindfulness may include: Increased focus, attention, self-control, classroom participation, compassion. Improved academic performance, ability to resolve conflict, overall well-being. Decreased levels of stress, depression, anxiety, disruptive behaviour.

2. Analytical thinking 

The future demands us to be analytical. With the massive inflow of information, selecting, prioritising, focusing, and deciding are key with regards to speedy actions. If we do not become smart in this terrain, what possibly could happen will be “analysis paralysis.” 

It further invites us to work systematically and logically to resolve problems, identify causation and anticipate unexpected results. It also involves managing issues by drawing on own experience and knowledge and calls on other resources, as necessary. Moreover, undertaking complex tasks and breaking them down into manageable parts in a systematic way, thinking multiple possible causes and anticipating consequences of situations, thinking of possible alternatives for a situation, recognising and reconciling data discrepancies, identifying information needed to effectively solve problems, weighing the pros and cons of options and alternatives and systematically changes variables to determine effects on the whole are other associated activities.

3. Basics brilliance 

The need to focus on fundamentals in avoiding clutter is important. It is a case of identifying “vital few” among “trivial many in avoiding a “laundry list” of things to engage in. A solid building relies on a solid foundation and so applies to education as well. 

It was as early as in 1984 that Tom Peters, the veteran management thinker highlighted the need to be brilliant on basics. “Far too many managers have lost sight of the basics, in our opinion: quick action, service to customers, practical innovation, and the fact that you can’t get any of these without virtually everyone’s commitment,” said he. Being brilliant on basics is a dire need in multiple failed fronts. 

4. Business savviness 

Having a holistic understanding about the world of business is essential for any manager to perform and progress. Future demands us to move beyond our functional silos in becoming broader in our perspectives encompassing wider perspectives. Narrow specialty should pave way for multi-skilling, perhaps retaining some specialty. 

If I take an HR executive as an example, is he/she knowing the business realities such as market conditions, competitor activities, opportunities and threats our there and the key people requirements accordingly? I still recall, when I interviewed CEOs of South Asian countries, as a part of my doctoral research, a significant majority of them expressed that” my HR person knows HR, but he/she does not know business.” Partnering with the core business processes in getting connected to business related decision making is key for a collective contribution towards corporate success. 

As a nation are we there is a big question mark. Both the public and private sectors alike, what we sadly see missing is the much needed “holistic thinking.” How people pursue their personal agendas with a narrow ulterior perspective with gross ignorance or glaring inconsistency is very pathetic to observe. 

5. Creative mindset

Creative thinking is a mental activity, which produces new ideas or new insights. It does this by de-patterning or re-patterning thoughts. In fact, our mind is the sum total of our memories, images, desires, expectations, beliefs, feelings, and other such mental processes. Thinking is therefore a sequence of images and events, which constitutes our mind. 

Creativity involves breaking patterns and thinking out of the box. A mind pattern based on traditional, or stale perceptions should give rise to a fresh new wave of creative thinking. The result is the generation of new ideas. Warren Bennis described creativity as a dimension of a “new paradigm” for managers. 

Despite the proliferation of automation, robotics, and other vistas with Artificial Intelligence (AI), human creativity will be much high in demand in the continuing era of imagination. Whether we make a conscious effort to foster creativity among the school children, leading to imagination and innovation is yet to be seen. 

6. Communication confidence

As we are much aware, communication is the process of exchanging information between people using a common system of symbols, signs, or behaviour. It is typically a two-way process that involves sending and receiving messages to build understanding. Be it verbal or non-verbal, formal, or informal, having confidence of clearly and cleverly expressing oneself it essential. 

The often emphasised speaking as well as and mostly neglected listening in addition to writing and reading need to be strengthened among all learners. In ensuring confidence in communication, one needs to be thorough with contents, context as well as the conduct. 

7. Digital diligence 

 Technology has always been an enhancer of our work. From adding machine to the advanced computer this was the case. Such extensive applications are broadly categorised as digital transformations. When integration of digital devices to our daily lives happening at an increasingly rapid pace, it is the survival of the fittest in being digitally diligent. In simple terms, it is about the smartness one demonstrates in embracing the change with regards to changing technology.

It was Joseph Schumpeter, the Austrian- American economist who first spoke of a “gale of creative destruction” in order to sustain economic growth. We can see a parallel to that in the now popular use of the term “disruption.” Prof. Clayton Christensen of Harvard Business School, who is widely regarded as the concept initiator of disruption, says that a disruption displaces an existing market, industry, or technology and produces something new and more efficient and worthwhile. Whilst being disruptive on one hand, it is creative on the other hand. 

8. Diversity appreciation 

This may cover a wide range of behaviours mainly referring to being open and respectful of differences, and learning from each other to create new bonds of friendship and understanding. Inclusion happens as a result of appreciating diversity which includes accommodating views from diverse gender, ethnic, religious, social, cultural, educational or political groups. It is becoming increasingly important in a global content where movements such as “Blak Lives Matter.” It also captures the need to be open to indigenous ways of doing things rather than blindly imitating things from the west. 

9. Emotional maturity 

 In order to harmonise the rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI) we need to foster Emotional Intelligence (EI). What requires is AI -EI synergy in being high tech and high touch. As Daniel Goleman advocates, EI is a capacity for recognising our own feelings and those of others, for motivating ourselves, and for managing emotions well in ourselves and in our relationships. Despite many subsequent presentations and interpretations, I still prefer the five key components of EI advocated by Goleman. They are self-awareness, self-regulation, self-motivation, empathy, and effective relationships.

If I am to single out, empathy is the key. In order to ensure lasting relationships and sustainable partnerships, one needs to demonstrate empathy. We need to make a conscious effort to move from taking one-sided emotionally-laden erratic decisions to a more mature platform. Sri Lankans have a far a way to go in this respect.

10. Eco-friendliness 

At a time when sustainability is gaining high strategic focus, a conscious shift from “ego to eco” is essential. We need to take care of todays needs without compromising the needs of the future generations. As the quadruple bottom line clearly echoes, it is not just profit, but people and planet with an overarching purpose. 

We need to show our environmental consciousness in multiple fronts such as reducing, reusing, or recycling with respect to resources. It is a clarion call for survival while the forest cover is eroding, and sea level is rising in an alarming rate. We cannot be the “Nero fiddling while Rome is burning” while neglecting our duties towards a burning planet. 

Way forward 

“You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today” so said Abraham Lincoln. We need to embrace competencies required for future in the present itself. 

It reminds me what I learnt from my alma mater: “Disce aut Discede” in Latin meaning “Learn or Depart.” We can aptly adapt it the contemporary private and public domain as “Perform or Perish.” The implementation of the proposed education reforms for Sri Lanka could be the starting point of developing a future-proof learned community who would lead the nation towards prosperity. 


(The writer, a Senior Professor in Management, and an Independent Non-executive Director, can be reached at [email protected], [email protected] or www.ajanthadharmasiri.info.)

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