EDUCATION is the path to growth. For a country to develop it must have the necessary human resource value additions to not only attract investment but also ensure transference of technology so that it has the capacity to innovate and expand on its own.
The Government has made a laudable decision in making IT mandatory for the Advanced Level exam and fast-tracking it to the point that the first paper will be available as early as next year. It is clearly serious in its goal to make IT and BPO a Rs. 1 billion industry by 2013, but what must be focused on is that technology has a deeper role to play as a social equaliser than just making foreign exchange.
The trend now is to create IT professionals and then ship then out of the country or get them to work for international organisations within Sri Lanka. This has resulted in massive profits, a fact that cannot be denied, but there is a more important role to be played in channelling these talents into alleviating poverty and assigning growth at grass root level.
Some of the world’s greatest enterprises have begun as movements to fuel social change. For example, Bill Gates coined the idea of the personal computer because he realised that access to knowledge would automatically result in people becoming more equal. E-learning and e-health or even m-health (healthcare provided via mobiles) has greatly aided progress and in providing people with basic rights and opportunities that result in sustainable economic development.
The greatest weapon in fighting poverty is technology, especially when one considers the fact that the most severely conflict-affected regions in Sri Lanka still managed to post a literacy rate higher than the national average despite three decades of conflict. These people are ready for learning and disseminating knowledge via IT to rural villages and thereby empowering entire communities is the most reliable avenue for growth.
According to Education Minister Bandula Gunawardene, approximately half of the 10,000 schools in Sri Lanka have been adequately supplied with ICT facilities. However, what must be considered is the quality of the education that they receive and whether they are taught to innovate on their own rather than being told to memorise the technical details and regurgitate them at the exam. The fundamental bookish nature of education in Sri Lanka fails with IT and a more hands-on approach must be encouraged – both for the growth of the individual and his employability once out in the job market.
Sri Lanka has great potential in this sphere – more so than India, according to experts, because of the natural intelligence of our youth. Nonetheless, great care has to be taken to ensure that this creativity is not killed off at a young age and driving children to be fluent in their mother tongue before they adapt into English is a tried and tested method for a clear intellectual and emotional IQ.
Countless countries have leapfrogged to development by focusing on IT and interlinked industries. At a time when green business and sustainability have gained global focus, Sri Lanka can stay ahead of the wave by avoiding many of the detrimental decisions taken by the rest of the world and harnessing technology to drive growth. It is not only the ends for growth but the means that make development all the more richer for everyone.